Tuesday, December 4, 2012

A Few Facts on Switzerland

Banknotes of the Swiss franc
Switzerland is quite the fascinating country that everyone should visit at some time in their lives. It's so fascinating, that we decided to put together a few fun facts about Switzerland to spark up some traveling excitement!

  • Switzerland is one of countries in Europe that did not adapt to use the Euro for currency, but use instead the Swiss Franc. Other European countries that don't use the Euro include the United Kingdom, Denmark, Norway and Sweden.
  • Switzerland is recognized as a hub for business activity and scientific achievement. The largest Large Hadron Collider in the world was recently completed in Switzerland.
  • Switzerland has four national languages: French, German, Italian and Romansch. It is uncommon to find someone who can only speak one language in Switzerland.
  • Switzerland is also known as Confoederatio Helvetica, which explains the .ch on their websites.
  • Switzerland has a great deal of climate variations, and usually holds a more consistent temperature throughout the year relative to its neighbors.
Interested in visiting? I would recommend staying in hostels, like the Backpackers Villa Sonnenhof, Interlaken, a hostel in Interlaken Switzerland. Safe and happy travels!

Tuesday, November 20, 2012


You really need a car to get around in this part of the world. I eventually returned my Eurailpass unused because there basically are no trains running in the Balkans. I walked across the border from Romania to Bulgaria, hoping to find a guy on the other side that would take me to civilization for a reasonable price and not leave my lifeless body in a ditch somewhere, even though he didn’t speak any English. Remarkably, I did, and soon I was in Varna at the bus station looking at my map and guide book trying to figure out where to go next. A college kid sat down next to me and suggested Veliko Tarnovo, and it turned out that the next bus was leaving soon, so I got on it. 

I was somewhat relieved to see that Bulgaria is trying hard to join the Western world. Bulgaria is not a land of peasants and scammers. Bulgaria has fashion and industry. People seem to be working and pulling ahead. There are miles and miles of sunflowers, all with their heads turned in the same direction. 

Veliko Tarnovo is a nice little town where no one speaks a word of English except the real-estate agents, who have been selling apartments and farms to the Brits in the past few years. Real Estate is booming as more Brits arrive and make the locals rich by paying 10,000 pounds for an apartment. Next year it will be twice that. 

In Bulgaria, everyone over the age of 14 must smoke cigarettes. I was lucky they didn’t throw me in jail for not smoking. Even though smoking is not allowed on the buses, the driver of my bus to Sofia smoked five cigarettes in three hours, and the tour guide woman smoked two. Fortunately, no one else smoked on the bus. Sofia is a complete write-off. Can’t imagine why anyone would go there. But I think the Bulgarians might make it into the EU – I think they have the entrepreneurial drive and the social desire to go forward, not back. So far, so good – I had been spending most of my time in interesting tourist places, not in the big ugly cities. I took a bus to Skopje and found myself in the middle of Macedonia… 

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Why Traveling is the Worst!

Air France operations at Charles de Gaulle air...(Photo credit: Wikipedia)
I found this hilarious article the other day. If you know the author please let me know!

I hate traveling!!! I lay sleepless for nights before I have to embark on a intercontinental journey (and I have had quite a few of them the past few years; eight to be more exact). It is always such a hassle traveling alone. Always. Never goes wrong. This time around I made a point of bringing as little luggage as possible to make traveling as easy as possible, but it hardly made a difference. I did not sleep more than two or three hours between Saturday and Sunday. I got up at 5.30 am on Sunday, took a long shower, ate some oatmeal and my last perishable dairy food (i.e. yoghurt). Then I called a taxi. At 7.25 am the shady old car that was my taxi drove up the driveway and a filthy slob (the driver) got out to help me get my way too heavy bag into the trunk. He asked me to sit in the front seat as he had a few more people to pick up before he was going to drop me off at the Greyhound bus station in Lewiston. Of course the front seat was filthy as well. As soon as I reluctantly sat down the slob driver sped away in the opposite direction of the bus station. In some working class neighborhood not too far away from Bates he picked up a guy that was so fancy (at least the seemed to think so himself). He could have been taken off the streets of Borås, my trend-sensitive hometown in Sweden, but more likely a street in a trend-sensitive Eastern European country as his outfit was slightly out of fashion (of course no Mainer would ever recognize this). Still, he is probably the first male with a sense of European fashion that I have encountered thus far in Lewiston, Maine. The slob driver obviously thought that he was gay and did not pay him any attention at all and started talking to me about where I was going:

Slob driver: So are you off to family for the 4th of July?
Me: No I am going to Boston to fly home for the summer.
Slob driver: Really? Where do you live?
Me: Sweden.
Slob driver:…
Me: It is in Europe. Northwestern Europe. Do you know where Norway is? Russia?
Slob driver: I know where Europe is.

That is our entire conversation transcribed. After half a minute of awkward silence the fancy Mainer asked in a very Maine way: “Eeh, would you mind stopping somewhere where I can buy some smokes?” (After this I seized to consider him fancy anymore: It was clear that he was just another Mainer although he was wearing nice clothes).
Stopping at the Greyhound station I paid $3.00, the smoker paid $4.00. Entering the newly built terminal I found the ticket counter closed: the metal divider that protects the Greyhound workers from the Lewiston locals was closed and I started to feel a little anxious. Turns out that the divider is broken and that the place was not closed. Hence I approached the counter where I had to bend down so that I could talk to the lady behind the divider through the money slot in the counter. Like a fool I stood there screaming my ticket preferences with every lonely soul (homeless people?) in the terminal staring at me. Somehow I managed to acquire the right ticket and I stepped outside and stood next to the fashionable Mainer while I waited for the bus to come. I fell asleep on the (smelly) bus and did not wake up until we were on that new fancy bridge that looks like a ship leading into downtown Boston. Everyone but me and a very sweet woman from South Africa got off at the South Station. We sat together chatting on the way to Logan Airport. She told me that she is a swimming instructor in Cape Town and that she has swum across the English Channel. I asked her if she swims in the ocean off Cape Town. She said that she did upon which I asked if she is afraid of the many great white sharks that inhabit the area. She wasn’t. She gave me her business card in case I ever stopped by Cape Town (I wish!). A URL was listed on the card and I figured I’d provide it: www.alternativeplace.co.za . She was a very nice lady who I would have liked to talk to some more but unfortunately I lost her at the airport.
Oh the airport. Dreaded Logan Airport. This is probably the worst international airport that I have encountered so far (Charles De Gaulle is horrible as well but at least it looks good). The international terminal (Terminal E) looks good in at first but soon it becomes evident that this airport has very little to offer its visitors: one make-up store, one convenience store, and one over priced café. They call the area where these outlets are located “AirMall” or something like that and it has some ridiculous slogan like: Everything you need. No, Airmall has nothing that I need nor want. Inside the ticket-holders only area there is also a decent bookstore and a restaurant and probably some other store that I overlooked. This area is immensely ugly and a hassle to wait in as there always seems to be fewer seats than waiting passengers. Logan is also a very unorganized airport: The boarding for my flight (Air France) and a British Airways flight (the adjacent gate) started at the same time and as there was no system for queuing in place a huge crowd gathered in front of the two gates. People pushed and squeezed and did everything to get ahead in the line. In this chaos some passengers bound for Air France unknowingly ended up in the line for the British Airways flight and vice versa. Getting onboard was a very unpleasant experience of squeezing and pushing around, and of course being pushed around. It is at times like that I wish I had some more money so that I could afford business class tickets rather than shady economy class tickets. Air France refers to their economy class alternative as “Tempo”. This neat name is not characteristic of Air France, arguably the slowest airline in the world.
On board I was pleased to find the seats to be much more comfortable than I remembered from previous flights—the seats are roomy and have a neat entertainment center thingy. I have made a habit of sleeping my way across the Atlantic and did not manage things differently this time around either. I was very comfortable the whole flight and although I hate transferring at de Gaulle, the comfort on board motivates me to choose Air France over Iceland Air, my only price-wise, competitive alternative flying to Logan.
We arrived in Paris slightly behind schedule and knowing how outrageously confusing the de Gaulle airport is I worried that I was not going to make my connect flight to Copenhagen. I rushed through the terminal guided by the ambiguous map with even more ambiguous drawings on it on the ticket. Because the French have made a point of not putting up any signs in their airport aiding foreign transfer visitors I had to run up to complete strangers at several occasions and make use of my rusty school French: “Terminal D?” Of course I did not understand anything of the French answers besides à gauche and à droit (left and right). Somehow I managed to get to my transfer gate before it had opened and I was among the first people to sit down on the Copenhagen- bound airplane. Luckily a nice guy from South Africa and Denmark (he was a Dane living in Cape Town since several years back) sat down next to me and was willing to carry a conversation. We spent the hour that the plane spent on ground awaiting late transfer arrivals from Hong Kong and Atlanta discussing current South African politics and the (in both our minds) ridiculous waste of money of renaming Pretoria, the capital city, when there are tons of other posts of expenditure that logically and rationally should be prioritized. I enjoyed the conversation. We took off an hour or so too late, arrived late to Copenhagen, and on top of this the luggage claim conveyor belts were all in use by other airlines so we had to wait for about 45 minutes before the luggage from our flight even got on the belt. My one piece of luggage showed up fairy early and at 11.00 am or so on Monday I exited into the waiting hall at Kastrup (Copenhagen’s airport) where I reunited with mom, dad, and my little sister. Back in Scandinavia. Finally!