środa, 7 października 2015

Number 13 completed, number 6 in progress.

I got back from Tokyo last Wednesday. [Fanfares please], I announce mission #13 completed! Boy, that trip was intense and I'm back home for longer for the first time since May. In the meantime people got married, people got kids, I got broken up with, some ugly building was built next to my lovely Castle Square, the flowers grew a few centimeters in our garden and a seal in the bathtube broke, which made some fantastic mould patterns emerge in the corner of my room. 

Sigh. It feels inadequate, everybody is in the middle of something, their daily businesses and I'm packing again, enjoying fresh vegetables (Japan, Y U no have fresh vegetables), shedding skin like an overgrown lizard (Shirahama beach was a bitch), and trying to keep my reverse jetlag alive (early to bed, early to rise!). Soon I'm off to Biarritz, to complete  mission #6. I asked people from Camino forum to give me recommendations for my packlist, and then I got million contradictory tips. Take rain pants. Don't take anything but bare neccessities. Take enamel cup, they don't have pots in some albergues. Don't take enamel cup, there are plenty of pots. Take camelback. Don't overhydrate.

Geez, how did all these medieval pilgrims make it without camelbacks, earplugs and rainpants!?

wtorek, 15 września 2015

On CS spirit and sleeping in strange places

Our Japanese trip seems to be like Hitchcock's movies: it starts with an earthquake which is followed by rising tension.

In Tokyo we spent great two days with our Polish CS host, Zachary, who turned out to be a perfect guide, when it comes to explaining some nuances of Japanese culture. Such as why people change seat on the subway when we sit next to them. On our second, and last day with Zachary, we went for one last beer and somehow we ended up in the middle of Shibuya district, a bit inebriated, with equally inebriated supercool Japanese people who have learned how to say "I love Poland" in Polish. (See, being drunk helps a lot when it comes to learning Polish). And then there was an earthquake. A small one. So small that we couldn't even feel it. 

This is who you randomly meet in Shibuya's street

After Tokyo we went to Kawagoe, where we tried to be adventurous, sleeping in a bush, but we were found by a very concerned and confused young man, who said with broken English, that it's very dangerous to sleep here (and then called his aunt, who said the same thing six more times with excellent English, for a change). We ended up in an internet cafe, which in Japan is an institution.


Kawagoe was also our first experience in hitchhiking. We have found a couple who was going 30 kms south, but they decided to go all the way to our destination city, Fujiyoshida, which was 80 kms further than they planned to go initially. We reached a small mountain town, Yamanakako, where we planned to find a campsite, perfectly present in Google Maps, and enjoy the view of Mt Fuji on the next morning. Instead, we ended up in some abandoned campsite facilities in the middle of a spooky, dark forest full of very noisy crows. Now I know why I never watch Japanese horror movies. Next morning, instead of a view of majestic Mt Fuji, we enjoyed a view of a majestic campsite janitor, who charged us 800\ each. 

Mt Fuji, being majestic for 30 mins before it got cloudy

We hitchhiked from Yamanakako to Nagoya and had some creepy-as-fuck experiences on the way, so when we met our CS host Paul, it was like coming to a safe haven. If there is such thing as CS spirit, it's surely embodied by people like Paul. He fed us, he let us wash our clothes and sleep as much as we wanted. He also took us for karaoke, where we discovered that we share a sentiment for Counting Crows and "Hey There Delilah". 

Now we are in the best ryokan ever in Kyoto. It's actually too good to be true. It has hairdryers, AC, kettle, shower that looks like a time machine, and we are still looking for a catch.

czwartek, 10 września 2015

Living in a drawer, surviving a tycoon and curry with cat hair

After way too long flight from Warsaw to Tokyo via Duesseldorf (including 4 hrs delay aka 250 € refund from Germanwings, yay), my sister and I have finally reached Tokyo. It looks like 5000 ¥ can give you a room in a size of a drawer, so Paulina and I got more intimate than ever in the last 21 years of being sisters. 

Notice the amazing view on the other building's wall.

The first thing she got at the reception desk was a leaflet "Easy Japanese for women", including useful phrases, such as "I don't want to go home tonight", or, for the least decisive ones "I like you/love you".

On the first day Paulina had a close encounter with the weird Japanese bathroom culture. It turns out that every toilet here is an effect of Japanese rocket science, has lots of buttons and functionalities, and if you press all the buttons without sitting on it, the bidet feature may send a high pressure water stream right into your face.

In the morning we went to a market near Senso-ji temple, where we met Jedrek, a Polish hardcore backpacker with a particular interest for free accomodation (staircases, people's couches, tent). He travels the world, spends peanuts and earns millions of Australian dollars on blowing huge soap bubbles for kids. We have spent the whole day getting lost and finding the way, mostly when the wall of rain was becoming a bit more see-trough (Forget I ever complained about weather in Bergen, that was before I actually experienced tycoon). Finally we ended up in a cat cafe, trying to give love to pretty resistant cats. 980¥ for rice with curry and cat hair.

They come to you only during the feeding time

sobota, 5 września 2015

8 Reasons why Bergen is #osom

I am heartbroken. Yesterday I got back from Bergen after almost 4 months of one of the best holidays ever, full of swimming in the fiord, climbing the mountains, partying like there is no tomorrow, trying to ignore seagulls' mating habits at 3 am, trying to ignore my flatmate's mating habits every weekend night, just behind our paper-thin walls. I'm trying not to be sad and be awesome instead, frantically packing stuff for Japan, but then I look at the stuffed moose in Norwegian sweater, I got as a goodbye gift from my boss, and I melt. Bergen, it's not you, it's me. We need some time apart, but we'll be back together soon, I promise. Can we still be friends? I think you are #osom, and that's why:

#1. Parades. Parades everywhere.
You see, I have a thing for uniforms and brass bands and parades, so whenever I see a miltary orchestra having a parade, I'm hyperventilating. Bergen happens to have an extraordinary amount of parades, like every sunny day (and sometimes on rainy days as well), there is Sjøforsvarets Musikkorps (Norwegian Royal Navy Music Corps) marching along the Fish Market. Add Buekorps, ancient, paramilitary youth defence organisation, with their drums, and occassionally a whole bunch of other parades and here you go: a Bergen parades' frenzy.

#2. Spoons in yoghurts
I know that it's an all-Norwegian idea, but still, there is a tiny foldable plastic spoon added to every yoghurt. Whoever got this idea, was a genius. In some miserable central European countries you have to carry your spoon with you.

#3. Sea AND mountains
I was able to go for a 6 hrs hike, and if the weather was good enough, I could cool down by jumping into the fiord, from a pier called Balastbryggen. And then try to get out of the water, climbing the ladder covered with small broken seashells. Whoever stepped on Lego doesn't even know half of the pain of stepping on broken seashells.

#4. Foghorns and seagulls
You are woken up by foghorns, you can't sleep because of the aforementioned seagulls. Bergen is all about sea, and for someone born 400 kms away from the seaside, it's magic. It is, and it always was, a window to the big, wide world. There are tall ships with weather beaten seamen, there is Royal Navy, there are traders from faraway countries. You can spend the whole afternoon sitting at the wharf and imagining what it used to be like in the time of Hansa. Probably there were less tourists and more bubonic plague. (At least we know, that Crusaders, who visited the city in 1191, were impressed: Stockfish, also known as dried cod, there is in such large quantities that it cannot be measured or counted. Ships and men come sailing in from all four corners of the earth.)

You may also notice, that someone has casually parked a big ass cruise ship in the end of your street. #justbergenthings

#5. You can get everywhere just walking
Bergen is tiny, especially if you live in Nordnes. It takes 20 minutes to get to Lone's commune in Mohlenpris, and 10 minutes to reach Elena's and Laura's place in Fjellet Nord. Torjus lives 5 minutes from our house in Hennebysmauet. This is the main accelerator for the local social life. It must be the only place, where when you invite people for a party on Facebook, 20 people confirm and 40 people come.

#6. You will never appreciate sun as much as Bergensers do.
With the annual precipation of 2250 mm Bergen beats even London (594 mm). No wonder that every time when the temperature rises above 20°C and there is a slight chance for sunny weather, Bergensers take their engangsgrills and occupy all possible green areas in the city. The whole city changes, people smile for no reason, you may even have a chance for a chat with a stranger, a truly heretic idea under the usual atmospheric conditions.

21,5 degrees! Whoa everybody! Grab your sunscreen!

#7. It doesn't seem to change much
Legendary Hennebysmauet:

Hennebysmauet A.D. 2015...  
...and 1914

#8. It's lovely
Someone took that extra effort to carve the window frame. Someone else takes care of the flowers. your landlord re-paints the house every year, your neighbor's window panes are in a colour corresponding with the house on the opposite side of the street.  It's neat, it's harmonous, it's tidy, it's pretty, it's pure kos.

czwartek, 6 sierpnia 2015

My social life is a wild beast

I've always been kinda outgoing and sociable, reasonably balancing it with some me-time and occassional tantrums over "nobody loves me, I'll die alone". However, in the past three months my social life became a wild beast. Seriously, I discovered that deep in my heart I'm 21 and I have regenerative abilities of a 5 years old. Working 11 hours and partying till dawn? No problem! 6 hours hike, followed by swimming in the Nordnes pool and a party afterwards? Bring it on! Sleep is for the weak! One of many perks of living in the house-where-everything-can-explode-any-time is that it's in Nordnes, and Nordnes is the center of the Universe, 10 mins away from literally everything. From the legendary Garage, from Nordnes Park, which is THE place to be when the temperature rises above 22°C, from every single one of our friends who is able to put his pants on and in 10 minutes be in Hennebysmauet to play Settlers of Catan on a rainy evening.

Last weekend Hanka and I decided to make a small party. Hanka lives in the ground floor and has a spacious kitchen and a living room that's big enough for a sofa, coffee table and a broken TV. We invited everyone (naively thinking that you gotta divide all Facebook "yes" into two and not to take "maybe" into account), and everyone came. Andrea The Sardinian came first and then the attendance got into the snowball mode. We had a strong representation from Lithuania, Germany, England, South Africa, Sardinia, Kurdistan, Italy, Hungary and Denmark. We ended up with 40 people on 36 square meters, cloud of pot smoke in the bathroom, and someone's father asking girls for a dance. High five Hanka, that was a party to remember. 

So, now it's less than a month to go, the clock is ticking and I'm already missing this place and these people. I know that this summer will never repeat itself in the same sociable configuration, which makes it so bitter-sweet. Bergen, I'm madly in love with you, I have no idea how will I survive the months to come without you. 

środa, 22 lipca 2015

Better bodies

Welcome to Norway, land of the fit, home of the healthy. Norwegians are totally crazy about, friluftslivet, which translates into doing things outdoor as often as possible, (and taking pride in it) and it includes sport, leisure, camping, barbecuing, hiking, skiing, literally everything. 2XU leggins and running shoes are like a national costume here, and it doesn't matter if you are actually running, or just buying toilet paper in your local supermarket, as long as you are wearing some NASA-approved flashy leggins (the latter suggests that you might have been running just a while ago). 

Because obviously, the body you already have is not good enough.

Being fair, I must say, that the vast majority of Norwegians does look fit and healthy, and they really run in their 2XUs. It happens that our stand at the Fish Market sells moose burgers and we can get them for free, which sometimes is the only way of not dying of starvation during a busy market day. Having this, and all these fit runners running back and forth along the Torget, makes one freeze over ones burger and re-think life, especially in terms of the recent dietary decisions. Akhem. 

Luckilly, Bergen has plenty of instruments of torture sport facilities, the most famous one being Stolzekleiven. Stolzekleiven is not really a sport facility per se. It's just 908 steep steps that will take you to the top of Sandviksfjellet. Four years ago they were renovated. By Nepali Sherpas, and may it give you some idea of what we are talking about here:

I hope you like steps, because this is what you're going to look at for the next 30 minutes.

An average creature born and raised on the plains of Central Europe (or just any non-Norwegian, who wasn't trained in friluftslivet since the early infancy) will reach the top in 30-40 painful, humiliating minutes, and on the way up will be taken over by old (Norwegian) ladies in flashy leggins, (Norwegian) pre-schoolers and small (Norwegian) lap dogs. Stolzekleiven is not merely a hike in the mountains. It's a competition, and if you climb and tell others about it, you will surely get asked how much it took to reach the top. Just for comparison: In the annual uphill run Stolzekleiven Opp in 2014, the winner in the cathegory of "Women 65-69 years old" was Liv Astrid Losnegård, with the score or 14 minutes and 48 seconds. Will you beat Liv Astrid?