Walking in Norway – Part 2

If you have read Walking in Norway…Part 1, you would know that we were in Oslo and waiting for the driver’s licence.

After breakfast at the hotel that morning, we drove into Oslo city the next day to get some supplies for our hike and to do some laundry. We managed to do two things. Getting fined SGD 60 equivalent in NOK parking for 5 minutes in the wrong parking spot while we checked out one of the supermarkets. The other thing we managed to do was drive in a loop in and out of the city as a few roads were closed and we were just trying to get to an outdoor shop. (Yes, I was still driving then as we were waiting to receive the licence.) I should also mention here that the third thing I managed to do which took some skill…was empty almost the whole lot of our laundry soap for two loads of laundry at the laundromat.

It would have been convenient if the hotel had a laundromat or provided laundry service. We went to a laundromat in Oslo and waited for a long time for our loads of laundry to be done. It was close to dinner time by the time we were done and we walked back to the car with our bags of laundry.

While driving around the city in Oslo, we noticed a few food delivery on bicycles and were just thinking that it was interesting and so urban. (We returned to Singapore and noticed that Deliveroo and Ubereats had also started bicycle delivery service here.)

We had takeaway subway for dinner that night. Thank goodness for Subway almost everywhere in the world. When you run out of economical food options, just have Subway.

The next morning, we noticed on the tracking site that the parcel has already landed in Norway and was re-directed from DHL in Lillehammer to Oslo Gardermoen airport, getting re-delivered again to Lillehammer that day before it heads back to Singapore. We called DHL and attempted to speak with someone who could re-direct the parcel from its route to Lillehammer back to Oslo so that we could pick it from the DHL near the airport. We thought it was silly for them to keep trying to deliver the package to the same place which did not allow such a service and was the same company… We were not going to chase down the DHL truck on the highway and so we asked for it to be brought back to Oslo Gardermoen DHL facility right away. They agreed and that it will most likely reach Gardermoen before 3pm or so.

That day, although we did not fly through Prague into Oslo, we had the experience of sitting at the airport for four hours. We staked out at the airport’s Starbucks for almost half that time, drinking so much coffee and eating cakes, which cost more than the Starbucks in Singapore…and the Starbucks in Singapore is more expensive than the Starbucks in Canada and the US, including the Starbucks in Prague. Our plan was to collect the package from the DHL facility near the airport and then head over to the Sixt rental car office at Gardermoen to register M as the second driver for the vehicle. After which, we would be on our way to the next location which we had not decided as it depended on where we would end up by nightfall.

We waited at the carpark next to the DHL facility for another half an hour to forty five minutes. After a few more calls to DHL, a guy called us to say that he’s driving over in a DHL car to pass us the package. So we had the exchange done. We drove back to the airport and parked at the outdoor carpark near the Sixt office. It was actually not necessary to head over to the office as we found out later after having waited for a while to speak with a customer service officer. She informed us that as long as the person driving has a relevant licence, we didn’t need to register the other driver(s). So driving in the Nordics is actually more convenient than in Canada, the US or NZ. We were required to register ALL drivers and to top up insurance for each driver.

So that was that. I was finally relieved of full-time driving duty. M drove around the block while I picked up more coffee and snacks from Starbucks for our drive towards Jotunheimen. We hope to reach Heidal or Otta for an overnight stay. We reached the area of Otta at about 8:30pm and started searching for hotels on our mobile devices with data roaming and hotspots.

Continue reading Walking in Norway – Part 2

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Lake Toba Day 0 to 1

Day 0 -10 August 2015 evening

Well, the reason for including 10 August evening as part of the journey is my visit back to my parents’. I spent the night in my old room after more than 1.5 years. I’ve lived in the house for more than 20 years and though 1.5 years might not seem long to many, it was indeed something which I’d missed in the beginning. The familiarity of the estate, planning a routine over the weekends and the comfort of being in one’s room.

I thank my parents for providing that ‘rent and expenses-free’ for so long. What they’ve provided was much more. It was the comfort, safety and knowing that no matter what happens, one is always welcomed home. I noticed that of the mug which I’d used at home. It was still laid out in the kitchen beside my dad’s, mom’s and sister’s after 1.5 years.

This is not meant as a nostalgic post but one of appreciation and taking the moment to remember the blessings.

 

Day 1 – 11 August 2015

My day started at 5:30am or possibly earlier since I was lying in bed listening to the quiet of my parents’ place. I remembered my old routine of heading to the kitchen downstairs for my water, coffee and bringing a light breakfast snack up to my room while I got ready for work back then. I did the same on this day except I was getting ready for a trip. Wondering if my backpack would pass Jetstar’s approval of a ‘carry-on’ bag on top of my daypack, I was nervous and excited at the same time. It has been a while since I’d taken a solo trip. I had the opportunity to do this now since I’m on a break before I start work again and also because M is away on a personal and business trip for a while. My last solo trip was amazingly the same time as now, about three years ago. I just discovered this when Facebook decided to remind me of the memories I had. I was in Pak Chong, village about 3 hours by minivan, from Bangkok.

I was nervous about my backpack the whole time until I got onto the plane. I almost broke out in cold sweat when they announced for people to start queuing to get on the plane and also announced that carry-ons which don’t meet the requirements will be rejected on board. If those attendants could feel the relief rolling off in waves from my pores….when I was on the plane…and managed to heave the bag up like She-ra or He-Man onto the cabin compartment, in front of a watching attendant.

The flight was pleasant enough and I was seated next to a Japanese couple who apparently has flown Scoot from Japan since they were comparing both Jetstar and Scoot (that much I’d gathered when I saw them pointing at the inflight magazine and mentioning ‘Scooto’ many times), but I could be wrong of course. I might have been making up stories in my head as part of the beginning of my nine days of solitude. Well, not entirely a recluse. I meet people along the way.

I landed in Medan and was jubilant that I didn’t have to wait for my luggage and breezed through the security who were all smiles when I was grinning like a child at them, excited to be on a ‘journey’. It was 9:50am when I left Singapore and 9:50am when I arrived, Medan time. I was happy to start my day with almost the same number of ‘active’ hours.

That ‘grin’ was wiped off my face when I didn’t see a board or paper with my name on it, like the taxi service had promised upon my arrival. I checked both international and domestic arrivals. No one was looking for ‘Alicia’. I made an international roaming call on my mobile to the private taxi company and he said he will send someone soon and it was raining heavily in Medan. Yes, we experienced the weather on the way into the airport while in the clouds. The little Jetstar plane was pushed around by the winds and rain.

I waited for the private taxi from 10:15am to 12pm at the airport. I managed to amuse myself by finishing a Starbucks muffin (from Singapore) in front of three spectators who were probably thinking that I haven’t eaten for days as I was literally eating the muffin from my hand and almost licking the paper. It was really crumbly and I ended up pinching crumbs off the paper and then stuffing them into my mouth in handfuls before they fell.

People were calling me to get a taxi from the ‘integrated taxi service’ counter and on my fifth time circling around the airport, they gave up and just stared at me when I made my rounds. I bought a local SIM card from a telco store and contacted the taxi company again. They were pleased that I now have a local line as it was too expensive for them to contact an international line. So I received two more unknown callers on the Indo number from the taxi company and I had no idea how long more I had to wait from both calls as when I asked ‘How long more or where to wait’, it was always, ‘Ok, driver will be sent soon. Heavy rains, traffic jam in Medan.’

The next call was more enlightening. He said that he was my driver and he is on his way. So now, after 1.5 hours, at 11:30am, I knew I had a driver coming. Before it was just, ‘sending someone’. Then he calls again at about 11:45am and he said he’ll be there in 15 min. I asked where I should wait and the response was, ’15 min Ok?’ Luckily I wandered outside to the taxi stand or something like that and it was like ‘spot the person who is also looking for someone’. I saw a guy in a red polo almost the same time he spotted me and he asked, ‘Alicia?’ and I was glad that I finally can make my way to Lake Toba. There were two other girls from Denmark in the old space wagon and we didn’t exchange names though we chatted a bit on and off during the 5 hour car ride. There was some traffic through a street. The driver smoked on and off in the car when the window down but it still flooded the car with some smoke. There was only one toilet break throughout the journey and it was like a race to somewhere. I moved from the front seat to the seats all the way at the back to avoid a heart attack before arriving. I should be used to this by now, but it still doesn’t take away the fear of the ‘this could be it’ feeling.

We arrived in the town of Parapat by 5:20pm and the head honcho and his minions were all waiting for us. The ‘minions’ opened the car doors for us when we arrived and grabbed our backpacks like ransom if we didn’t pay, which I took it from him when I got off and he handed over almost reluctantly but I was insistent and was almost pulling it off his back. Well, at least for me as the other two girls prepaid as a package so I learnt later. I walked over to the shop where the ‘minions’ went and a dark guy exuding authority sat down and was smiling at me. I immediately knew this was the ‘John’ I spoke to on the phone before my trip to arrange for my taxi and again on the same day for the late service. We shook hands and I asked about the ferry. He said that the ferry will be leaving in 5 minutes and it’s just down the road. The next one leaves in about 1 hour or more. So I gave the driver the money which was Rp80,000 (can you believe it is about SGD8.20 for a 5 hour taxi ride?) and more than 10% tip since I didn’t start off with a lot of small notes and followed one of the ‘minions’ who was leading the way to the jetty. There, more money collectors stood by the boat about to leave. Young boys who were asking for destination and when I was Mas Cottages, they said, ‘You pay 20,000’. So I asked why wasn’t it 15,000 as per what the standard rate is? They said it’s because Mas Cottage a jetty and ‘don’t need to walk’ and it’s further down from the town apparently. I noted when they were dropping off passengers that some cottages had their own jetties too but they collected 15,000 from them. I knew that they collected the money mid-way through the journey. Well, but to be fair, I was the last to alight as the cottage was further off from their usual route. The ferry ride took more than 40 minutes.

I arrived at Mas Cottage and was greeted by the lady who communicated with me on Whatsapp prior to my arrival on requirements. I was shown the standard room I’d booked on Booking.com and noted that it was quite dark and not a place I would want to stay in for the next 7 days. She said she also reserved a suite for me since I asked for a upgrade before. So I was shown that after climbing two flights of high stairs with my backpack and a day pack and puffing a little. I knew I would pay more for the room I saw. It was bright, on the second floor, had a wonderful view, beautiful balcony with chairs which I could sit in to read for half a day (instead of the plastic red ones I saw in the standard room). It even has a sofa or day bed looking thing next to the windows. I asked how much and she told she’ll give me a discount. I said yes and staked ownership of the room by plopping my backpack and day pack down onto the bed. It was 6:30pm and I haven’t had enough water, food and I feel like a shower.

I washed up a little and was going to the restaurant to pay for the room and have my first proper meal of the day but was delayed by the door. Ok, usual locks have keys which can be removed vertically. I tried and tried until my hands were sore. The lady who saw me at the restaurant window (I am next to the restaurant and really close.) told me to turn it flat to remove it. So while she was explaining that, I had already turned it horizontally and pulled the key out. Finally. I felt silly. Too hungry to think about it, I went to the restaurant and paid for 7 days in advance to offload all that cash. Then promptly ordered a nasi goreng which I’d been thinking about and ate it while admiring the beautiful sunset. The mountains were shrouded in clouds and the lake was calm, vast and definitely deep. Totally worth the journey to have this view for the next 7 days, even if there’s WIFI only at the restaurant. But since I’m so close to the restaurant, I discovered that both the laptop and the Blackberry can ‘steal’ some wifi from parts of the room, except for the Sony Xperia. No wifi signal at all. Not even one bar.

So day 1 ended with me taking a cold shower in the room after dinner and wondering why the heater wasn’t working. It was chilly at night and it was a shower which reminded me of the cold icy showers we had while camping in Canada, in the dark with a makeshift portable shower balloon. Until I discovered that hot water is from the right side and not the left side of the swivel. I discovered during my shower the next morning. I was asleep in a second when I hit the bed and got under the covers.

First glimpse of Mas Cottages from the boat.
First glimpse of Mas Cottages from the boat.
Sunset on Day 1 on Lake Toba. Loving it and absorbing it.
Sunset on Day 1 on Lake Toba. Loving it and absorbing it.

This was a long post but I’ve collected all my thoughts during the trip to share. Also, I might have a few tips on the island now! More posts coming up. Uploading photos can be a pain on this wifi connection.

Things to do on a break

Well, being on a break or what some call a luxury. Quite true and as much as I hope to extend this ‘luxury of time and flexibility’ to at least October 2015 or later, I had the good opportunity and blessings which resulted in a new job which I would jump into by end of August 2015.

With a definite amount of time to my break, my ‘break’ time is even more precious. Taking a break can be nerve-wrecking. For me, I got into it almost involuntarily. I had a recent surgery and was out of action for a month so I was given the option to take a break to recover fully, which also means, quitting earlier than expected.

The first week on the break was fine as I enjoyed the absence of Monday blues. Then again, I had a long hospitalisation leave prior to that which already gave me a little bit of a cabin fever, some bad habits and possibly some good [medicated] sleep too.

Post-recovery and now mid-way through the break, I’m rethinking if some time could have been put to better use. The list of things to do below are just what I’ve done so far among others which can be a form of discovery too. Like I discovered online games and unfortunately, got a little hooked.

One thing which I would have loved to do while I have this excess of time and flexibility (like attending day classes just like all other women of leisure) was hot yoga. I had to suspend the account for a few months until I’m ready to do a full stretch or even a downward dog.

Now, this is not in any order of priority, but just top of my head at the moment:

  1. Visit the library and borrow books on self-development for progression in life.
  2. Tend to your garden if you have one.
  3. Listen to the radio. I’m listening to the online radio at the moment. It’s amazing how the radio does keep you company during the day when you are a little isolated from everyone else. Especially after a month and more being at home. It is also quite relaxing listening to the hits you recognise. Also, to get updates on what is happening locally, like events, ads, conversations etc.
  4. Catch up with old friends. No pun intended. Drop people a note to check in and appreciate their time in engaging with you.
  5. Sign up for freelance work. Yes, I’ve written some articles and also translated a few from Traditional Mandarin to English (yes, I’m amazed myself). Also received a request and invitation from the online magazine to join them long-term as an editor. That sounds fun…if only I had a longer break….
  6. Research on places to go for a short solo trip! I’ve not taken one for a while now and I’m happy to share that I’m booked for a trip to Lake Toba for about 9 days. Exploring, discovering, reading and writing while I prepare for the next big job.

    Photo courtesy of Easy Planet Travel.
    Photo courtesy of Easy Planet Travel.
  7. Attend a friend’s wedding and ‘gatecrash’ parts of the National Day rehearsal.

    So I saw the tanks while getting to the hotel and had quite a night trying to get home. Waiting in the queue would probably take me all night, no response for calling cabs maybe due to the road closures around the area, tried to take a bus and realised after two bus stops that I was heading in the wrong direction. Got off and walked back to where the hotel is, got on the last circle line train (i think) to Dakota and saw this:

    And again, after the wedding while I was heading home.
    And again, after the wedding while I was heading home. Waving to the boys while they ‘parked’ the tanks.
  8. Go swimming and chill at the poolside. Well, at least i did after the stitches came off. I sat at the poolside today until it rained. (There isn’t shelter where the deck chairs are.)
  9. Grocery shopping and I feel that I spend a lot more daily while I’m on a break than when I was at work. :/
  10. Take plenty of selfies with purr meister. Especially when he is irresistibly cute and snuggling up next to you. IMG_20150806_153504
  11. Play online games. Which can be slippery slope.
  12. Meet and talk to start-ups. Can be invigorating and they do chat about new technology which can be exciting.
  13. Watch dramas online. I started watching this Japanese TV series called ‘Suteki na Sen Taxi’ and I’m at episode 10, the final episode now. I’m dreading the end of it. It is about a special taxi which takes the passenger back in time to correct a wrong and its driver who is quite eccentric and interesting. I noted how the character developed from episode one to ten and there is a ‘moral’ in each episode which can be heartwarming after watching all the gory movies.
  14. Try to lose weight and do more exercise. Considering I cannot go overboard with strenuous activities or stretching my butt, I can brisk walk, jog and swim (still felt a little odd on the first swim in ages). The stitches on the butt just came out and I’ve been told to go easy as it’s still not very strong.
  15. More updates on escapades in Medan and Lake Toba!

 

My first paid article!

I’ve written essays at school which were submitted for competitions and well, just enjoy writing casually, which also includes some teen novels I’d written when I was younger and unpublished of course.

 

Now that I have some time (beyond household chores, reading and meeting potential business partners), I decided to sign up as a freelance ghostwriter. Things that I’ve learnt about writing for money:

I’m sure many of you would laugh at my experience as a first-time paid writer, but I’m just happy.

 

  • Deadlines, research and write within the deadlines makes one feel unsure of the quality and standard.
  • Choice of topics. You either take it on and turn it down but of course turning it down reduces some future opportunities.
  • Writing and rewriting.
  • I’m on my laptop almost the whole day and I’m half afraid that my laptop might ‘burnout’.
  • Upside: Happy to be paid a token for writing and spending time on my laptop surfing the internet.

I was ‘naively’ elated with my first paid article. What did I do? I went out and got some groceries with that at Marks & Spencer as a treat. Then I became ambitious and accepted translation jobs too. So I just translated lifestyle articles in Traditional Chinese to English. Well, I thank my lucky stars that I went through karaoke training with my mother when I was a kid. Pitch and tone aside, at least I still remember how to read some Traditional Chinese words. So thank you Mom (who is currently in Qinghai with my father for a monastery’s grand opening).

This is how I feel now. #roar Credit to Wiki Commons.
This is how I feel now. #roar
Credit to Wiki Commons.

Ok, now give me more writing projects which can fund our grocery needs. #feedme

The longest February

It is amazing how many things have happened within a short month of February (and it isn’t even a leap year).

As if a long holiday over Chinese New Year wasn’t enough, I feel like I need a break. Already.

I’m writing this on the last day of February and I’m thinking, yes, let’s move on to March. February has been a roller coaster on many fronts. Yes, there were triumphs and there were ruts. Closing a series of deals towards the last week of February and making leeway in partnerships were the key highlights.

There are many things which needs to be done. First things first, is to get myself out of a rut and some solitude. Getting away for a while sounds like a perfect idea at the moment. If it wasn’t for work, I would book myself on a flight right at this moment (I do have Google opened right now on a search for cheap flights from Singapore to Chiangmai or even Medan.)

Would I press a reset button if there was one in life? Or would it be too much of a hassle to go back and start all over again.There are many choices we have made in this life. How many changes is enough?

 

Lovely Lake Louise

Alliteration intended.

Lake Louise wraps up our trip to BC nicely. We’ve crossed over various timezones in Canada during our trip from Ottawa to Halifax to Vancouver, to our campgrounds in BC and to Alberta which is where Lake Louise is.

At the end of the hike, we estimated that we’ve covered more than 60km in three days since we had about 25km covered in one day.

I ended up with more than 4 or 5 blisters, one broken toe, three blue toenails and any thoughts of putting my swollen feet back into shoes or encasement of any kind is a blistering thought.

Our trip to Canada came to an end. The rest of it was us racing from Alberta to Vancouver to catch our flight that night. It was probably about 850km back to Vancouver and we did it within 8 hrs with a few stops but not many. It was a crazy rush back.

We still had to shower, return the car, unpack, pack and head to the airport for our flight back to Singapore. Which was another 24 hr journey. The flight back was a lot shorter than the flight to Canada as we flew over a more direct route from Vancouver to Hong Kong and to Singapore.

Abrasion from the backpack
Abrasion from the backpack while hiking Canadian Rockies