Friday, March 30, 2012

OSLO, man!

Halla fra Oslo city ass!

I arrived yesterday and I've already been up to a lot and met manymanymany people. The one thing I haven't done is taken photos. Wanted to enjoy a day of sun, skate and freedom.

So once I got to Ingar's apartment I unpacked my longboards, put on the trucks and we headed out to skate. Skated to town to arrange all kinds of stuff like get a bus card, try and arrange my social security number and bank stuff but everything except the bus card was a flop. Hopefully I'll get the rest done soon! Just need to get some documents filled in first.

The weather was amazing. Wearing a hoodie, skating down huge hills (huge for me) on a Penny, trying to look cool with sunglasses on my head...yeah - can't complain! Seeing about 30 longboarders in a day isn't that bad either. Unfortunately the culture just seems to be veeery different to what it was in London. In London everyone always said hi when they saw someone with a longboard. It was kinda like a community and social activity. In Oslo longboards seem to be more of a transport method. At least from what I've seen now. But that's ok, I'm sure I can find the social side of it, too!

In the evening we had a party. Oh man, like 30 people came to celebrate the end of exams and start of Easter holiday. Or to welcome me to Norway? Hah. Well, probably not as I knew hardly any of them. ;-) Fun night, fun people!

I get the keys to my apartment and move on April 1st. Exciting! Now I just need to find furniture. Let the search begin.

Hope Oslo hasn't stolen all the sun in the world! Though I wouldn't complain...
Think I'm going out for a skate.


Third Day - The Cuba Diary

First of all you can find stories and pictures of our trip also from Sanni's blog if you haven't yet checked it out! Nice for the Finnish readers, as the text is in Finnish.

Then lets continue with stories from Cuba, the country where everyone are friends.

Day Three: Santa Maria -beach and the longest bus ride ever

On the morning of March 8th we met up with our new friends, Fino and Lazaro, outside our hotel. It was time to head off to the Santa Maria -beach! We had had troubles with arranging how to get to the beach that was situated about 20-30min outside of Havana City. Taking a taxi to the beach would have been way too expensive for the guys and taking a local bus was not possible for us tourists. In Cuba tourists don't only have a different currency but also different transportation than locals. This is because tourists pay much much more for everything in Cuba.

Somehow the guys just got us on a local bus and we travelled to a spot in town where taxies were a bit cheaper and not only for tourists. The guys arranged a cheap taxi for us four, and Sanni and me paid for the ride. We wanted to travel together and as our 20min taxi ride cost 5pesos it wasn't a rip off. Five pesos is about 3,5€. It is also 1/4th of a Cuban's monthly salary. Yeah, some only get 20pesos a month. Loco, right?

Windy, empty, cold beach. Not that much of a success. The sand was flying into our eyes and mouth. As we weren't that big fans of that crunchy feel in our mouthes we decided that the couple hours we had spent on the beach were enough. Our body probably thanked us, too, as during those couple hours we already succeeded in getting burnt. Wee hoo!

Back to the hotel in the back of a Jeep and said our goodbyes with Fino and Lazaro as we were heading off to Santiago de Cuba in the evening.

We ate out again at a paladar (family) restaurant before heading off to the Viazul bus station.

We took a coco -taxi to the Viazul bus station. Hah, those coco -taxies were the best! The only one with a helmet was the rider himself. We were holding onto our luggage hoping it wouldn't fall out. Sanni said she could start riding one of those taxies as her summer job. ;-)

We had been advised to get to the the bus station at least an hour before the bus left. We thought two hours in advance could be good and so we got to the station at 8pm. Also we'd been told that tickets can be purchased when you get to the station and it's not problem as the buses are hardly ever full.
The buses so were full. A very unpleasant lady working at Viazul (probably the only unkind person in Cuba) told us we should come back to the station again the next morning at 7 to ask if anyone had cancelled their bus trip to Santiago. Apparently all the buses were full. Today, tomorrow, the day after tomorrow, the day after the day after tomorrow and so on. There were people at the station who had been waiting since 3.30pm to get on a bus.

As it was only one hour till the departure of the bus we decided that what the... we'd just stay and see what happens. No plans for the evening anyway and so little time left - why not try our luck.
And so we did:

The clock hit 10pm. The cash registers had been shut down, the unfriendly lady had left and the only people left in the waiting hall were Sanni and me accompanied by a Columbian (?) guy who had come to say bye to his aunt. Thankfully this guy started talking to us and then arranging us on board... After a few minutes the bus driver came to us, asked for money and guided us to the bus passing a twenty-headed group of people escorting their friends/family. Again eyes turned at us and suddenly we became the center of attention.
So all ended well, no change of plans had to be made and we were accepted in the full bus which happened to have two seats left, right next to each other.

Let the 15-16 hour bus ride to Santiago de Cuba begin!

What comes to the money we paid to the bus driver...I have no idea where that went. As said, the cash register was closed.

View from the bus as we were heading from West to East.

Thankfully the bus ride went fast as it was night. I pretty much slept all those 16 hours.

coming up next...Santiago!


Sunday, March 25, 2012

Second day - The Cuba Diary

Day two: Friends and police

Wake up at 7am, off for breakfast. Thank lord for no jet lag and an excited mood for the kick off of the first whole day in 'Guantanamera' -land. Yeah, that song could be heard three times a day eaaasily.
Met up with our tour guide to get some more info about Cuba, Havana and ask if Apollo -matkat (the agency we were traveling with) had any hotels in Varadero we could stay at for the last 4 nights of our trip. A lot of useful information was heard and our guide promised to find out about the hotel change.

So off we went - to explore what Havana had to offer!

Picture by Sanni

Didn't take long until we got company. First we felt annoyed but it all changed when suddenly we discovered magical areas of Havana that we alone would never have imagined to find - neither been capable of finding. This was when we realized that yes, you really do need to let the helpful, friendly Cubans come to you. Take them with open arms, don't be annoyed or afraid - just wise. If you do so and if you listen, the world of Guantanamera won't be the only thing you experience. The Cubans will open Cuba to you in a whole new way - the more real, authentic way.

We visited a salsa street, which was hidden and ten times easier to walk past than to spot. Once we got to the street a colorful path full of special decorations filled our eyes. All those bathtubs were part of the deco for example. On Sundays the street has a small carnival!

Local market, local gym, local pub.
And then what happens? The police stop by us and our basketball teacher friend gets put in and taken away. So we learn - locals are not allowed to help unless they have a tour guide certificate. Otherwise the police think they are trying to make illegal money by showing tourists around.
Hope you are OK our friend!

Picture by Sanni

We continued walking around. Found ourselves from a basketball court, watching a mattress get stuffed, talking and giving soap+pens to the cutest kids, spending time in a local poor area from where walking to the main center with the Capitolio for example.
We got a new friend. This time a very tanned Cuban-looking Canadian man who had been traveling in Cuba for four months already. He gave us some information about Havana, some tips. Also said we could easily go change our money from tourist pesos to the local one - apparently tour guides just don't advertise it as that way the country would get far less money from tourism. I don't know what's true and what's not. We didn't try.
Anyway, guess what happened again? The police came of course. They took our Canadian friend for a long long talk, thinking he was Cuban. We were told to leave, so that's where the story ends. Hope that this Canadian older man is all well, too. You do know of the famous American prison in Cuba, right?

Also bumped into some biiig tattooed Cali -gangstahhhs who had somehow made their way into Cuba. Now I'm not quite is it with US passports? I thought Americans can't visit Cuba. The gangstas themselves said they 'had their ways'. Weird. They asked us to join for a drink, we didn't really feel like it.

Sitting down by Paseo De Marti turned out to be the beginning of a new friendship.
School boys Lazaro and Jonathan (Fino) invited us to join them to Casa Blanca. Fino reminds me of Snoop Dogg. See any resemblance?
We told the guys about the previous happenings with the police but they said that the situation is different when it comes to students. The police would consider us as friends. We joined the guys to see a great view of Havana from Casa Blanca. For the first time a 'friend' of ours wasn't wanting money or drinks (like the basketball teacher that the police took, and Kike from the previous post) but actually being the one paying for us to join. No matter how we wanted to pay, the guys said the ferry ride was on them. Thanks for that!

Music students, Lazaro and Fino, played guitar for us and sang as we sat on the grass enjoying the sunny weather. They showed us some military bases, a fortress and their favorite view of Casa Blanca. We also went to view the sunset which was very poor due to the clouds that had appeared to block the view.
Lazaro asked if we would like to join for dinner at his house. He just had to call his mother first to make sure it was OK with her, the cook.
In Cuba mobiles are rare. So we headed back to the city-side of Havana to find a phone. People don't really worry about time in Cuba either. So we walked around without any hurry. After some time found a hotel that let Lazaro call home.
We were welcome for dinner.

First traditional Cuban meal. At a Cuban home! Lovely.
A traditional Cuban meal consists of: rice, beans, salad (cucumber, tomato and carrot), cooking banana and meat.

Lazaro's mother was the cutest thing. We were able to have conversations with her, no matter our limited Spanish. She showed us a new dress she was making, and tried it on. We also found out that Lazaro's birthday is just a day before mine.

The day had been so rich of activities that we were excited to see what the future trip would bring. At least the start was good, better, the best. We arranged to meet up and go to the beach with the guys the next day.

Hotel, sleep - we were knackered.


Friday, March 23, 2012


Day 1 - The Cuba diary

So I went to Cuba with my friend Sanni. The two week trip lasted from March 6th to 21st.
As the flight on the 6th left so early we stayed at a hotel by the airport. Really super handy, as we could also leave our car in the parking lot for 2 weeks for free of charge! Staying at the hotel paid itself back big time. Soo, just as a tip: Staying in the boat cabin sized and styled Best Western Pilotti is not a bad idea if you live outside of Helsinki and need to catch an early flight from Finland.

And so the journey began!
Wake up, breakfast, off to the airport (free ride provided by hotel), check-in and hoping that my hand luggage would be accepted through security check. I took a tripod with, which was sticking on the back of my backpack so it looked kind of oversized and most likely was oversized, too. Got through without problems and headed off to the gate. Thankfully Sanni and me were both in the sleepy mood, so an eight hour flight to Halifax, Canada, didn't sound bad at all.

At times a drunken Finnish man sitting behind us took our attention away from sleeping as he was very very entertaining. Already drunk before boarding the flight, already red nose before seeing the sun of Cuba.
He sang a song that went like this:
Ammu se alas,
Tee siitä hanskoja,
Shoot it,
Make gloves out of it,

Wonder if it was his own creation or a famous Finnish folk song..mhmm.

In Canada we had a half an hour stop during which the flight crew changed and the plane was fed with more fuel. Halifax airport was already familiar to me from when I visited Florida in 2007 (?) with a Halifax stop.

What a view.
The journey continued and we flew above some amazing areas. Sanni and me were guessing the island in the picture above to be Nassau. Seeing the beach and sea made our tiredness disappear. Had our fingers crossed and hoped the Cuban beaches would be as amazing.

We arrived to Cuba's Varadero airport. As we had a 'joker' trip we didn't know which hotel we were going to get and where from. The hotel didn't really matter as our plan was to go traveling around Cuba anyway. But it wasn't that much more expensive to take a 'joker' trip than just flights so what everrr.
I dunno what they are called in English but in Finnish we say 'jokerimatka' meaning you have a flight and hotel but the hotel is not named until you get to your destination. You get the package for cheap as the hotel is a surprise. The hotel might be anything from 1 star to all inclusive 5 star. I've been on various trips like that before and experienced hotels from one end to another: the 5star and the opposite.
At the airport we found out that our hotel was in Havana. We had secretly hoped it'd be in Varadero (which we are happy for that it wasn't in the end) and planned our bus journeys from and to Varadero. But Havana wasn't a problem. The opposite - it turned out to be for the better.

2 hour bus ride from Varadero to Havana, the capital city of Cuba.
On the way we stopped for our first Cuban cocktail. Famous pina colada.
The pour your own rum -deal wasn't good as we got a bit greedy. Due to that, we couldn't finish the drink. If it had been pina colada sin ron (without rum), the drink would have been heavenly for a coconut and pineapple lover like me.

Our hotel in Havana was called St. John. Situated right in the heart of the 'new' part of the city.
After checking in and leaving our luggage at the hotel we headed of to change money. In Cuba there are two currencies: the Cuban peso and the tourist peso. This means tourists pay with different money and also pay much more than locals. What a local pays for a banana might be ten times the amount that a tourist pays. No wait, the other way around. Hha.
Also in Cuba there is separate local and tourist transport. But, well, we heard of some Canadian tourists who had used the local money, and Sanni and me also used local transport so I guess these rules are not exactly set in stone. ;)

Later we went out for a walk and tried to find a place to eat. Didn't take long until an older man came to us in the middle of nowhere and offered to show a nice 'paladar' (Cuban family restaurant) where to dine. We followed. The paladar wasn't as close as we thought. In Cuba the word close means 10min walk away. Okay that is close but I was expecting something more like 'round the corner'. We ate, ordered us all mojitos and the old man started to arrange things for going to the supermarket. It was already getting a bit annoying to be accompanied by an older man who was just watching us, mumbling Spanish, and not being able to communicate in English. Thankfully Sanni and I have a Spanish vocabulary, tiny, but we have one. But this guy was just too much, especially after a long day of traveling.
Well, the guy, Kike, still took us to the supermarket to buy some water. Then he followed us to the hotel! 'Pleaaase, leave us alone', we thought. We also felt like we had a personal slave as he was carrying our five liter water can in his arms. No matter how much we asked to carry it ourselves, he wouldn't let us.
He also wanted to show us around town but we said we were too tired. (of his company, yes)

After 30min at the hotel we decided we'd still go out for an evening walk on the Malecon, which is the seaside road around the center of Havana. Guess who was outside of our hotel? Well Kike the slave of course. (No believe me, I felt really bad for this man. He was telling us all about his heart problems as he carried our water with his back curved as a C.) This time we kindly told him we wanted to be alone. He understood and left us with a smile.

The amount of stares, smiles and comments we got was countless. You can just imagine how two blond girls stand out in a country like Cuba.


pictures by Sanni