Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Cycling from Amsterdam to Beijing (no, not me!)

A few friends of mine know these two Dutch girls who decided to embark on a cycling trip from Amsterdam to Beijing to make it in time to watch their friends row in the Olympics.

Isn't it amazing - can you imagine doing such a trip??

I thought I'd share their blog with you because I am simply impressed. The blog is in Dutch and English...they have just crossed the Chinese border.

This site has more photos on it (it's in Dutch but you can click on the different stories to see the photos)



Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Belated Stockholm post

About a month ago, I traveled to Sweden to visit a former classmate and friend, Chiara, who is presently living in Stockholm. It was midsummer's festival weekend, although none of us knew exactly what that signified in terms of celebrations. We heard of this dancing around a pole singing songs thing, but I really had an all-out, all-weekend cultural festival in mind (a la renaissance fair or something with lots of beer). As part of this midsummer's festival, Swedish people tend to head to one of the many islands to camp.

So, we did the same. Upon arriving in Stockholm's very cool underground, cave-like train station, I met up with Chiara and we immediately headed to meet our other friend who had flown in earlier, Frank, at the ferries who was patiently waiting with our mountain of goods. Our destination was the island of Vaxholm, about 45 minutes by ferry from the city. We were on a boat, the weather was sunny, fairly warm, with a mild wind...the only thing missing? A beer, of course! The beers were a whopping 14 euros (that's approx. $USD 22)!!! I've been to Oslo and I knew Sweden is renown for its high price tags, but I had no idea a medium-sized beer would be so incredibly pricey! I guess that's why my friends *smartly* pre-prepared our drink supply, buying from the local supermarket.

Upon arriving to said island, we hauled our luggage to a campground - it has been years since I've camped (in fact the last time I camped was in good ole VA and, while hiking, my friend and I encountered a bear!). Chiara had thoughtfully pruchased two nice tents for the whopping low price of the equivalent of 30 euros a piece.

Funnily enough, the instructions were in English with a Swedish touch. They were very clear, but the final sentence in instruction pamphlet was classic! It said "Erection complete.Congratulation." Isn't that hilarious? It almost seems that it was intentional. Oh, and how could I forget - just as we went to erect our tents, a major downpour of rain bombarded us for an hour or so. Luckily enough and not anticipating the rain, we were able to share a nearby tent with some very nice and interesting Swedish people who did anticipate the rain.

We had an extensive intercultural dialogue lasting a good few hours throughout the night, which included me trying their herring in various sauces (the Dutch are also known for their love of raw herring and I had not tried it until this point! Sorry, Arno). Admittedly, the herring drenched in Thai sweet sauce was not so bad! The Dutch tend to eat their herring whole, completely raw, with no sauce, and sometimes with a bit of onion....

As I soon learned, the Swedish midsummer's festival is nothing more than a time to relax and celebrate the official start of summer with family and/or close friends, involving celebratory activities, such as pole dancing and singing, wrapping ribbons around the pole as they sing and dance, eating some herring in sauce and drinking schnapps (or your other preferred liquor. They practically drink themselves to the next day - I would say until the next sunrise, but the sun never really set (due to its location far north in case you hadn't heard of this phenomenon). This was truly bizzare and completely threw off my sleep cycle for the entire weekend. The sky at 2:00 in the morning was like dusk - the sun looked like it was setting, but it never dropped over the horizon. Needless to say, the evening and night was enjoyable. It included a bonfire, more intercultural dialogue, and volleyball in the sand.

>>This is the sky at about 2am and this is how it stayed until the sun rose completely about 2 hours later.

The next day, we headed back to Stockholm by bus rather than ferry (yes, many of the islands are connected by bridges including the city of Stockholm itself which is comprised of several islands). We spent the time gearing up to watch the EuroCup match of Netherlands v. Russia, which we decided we'd watch at the Dutch Embassy (we had 1 Dutch person in tow and 2 residents which was sufficient for entrance). Good thing, too, the beer was only 2 euros as compared to the 14 euros we'd have to pay elsewhere. Unluckily enough the NL lost to Russia in a devastating game...on that note, we headed out to sample some of the trendy Stockholm nightlife.
As this was a short weekend trip for me, I flew out the next afternoon - but not before having a terrific lunch and stroll through the Gamla Stan - the older part of the city.

The trip was short but very informative and fun :) I'd like to visit again sometime and especially to check out more of the Scandinavian nature.

For more photos, click here!

Friday, July 11, 2008

To the south of France

Travel update: I travelled to Sweden a few weeks ago which was a very nice time - I will post photos sometime soon. However, the latest travel news is that Arno and I are preparing to leave in approximately 12 hours to drive to the south of France where we will spend the next 10 days. We're staying a village called Menton (pictured below), which is not far from Monaco, Nice, Cannes, etc.!

It's my first time to the south of France and I've been wanting to go here for many many years. We'll also head a little west to the famed region of Provence! :)

I hope to have some great photos from this trip! Stay tuned!!!

I wish you all a wonderful summer and vacation if you're going on one!