The Cranky Barbarian's

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Norway Nutshell-less

The Trek: Stockholm to Oslo to Flåm to Balestrand to Bergen. Lest I forget, the trademark Norway in a Nutshell tour is simply a series of train/bus/boat connections that cut down the hassle of buying point-to-point tickets. Works the same for the Royal Fjord Tour, and this route only diverges after Flam, going onto the Sognefjord, onto Balestrand before heading towards Bergen by expressboat. No matter. The route goes roughly like this: 1. Oslo-Myrdal (Tickets, especially the Minipris ones can be bought online at NSB) The minipris tickets do make it worth the point-to-point rides. Grab these fast, because they run out quickly. 2. Myrdal-Flaam Railway (Flaamsbana) Merely approx. 20...

Skirting Turkey: Cross-eyed in Istanbul

“Easy to find us! Just ask for the fancy four seasons hotel!” read my heavily pixelated map print-out. The alarming journey began first by metro from Havaalani (Ataturk Airport) to the Zeytinburnu interchange and thereafter, an increasingly crowded tram to Sultanahmet – the first warnings of culture shock when you experience rush-hour first-hand at 11 a.m., coupled with the paranoia of falling victim to pick-pockets (this time with triple the baggage to worry about) in crammed spaces. I congratulated myself a fair bit when both the bags and I finally stumbled (intact and a bit worse for wear) into the elusive Berk Guesthouse located in the imperial Peninsula or better...

The All-Consuming Tourist Gaze

Stunning, small, and ancient enough for tourists to keep their fingers from clicking away non-stop. At least, that was the perspective of Tallinn that preoccupied my mind as I began the short, southern catamaran journey across the Gulf of Finland. And to a large extent, it was true – quite literally, it was the new existing in the old. Exquisitely perched at Estonia’s northern coast, minus the gunk and grime of medieval life, Vanalinn (Tallinn’s old town) retains enough grit to tantalise with its ultramodern, meticulously furnished cafés and restaurants that occupied the ground floors of restored medieval merchant houses. Upon arrival however, I had not realised several things: the...

Alcohol, Lakes and Myths

I did not understand a word, but loosened my death grip on the ubiquitous Lonely Planet Scandinavian Europe guide. When the group of middle-aged Finnish women grew increasingly boisterous as we neared Savonlinna (Finland’s major town of the Southeastern Lake District) on a dawdling and rickety regional train that connected us from Parikkala to Savonlinna Kauppatori, I reckoned it must and would be a place where room for regret is not permitted. The womens’ impromptu singing suddenly took a turn for the folksy (at least I think it was!), and then Olavinlinna Castle moved into view. Choric exclamations followed, and one woman in particular sang something that did appear to...

The Perils of Getting on a Plane

This was right after lunch. The airport was in the opposite direction, about an hour away. His watch announced that it 2pm. Mine grumpily said 2:20pm. My flight was at 4pm. “There will be time,” so Sean, my chauffeur for that day (and friend too, of course) nevertheless insisted. “Tullamarine is not far now. 14 minutes away.” Princes Highway, Bolte Bridge, the Yarra, and Melbourne City whizzing past. We sped down the highway at 110km/h; I peeked at the speedometer and checked surreptitiously for the speed limits plastered at near every lamp post. (It certainly would embarrass me greatly should he receive a speeding ticket, even if I did miss my...

The Good, The Bad, The Cold and The Italians

“We are told that Franz Josef Glacier has many more things than Fox, ya see. There’s more to do there.” A Brit on holiday chirpily let on en route to the Glaciers, his girlfriend nodding her assent in response. They were caught on in the excitement of it all, prepping their camper van for the long journey north into Franz Josef from Queenstown and hence missing that incredulous look I was sure my face carried. Oops. How was I to know? For a brief moment it felt as if I were doomed to suffer the sweeping boredom that would descend over me in Fox Glacier, with the mantra of ‘there...