Google Maps test

Posted in Uncategorized on August 25, 2011 by fonglh

testing the google maps shortcode.

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Ryanair

Posted in Getting around on April 23, 2009 by fonglh

Ryanair is the budget airline we’ve been using for most of our flights. Flights can really be ridiculously cheap. For example, I just spent 20 cents on an air ticket from Stockholm to Glasgow. Flying from Glasgow to London cost another 1 pound. I can even forgo my already booked Stockholm to London ticket. It’s a bit of a waste but then it’s only 10 sgd.

The great part is that there’s no need for any promotional codes or membership stuff to be able to enjoy such low fares. It simply requires you to visit the website now and then to find out about their latest offers. As long as you pick the right dates, usually weekdays or obscure timings, there will probably be tax free super cheap flights.

As the date of the flight approaches, the price generally increases. The tax free offers evaporate, and soon they cost over 100 sgd. However, this is not a certainty. Unpredictable offers sometimes materialise, leading you to wish you had waited a week or two before booking a flight. The percentage discounts increase, the taxes vanish and once again it costs less to fly across Europe than to eat a meal at the local MacDonalds.

These price vagaries have led to a love hate relationship with the airline. More love than hate I say. It’s kind of like playing a stock market.

Comfort and service are acceptable. They pride themselves on being on time, and 90% of their flights do arrive on time or even ahead of schedule. When that happens, a very cheesy tune is played, followed by an announcement that you are on yet another on time flight. Aerobridges aren’t used, so you’ll have to use the stairs. The airports are also smaller and more obscure, thus the airport transfers usually cost a few times more than the flight itself.

The seats don’t recline, but then the flights aren’t too long and hey, lunch cost more, so what’s there to complain about? van finds it disturbing that the amount she spends on food in sg can get her across Europe. Very true. To save cleaning costs and reduce turnaround time, there are no seat pockets either, and the safety information is printed on the headrest of the seat in front of you. Personally I think it’s a much better place to put it as it’s much more visible.

There are advertisements on the doors of the luggage racks and they constantly advertise various sales and promotions during the flight. It can get a bit irritating, but the most useful one is the sale of airport coach tickets on board. They’ll usually accept the currencies of the origin and destination cities but they don’t carry any change.

To reduce their costs, they don’t assign seats, so all flights are free seating. You can also do online check in for free and print your own boarding pass. If you need any extra services like check in bags or airport check in, then each component costs more. There is also a card fee if you don’t use Visa Electron to pay. Other than the card fee, all the other stuff is optional and the price you see once you search for flights is really the price you pay if you choose to fly with no extras. This is much better than many other airlines, who exclude taxes from the first page and only show you when you move on to the next step.

I’ve never checked out the budget airlines in Singapore, but while looking for holiday possibilities, it seems like budget airlines flying out of Singapore simply cannot match the prices of Ryanair. There are always taxes and prices always seem to cost above 100 sgd for return flights. Nowhere close to the 40 cents return flight between Stockholm and Hamburg. Some of them even pull off the sneaky tactic of not displaying taxes at first, so it looks like they’re cheap when they’re not.

Ryanair has really revolutionised the industry in Europe. It has also made it much more affordable to get around Europe, a wonderful thing for us exchange students. 😀

Helsinki

Posted in Sightseeing on April 15, 2009 by fonglh

Opps it seems like I have forgotten to mention anything about our cruise to Helsinki. I went with NOC batch 8 and SY, right after our 1st period exams. Thanks to a membership card, it was still quite cheap though we left on a Friday.

7 hours isn’t enough for Helsinki. As it was, we nearly missed the boat and had to run for the last part. We seem to be doing that quite a lot.

At Helsinki, we visited a few churches, both Russian Orthodox and Lutheran, as well as the Rock Church. Unfortunately we couldn’t go inside the Rock Church as it was outside opening hours.

Lunch was at a Chinese restaurant for 10 euros. Finally some Chinese food which tastes acceptable, and at a quite OK price too, considering it’s Europe.

In the afternoon, we headed over to Suomenlinna, a UNESCO World Heritage site. It’s a fortress island and the walls are still standing. With lots of snow still lying around, it was only natural for a snowball fight to develop. An attempt by a couple of the guys to use the fortress for a flanking maneuver ended in dismal failure when they were caught in a cul de sac and found themselves pelted with snowballs.

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The view from the island was stunning. Large open seas and the winter sun in a blue sky with wispy cirrus clouds. More pictures will come later when there’s time to post them.

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Thanks Antonia for spending the whole day showing us around.

20090314helsinki_0204There she is on the left pointing something out to her tour group.

The cruise itself was quite boring. There’s supposed to be lots of stuff to do, but it basically meant that there were lots of people roaming half drunk around the upper decks. We watched movies in our cabins instead. During the 1st night, as we could hear a grinding noise above our heads as the ship sailed to Helsinki. It turned out to be ice grinding on the hull. Going up in the morning, we could see the ship sailing through a sea of ice. Very beautiful, but just a little discomforting.

The wind up on the highest deck was very strong. We could lean back a little and let the wind support us. Attempts to do vertical star jumps resulted in us being blown back by the wind.

On the return trip, we caught the sunset as the ship sailed out of Helsinki. Simply beautiful. Ok just 1 picture.

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Copenhagen

Posted in Sightseeing on April 15, 2009 by fonglh

Another weekend spent on holiday, this time I went to Copenhagen with my family.

Copenhagen is a very nice city, with an old European feel. There are buskers playing accordions on the sidewalks, and these serve to add to the atmosphere of the whole place.

However, things are really very expensive. The numbers are similar to those in Sweden, unfortunately their currency is about 1.5 times stronger.

Having just a couple of days around, we decided to explore the whole area on foot, following the suggested paths in the very useful map provided by the tourism office.

The little mermaid was a bit of a disappointment. It’s really very little.

We managed to watch the changing of the guard and covered all the marked sites in the 2 days we were there.

The free town of Christiania was quite interesting. It’s a self declared independent country which is not in the EU, so when you are leaving the entrance, it says “You are now entering the EU”. Pictures weren’t allowed inside, and especially not on Pusher Street, so named because it used to be where drug pushers peddled their wares. I think they still do so.

Took the direct train back to Stockholm on Monday night. 95 SEK!! Compared to the trip there which involved changing trains and cost over 400. SJ trains are very comfortable. The X2000 has power points for every seat, and if you’re willing to pay, there’s internet access too.

Exciting Poland

Posted in Sightseeing on March 28, 2009 by fonglh

There isn’t any more time to do detailed writeups with pictures for now, so text will have to do.

We visited Poland from the 20th of March to the 23rd. This was also my first time going to Skavsta Airport. I’ll see much more of it in future for other flights.

Our first day was basically spent on getting to the airport and making our way to Hostel Lemon in Warsaw. There were some problems with overstayers and lost keys but it seemed like there were enough beds. By the time we were settled it was dinner time, so we headed out to the nearby city area to look for a place to eat.

Dinner was at a small Polish restaurant with traditional Polish food like dumplings and pancakes. We basically ordered by picking out most of the recommendations and sharing it among everyone. Eating out in Poland is much cheaper than eating out in Stockholm. We managed to get a large variety of food for <S$10.

The shops were all about to close by the time we were done with dinner, so we went to Carrefour Express to stock up on food for our full day in Krakow the next day. Stuff in Poland can really be much cheaper.

Our first night in Hostel Lemon was filled with incidents. We slept early because we had to wake up at 4am to catch the train to Krakow. A couple of hours later, we were woken up by a Nigerian guy asking who had taken his bed. He had the key to the locker and all, but somehow he had no reservation for the bed, neither had his company paid yet. This was settled amicably and he moved to another room, but by then most of us were awake.

A short while later most of us woke up again when someone else came in and turned on the lights. It didn’t help that the mattresses were so thin that we could feel the metal bars of the bed frame through it.

The highlight of the night was when an old Pole came in. We had wondered whether anyone was using the bed with an old battered suitcase under it, like the kind used by Mr Bean. He wandered in at about 3 am, switched on the lights, and proceeded to mutter very loudly to himself. He seemed to have a couple of screws lose, as he then proceeded to undress himself right there.

After a while he settled down and went to sleep, but by then it was nearly 4 and we woke up to get ready. The old guy woke up too and went to make a cup of tea, muttering continuously in Polish.

Due to the lack of good sleep from the previous night, most of us slept on the 3 hour train ride to Krakow. We arrived and were taken to the concentration camp at Auschwitz. The tour guide brought us around the first camp, showing us the living spaces and some other exhibits documenting the Nazi’s atrocities during the war. All of us were lent wireless headsets, so hearing what she was saying was not a problem.

After a short break, we were brought over to the much larger camp at Birkenau. It’s a huge place, with rows and rows of wooden and brick huts stretching out into the distance. Railway lines divide the camp into 2, and the ruins of the gas chambers flanked the lines. Most of the people who arrived at this camp never even survived one day. If they were deemed unfit for work, they were just gassed immediately.

We returned to the city of Krakow and had a few hours to wander around before taking our train back to Warsaw.

Ok it’s time to sleep and I’m going to Copenhagen later. Will add more about this next time.

Uppsala

Posted in Sightseeing on March 17, 2009 by fonglh

I visited Uppsala over a month ago, but there wasn’t time to blog about it.

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This picture shows the central river running through Uppsala.

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This is the huge cathedral that is one of the central attractions of Uppsala.

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The library in Uppsala. It looks really nice and there are even books on the higher levels from the 1800s.

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The silver bible. Apparently it’s meant more for decorative purposes.

Since it was still winter, a lot of stuff was closed in Uppsala.

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Here’s the view of the botanical gardens, covered in snow and seen through the gate.

After walking around a bit, we headed back to the cathedral to see the inside. They weren’t open earlier in the day. It’s really big inside as you can see.

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Here’s a picture of someone admiring the stained glass windows at the back of the cathedral.

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Look closely, she’s not real. I didn’t realise it until it occurred to me that she was standing way too still to be real.

The cathedral has an old organ which looks very nice.

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I’m not sure whether there’s something wrong with it or perhaps it’s no longer good enough for their purposes. Anyway, they have a new, very high tech and sleek looking one.

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Here’s a final picture of the cathedral. An example of the stained glass.

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After lunch at Subway, we proceeded to take the bus to Gamla Uppsala.

The snow there was very thick and it wasn’t long before we tried building a snowman.

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Gamla Uppsala is supposed to be an old site with burial mounds. That’s just about what we saw. A lot of open space with some mounds. The gray dreary sky and the white fields didn’t exactly help to lift the mood.

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The mounds on the right are the burial mounds.

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A white field and a nearly white sky.

After wandering around Gamla Uppsala, we took the bus back to the main city area. Either the clouds were really low or the cathedral is really high, but anyway, here’s a picture of the spires of the cathedral swathed in cloud.

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I then entered the Gustavianum, which used to be Uppsala University’s main building but is now a museum. It houses the anatomical theatre, where dissections were carried out both for teaching medical students as well as for public spectacles.

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The steps leading up to the theatre are very steep. There’s also very little space to stand around the viewing gallery.

The river flowing through Uppsala has these tiny waterfalls. Not sure what they’re for, but the certainly look manmade. I just like the blurred effect of water when taken with a slow shutter speed.

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The weather seemed to be getting darker and drearier, no thanks to the early setting winter sun and the cloudy sky.

Here’s another picture of the cathedral, further covered in the low clouds.

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After dinner, we went to the train station in a futile attempt to change our train timing. Most of the shops in Uppsala were closed as it was a Saturday and we wanted to head back earlier. However, we could not as the ticket we had booked was non rebookable.

To kill the 2 hours, we headed off towards a park. Here’s a picture of a lot of ducks sleeping on a frozen pond. When we first saw them from a distance, they looked like little rocks.

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The park would be a real nice place in summer under a clear blue sky. As it was, we had to make do with seeing it in winter under a dark night sky with street lamps for illumination. There is a small pond with an island in the middle, linked by a few bridges to the rest of the park.

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With time to spare before we had to catch the train, we proceeded to build another snowman. This time, the snow was sticky and could be rolled very easily to form a large ball. It didn’t take very long at all for the 3 of us to build one as tall as ourselves.

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We build the snowman on the island in the middle of the pond. By the time we were done, there wasn’t much untouched snow left on that island anymore.

Here you can see the snowman as we left to catch the train. It’s holding a Lidl shopping bag.

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As we walked back to the train station, we saw an example of people blatantly ignoring a sign.

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In conclusion, Uppsala isn’t really worth visiting during winter. A lot of the attractions are closed and this really limits what there is to see. I guess it’ll be a lot nicer in summer when the attractions are open and the history of the town containing the oldest university in the Nordic countries can be better appreciated.

Abisko, Kiruna, Finland

Posted in Sightseeing on March 6, 2009 by fonglh

Just got back from Northern Sweden, the part within the Arctic Circle. We were lucky enough to catch the Northern Lights for both nights in Abisko. The internetworking exam is next Tuesday so a detailed post will come after that. Meanwhile, here’s a quick summary.

Our flight to Kiruna got delayed so we thought we missed the bus to Abisko. We called a cab but then another bus came so we went for it instead. It turned out that they organised another bus to cater to the delayed flight. We managed to see the aurora when the hostel owner came in and told us about it. After going for the sauna, we walked towards the lake to try finding a darker spot so we could see the aurora better.

There was a school on the way with an iced up soccer court of some kind, so we divided ourselves into 2 teams and played soccer with a large snowball. The slippery court made it a hilarious affair with everyone sliding around clumsily. Whenever the snowball became too small we got a new one. Plus we only played on half the court, so it was like half court basketball played like soccer but on a ice hockey rink with a snowball.

We went cross country skiing the next day. It was quite fun and we managed to make our way down towards the camp near the lake. It’s much easier to slide down long slopes than to walk down them. We took a break at around lunch time to go grocery shopping and have lunch before heading back out to the lake. After dinner and another sauna, we headed back out to the lake again. It was nice and dark there so we got a good view. Unfortunately the aurora faded quite a bit when we got there. It was quite cold to stand there and wait so we played very active orientation games to keep warm. Some of them tried to drink beer to get warm but it was a pretty hopeless affair since it was mostly frozen. The beer cans had been quite badly shaken too since we transported them down an icy road on a sled in pitch darkness.

We took the bus back to Kiruna the next day and bought 1000+ sek worth of groceries to stock up for the next 3 days in Camp Alta. It was like a massive shopping spree.

The second day in Kiruna consisted of the dogsled tour. Quite an interesting experience. On hindsight, snowmobile might be more fun. After the tour, we asked to be sent to Europcar and rented a van from them. We hadn’t planned to do so at first but our camp alta cabin is 2km away from the main facilities and we also wanted to go to the Ice Hotel and see other stuff.

The afternoon was spent at the Ice Hotel. They have very interesting rooms, although some of the themes were a bit naughty.

After dinner, we decided to head over to Finland. It didn’t look too far on the map, so off we went. Didn’t manage to catch the aurora there but hey we’ve been to Finland.

The next day, we visited the iron mine in Kiruna. We had expected more but the tour was still quite informative. Played Pictionary with a laptop at night. Quite a hilarious game.

We spent the final morning eating up all the food we had bought. There was a bit too much of it but we were left with quite little. The only major waste was the huge tub of Euroshopper lingonberry jam which didn’t taste too good.

Overall, it was a very fun trip full of spontaneous moments and great experiences. If anyone is thinking of going to Kiruna, do go up to Abisko, it’s worth the trouble.

Ok time to mug, more details after my exam next week.