A love letter to a romantic tale set in Cuba that reached its happy ending

View of Capitolio from roof of Hotel Inglaterra, Havana I’m sitting at a café on campus reading up on articles for schoolwork (meaning, blog posts…) and over at my right there’s some sort of market day going on focusing on the language courses offered at the university next semester.

Salsa music is being played from huge speakers, which is a little comical to me because the only language courses offered at this uni are Japanese, Indonesian and Italian. Not to get hung up on details, but none of these cultures are associated with salsa.

Still, I am instantly transported back to my time living in Cuba and even my travels in Mexico last year. My heart skips a bit as I close my eyes and a rush of memories are being brought back to me.

I’ve been thinking a lot about Cuba lately. Mostly, because the most wonderful news reached me the other day:

My good friend married her Cuban sweetheart last week.

Street musicians, Havana, Cuba

She, a beautiful, blonde Danish girl working for another tour agency, was one of my best friends in Cuba. He was a slick-looking Latino with a a huge smile and a heart of gold.

I remember vividly the night they met. There were four of us in our close group of friends, all female Scandinavian tour guides. On our free time, we did what any young girls would do: enjoy the world’s best rum and go out dancing.

We were at Casa de la Musica, which is one of the best clubs in Varadero and it plays almost exclusively salsa music. The place is electric pretty much any night of the week, and it was our favorite place to let loose and enjoy ourselves.

The two of them spotted each other across the room, and at the end of the night he’d passionately kissed her goodnight within a couple of hours of knowing her. The rest of us laughed and teased her as she joined us again on the dance floor.

‘Are you kidding me?! Glad that’s out of your system,’ we laughed. He was wearing a neon pink button-up shirt, and could have easily been Ricky Martin’s slightly darker-haired twin brother. We thought he looked ridiculous and didn’t understand what she saw in him. Let’s be frank: young, blonde Scandinavian girls in Cuba can have their pick… and he wouldn’t have been my pick if I’d seen him across the room.

But they had found each other. And that was that.

Colorful old cars and buildings, Havana

Over the next few months, I watched their love story unfold despite cultural differences and initial language barriers. Ricky Martin, who I had instantly judged as a total douche who didn’t know how to dress, turned out to be one of the kindest and warmest people I’ve ever met.

(I literally learned not to judge a book by its cover from this relationship. You can preach it all you want, but you need to be proven wrong and feel like an idiot before you actually get it).

Always taking in interest in her friends and investing time and effort to get to know us, no doubt because he cared about her so much. They were so in love, it was impossible to look away. You just kind of wanted it to rub off on you, somehow.

Cayo Blance outside Varadero, Cuba

Nearly two years has passed since then, and while I haven’t seen them face to face since we left Cuba, I can imagine what they’ve been going through.

Him, stuck in Cuba.

Her, trying to figure out her life and pursuing her career, but always missing her love in Varadero.

Scrambling to find time and money for her to come visit as often as possible.

Wondering, ‘can we really do this? take this risk? is it going to be you and me? because if so, the only way is to bring you to Denmark. and the only way to bring you to Denmark is to get married. are we too young to get married? what if we’ll regret it?’

In the end… ‘You’re my true love. I want it to be you and me, forever.’

After what I can only imagine was very a long struggle with the Cuban embassy and Danish immigration – getting out of Cuba is not easy – he arrived in Denmark this summer.

And last week they each got to marry the love of their life at town hall and begin their lives together in Copenhagen as man and wife.

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Not all love stories are conventional.
Not all are convenient.
Not all are easy to follow through. 

But sometimes…. just sometimes…. 

It’s all so worth it. 

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A love letter to the temples in Bangkok

Park, Bangkok

A couple of weeks ago I posted a little somethin’ somethin’ about being stranded Hong Kong, and I mentioned that I never really felt the urge to visit humongous Asian cities.

Well, I’ve now visited two humongous Asian cities: Hong Kong and Bangkok, back in 2011, and I was taken aback both times at how cool I thought it was. So I might need to reconsider at some point and actually think about possibly adding places like Tokyo and Singapore to the never-ending list.

My most strict criteria is that there has to be some color there, and some form of sanctuaries. Hong Kong did okay because of the bright, green hills and the beautiful turquoise water. Bangkok was filled to the brim with temples, parks, and statues. Cities that are famous for tall buildings and shopping malls (Kuala Lumpur – I’m looking at you) don’t exactly tempt me… though I’d love to be proven wrong, here!

In Bangkok, I granted my travel companions exactly one night (a couple of hours before going to the movies) of strolling through shopping malls. The rest of our time was spent sightseeing and exploring Khao San Road the city.

Chang Beer, Khao San Road, Bangkok

But in all seriousness, here’s where I brought my good buddy, the world famous Chang-hangover, the next day:

Temple of the Golden Mount

Wat Saket

Golden Mount Temple, Wat Saket, Bangkok, Thailand

Golden Mount Temple, Wat Saket, Bangkok, Thailand

Golden Mount Temple, Wat Saket, Bangkok, Thailand

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Temple of the Reclining Buddha

Wat Pho

Temple of the Reclining Buddha // Wat Pho // Bangkok

Temple of the Reclining Buddha // Wat Pho // Bangkok

Temple of the Reclining Buddha // Wat Pho // Bangkok

Temple of the Reclining Buddha // Wat Pho // Bangkok

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Chao Praya River

Chao Pray river Bangkok

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Chao Praya river Bangkok

Chao Pray river Bangkok

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Bangkok, you were so much more than just a bustling big city! Thanks for showing me! In fact, I suspect that I’ll be back very, very soon…

Fellow Bangkok fans, what do you reckon is so great about it? Do you have a favorite temple (cause there are hundreds)? What is your favorite hiding place? 

 

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A love letter to Luxor

In the winter of 2010/2011 I lived and worked in Hurghada in Egypt as a tour guide. I had the most amazing experience working there, with the privilege of getting to know the country and its history – and to be the presenter of that history to hundreds of wide-eyed tourists.

My time in Egypt was sadly cut short because, as some of you might remember, January 2011 was the month the revolution began and president Hosni Mobarak was overthrown by the military. Obviously, the situation in Egypt and the horrible events of last week are all over the news, and a lot of attention is being focused on the chaos and the negative state of it all. 

That’s not what we do over here at the Happy Camper Project!

I study International Politics, so I get to dip my toes into the “discuss, critique and analyse!” pool enough as it is. This blog and the love letters I write is about positivity and joy. So I’d like to take a moment and celebrate some of the amazing things I, personally, associate with Egypt.

What better way to do that than to take you all with me to the magical city of Luxor… 

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Map of Egypt, Luxor

Luxor is a city in southern Egypt and is often referred to as “the world’s largest open-air museum”. In ancient Egypt, the city was called Thebes and it was the seat of the king of Upper Egypt. Ancient Egypt consisted of two kingdoms; Upper Egypt (south) and Lower Egypt (north), until king Narmer united the kingdoms and claimed the thrown to the whole shebang around 3000 B.C.

A fascinating thing about  ancient Egypt is that they believed that the Nile separated life from death. Once you died, you would have to cross the Nile in a boat from the East Bank to the West Bank, to your final resting place. That’s why everything to do with life is located on the East Bank (as in worship temples), and everything associated with death is located on the West bank (graves, temples of death etc). The 3 great pyramids, which of course are graves, are located on the Giza plateau in Cairo – on the West Bank of the Nile. The city itself – which represents life – is on the East Bank.

Here are some of the must-sees in today’s Luxor:

Karnak Temple

Karnak is the largest temple complex in the whole world. It’s a beautiful and awe-inspiring collection of temples, statues, pillars, obelisks, chapels, and other buildings, and I’ve spent a lot of time over-enthusiastically guiding tourists through this place.

+ True story: when French excavators came to the Karnak temple in the early 1900s, they wondered, “Hmm. This has been covered by desert for the past thousands of years. How do we get rid of the sand? It’s going to take us decades.” One smart-ass came up with an idea: they would break the barriers of the Nile and let the flooding water do the job. Uh….. really? That was your genius plan? The water did rush in (you can still see the marks in the entrance from how far up the water reached), cleaned out the sand – and also cleaned off all the ancient colouring used in the unique, intricate hieroglyphs…. Noooooo! Lost forever!

I hope that smart-ass got fired.

Karnak Temple, walking in, Egypt

Karnak Temple, Egypt

Hypostyle Hall, Karnak Temple, Egypt Hypostyle Hall, Karnak Temple, Egypt

Great Hypostyle HallRamses II statue, Karnak Temple, Egypt

Ramses II 

Hatshepsut's Obelisk, Karnak Temple, Egypt

Hatshepsut’s obelisk, the second largest in the world (after the Washington Monument)Karnak Temple, Egypt

Luxor Temple

This is another huge temple on the east bank of Luxor; an absolutely gorgeous temple of worship.

*Crap, I forgot all of my funny anecdotes about Luxor Temple… Skip to pictures.

Luxor Temple, Egypt, seen from the Nile

luxor temple

Mortuary temple of Hatshepsut

Hatshepsut was one of the most fierce and fascinating queens of ancient Egypt. She is in fact one of the most successful pharaohs overall, and her reign longer than any another woman in an Egyptian dynasty. Hatshepsut is thought to be the world’s first botanic, and the first ever to travel the seas to just explore rather than conquer or fight wars.

Over at the West Bank where the dead lie, we find her mortuary temple which is dedicated to the god Amon-Ra and is one of the most magnificent remaining monuments of  Ancient Egypt.

Mortuary Temple of Hatshepsut, Egypt

temple of hat 3

Valley of the Kings

I still get chills thinking about this place…
Just to give you the basics: in the Old Kingdom the pharaohs liked to build pyramids as their final resting place, thinking “the closer to the sun (Amon-Ra), the better.”

Turns out pyramids are really easy to spot for tomb robbers. You can’t expect to live happily in the afterlife if someone has stolen all the gold in your tomb, now can you? So in the New Kingdom, the pharaohs figured out that it was best to hide their burial chambers a little better. And so the Valley of the Kings was built, one grave at a time. They dug waaaayyy down into the ground and decorated the walls with stunning hieroglyphs, and filled the whole thing up with gold. It was believed that everything that you were buried with, you would take with you on the boat over to the afterlife, and kings needed to bring all their gold, of course…. Way more practical than clothes and shoes.

Can you imagine the period of time at the turn of the 20th century when European archeologists starting discovering these graves? We’re talking more gold in one single grave than a small country can ever hope to spend in a lifetime. The most famous grave in the Valley of the Kings is the one most recently excavated: Tutankhamon, which was discovered in 1922 by Howard Carter. They’re still digging around in the area, though, and new chambers in the valley was discovered in 2005 and in 2008.

People – this place is so majestic and so goose-bump inducing. Going down into these graves with the most amazing hieroglyphs and paintings, and finding a sarcophagus… knowing that a mummy has been in there for thousands of years… and here we are studying it. It is the weirdest feeling. I’m in awe of this place.

Cameras are prohibited in the Valley of the Kings, so I don’t have any pictures myself. But here are a couple I found laying around on the Internet for you to take a look 😉

Valley of the Kings, Egypt

burial chamber

Seti Tomb valley of the kings, Egypt

The Nile 

…and of course, lastly, the Nile.

View of the west bank from the Nile, Luxor, Egypt

egyptian children bathing

hotel agatha christie

The Winter Palace Hotel, where Agatha Christie stayed when she wrote 1937’s Death on the Nile.Sunset on the Nile, Luxor, Egypt

Sunset on the Nile, Luxor, Egyptfelucca sunset 2

sunset, boat with people

What’s your favorite photo from Luxor? Have you ever been there, and if so, what monument did you enjoy the most? 

 

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Photo credit valley of the kings
Photo credit Seti tomb illustration
Photo credit burial chamber

The most beautiful island in Norway

Andøya, Norway

Oh boy, do I have a real treat for you today!!!

Let’s talk about exotic places around the world for a second. For me, exotic destinations are places like the Kenyan savannah, Indonesia, Bora Bora, and Buenos Aires. In other words, expensive and hard to reach/offers beaches/likely to challenge my guts of steel. For others, it’s Northern Norway (expensive and hard to get to; check).

Step-father comes from a small island called Andøya which is way up north in Norway. If you don’t know someone from there and you’ve actually heard of it, it means one of two things:

  1. You heard of  it on the context of whale-watching safaris, which goes on there
  2. You heard of it because of its Rocket Range. That’s right – like, space rockets. Into outer space

Norway map

I’ve been up there visiting the extended family a few times over the years, and I can honestly say that it is one of the most stunning places I’ve ever been. Summers on Andøya consist of

  • midnight sun
  • eating cloudberries (the place is filled with them!)
  • fishing and hiking in the mountains
  • picking wild strawberries from Bonus-Grandmother’s garden
  • gasping at the beyond-gorgeous beaches (just don’t dip your toes! freezing! arctic, I tell you!)
  • ….enjoying life in a really slow pace….

Road to Andøya, NorwayBreivika Andøya, NorwayAndøya, Norwaybeach Andøya, Norway

Andøya, NorwayBleik, Andøya, Norway

Lucky for us, Step-father has graciously let me dive into his photo albums and steal pictures from Andøya to show you guys.

“Just make sure you hustle it really well and get some more tourists up there,” he said.

“Oh sure! I promise I won’t even mention the 5 gazillion mosquitoes in summertime or how you have to wear 5 layers of wool clothing even in August cause of the wind.”

Oops.

View from top of Andøya, NorwayView to bay Andøya, NorwayAndøya, NorwayBleik Andøya, NorwayBleik beach Andøya, NorwayBleik beach Andøya, Norwayview across the water Andøya, Norway

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I mean… it’s totally breathtaking, right?  

How lucky am I to have an excuse to keep coming back here…!

Now, let’s make Step-father happy! What’s your favorite shot from Andøya? Ever been there? If you have some great pictures from Northern Norway, please leave a link in the comments! I’d love to see 🙂

 

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*All photos by Odd Lambersøy

Perks of being stranded in Hong Kong

I consider myself a pretty lucky person, all in all. For instance, I’ve lost my wallet more times than I care to remember (by, say, putting it on the roof of my car and then driving off), but it always finds its way back to me without much ado.

The one thing I find hard to shake off is that I have terrible travel karma when it comes to the actual ‘getting from A to B’-part. My luggage always goes missing. If it’s a direct flight, my odds are usually about 50/50, but when I have connecting flights it’s more like 80/20… not in my favor. On one memorable occasion I was flying home for Christmas from Egypt and they managed to lose my luggage both on the way there and on the way back. Another time I was flying from NYC to Oslo and my suitcase ended up in Moscow.  How is that even possible???

It should come as no surprise then that my luggage went missing when I flew back to Norway last week to attend a funeral. It took more than two days, but I did eventually get my bag and breathed a sigh of relief. The worst is over! we laughed. Now I just have to get back to Australia with my bag.

On my way back, after arriving safely in Helsinki, I was told my flight to Hong Kong was 9 hours delayed. Which meant I had to spend the night in Helsinki. Which meant that I would miss my connecting flight in Hong Kong and would have to spend the night there also. I would arrive in Brisbane a whole day after originally planned, and for someone who is diligent about school and has a not-yet-started essay due this week, it wasn’t exactly ideal.

Mom kept joking that “this will be the first time in history Christine’s bag actually makes it to the destination before her!”

Now, I’m not going to sit here and claim that I was totally zen about this the entire time and immediately thought of this as an amazing twist of fate! No. My first instinct when I got the news was to throw my purse on the floor and scream, “This is bullsh*t!!!” But I didn’t. Instead I got really quiet for about 30 minutes, and let all that anger and frustration pass through me… then I let it go and got all zen about it.

Anyone who knows me well will agree that I have quite the temper and can get very angry very quickly – but thankfully, it passes even quicker than it appeared. I’m not one to sulk.

So I went on the hunt for silver linings in all of this, and it didn’t take long to recognize the big one: I got to see Hong Kong! After a night in Helsinki followed by a 9 ½ hour flight, I was to stay at a place called Panda Hotel in downtown Hong Kong. As my shuttle bus exited the airport and headed towards the city lights at 1 A.M., I thought to myself: I would never ever have gone here on my own merit. So, thanks for this. Large Asian cities have never enticed me much, and places like Beijing, Tokyo and Shanghai have never made to my ever-growing bucket list. All the more reason to be thankful for this, because I might not get to see something like it again!

I arrived at the hotel at 1.30 A.M., but was wide awake since my internal clock was still on Helsinki time (5 hours behind). In true form, my first question to the concierge was, “Where is the food?” She looked at me with a blank expression. “No food, Miss. Is night. Is closed. Sleep.”

I swear, I go through much of life feeling like Pippin in The Fellowship of the Ring when he asks Aragon when they’ll eat, and Aragon tells him they already had breakfast.
“But what about second breakfast…?” Pippin asks.

second breakfast gif How exciting! I thought. Now I have an excuse to go explore a little bit, to find some food. It’s totally badass that I’m by myself in the middle of Hong Kong and looking for local street food. I’m like those hard-core solo travelers. This is so cool!

It wasn’t that cool. It was the middle of the night on a Sunday, everything was closed, there were no people out except for a few hobos here and there who yelled at me, so I walked around the block before calling it a night. I ended up with an apple from 7/11 and an episode of Keeping up with the Kardashians on my MacBook before bed.

(I still felt pretty badass.)

The next day I finally got to see Hong Kong in daylight and it was exactly the way I’d imagined it: nothing but enormous high-rise buildings everywhere, bustling traffic, lush trees growing in between all the highways and houses, and tall, green hills surrounding the city. It was beautiful.

hong kong buildings

hong kong buildings, view from hotel Panda

Hong Kong bay, view from bridge

Hong Kong harbor, view from bridge

A couple of years ago I read a book called The Piano Teacher which takes place in Hong Kong during WWII. I couldn’t help but being brought back to that story and imagining how beautiful Hong Kong must have been back then with the turquoise water and green mountains – before massive steel bridges and concrete buildings forced themselves into the landscape.

Hong Kong coast

hong kong gondols

Having endured a 7 hour layover in Hong Kong on my way to Oslo, I was quite familiar with the airport. With another 8 hours to kill there before my evening flight to Brisbane, I knew exactly where I wanted to spend my time: Pizza Express.

Nothing beats thin-crusted Italian pizzas and a custom vegetarian menu. Sure, it’s fast and convenient and probably doesn’t quite pass my “Will this nourish me?”-test. The fact that they served my food 5 minutes after I ordered pretty much confirms the fact that it was frozen to begin with, but what the heck. I was famished and the familiarity of pizza was too tempting.

Add free Wi-Fi, and I was sold.

Pizza Express restaurant, Hong Kong airport

When I finally boarded the plane that night to undertake the last leg of my journey home, the moment I’ve been fantasizing about for years finally happened. I made my way past all the fancy people in first class and followed the crowd back to coach. I couldn’t initially find my assigned seat, so a flight attended approached at me. “Let me see your boarding pass.” He looked it over. “Your seat is up there in the front, miss,” he smiled and gestured back to where I was coming from.

I had been upgraded to business class. 

Free champagne… Real cutlery… Enough leg room to make it feel like I was sitting in someone’s living room…. Haagen Dasz… Needless to say, I didn’t sleep at all that night. I was this close to asking the flight attendant to take my picture. Kinda wish I had.

(I’m not exactly sure if I was upgraded by the airline per se because of all my ordeals, or if I was originally booked on business class – maybe that’s why the tickets were so insanely expensive…? And no, it wasn’t first class where you have your own cubical and white tablecloths. But really, who cares! It was business class!)

Flying business class, Hong Kong to Brisbane

Ever been to Hong Kong? Or had a terrible experience with connecting flights that turned out to be a positive thing? Share away, love! 🙂 

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Source pippin gif

A love letter to sunsets in Santorini (and to a very special travel buddy)

One of the perks of living a rather nomadic lifestyle is making deep and long-lasting friendships with people I would never have crossed paths with if I had gone the traditional high school – college – job route in Norway. I love how different they all are, the people I consider my best friends. They all bring out different sides of me and it’s fun to stand back and observe how they play different roles in my life.

In 2010 I met a feisty little Swedish chick named Madelene who has since been my partner-in-crime on many adventures. I could probably spend the whole morning listing things I love about her and about our friendship – like how kind and caring she is, how I appreciate our many deep conversations about the bigger things in life, and how I love her fun, positive spirit.

But for this post I’m going to celebrate the part of friendship that is our shared passion for traveling. Madelene and I are quite the masters of making the most out of 48-hour getaways and spontaneous trips. We often have conversations like this:

“So, I know you’re supposed to be vacationing in Phuket. But I was kinda thinking Bangkok for three days. You in?”

“All in, babe! Go ahead and book my flight.”

…and after accidentally not talking to each other for a couple months due to busy lives, I get texts like this one….

“Christine! Mumford & Sons in Oslo next month?”

“All in! Just bought us tickets – my couch is waiting for you.”

If I ever need someone to be spontaneous with me, she’s my safest bet. Madelene is the one I secretly plan to take with me when I decide to backpack through South America. She’s the one I plan to kidnap and bring along when I hike the Pacific Crest Trail. She doesn’t know it yet, but she’s going to be my roommate when I escape and live in Bali for one month each year.

Roadtrip on scooters, Santorini, Greece

A couple of years ago we took the ferry to Santorini from Crete, where we were living at the time, with two other of our good friends. We were only there for 2 days and 1 night, but we sure managed to squeeze in a lot during those 36 hours. When it came down to it though, there were only a few non-negotiable things the four of us wanted to do in Santorini:

1)   Eat good food.

2)   Explore the island on scooters.

3)   Experience the sunset in Oia.

You want the truth?
It’s totally worth the hype.
Every little bit of it.

View of cliffs, Santorini, Greece

View of Santorini cliffs, Greece

Acting goofy, Santorini views, Greece

Classic view, houses, Oia, Santorini, Greece Classic view, houses, Oia, Santorini, Greece

Santorini, Greece, houses along the hill

Santorini, Greece, Oia sunset

Right before sunset Oia, Santorini, Greece

Sunset in Oia, Santorini, Greece

People watching sunset in Oia, Santorini, Greece

Wedding during sunset in Oia, Santorini, Greece

Sunset in Oia, Santorini, Greece

Sunset in Oia, Santorini, Greece

If you’re ever searching for one of those “Oh my God, I can’t believe I’m here experiencing this right now! I’ll never ever forget this!”-moments…. go to Oia with some good buddies and breathe it in. Magical.

Have you ever been to Santorini? Did it live up to your expectations? 

Xx Christine