Category Archives: Sweden

Night bus in Europe: the Eurolines experience

On a spur-of the-moment decision, I booked a bus trip from Sweden to Germany. I was free that weekend and I thought that Germany is too close to Scandinavia for me to ignore. Since it was only a few days before my “scheduled trip”, the plane and train fares were already sky-high so I decided to take the bus. I wasn’t afraid of long trips. I’ve already experienced long bus trips in the Philippines, and they weren’t what you would call comfortable, so I was ready for anything.

I booked online through German Eurolines website (booking online requires a printer), although you can also buy at the bus stations in Germany (or wherever there is a Eurolines office). So here was my itinerary:

Departure –  22:25 Malmö, Sweden/Arrival –  05:15 (next day) Hamburg, Deutschland

I decided to spend a day in Hamburg and then go to Berlin. So going back to Sweden, I came from Berlin

Departure – 22:15 Berlin, Deutschland/Arrival – 06:50 (next day) Malmö, Sweden

I asked around for the bus stop in Malmö, and found it to be a five-minute walk from the Central Station. When I arrived at the bus stop, people were standing outside in the cold while waiting for the bus. It seems the offices that sell the tickets were only open during office hours. It was a good thing I wasn’t too early, I hate standing around in the cold. Our bus arrived on schedule. Apparently, the bus route was from Oslo, Norway to Paris, France (a 26-hour trip… now, that’s really long!).

The driver does not speak English. I wasn’t sure if he was Swedish or Norwegian (the language sounds the same to me, unfortunately). He was just pointing and muttering, good thing I lived in Japan and am a self-proclaimed expert on charades. As soon as I gave the ticket to the driver, I climbed up the bus and chose a seat.

I sat beside the window, and reclined my seat. The lights went out as the bus started to go. The down jacket I was wearing proved to be very useful as an improvised pillow. It was very soft and comfortable (well, if you can say that sleeping in a bus is comfortable). I started to drift off to sleep despite the loud giggling of the girl in front of me (she was flirting with the guy seating beside her).

I was in deep slumber when my seatmate woke me up. She said we had to leave the bus for 45 minutes. I got up groggily and went out. I was too sleepy to care about where we were and why we had to get off the bus. We were in some sort of underground parking and had to take the elevator to the restaurants and restrooms. I went to the restroom and when I came out, it dawned on me that we were in a ferry! Of course! Haha. We had to cross the Baltic Sea from Denmark to reach Germany. The travel time was for 45 minutes, so I ordered some tea to try to take the chill off my bones. They have a cafeteria, where you can order some snacks and drinks. After 45 minutes, we got back on the bus and I slept until we reached Hamburg, my destination.

My Berlin to Malmö ride was a bit different. I waited for the bus at the ZOB (Central Bus Station) in Berlin. There was a proper lounge, with vending machines that sell water and chips, and ticket booths that was open until 9pm. I was able to nap on the chairs while waiting for the bus.

When the bus arrived, I already knew the drill so I showed my ticket to the German-speaking driver and climbed up. It was a “business class” bus, so it had sockets! I was able to charge my iPhone, perfect!

This time, there were fewer passengers so i was able to lie down, using the two adjacent seats for my torso and then the seat across the aisle for my feet. I had a makeshift bed! There was one time a guy at the back came forward to talk to the driver. He was trying to be discreet while stepping over my legs barricading the path. But I woke up while he was stepping midway, so I suddenly moved and there was one awkward moment when my legs were stuck in his! I apologized profusely and then went back to sleep curled in the two seats, making sure my feet were no longer in the way.

This time, i was prepared for the ferry ride. I woke up just as the bus was about to enter the ferry. I had some tea while waiting out the 45-min ride at that godforsaken hour (it was around 2:30 in the morning). I also took a better look around and took some pictures. There were some slot machines and video game machines.

There was also a duty free shop. If you want to buy tobacco though, you have to ask your driver for a coupon, I don’t know why.

Oh, here’s a tip when riding a bus that goes into a ferry: remember where the bus was parked! It was a good thing I remembered the sector where we were parked, and it was better for one other passenger following me. She had no idea how to get back to our bus, she was so lost. The parking area inside the ferry was pretty big, and the trucks and buses were arranged side by side so it’s easy to get confused. She was very thankful as we boarded the bus just as the ferry was docking at the port in Copenhagen.

And then comes the bad part. At around 5:40am, the German bus driver dropped us off at the bus stop in Copenhagen, and told us, “Change, change” and made us all get out. The German people asked him where we should go and he pointed to the spot behind the bus and told them the bus was coming and we should wait. So we did. Now the bus stop for Eurolines in Copenhagen was just a long lane on the street where the buses can park. No lounges, not even a roof for a waiting shed. There were no number slots for parked buses or any organizational scheme of some sort. It was a major stop and they didn’t bother with a proper bus stop!

We were waiting for the bus that was bound for Oslo in the sidewalk. I was shivering while I stood there (there were only one bench near us) with the other passengers. At around 5:55, there was a bus that came from the other end of the bus lane and the sign in front read, “Paris-Oslo”. One lady shouted, “That’s our bus, I know it!” Yeah, it was our bus alright. It was parked at the other freaking end of the bus lane and left without us. Really sweet, eh?

I was very lucky I was getting off at Lund, a 45-min train ride from Copenhagen. I pity the people going to Oslo. I took the train and left them there, standing in the sidewalk in the cold early morning. They would wait another two hours before the next bus came.

All in all, it was good to experience taking the bus Europe-style.  You just have to make sure that you check the buses carefully when they change. It takes you there longer, but it’s much cheaper than taking the train and you would save on accommodation (though you would have to sleep on a chair). I would repeat this experience if I had to, but not without checking for cheap air fares first…


Sweden surprises

What’s the first thing that comes to your mind when you hear about Sweden? Hmmm, for me, when I first learned I will be sent to this country, I had no idea what to expect. I admit, my Europe geography is so poor, I didn’t even know where the relative location of Sweden is! (I have never been out of Asia before this, and I thought Europe would be a dream to be fulfilled in the faraway future… So no, I didn’t bother familiarizing myself with European countries). The only things I knew about Sweden was that: (1) I love Swedish massage; (2) My favorite vodka, Absolut, came from Sweden; (3) it’s capital is Stockholm; and (4) hmm, my abundant wealth of knowledge stopped there.

And yeah, it didn’t help that when I ask people about Sweden, they kept confusing it with Switzerland! At least I know that the Swedes are different from the Swiss, but I understand the confusion.

A few clicks in Google and I found some pretty interesting stuff. I was also able to grab a nice handbook from the Swedish embassy in Japan when I applied for my Schengen visa. These are some of the interesting things that I found out about Sweden:

– ABBA came from Sweden! Hah! And here I was singing Dancing Queen to every karaoke session and memorizing all the songs in Mama Mia without even knowing that. And I call myself an ABBA fan. Tsk.

-IKEA, Volvo, & H&M are Swedish brands. OK, I guess I really was ignorant :))

– Go, Vikings! The Vikings are from Scandinavian countries (Norway, Denmark, Sweden) and it was during their time that Norse mythology fluorished. I knew they were Europeans, but I didn’t care much for the specific country (poor, ignorant me).

– On a more nerdy note, I learned that the country is home to the Nobel Prize, since Alfred Nobel (inventor of the dynamite) was Swedish. Also, Swedes have discovered more elements in the periodic table than any other nationality (this came from the handbook at the Swedish embassy, and I have no patience to confirm this). To give you an idea, the elements discovered and named by the Swedes include Holmium (Latin for Stockholm), Scandium (after Scandinavia) and we have Erbium, Ytterbium, Terbium, Ytterbium, Yttrium (all named after Ytterby). Among other notable Swedes were Anders Celsius, who devised the Celsius temperature scale, and Carolus Linnaeus (he studied in Lund University, where I am now!), the father of modern taxonomy (he started the Latin scientific names for organisms).

When I came here, I found a lot more interesting stuff. It really is a different thing when you’re in the place itself, and you are immersed in the culture. You learn a whole lot more compared to what can be read in books and off the internet. Well, these things might be the norm in all of Scandinavia or Europe, not just Sweden, but what do I know? This is just a list of the things I found interesting or different from what I was used to, when I was living in the Philippines and Japan. I found out that:

– They don’t really have what we call the Swedish massage. I found a lot of Thai massage centers, though :p My friends here tell me that they were also surprised to find Swedish massage centers during their trips abroad.

– They don’t drink Absolut vodka very often. They prefer beer. Well, they said Absolut is pretty darn expensive and serving them at parties or at the dinner table is not really a cheap option. They think I have drunk more of that stuff than they have 😉

– The most popular brand of car here is Toyota, not Volvo. But then again, I guess Toyota is popular everywhere.

– Most restrooms are unisex. They’re just marked WC for wash closet. I was totally confused the first time I looked for the toilet. (This is not unique to Sweden, of course. I think most European countries have common toilets)

– The light switch is located at the waist level. The first time I used a restroom in the university, I was in total darkness. I couldn’t find the light switch and assumed that the automatic lighting was just malfunctioning (ah, I miss Kyushu University’s automatic lights!).

– They wash the dishes using a brush, not a sponge like we normally do in Asia (well, I think this is the way Europeans do the dishes; but it’s my first time to encounter it :p). The first time I tried doing the dishes, I was very skeptical of this method. I was not convinced that it got all of the oil and dirt away. This is a more hygienic way to wash the plates, since the hands are not directly in contact with the dirty stuff. Ah, but who cares, most of them have dishwasher machines.

– Sunday is silence day, not shopping day. Most shops are closed, and the ones that are open, only do for a short period. What am I supposed to do on Sundays, then?!

– One of the things that really amazed me was the working hours. People here arrive around 8 or 9 am, have a 30-min coffee break at the lunchroom at 10 am. Then they come back for lunch from 12 nn to 1 pm and have coffee again at 3 pm and return home before 5 pm… Really amazing!

– The alarm system for my department is just annoying! People have to remember that after 5pm, you should remember to push the blue button above the door locks before opening any door. If yoi forget this minor detail, the building’s alarm will go off and people have to suffer from the irritating alarm noise for 15 minutes! And then, since we hear the alarm go off almost everyday, people won’t respond if there is a real emergency. We’ll just think some idiot forgot to push the darn button before turning the lock. Really effective alarm system, wouldn’t you say?

– I can never figure out whether a door should be pushed or pulled (well, at least in Lund this is the case, both for the University buildings and dormitories). Sometimes I open the door and pull it and then the inner door needs to be pushed! A little consistency is all I’m asking!

– IKEA is love! It’s pretty neat how you can just buy all the stuff you need for your house in one big building. I enjoyed watching the people test out the beds, looked fun to just lie on the bed for a while (after all, IKEA is pretty big. You might need a rest in between choosing the lights and the pots).

– H&M is a very big temptation! Every time I go into that shop, I can’t resist the urge to buy something from the sale rack! Ack!