RTW Day 33 – First impressions of Stockholm as an expensive city

Another day, another country. Today we got up early, and caught the high speed train between Copenhagen and Stockholm, which takes about five hours. Had a McToast for breakfast, which is like a ham and cheese toasted sandwich from McDonalds, only $2! Amazing!

The platform for the Swedish train was about 15 minutes walk away from all the other platforms at the station which was weird. Maybe they don’t like the Swedes?

IMG_3086We got a tablet seat, which is two+two seats facing each other with a table in the middle. Kathryn and I were in the two seats facing each other next to the window. About an hour in, two other guys sat in the other seats, and then decided to start drinking. I fell asleep, Kathryn said I nearly started sleeping on one of the guys. Awkward.

By the time we got into Stockholm, it was 1.30pm. However, sunset was at 2.54pm, so there wasn’t that much sunlight to explore. In hindsight, perhaps coming to Scandinavia in Winter isn’t as much value as in Summer since you only get 6 hours of daylight a day. Next time we’ll have to do a Summer road trip.

We’re staying at a tiny hotel in Stockholm. Basically, a proper hotel needed to do something with their basement, so they converted it into a hostel. Most people complain about the small size and the lack of windows, but clearly these people haven’t been to Japan. I guess if you’re coming from Germany where a four star hotel is around 70 euro a night, to Stockholm, where a hostel is about 100 euro a night, you’d be shocked. But we’ve stayed in worse conditions in Japan, so Kathryn was more positive after a while.

IMG_3088We walked around the main shopping street of Stockholm, which is where I saw C.U.M Clubwear. I’m not sure I’d want to be covered in that clothing. We then went to Pizza Hut for dinner. I had Ribs, Wings, and Fries, Kathryn had Garlic Bread, the smallest Pizza I’ve seen in ages (think $2 Leaning Tower mini-Pizza they sell at Pubs), and Desert, a couple of beers, and that was $80 NZD. Expensive!

Yet, we then went to a department store to get some Clarins face moisturiser, and it was about the same price as New Zealand, and included free shaving gel, and shampoo! Some things are cheap, some things are expensive.

And some things are sold only by a government monopoly. Like alcohol. Alcohol over 3.5% can only be sold at a government monopoly store called Systembolaget. This exists to minimise Alcohol harm in the community. There’s no two for one sales, no advertising, strict opening hours, no promotion, and lots of alcohol free options. I like the concept of it. If alcohol causes harm in the community and the government has to deal with the outcomes, then why not let the government more tightly control the supply?

 

RTW Day 32 – Hippies, little Mermaids, Guns, and the Canals of Copenhagen

An action packed day of sightseeing in Copenhagen! When you’ve only got one full day in a country, you get pretty good at planning your day.

IMG_3050The first thing we saw was Christiania, a commune in Copenhagen. This is where all the arty and alternative people in Copenhagen go. They had a problem with drug pushers a while ago, and when walking around you could still smell weed in the air. There were three rules to the place:

  1. Have fun
  2. Don’t run – it causes panic
  3. No photos – buying and selling hash is still illegal.

There were a few dodgy looking people with dogs around, yet, a school class was going on a tour of the place, so Kathryn felt safe.

We then walked to Amalienborg Palace to see the changing of the guard. If you’ve ever seen a changing of a guard before, or heard an army band, well, you’ll know what to expect. The nice thing about the event was how friendly the Police were. They were joking with the crowd, one said “I ordered the weather for 20 degrees today, and I got 3 degrees instead, but what can you do?”, which was amusing. They were all armed with guns.

IMG_3064We then did a bit of shopping in Copenhagen. Kathryn has a bit of a crush on Scandinavian design, which helps fund Good As Gold shop in Wellington. Well, Copenhagen was her style mecca, and every other store was full of beautiful, well designed, clothes or furniture. Of course, the prices were well … well thought out. I saw a couch for $10,000. Was a plain couch, no fancy electronics or reclining in this one.

A few hundred dollars later, we thought we’d grab a bite to eat. I paid $9 for 500ml of Pepsi Max. That’s a bit steep.

Then it was time to do a canal tour. The lady running the tour was really lovely, so nice, really knowledgeable, and about the only thing in Copenhagen that was reasonably priced, at $15 for an hour’s tour. We saw the Little Mermaid, which was a statue of a Little Mermaid given to Copenhagen by Carlsberg back in 1913. It’s head has been cut off twice now, which seems a bit weird. Who’d want to steal the head of a little mermaid?

Finally, we did a tour of the Copenhagen christmas markets. They were a little smaller (like 10x) than the Berlin markets, though I did see Mulled Wine, and you could pay extra for a shot. Never saw that in Germany. We bought some Alpaca socks, since it’s literally silly cold. And that’s it for Denmark, see you tomorrow Sweden.

RTW Day 31 – On a train on a boat to Copenhagen

Was an early start today bound for Copenhagen. Nice things about Berlin, the S-Bahn runs 24 hours a day over the weekend, so even though we were catching a train at 6am on a Sunday, we only had to wait a couple of minutes.

IMG_3030We had to catch a DB Bahn ICE train, the German Bullet Train, from Berlin to Hamburg, which was fast and uneventful. We then caught a slower ICE train bound for Copenhagen. This train was only four carriages long, since it had to be carried on a ferry! There’s a 45 minute ferry ride between Germany and Denmark, and the whole boat appeared to be doing duty free shopping. This is because of the high costs of things like alcohol in Denmark, which means buying your beers for half price on board the boat makes a lot of sense. Kathryn doesn’t enjoy the motion of the ocean, but didn’t have enough time to take her seasickness pills, so we hung outside on the deck for a while. So when the weather’s only zero degrees, turns out it’s even colder with the wind blowing on your face.

Then we were in Denmark! There was no customs inspections, which I guess means you could buy like 10 bottles of Absolut Vodka and no one would be bothered. After what appeared to be ages, we finally pulled into Copenhagen station.

The last time i travelled around Japan I didn’t have the Internet, and it was a painful experience. This time I did have the Internet, and everything was a lot more awesome. For me this means having the Internet in a country is nearly a necessity. I had purchased a German sim card, and thankfully, could purchase 50MB of data to use in 24 hours in Denmark for 3 euro. Kathryn’s 2 Degrees sim card charges $10 a MB, or $500 for 50MB. I don’t really understand how they can charge that much, that’s literally silly.

IMG_3040Turns out we arrived on the day the Christmas tree was being lit up by Julemanden, or Santa. Julemanden, sounds a lot like “You-the-man”, which was weird to hear the crowd chant.

People always talk about how expensive Scandinavia is. That may be true if you’re from Thailand, but compared to New Zealand prices, it’s about 10% more expensive. Certainly within the same ball park. No where near as cheap as Germany, which seems weird, since it’s right across the border, but nothing too extreme. Think $7.50 for a McMuffin combo, which is probably the same in New Zealand.

To round out the night, we headed to Tivoli Gardens, which is the Rainbow’s End of Copenhagen. It was $20 to enter, and that doesn’t include any rides. Though to be honest, it was really nice, well lit up, a really clean and imaginative experience. It first opened in 1843, which is probably older than New Zealand, and is the second oldest amusement park in the world.

RTW Day 30 – An awful start then the East German Museum

Somedays you have one of those awful starts. Kathryn and I had to do washing, but this needed to be tempered by the fact that there’s only eight hours of sunlight at the moment. However, we walked down the road 1.5km away with the weather hovering around zero degrees expecting to find a really average coin laundry when…

We stumbled upon the nicest waschsalon we could have seen! The idea of combining a laundromat and a cafe seems really novel, but on reflection, makes a lot of sense. You have to spend an hour or two while doing washing, why not have a coffee and a slice there, and turn it into a relaxing experience? The woman that served us was lovely, she looked after all the wash settings, and getting the laundry powder. And for two coffees, a hot chocolate, a full load of clothes washed and dried, was only 11.40 euros! That’s about $18!

IMG_3009We then decided to head out, so we stopped by a bakery to grab a pretzel when disaster struck. I had brought along a water bottle that decided to start leaking all throughout my bag. In the past I’ve carried cash and passports in my bag. Today, I was carrying one of those USB batteries, my beanie, gloves, and scarf. All saturated in blackberry-flavoured water. This did not please me. In fact, I was very annoyed. Kathryn was lovely and helped me to regroup.

We then made up a plan to head to a few places, the first of which was the Palace of Tears. This was where people from East Berlin crossed over into West Berlin, often leaving behind their friends and relatives, hence the name Palace of Tears. The whole concept of the East Germany seems bizarre now, but it was real, it was affecting people, and I was alive when it was still around in 1989. In fact, one day I think the idea of North and South Korea will seem weird to people, and people will be able to cross the border in much the same way people cross Berlin today.

Speaking of East Germany, we then headed to the DDR Museum. DDR stands normally for Dance Dance Revolution, a fun dancing game. In Germany, DDR stands for the German Democratic Republic, or East Germany. If you’ve ever watched V for Vendetta, imagine that was real, and that was East Germany. What a crazy place. Friends and family were turned into spies against each other. No one could buy the food they wanted, the state just couldn’t satisfy the will of the people. Which is a shame, because in some ways, everyone had a job, and if you didn’t stick your neck out, then life probably wasn’t so bad.

Finally, it was time to say our farewells to Berlin, as we’re catching a train at 7am tomorrow bound for Copenhagen. Oh yeah, so the weather has been around 0 degrees celsius. Matter of fact, the temperature won’t go above zero before we leave Berlin! Based on these facts, I ended up buying a Ski Jacket from a coffee store called Tchibo, for 70 euros! Weird that coffee shops sell Ski Jackets, and weirder that a really nice waterproof warm ski jacket was only $112 NZD. Germany, you surprise me constantly.

 

RTW Day 29 – Berlin Wall and Berlin Christmas Markets

IMG_2956Today was our first big day of Berlin, and there’s not much light in the day, so we tried to start early. Like 9.30am. We’re staying in an area called Tiergarten (meaning Animal Park in German),and is next to the zoo, and a quick stroll away from the big sights. We walked through the Tiergarten and popped out on the other side at the Reichstag, which is one of the German government buildings.  The place was a shade more impressive than the Beehive in Wellington, mainly because it was an actually massive old parliament building. Though to be honest, so was Westminster.

From here we walked past the Brandenburg Gate towards the Memorial to the Murdered Jews in Europe. This is a series of concrete blocks of different heights. You can walk through them, and it’s very easy to get lost and confused, which was the feeling that is trying to be evoked by the memorial.

From here we caught the S-Bahn to the Berlin Wall Memorial. This still has a section of the Berlin Wall up, as well as a huge number of signs telling you the history of the wall. Because you’re actually walking the path of the wall as you read the signs, it’s a really interesting bit of history. While the Berlin Wall was an interesting site, did you know that there was a solid border all the way between East and West Germany. That border has shrapnel mines attached to the wires, so if you tried to cross it, shrapnel would kill you. Germans, super efficient.

IMG_2966We then made our way towards the East Side Gallery, which is a bit of the Berlin Wall where taggers come to make art. Though to be honest, taggers tag everything everywhere, so it’s not exclusive to tag on the Berlin Wall. But I guess that makes it more famous. Most of the art was pretty impressive, but mostly based around words, so a little boring. Certainly not the more thought provoking art that I’ve seen on postcards of the wall.

We ended our day at Alexanderplatz, one of the big shopping areas of Berlin. Since it’s Christmas, there’s a massive Christmas market on, which is an excuse for Germans to eat meat and drink beer and hot wine, which actually is amazing! I had a steak sandwich which was only steak and bread, no sauces, no nothing other than meat. Delicious!

RTW Day 28 – Amsterdam to Berlin by train

Today, we had to say goodbye to Amsterdam, and hello to Berlin, which we did via a six hour train ride. Of course, there’s always a flight you can catch. It cost 39 euros the take the train, and you need to be at the train station, about 10 minutes before your train departs. Or there’s a flight, the only direct I noticed was with KLM, and costs 10x as much, and once you factor in the train to the airport (half an hour), getting to the airport on time (2 hours), the flight itself (1.5 hours), and a bus ride in Berlin (half an hour), there’s only an hour and a half difference between the two options.

IMG_2941We arrived at the station pretty early. Considering our hotel was a 3 minute walk away, this wasn’t a bother. Useful travel tips – buy your bags when you’re getting groceries since they don’t really give you bags at the end, making it super awkward to carry so much food around a train station without a bag.

Here’s a tip – even though there’s barriers at Amsterdam Station, you can walk through them without getting stopped. So if you have paper tickets, or just want to shop inside the station, don’t feel compelled to have a ticket. Unlike in say, Japan or the London Underground.

Truth be told, I really enjoy train travelling. It’s a great way to see the countryside. I noticed that the Netherlands was really flat, really clean, no graffiti around, and very quiet. As soon as we crossed over into Germany, there was much more people, they were much more loud, there was much more graffiti. I wonder if German people view the dutch as their quiet simple cousins? That’s kinda how it feels, and that’s probably why I like the Netherlands so much.

We passed a few more windmills and the like, and pulled into Berlin station. We then needed to catch the S-Bahn to Tiergarten, where our hotel is. The ticket machine didn’t appear to be working, and then a woman came up to us selling used tickets, which were still valid for an hour. They were originally worth 2.60 euro, and she wanted 1 euro for them, which I thought was cheap. Kathryn said we were being scammed. Turns out it was OK, though frowned upon by the rail operators, who have big signs warning against this. Won’t do that again!

 

 

RTW Day 27 – Rotterdam, The Hague, and the Red Light District of Amstedam

Today was our big tour day, where we headed outside of Amsterdam for the first time since transiting, as well as checking out the sexier side of Amsterdam, the Red Light District.

IMG_2911Let me preface everything with, it was cold today. Like silly cold. With a light rain in the air, as well as a light breeze, the temperature was about 7 degrees, and it felt like 4.

We jumped on the bus, bound for Rotterdam. Rotterdam is a massive port, and appears to be the financial capital of the Netherlands, and therefore is where all the skyscrapers are located. The whole city was flattened after World War 2, and therefore there isn’t many buildings that date before that. They rebuilt the town, didn’t like it, rebuilt it again, and ended up rebuilding it four times. They just created a new railway station that looks a bit like a shark’s head with its giant silver pointing jutted roof, but apparently people don’t like it, so they’re considering building another one. There’s only 600,000 people in Rotterdam, so not that much bigger than Wellington.

We then stopped up a tower that was 188m tall, and in a country like the Netherlands where there doesn’t appear to be any hills, being that tall meant being able to see for miles around. Our tour guide was quiet funny and said that while building the tower in 24 days was impressive, it was a very ugly tower. Truth. Turns out the Architect didn’t like it so much, he committed suicide, which seems drastic.

IMG_2924We then checked out a pottery factory in a town called Delft, making Delftware. Do you like blue plates? Then this place is your hometown. I was mildly amused for a few minutes, then it was time to move on, but first we had lunch in the Delft town square. Delft only has 100,000 people, so is basically like visiting the Hamilton of the Netherlands. 15,000 of those people go to the university, so this is a university town. It was so peaceful and quiet, I’d imagine getting really bored living here.

We then went to The Hague, which is the seat of the government here in the Netherlands. So the cultural capital and actual capital is Amsterdam, the financial and business capital is Rotterdam, and the governmental capital is The Hague. What a weird set up. I imagine visiting The Hague is a bit like visiting Canberra, or just visiting Molesworth Street in Wellington. A lot of big government buildings. We saw the International Criminal Court, and the Peace Palace. Our guide had a thick dutch accent and one person asked the guide what they were taking a photo of, he said the Peace Palace, and she said, the Peach Palace, that’s great.

IMG_2931We made it back into Amsterdam, and then did the Red Light tour. Turns out the Red Light district is about five minutes walk from our hotel, and happened to be where we were going to originally stay. It’s very safe with police around all the time, the only real worry is super stoned people, who appear very harmless, just eternally confused. I think the main difference between New Zealand and the Red Light district is the window prostitutes, who stand in the window showing off their wares (so to speak), inviting you to come in (no pun intended, but on reflection, well done Waylon).

I like how prostitution is normalised here in the Netherlands. It’s in a specific area, it’s well regulated, very safe, very normal, and they spend a lot of effort making it well respected. Sure, it’s still a little seedy by virtue of the profession, but this is the most normalised I’d ever seen it. Our guide told us the going rate, which was about 50 euro for 15 minutes for basic action. The women earn around 1000 euro a day, which is pretty good where the average wage is 1300 euro a month.