The Cranky Barbarian's

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Cakes, Palaces and the Genteel Life

Cakes are in mouth-watering abundance in the cafes here. The origin of the famous Sachertorte is claimed by 2 coffee places: The cafe in the Hotel Sacher (which claims to ship all over the world) and the nearby Cafe Demel. The latter is not attached to any hotel and thus easier to infiltrate. Another plus-point: The cakes that are on display are visually pornographic. But pleasure can be found in other things: in the length of hair, or in the sheer largeness of a building. The pleasure garden is found in Schoenbrunn Palace, beautifully symmetrical in accordance with the Enlightenment beliefs. Swarming with tourists sweating in the mid-day heat, I...

The Blue Danube

Many guests at the hostel are using Austria as a springboard to travel to the rest of Eastern Europe – Zagreb, Prague, Bratislava (a mere 2-hour train ride away). The weather is hot, hot, hot, but at least the humidity is down. There is of course, the hazard of having the hostel lying just behind the massive shopping street, though it does make a very interesting walk. So I went a little crazy looking at the prices (and not buying) and rejoicing that they were way more manageable than Scandinavia. It is a city that I’ve not quite experienced before: expansive, baroque, so elegant and such a cultural mecca for those who...

Air Traffic Nightmare

It’s goodbye to Bergen, but not before an uphill climb to see the undulating city from some gradient. I did get to the Bergen Airport early only to find out that the flight to Oslo has been delayed (from 3.45pm to 4.30pm) – I nodded in resignation – until I realised I had a connecting flight from Oslo to Vienna at 5.30pm. Massive panic of course ensued, with me questioning any flight crew in sight – until I learnt that the Oslo-Vienna Flight had a high possibility of a delay as well. I managed to grab hold of a flight attendant in Bergan and learned that almost every flight today had...

The Mixed Dorm

The journey from Balestrand to Bergen heralded a change in scenery. The boat took a route through the gradually flattening landscape that opened out into the sea with many islets sheltering the Bergen coast. It was amusing to see some brave souls (well, me included) clamber up to the stern of the boat, only to back down in defeat when the wind got too strong and too cold in the upper regions of the Fjord. The boat terminal slices the Bergen Wharf into half, and for many visitors from other regions of Norway, the first sight they get is not only the hilly regions that the city is built on,...

Balestrand

Somewhere in the sitting room, the keys of an old, traditional piano move to the sound of an equally traditional tune, though halting, and unpractised, the English country home feel of Midtnes Pension is complete. I wished I had decided to stay 2 nights here instead of the Flam Valley. By some coincidence, there happens to be an exhibition of vintage cars, attracting ignorant visitors and visitors who pretend to know a lot. There’s little I remember apart from staying still for long periods of time while wandering around. The faces of travellers whom I’ve briefly spoken to flit by like the reel of a film, and after a while, they...

Fjordland

Norway is expensive, much to my dismay. Food and drink cost thrice to four times as much as I am used to. Yet I had the most extraordinary encounter in Café Asylet on my last night in Oslo. The original intention to try at least a meagre portion of Norwegian food had finally won out, and thus determinedly made my way to Asylet that wasn’t far from the Oslo lodging. I ended up asking someone busy wrapping knives and forks in serviettes for his translation of the menu, inwardly cringing at the prices, and ordered something decent and least expensive, which also happened to be the Café’s special. Turned out that...

Oslo: Old and Powerfully Simple

If there’s anything to say about classic Scandinavian design, Oslo Airport Gardemoen probably embodies it (well, at least it ranks second to Copenhagen’s one). Pine floors, navy, white and yellow, sleek, clean lines. Norway already feels more rugged than picture-perfect Sweden (that seems so typically Scandinavian) but it’s the most beautiful I’ve ever seen (judging only from the countryside – rolling hills and all – from the airport), next to New Zealand. It took a terribly long time to get to the place where I stayed, which is in someone’s apartment in an immigrant (mixed with the university students’ housing) area (which Westerners are generally fascinated with). It turned out that I had...

Uppsala

Impulsively, I bought a return ticket on the SJ Regional train to Uppsala, a mere 80km, and a 40 min ride away from Stockholm, passing the glorious countryside once again en route. Uppsala looked better and better as I walked on, since my first glimpse of it consisted of unsightly chimneys of the industrial areas surrounding the Central Station. The small town feel is genuine, and immensely bewildering for a split second when one realises this is a quintessential town that other pseudo-small towns were built to imitate. It boasts a genteel air almost, with the added honour of holding Sweden’s oldest church. A short walk uphill in the park made part of Uppsala...

A City built on Water

Or so says the touristy, bright yellow T-shirt that I might just buy for my father who’s afraid of bright colours. “Gorgeous, golden, green” were the first words that dropped into mind – the colour of the trees and plants that strikes you hard the moment you exit the airport and hop onto the Airport bus that goes to Stockholm city. The pictures don’t do justice to the breathtaking panorama of the place and its sheer scale. Stockholm City on the other hand, is like Copenhagen on a larger scale, sprayed across a couple of islands (thus the numerous bridges), and a few more times more expensive. The people are cautious,...