Exploring England

England is a funny country. Between using the metric and imperial systems simultaneously (miles, anyone?), speaking like, well, Brits, not being able to decide if they’re a country (The UK is a country! No, England is a country! No, one is a constituent country and the other is a country! Oh, bollocks.), and driving on the left side (ha-ha), they’re quite charming. I jest, of course (but not about the charming bit).

My first experience in the country was a silly one: when my friend came to pick me up from the Stansted airport, I walked around his car, much to his confusion: I had forgotten England drives on the left side! This seemed so ridiculous to me considering I had known this fact nearly all of my teen-and-beyond years, and of course my friend just had to make fun of me for it. So I pouted and stalked to the left side of the car – the passenger’s side – and got in. From the airport, he took me on the not-too-long ride back to his place in a London suburb where I would spend the next eight or so days.

The place in the outer London.
The place in outer London.

Between my binges of playing Tropico 4 (don’t ask, the addiction is real) and sampling the varied English cuisine (garnered stylishly at Tesco), I explored London from the starting point of the London City Airport where my friend worked. Before I get into all that, though, I have to mention something: the air pollution. I could start smelling it soon after we began driving into central London, and it was pretty apparent. I got used to it quickly, but of course that didn’t mean it disappeared. This is important to note for anyone who has asthma or any other sort of breathing problems.

Anyway, one of the first places we went to was the Science Museum. My recent and latest obsession with Fable 3 made me  pay particular attention to the walls listing facts about the Industrial Revolution. We explored all floors of this monolith museum, and though I also wanted to see the National History Museum (even moreso, in fact), we were pretty worn out after the first one. Deciding to come back sometime in the future, we ventured out onto the busy London streets to head back to the house, which had very steep stairs…it was almost as if I was in the Netherlands again!

The next day, which was a Saturday, we used a park&ride bus to drive up to Cambridge to get a view of a city that wasn’t London for a wee bit. I learned of the wonders (terrors?) of Primark, and we went to a very fancy-looking park. I was able to take a couple of pretty decent photos.

The park in Cambridge. If you know the name, let me know!
The park in Cambridge. If you know the name, let me know!
So much green!
So much green!
I was spotted. :o
I was spotted. :o

That night we had Asian food. Oh, the glories of it. Even an Asian buffet is pretty expensive in the outskirts of London, though!

Yes. YES.
Yes. YES.

And I obsessed over my new adorable thing over Snapchat.

:D
:D

To shake things up a bit, we went on a leisurely stroll the following afternoon to explore in a quieter and calmer manner. I saw a lot of bridges and a couple of horses up close, which was nifty. Oh, also, trees, lots of trees. Surprise!

A waterfall. I love these.
A waterfall. I love these.

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My friend gave me this. :)
My friend gave me this. :)

The two days after that were spent largely at home. Tropico 4 was still a thing, and miscellaneous things happened. For example, we watched some ducks that were up to some shenanigans.

I will have you, my pretty.
I will have you, my pretty.

After that, the next thing we visited was the famous London Bridge (which was incidentally not falling). After taking a bunch of touristy photos, we walked around the area and people-watched. I saw a lot of really interesting-looking buildings and architecture over the ensuing hours; there was so much laid out in such a small spot of London; the attractions were all very close to each other! After buying some magnets (as I tend to do), we went home.

For the most part after that, we didn’t do anything outside of the house; I had seen a decent deal of London, and though I’d go back for more, I had had enough for that one trip. The rest of the trip was spent eating pretty good food and playing pretty good games. And taking pictures of the toilets.

No, really.
No, really.

And my Norwegian friend endured my Sainsbury’s commentary.

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Ah, ’twas a good trip. I shall see you again sometime, London.

Tips on staying healthy

In light of the controversial obesity commercial recently in the news, I decided to make a post about staying healthy. I’ve been at a pretty good weight for most of my life, and I’d like to share my habits and advice with those who are curious or want to make a change in theirs. This post may be the first of several, or it may be the only one, but here’s stuff off the top of my head:

  • NEVER go on a “diet”. Even having to say you’re on a “diet” means you’re not planning on keeping it up! A temporary way of changing your eating habits will NOT change your health for the rest of your life. Work slowly to change a bad habit so you can adjust and get used to doing it a better way before going for more changes. Go for the marathon, not the sprint!
  • Hide treat foods. No, it’s not so you can’t find them, it’s so that you don’t have to see them every time you move around. Self control is a limited resource; do not waste yours by putting your treat foods in full view every time you go to the kitchen. Simply putting them behind another food helps. The goal is NOT to get you to never eat that food, but to have to think of it specifically before you pick it up in a kind of “OH MY GOD I FORGOT WE HAVE THESE, THIS IS THE BEST DAY EVER” feeling. SO many people eat bad foods “just because they’re there”. Use out of sight, out of mind to your advantage.
  • Find a food you can munch on constantly without affecting your health. There will inevitably be times when you’re tired, you don’t want to make anything, or you just want to grab something quickly. My go-to’s are Cheerios and Kix; you can eat decent quantities of these without worrying. It doesn’t have to be the tastiest thing ever, but something that satisfies the feeling of I-Want-Something-Now.
  • If you want to start gradually, one of the first things to eliminate is soda. This includes fruit juice! Fruits are great, but don’t juice them!
  • Remember, you do NOT have to completely cut out your favorite foods! You simply need to control them so you are not having them regularly.
  • Don’t eat out more than a few times a week, if even that. Restaurants are going for taste and for you to become addicted to their food so you’ll come back; most do not CARE about your health. Their food’s ingredients reflect this.
  • If your goal is SPECIFICALLY to -lose weight-, and NOT to -get healthy- overall, then sure, you can count calories to your heart’s content. My advice, however, is that even if this is the case, you REALLY, really shouldn’t. Calories are such an eensy part of the overall picture! Foods that are amazing for you and high in protein will have many calories! Calories are not to be taken at face value.
  • Instead, read what is IN the food. Look at the serving size as a metric, for example: if the serving size is 29g, and 15g of that comes from sugar, that food is over 50% sugar! On the Nutrition Facts label, do you see that almost all of the food is saturated fat, or sugar? THIS is what you want to focus on instead of calories. Learn what a good ratio of these things are, and how to tell the difference between good fats and bad fats. For example, if something is high in fat, but most of the fat is unsaturated (e.g. olive oil), it can still be a good food.
  • For a general rule of thumb, things that are solid at room temperature (e.g. Land o’ Lakes butter) are high in saturated fat, because saturated fat is what makes them solid to begin with. Foods that are high in fat but liquid at room temperature (e.g. oils) are unsaturated, and are better for you. Go for soft butter in a tub rather than hard sticks of butter. This is just chemistry.
  • If you make a mistake or slip up, DON’T BEAT YOURSELF UP ABOUT IT! This often leads to guilt and binge eating. Just understand that it happened and keep trying.
  • Exercise lightly at least 3x/week for at least 30 minutes. If you can’t do 30 minutes in one go, it’s fine! Do 15 in the morning and 15 in the evening. Everyone can find time to exercise; these 30 minutes make the other 23.5 hours of each day much more fluid, free of guilt, and enjoyable!
  • After you’ve started to make some of these changes, cut out deep fried food. Pan fried is okay, so long as it’s not a regular habit.
  • Start looking at ingredients lists for everything you eat. These lists list ingredients in order of their percentage in weight of the food. If you see sugar listed as the first ingredient, look the other way. As a rule of thumb: the fewer ingredients, the better for you it is (and the fewer the nasty preservatives)!
  • When you make some of these changes, you will notice you stop craving the foods you’ve cut out. Once it gets to a point where the food is a treat you like to have sometimes when eating out, you know you’re doing great!

Got any other tips to add? Sound off in the comments!

Going to the UK, Poland, and Czech Republic

So the UK is a place I’ve heard about for all of my life, and I’ve seen a number of movies that took place inside of it. Finally, it won’t be just a place I’ve heard of anymore!

I’ll be arriving in the Stansted airport of London tomorrow, June 11th, and staying with a friend until June 22nd. I’ll be spending most of this time in London, with perhaps a short trip up to Cambridge. I have a couple of things I definitely want to do or see, but I’m also in no rush to catch them all in one go, partly because I’m fairly certain I’ll be back – there are many reasons to go to London! Besides that, I’m more of a stay-in-one-country-for-a-long-time person, and even though this trip will be rather short, not seeing too many tourist attractions wouldn’t bother me all that much. Wait, though, there’s more in store for me yet! On June 22nd, I’ll then be heading to Poland, where I’ll see a few separate cities before likely visiting the Czech Republic. I’ll return to Bergen in Norway on the 2nd of July.

There is so much exploration to be done and so many new experiences to be had! This will be my first multi-country hop (not including those times I just hopped airports), and also my first time taking Ryanair (from Oslo to London and London to Katowice), the budget airline known for its extra fees. From what I’ve seen so far, though, as long as you’re fine with no extras whatsoever, such as no checked bag, no choosing your seat, and also having to print your boarding pass yourself, then they don’t add anything to your fee. I actually am excited to have my first experience where all I can bring is one backpack; it’ll test my ability to know what I use and what I need on my travels. A bit of mind-stretching is never a bad thing. :)

Here is my approximate travel plan (all dates with a ~ mean they’re flexible):

Bergen, Norway: May 8 – June 11
Oslo, Norway: June 11
London, England: June 11 – June 22
Katowice, Poland: June 22 – ~June 23
*Oswiecim, Poland: ~June 23
*Krakow, Poland: ~June 23 – ~June 25
*Warsaw, Poland: ~June 25 – ~June 27
Wroclaw, Poland: ~June 27
*Prague, Czech Republic: ~June 29 – ~July 1
Ostrava, Czech Republic: ~July 1 – ~July 2
Katowice, Poland: July 2
Bergen, Norway: July 2 – ~July 18

Those places marked with an asterisk are pretty much a must when I’m Eastern Europe.

So, here’s to more great adventures!

My Norwegian resources

Here’s the Norwegian equivalent for my Swedish resources:

  • Sons of Norway – Norwegian in 5 Minutes a Month: Used from the very beginning. It teaches you useful vocabulary and starting phrases, as well as covers the Norwegian alphabet. Give it a go! =)
  • LingQ: Used to start learning words. This can be used from the very beginning! LingQ is a fantastic site that allows you to hover your cursor over words in their different language lessons and stories and see the meaning. When you feel comfortable with a word, you mark it as known and move on. This is also the tool that gives me those nifty, auto-updated language badges on the right sidebar.
  • Google translate: Used all-the-freaking-time to define single words. Here’s how it normally works for me: I see a word in LingQ or hear a word in a podcast (also coming up), and then look it up via Google translate if I know how it’s spelled. I hardly ever use Google translate for translating phrases, because if you give it more than one word, it often messes up. For best results, translate FROM your target language INTO English, as Google translate tends to have a better grasp on English than some of the other languages. It’s also decent enough to use vice-versa, but I don’t trust its English-to-Norwegian, etc. translations as much as the reverse. Remember, in the beginning, when translating something in Google translate, don’t use ambiguous sentences that can be translated in multiple different ways; try to stick to simple sentences until you can tell when Google translate is wrong, at which point you can feed it more complex things.
  • Memrise: Used all the time during any stage of learning Norwegian, or any other language, for that matter. Using Memrise is like using flashcards, but a lot more beneficial since it utilizes not just repetition, but spaced repetition. That means it checks how long ago you learned a word and reminds you to revisit the word at a time when you’re most likely to be about to forget it. It often has (user-created!) mnemonic devices to help aid the recall process even further. I wholeheartedly recommend Memrise to anyone who’s learning any language. You can even create your own deck to help other users practice!
  • My Little Norway Norwegian lessons: I just recently happened upon this, but it’s a great resource; it even sometimes has mnemonics to help you learn the language! I wish there were even more of these!
  • Språkøvinger: Used after having a fairly good handle on the language. This site focuses on the differences between commonly mixed up Norwegian words like “ennå” and “enda”. It’s about the equivalent of teaching you the differences between “their”, “they’re” and “there” in English, and then some. I love this tool!
  • iTunes podcasts: Used after I learn some initial vocabulary so I can then listen for the words I’ve just learned. This serves as my “listening to natives” practice when I’m not currently speaking to Norwegians or Norwegian learners. You can’t expect listening to a podcast/watching a show in your target language to be beneficial for learning words if you have no beginning vocabulary; the key to really getting it to work is if you know a few words so you can figure out the words next to them. If you know the word “har” means “have” in Norwegian, you can probably guess the words around it would mean something like “I” or “done”. In the iTunes Store tab, I set my language in the bottom-right to Norwegian. From then on, it begins listing some Norwegian-language podcasts I can listen to. I’ve listened to a few and have found that my favorite is called Gi Plass til Tanken.
  • Translated.net: ExTREMEly useful. Why? Because you type a word in and this site gives youtons of example sentences with that word so you can see the different contexts in which it can be used. One of my favorites.

Once again, if you have any fantastic resources that work for you, feel free to mention them, but these seven in conjunction work extremely well for me!

First impressions of Sweden

So, Sweden is a pretty incredible place.

I just came back from Stockholm where I stayed from Thursday (Aug. 1st) to Sunday (Aug. 4th), and I can say with confidence that Sweden isn’t entirely what I expected it to be…it’s more!

We arrived on Thursday at noon. Immediately, we converted 200 Norwegian kroner ($33.72) to 210 Swedish kronor (not including the exchange fee, of course; that made it only about 180 Swedish kronor), but it turns out we didn’t need the cash during the trip as cards work perfectly fine just about everywhere. This includes on the plane itself. My conclusion is that I don’t think it’s necessary to have more than a small emergency stock of Swedish cash on you in Stockholm, likely because Sweden is a pretty high-tech country and Stockholm is a very international city.

Cash aside, we took the Swebus from the Stockholm Arlanda airport to the center of Stockholm. This is where we learned that you buy tickets for Swedish buses while outside of the bus: you instead buy them online or at a machine outside first. The last part isn’t too different from Norway in itself; the difference lies in that you actually can’t buy a ticket on the bus if you don’t have one by the time you get on. It’s a pretty automated process.

The bus ride took about 35 minutes during which Sindre and I scoped out the Swedish landscape. Not bad; not too different from Norway in terms of its biome given its similar rocky nature and rolling hills, but there were no huge mountains to speak of, a marked contrast from its western neighbor.

I hadn’t heard of this before arriving in Stockholm, but I suppose I should’ve realized that there would be tons of bridges…57 of them! Stockholm’s bridges tend to be long and elaborate, and they’re very attractive. We crossed a few while heading into the city center and, when we got there, immediately went for an Italian place we spotted called Vapiano. It was the one that Sindre’s optician had recommended right before we left Bergen, so we decided to try it.

Conclusion: Very good idea. It’s a chill place where you order using a Vapiano card and pay when you leave. There’s free wi-fi, too!

We headed over to our hotel, Hotel Birger Jarl, and, despite the construction going on on its top, we were quite happy with the amenities. It was nothing crazy special (yet…more on that soon): our room had the basics but no minibar, mini-fridge, or anything like that. The view outside was of a brick wall next to the hotel, but we were satisfied. As soon as I collapsed on the bed, I was in heaven: it was just the right firmness and comfort! We napped for a bit, then hopped on our laptops and went online with the free wi-fi. After that, we walked a few blocks over to Lidl, the grocery store we had passed on our way to the hotel. It definitely had lower prices than Norway on most things (except for tuna and nuts, for some reason), so that was a relief (granted, both Norway and Sweden are still quite expensive). After getting some basics like bread and butter (which were both incredible!), we settled down in our hotel room for the night.

When I woke up, I felt like I had caught up on sleep that I had lost the past several weeks (my bed in Norway is sometimes shaky in the amount of comfort, and thus quality sleep, it provides). It was nice to be able to think clearly and without tiredness again. We went down to the breakfast buffet and…well, at this point, I don’t really have words:

It may not look like much because of the shabby photo, but the selection was huge. I’ve been to hotels before, mostly in Florida and the Bahamas, and I don’t think I’ve ever been treated to such a wide variety of delicious, free food (most of which was healthy) in my life! Sweden was pretty fantastic so far!

After the buffet, Sindre and I went back down near the city center to check out the shopping street we had caught a glimpse of the night before. We entered a store called Weekday and found some clothes on sale for 100 SEK ($15.18) or less, some only 40 SEK ($6.08)! As is usual in Norway, a lot of jeans cost 400 (in Norway, 400 NOK; in Sweden, 400 SEK). Sindre thought it was reasonable, being Norwegian, but it was still a whopping $68 and way too much for me.

We soon made our way to the Royal Palace (official home and headquarters of the Swedish king), seemingly completely by accident. I had no idea that’s where we’d end up when we started walking nigh aimlessly, but it was a sight to see:

There was a cozy park with quite a view that we passed, and a lot more bridges than we’d seen so far in Sweden were situated near the Palace. There’s also a courtyard when you walk a bit further and up the steps outside, so we stopped and admired the view from there for ten minutes or so before moving onto the next area containing a huge, majestic church called Slottskyrkan. We couldn’t take pictures inside, so here’s a picture from Wikipedia:

In another church located a short distance away from Slottskyrkan, we saw an interesting sign on the outside:


Free drop-in weddings!

And yet another church was behind that one, only this time it was German. All the churches were lovely!

Walking away from the churches and Palace and toward the souvenir shops (inside which I got a few magnets), we saw a handful of people with their faces covered in white powder and asking for money…or something. At least I think that’s what they were doing. They were very smiley and friendly but I don’t really understand what went on there! If you have ever heard of these people in Stockholm, please shoot me an e-mail or comment and explain the madness to me. 😛

The rest of the day was spent exploring more, and that night we went to eat at a place called Restaurang Mandarin City. It’s a Chinese restaurant with a big dinner buffet (including apple pie as dessert!) 5/5, amazing restaurant.

The next day started with another buffet (so many buffets…) at the hotel and then the start of more exploration. Now, perhaps Sindre and I just chose a particularly well-stocked weekend of events to visit, but constant events and goings-on decorate the streets of Stockholm. This was the case on each of the three full days we were there. As we explored the city on Friday, we wondered why we’d been seeing such a disproportionate amount of gay couples and and pride flags everywhere since we arrived, and also why there were tons of antique American cars scattered throughout the entire city. Well, on Saturday, we found out why:

We had accidentally stumbled upon the Gay Pride Parade! There were huge amounts of people lining the streets in preparation, as well as two particularly fabulous Swedish guys hoisted high in the air and explaining the event to spectators.


I am fab. Just look at my parasol. LOOK AT IT.

We stayed and watched the parade for awhile, but it was going to continue until 3 in the morning, so we departed after an hour and kept checking out the streets…which were still filled to the brim with old American cars!


And a man on a tractor, for good measure.

We went to Restaurang Mandarin City again on Saturday night (it was just so good), and the main guy who recognized us explained that there was a veteran American car meetup/festival going on.


I…guess that explains this. Actually, no. No, it really doesn’t.

The next day there was one last buffet at the hotel before we had to check out, and we immediately went to mass. In a Swedish church. Where they were speaking Polish.


I still don’t understand the events that brought us here.

All in the name of good times and new experiences, right? 😀 After about half an hour, we went back toward the Royal Palace and ended up making a bumblebee friend (her name is Thimble; we know she was female because all bees that go outside the hive are female). She let us pet her and she chilled with and crawled over us for about an hour in the grass in the park, not flying even once. Soon, we realized she was probably just trying to find a calm place to lay herself to rest, as she didn’t seem to have much energy at all and was really clumsily climbing over grass. I put her on a leaf and laid her off to the side of the park after she had expired. She passed away while in my shadow; I hope it gave her a spot that was comfortable and not too hot to live out the rest of her life in. :)

After going to Vapiano one last time (the calzone was simply too amazing) and finding our way to the station via their free wi-fi, Sindre and I went to the Stockholm Arlanda airport and returned to Bergen.

I’ve updated my pros and cons of each country article to reflect the addition of Sweden. Until next time!

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