Stockholm & Åland

Sweden is the only Scandinavian country I´ve been to only once, back in 2009, so I was overdue for a second visit. My intentions were wrong – I was going to get access to the Algerian Embassy since the Stockholm mission handles Icelandic visa applications (we don’t have an Algerian embassy in Iceland, but to get a tourist visa you have to apply in your resident country, a perfect catch-22). What I didn’t know was that I´d fall in love with Stockholm in the four nights I had to stay there waiting for the visa processing.

Stockholms stadshus in Kungsholmen

I stayed in Gamla Stan, getting voluntarily lost in the old island-esque city center, and wandered the more modern streets of Norrmalm. I wined and dined with Scandinavia’s second best chef of 2009, eating at the Michelin restaurant Ekstedt. We were on the waiting list to get into the 3-star Frantzén, but no luck this time, which gives me a valid reason to go back a third time.

sunrise ferry time

We arrived on a Wednesday, just in time to apply before the embassy closed at 1pm, but they admitted it wouldn’t be ready by Friday and they´d open next on Monday. This sparked the possibility to squeeze in a weekend trip to Aland, a sort of sovereign country-state that’s outside of the EU, owned by Finland, but Swedish speaking.

picturesque Åland

I bought a ferry ticket for €2, return, with Viking line supposedly making profits off €1 tickets since passengers buy so much cheap booze and cigarettes from the technicality of leaving the EU. I couchsurfed two nights with a friendly Alander in Mariehamn who had a Finnish sauna in his apartment, and could walk anywhere and everywhere along the coast and an incredible network of pink trails. The roads were pink too – the granite used to make paths and streets are called red by the locals, but it was all very pretty in pink to me.

they´re pink, no?

The highest point of the island isn’t very high, at least not high enough to be called more than a hill, but what Aland didn’t have in highland they made up for in islands; countless islands, all shapes and sizes, with or without vegetation, and most, with cabins. My host explained that some were summer houses, vacation homes, and others, lived in all year. People arrived by private boat, and all had a Finnish sauna to warm up in after a dip in the sea, whatever season.

one of the many bustling food halls in Stockholm

I couchsurfed my last couple nights in Stockholm near Solvandan, sleeping in the loft of a top floor apartment where a ladder led me to my room I couldn´t quite stand up in. My host gave me a city bike card, so I had access to free bicycles to explore the city further. We found some live jazz, delicious risotto, and a wine bar whose goal is to cover their walls floor to ceiling with corks. Ill have to go back if/when the gets accomplished – yet another reason to visit Stockholm again.

Island hopping to the Visayas

Leaving Paniman was a bit less blissful than our arrival. Instead of taking a boat from the beach, we took the much longer, more tedious overland route back to Naga city, our travel hub for the day. To get a head start on our long day of travel, we had stayed in the land-locked village of Caramoan the night before, with the family of a toothless man whose irresistible smile didn’t allow us to look for other options. From there, we peeter-pattered down south, towards Cebu and the rest of the Visayan islands, but each painstaking kilometer went much slower than we thought, so we got stuck in the hotel-less port town of Pio Duran without a ferry onward til the next morning.

a tri-cycle, aka the Philippino taxi

a tri-cycle, aka the Philippino taxi

We made a friend on our way to Pio who invited us to stay with him, but he hadn’t been home in 5 years and didn’t have the key to his house. There was a padlock he didn’t know the code to, but some distant relative in the next town did. We waited for an hour as he tried to sort it out, only to learn there’d be no water or electricity when we got in. After amusing the neighbourhood children with our observing, foreigner eyes (they played really good basketball and danced lines of cuckaracha for us), we wandered back down to the port where a security guard pointed us in the direction of some covered, wooden benches to sleep on. The ferry left at 4:30 so we decided napping on a bench wouldn’t exactly be the same as sleeping on the street for a night… but basically we were homeless traveling bums for a minute.

one of the smaller ferry boats

one of the smaller ferry boats

The food we’d been eating had all been paired with rice, different assortments of meat and veggies with curry or adobo sauces. They always tasted good after a day of sweating and traveling, and the local San Miguel beer quenches your thirst even when it’s luke-warm. We had a couple, plus some locally made sugar-cane alcohol, to lull ourselves into sleepy mode. We boarded the ferry at 3, then curled up on some less-comfortable benches on deck to snooze a bit longer.

busride at sunrise

busride at sunrise

At daybreak we arrived in Masbate city, then needed to take a series of tricycles, vans and yet another ferry to reach Cebu. We pulled into the city at 10pm, after 2 exhausting days of travel, but by then the hotel across from the bus terminal was closed (or maybe its been shut down already but nobody knows). We wandered the surrounding streets, only to figure out we were smack-dab in the middle of Cebu-city’s sex-district. We chose the one out of three hotels we checked out based on the fact that it was the only one not available to rent per hour. I think it still had a “No Minors” sign, but I chose not to remember those minor details in lieu of an undisturbed night’s sleep.