Saturday, October 31, 2009

In Sintra, Portugal now via Lisbon

Hello people, I am in Sintra, Portugal right now, a UNESCO world heritage village having a short relaxing weekend holiday. Away from the hustle and bustle of Amsterdam, and also from Lisbon. Lisbon was nice but for this trip I prefer the village-y feel, the nature and the tranquil surroundings around me.

Lisbon touchdown


The KLM pilot went too fast with the landing and the plane was swaying sideways, we bumped hard on the runway. I managed to take pictures of Lisbon from the plane.


Me in Rossio square in Lisbon, Portugal. Not the best foto (looking a bit smug haha) I got but I didn't have many fotos taken with me on it in Lisbon.

Beautiful Sintra

My hotel in Sintra is really nice. It is facing the valley and the historical center with the old buildings and houses, and the castle ruins on top of the mountain as my view (sometimes I only see a blanket of mist hovering above the tip of the mountain). I think I have chosen a perfect place to unwind. I really need this from time to time.

Here is the picture of the view from my room when I arrived:


Had a quick stroll in the village and a very light dinner as well. I only ordered a tapas starter and some bread, with red wine of course.


I had dinner at a fine dining restaurant (cannot remember the name) right by the Placa da Republica.

So I chatted up the waiter asking for some advice what’s best on the menu, and later on how to get to the palace up in the mountains. As typical as my conversations with waiters end up, he asked me where I am from as he can’t seem to figure out where. When I told him I am from Holland, his reply was a raised eyebrow, lol. I know, I am not blonde, OK!

Anywho, it turns out that one of the cooks is a Filipino, so he excitedly asked the other waiter to go to the kitchen and fetch him for me.


Tomorrow will be a long day... will be visiting the castles, the little historical center of Sintra which is just a stone's throw away from my hotel (actually my view from the balcony is the old center), take a walk in the lush valley, enjoy Portuguese seafood cuisine and many, many more.

I'll have more tales later when I am back in the Netherlands.

Alright, till then!

Travel Period: October-November 2009
Destination: Lisbon and Sintra (Lisboa), Portugal

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Happy Travels! Enjoy Life =)

Friday, October 23, 2009

Itchy feet but can't decide

Since its Q4, the most stressful time for every sales and business professional, I am grounding myself from traveling long distance. My friend, Blondine is dying to take a week holiday in NYC or Cuba as originally planned. I’d love to really. I mean I would have booked the ticket now, pronto!, but I’m a responsible corporate slave so I have changed plans and have been looking at nearby destinations for a nice long weekend instead.

The problem right now is I can’t make a decision, and I want to fly out next weekend already.

I’ve checked Cotswolds in the UK, Carcassonne in the south of France, Valencia in Spain, Venice in Italy, Andorra, even Paris. All except Paris I’d love to spend more days than just a long weekend.

I have a luxurious problem okay but I need to make a decision this weekend. I want some culture, some nature and some relaxation.Align Centre Sigh...
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Monday, October 19, 2009

Traipsing on the pricey streets of Oslo

After my Oslo trip, I think I hit the wall. Big time. It’s like a brick that hit me hard on the head and I lay there unconscious on the floor for a time. Unlike my other travels where I totally get hyperactive and ecstatic to work on my fotos and spend time daydreaming and rekindling all the travel experiences in my head, Oslo gave me this thick wall of complacence, and utter nothingness. It was as if I had a withdrawal.

Maybe because I wasn’t so charmed at the city at all?

As Dutchman put it with sarcasm, Oslo is a “uitgegroiede dorp”, which means a big or developed village. The city is relatively small per metropolitan standards but quite compact. It’s just about Amsterdam Centrum only except that the city center of Amsterdam has a different appeal. Eerily crammed with dark crooked houses and lined with romantic medieval canals whilst holding up this down to earth alternative jive, carefree yet mysterious. Of course plus 250,000 more people. Amsterdam will always be my favorite city.



Karl Johans Gate and the Norwegian Parliament (also on the same street) is always lively in the evening. Lots of bars and cafes in this area.


Scenes in Karl Johans Gate, the Grand Hotel and cafes along the street.


A pretty building along Karl Johans Gate and the National Theater nearby.


This is the University of Oslo. There was a fair going on when we were there. Next foto is an interesting looking fountain.

What stands out with Oslo though, and I guess all throughout Norway, is the exorbitant prices. The most expensive city in the world, I reckon. Everything is twice the price of most European cities. A croissant is about NOK25 (€3), a sandwich NOK50-70 (€6-8), a cup of coffee NOK40 (€5), a beer NOK60-80 (€7-8), a glass of wine NOK80 (€10), starters at restaurants range from NOK110-210 (€13-25), main course at NOK250-350 (€30-41). If you dine and wine, no bells and whistles, nothing like a Michelin star restaurant but just a decent 3-course meal with coffee for 2 after, you easily cough up €200!

So, yeah, after a few days in the city you tend to calculate everything you spend, lol.


Having drinks at the 3 Brothers cafe restaurant in Karl Johans Gate.


Looks like the Norwegians take the stop sign seriously. A colleague told me he thinks its for the colour blind people. There was a woman on stilts who was pestering everyone she meets on the streets!


The Royal Palace in Oslo overlooking Karl Johans Gate. Oslo was called Christiania in the old days.


The Royal Palace and the Royal Palace guard. That's me on the grounds of the palace.

It’s hard to explain the ambience of Oslo but it is very “degelijk”, something about it with the “very proper” feel that margins alongside what is boring, a word that I hate to call it with because Oslo is quite pretty and in the evening, the city kids become highly intoxicated with alcohol and go prancing about in the discotheques. That's not boring at all right but I simply do not understand, with the high cost of living, these kids are loosely spending their money on booze.

On Saturday, I only fell asleep after 3AM when the bar and discotheque across our hotel closed for the night. The music was deafening; it was insane. The walls of the hotel room throbbed and the floors felt like the basement was going to give way and swallow up the bed I am lying in. Girls outside were screaming uncontrollably and I hear glass breaking. I jumped out of bed and peaked outside the window ready to witness some CSI action but instead I see incoherent blonde kids traipsing slip shoddily on the streets.

I was telling this story to friends and they were like, “Why weren’t the two of you partying across the street instead of sleeping in early like elderly people?”

Uh-huh. I succumbed. We are definitely elderly people.


This is the Oslo City hall which I think is an ugly building. The flowers in the park in front of the building were pretty though. The next foto is the square leading to Aker Brygge (will post another entry about this soon).


Of course, there were trolls in Norway! A very handy way to move around Oslo is by bike. You can rent them in the tourist shops for about €10 per person for 24 hours which is about the same price for a local but for a year of use!

Oh, and what is it with young Norwegian girls and glossy skin tone stockings? They come in groups in Karl Johan’s Gate clad in the same super mini skirt attire and glossy skin tone stockings in high slinky heels. Ah, the come back of the Spice Girls Nordic v2009. Maybe it’s the fashion trend in Oslo, glossy skin tone stockings, even if its almost freezing out there.

There also seemed to be a sub culture of older women and beer + cigarettes. Women in pairs and in groups come together for beers in the evening and they always seem to be smoking the whole time. There is definitely a high price tag to smoking in Norway. A cigarette pack costs €10-€12, obviously bloated with tax, but heck no, this does not intimidate the real smokers. Like France and the United Kingdom, countries where women smoke like chimneys, Norway is a good runner up.

What about the men? The boys? Um, they are quite good looking but they look a bit gay to me. The older ones tend to grow beards like Kenny Rogers.



Oslo Central Station and the big tiger guarding it.


Modern glass buildings in Oslo near the Central Station. Next foto is a mural painting on the walls of Oslo Central Station, really nice.


The buildings in Oslo city center are partly Art Nouveau (jugendstil) inspired, athough these buildings on the fotos above might not be the best representation.

More fotos of Oslo here: Oslo, Norway

As for museums, there were quite a number of them, many with free entrance (Thank you! The Dutch can learn from this but as we all know the Dutch will always try to earn money from anything. What more if it breathes?) but some were located in the outskirts of the city. I managed to see a few in between, leaving the Dutchman at the hotel one time to work on his laptop while I went to the National Museum nearby. I can’t leave Oslo without seeing “The Scream” of Edvard Munch.

When I finally saw the painting, I felt sad. Not because the painting channeled those poignant emotions to me but because I didn’t feel anything. I stared at “The Scream” and did not feel anything. Strange, maybe I was expecting too much.

On the other hand, there was another painting of Edvard Munch that caught me, so forceful that I stood there mesmerized. I was so drawn to it. It was a huge, almost life size canvas of a sick child in bed with an older woman sitting beside her. The whole painting was dark and evoked of gloom—the title, “The Sick Child”. I can feel the utter grief of the characters, the desperation, the lost future and the ultimate message that life is so fragile, so fleeting. It was so sad. I felt like there was a lump on my throat. Edvard Munch spoke to me.


I did not feel bad leaving the museum after. I may have come for something else but I gained from finding another. Nothing was laid to waste.


Travel Period: September 2009
Destination: Oslo, Norway

Monday, October 12, 2009

Blogging mojo

I'm having some blogging withdrawals lately. I don't know but I am just not in the mood to blog. Maybe I am just tired from work.

Not sure really when I'm going to have my blogging mojo back.
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Thursday, October 08, 2009

Birthdays, Kaapse Bossen, Chestnuts and Maarten Maartenshuis

Last weekend was a busy one for me. Saturday went shopping with Blondine in Amsterdam. Had coffee at the Americain Hotel—those huge period leather armchairs in the restaurant right by the front windows are so comfy, had lunch in Caffe PC in PC Hooftstraat, then after shopping had high tea and some drinks at MoMo Restaurant, Bar and Lounge—oh, their lemon pie is really yummy, highly recommended, more like a dessert thing than a snack.

I made sure to buy a gift for brother-in-law for his birthday celebration the next day. His birthday gift request, a kitchen apron. You know, in Dutch culture it’s normal to tell close friends and relatives attending your little celebration your birthday present wish list. The Dutch are practical folks, they want to give something that the celebrant actually can use. These Dutchies obviously don’t have a weakness for surprises!

The Maarten Maartenshuis built circa 1901 is a small castle in the Kaapse Bossen in Doorn. The manor can be rented for events and is quite popular as a wedding location.

I sneaked inside and took a foto of the coat of arms hanging on the walls of the hallway.


More fotos of the manor and the terrace on the front courtyard.

Anyway, for Dutch brother-in-law birthday celebration, we all went to the forest, the "Kaapse Bossen" in Doorn. We’ve been here many times and I've blogged about this place before. It’s one of those nice (secret) places to go for a picnic because this estate has a small castle and an outside terrace in the middle of the forest. There are coffee tables and chairs on its frontyard grounds that the public can use. Moreover there is a big and open grass yard that the children can play (they played football, and later, hide and seek). The kids are almost grown up and one day they will start bringing someone called "boyfriend" and "girlfriend" to family birthday gatherings.

The little castle here is called Maarten Maartenshuis and on top of the entrance doorway you can see a sun signage. Before this manor was called what it is today, it was originally known as “zonheuvel”, in English, sun hill or maybe sunny hill.


I don't have a clue to the names of these plants (and their fruits or flowers), but surely the red olive-shaped fruit is from the pine tree family.


Chestnut season now! The prickly covering can hurt as hell so be careful when picking them and peeling the nuts away from their porcupine shells.


Autumn always has lovely colours especially in the forest. Autumn is my favorite season.


Cool fotos of the kids in the forest. They are still kids, they are very active and like to climb everywhere.


This is the koetshuis (a storage locker room of the castle) which is now a restaurant and a multi-functional place.

There was also a wine tasting event in the afternoon in the castle but by the time it started we have left for the forest already searching for chestnuts. I managed to take a peak inside the castle's lobby and hallway. I must say they have some nice antique-looking furnishings.

And, its chestnut season now! The forests are full of them! Dutchman pleaded with me using his I-can't-break-a-glass puppy look not to bring the nuts home. He said I can pick them up for the Dutch family but please please not to bring them home because he knows I will never do anything on them and just let the little brown things accumulate dust somewhere in the kitchen. Ugh, I’m such a lazy slob when it comes to these things.

Anywho, I have another Dutch birthday family feast to attend to this weekend. ‘Tis the Dutch family birthday season again stretching all the way until January 2010. Unfortunately I will be going alone because the Dutchman is somewhere in the Caribbean right now for work, precisely in an island called Tortola.

Sounds familiar eh? I watched the Pirates of the Caribbean Movie the other week and Captain Jack Sparrow was saying something about sailing the Flying Dutchman ship to Tortola… and now... the Dutchman, my Dutchman has just flown into Tortola. You get what I mean?

Anyway, I hope you enjoyed the fotos above.


Visit Period: October 2009
Destination: Doorn (Utrechtse Heuvelrug - Utrecht), The Netherlands



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