|Västerbron Bridge, Stockholm|
It has been a long time since my last post, and I apologize, the past couple of months were quite hectic, and I traveled a lot, both inside and outside of Egypt. In this series, I will be telling my story about my recent visit to Europe, and I hope you will enjoy it, and forgive my lack of posts. Hit the jump for the full post.
This is my second visit to Europe, the first time, I traveled to Sweden in November 2009, and stayed there for 2 weeks, in a lovely and quiet town called Kista, just 20 minutes by train from Stockholm, and as you can imagine, the weather was horrid in November, gray clouds all day long (I saw the sun twice during 2 weeks), lots and lots of rain and it was very cold (around 2 degrees Celsius) , but it didn't snow, add to that a late sunrise ~ 8 am, an early sunset ~ 5pm, and I was depressed and desperate to see the sunny weather I am used to in Egypt. My week days were spent at work from 8 to 5, when I left work it was already getting darker than the usual gray-dark. I only had a small time window (5:30 to 7:30 pm) to have dinner and do any activity outside of the hotel room, before all shops are closed. In Egypt, shops usually stay open to at least 12 pm.
So when I knew I'd be visiting Sweden again, but during the summer sunny weather, I was very excited, I wanted to see how beautiful the country is, and this time I'd be staying in Stockholm as well. In my previous visit, I went to Stockholm twice, but never had the chance to really look around.
It was a business trip hosted by an American-Swedish company, and the itinerary looked something like this:
- Sunday: Travel from Egypt to Stockholm, transit in Frankfurt, Germany, arrive 2 am.
- Monday: Meetings till 3 pm, then doing a tour around Stockholm.
- Tuesday: Same as day before.
- Wednesday: Travel to Krakow, Poland, then a 2 hour car drive to the country we're staying at, Mielec (pronounced "Mielets" in English, I have a story regarding the Polish language coming in the second part).
- Thursday: Meetings till 3 pm, then back to hotel, dinner in a nice restaurant at 7 pm.
- Friday: Meetings till 1 pm, then the 2 hour car drive back to Krakow, where we stay at a downtown hotel.
- Saturday: Free day, lots of shopping and a little sight seeing, however, we had to change rooms because of availability issues.
- Sunday: Check-out (from the new room) at 11 am, then roam the streets until 4:30 pm, where the taxi takes us to the airport.
- Monday: Arrive home ~ 3 am.
|My absolutely brilliant ThinkTank Retrospective 5 bag|
When deciding on the camera gear, I knew I wanted to pack light, so my first decision was to just take the tiny, but rather excellent Sony RX100, I knew I'd be mostly shooting landscapes or streets, and hardly any portraits. But then I was worried about the rain, I already have a tiny Lowepro camera pouch for the RX100 with a rain cover, but I wanted to be able to shoot in the rain, which would be something new to me, so I decided to take my splash-proof combo consisting of the Olympus OM-D and the Olympus 12-50mm lens instead, I sort of hate the 12-50 already, it is not as sharp as I like (neither was my 24-105 Canon), but it is splash-proof, and the flexibility of the zoom, especially the wide angle, will be crucial to get the pictures I want. I ended up using it for 70% of the pictures I took in Stockholm.
I tossed in the brilliant Panaleica 25 f/1.4 in the bag for casual shooting, and at the last minute, I also tossed in the tiny Zuiko 45 f/1.8, which almost weighs nothing. Other than my small table-top Slik tripod, a couple of spare batteries and memory cards, I didn't take anything else with me, no flashes, no large tripods, nothing. The camera and the three lenses easily fit inside my brilliant ThinkTank Retrospective 5 bag with lots of room to spare, I have yet to review this bag, but in the meantime, here is one of the reviews that convinced me to get one in the first place, the bag doesn't scream "I am a black plastic-nylon camera bag carrying expensive equipment" like my old Lowepros & Vanguards used to do, instead it looks fashionable, and easily passes as a regular hand bag, which is how I used this bag during the trip, it held my umbrella, travel documents, passport, keys, phone, accessories, wallet, etc...
In a nutshell, it is the best camera bag I ever had. It can be very slim when you're not heavily packing, and it can hold quite an astonishing volume whenever you wish to stuff it. It also has a nice rain cover that I used a couple of times in Stockholm.
|Rain cover deployed, sorry for the quality, a very quick snap with my phone|
THE FLIGHT & ARRIVAL
My first flight was an easy one, hosted by Lufthansa, it was delayed for almost an hour, and it took me to Frankfurt's airport for a 2 hour transit, which was then reduced to one hour because of the departure delay, fair enough, one hour is a long time to get through the checkpoints and reach the other gate, turns out it's not. First, upon departing the plane, we found three German officers checking the passports of everyone departing the plane, huh? Secondly, for some reason, I was delayed for more than 30 minutes at the passport checkpoint because they couldn't find my fingerprints on the system, I had a friend traveling with me on the same trip, we had been at the Swedish embassy together for the interviews, and they found his fingerprints, anyway, we were taken to the airport police office (imagine that), and were cleared quickly after reviewing our travel documents, talk about first impressions of Germany.
|Through plane window, 25 1.4 wide open|
The nice thing was that the time difference between Egypt, Germany, Sweden and Poland is zero, I never had to adjust my clock. But, the wacky thing was the sunset times, I remember taking a photo through the plane window on our way to Stockholm at around 10:30pm and there was still sun light in the sky, I checked the sunrise and sunset times in Stockholm when I landed, and it was something like 3:30 am for sunrise, and 10:30 pm for sunset, it was very weird and it threw my balance around, imagine being in the street with full sun light at 9 pm, you don't feel you have to sleep anytime soon.
The plane landed at Arlanda airport, and we took a taxi to the hotel we'll be staying at in a place called Nacka Strand, we arrived at 1:30 am, now if you don't know about modern Swedish architecture, it is quite unique, very modern looking and very utilitarian, the famous IKEA furniture brand is of a Swedish origin, have a look at the hotel's entrance, very beautiful.
|25 @ f/1.4, 1/50, ISO 800, hand held|
My room enjoyed a spectacular window view.
|View from inside, 12-50 @ 12mm, wide open at f/3.5|
|View from outside, just before sunrise, 2 seconds, f/8, ISO 200 @ 13mm|
SWEDEN, STOCKHOLM AND THE ISLANDS
Did you know that Sweden consisted of 221,800 islands? That's a lot of islands, and you can see it clearly from the airplane, water and green forests everywhere, instead of finding desert and sand in Egypt anywhere that is not inhabited, you find green forests (not tropical forests, but densely packed green trees) and water everywhere.
Stockholm itself consists of 14 main islands, if you go to Google Maps, you can see how it looks like. The different nature of the land creates a totally different lifestyle than we're used to in Egypt for example, owning and driving boats is common, you see lots of ferries used for transportation, a lot of buildings in Stockholm enjoy direct sea view, there are more than 30 bridges in Stockholm alone, there are also lots of tunnels, etc... It was quite an interesting place to observe.
After finishing our business meetings on day one, we went on a 2-hour boat trip that took us around the main attractions of Stockholm, this is where I took the most number of pictures, the differences in architecture are massive, it was very hard to tell the identity of architecture in Stockholm, nothing looks like the other, and I observed very different building styles during the 2-hour trip, there are very old buildings, cottage-like cabins, modern buildings, glass-clad buildings, very colorful buildings, deep red brick buildings, etc...
Below I will show you some of my favorite building pictures I took on the boat trip, observe the different building styles.
The other two things that fancied me during the boat trip were the bridges and the flood gates, you already saw my favorite bridge image at the top of the post, I will post it here again in B&W along with another one of my favorites.
If you don't know what a flood gate is, it is sort of a controlled sea pathway that's used to support ships and boats moving between two different water levels. During the boat trip, we crossed from a lake to the sea and then back again, both places have a different water level (height), so both times we had to cross through a floodgate, imagine there is a huge wall separating the water on both sides from merging, and there is a pathway in the midst of this wall with two gates, imagine you're coming from the higher water level, you enter through the first gate and you park the boat, there is another gate in front of you that is still closed, next the gate you just got through behind you closes, then the gate in front of you opens slowly, allowing the higher water level in the pathway to go through the exit gate to the lower water level, the boat goes down with the lowering water level (something around 1 meter) until the exit gate is open completely and you're ready to exit to the lower water level. It is a very simple concept that's been used for decades.
The other way around is very similar, except that by opening the gate leading to the higher water level, the boat is raised upwards. Below are a couple of pictures of one of the floodgates we passed through.
Next I will show you some of the scenes I enjoyed capturing during the boat trip.
|Drinking Tree, easily one of my favorite shots of the trip|
|Boat park, these are quite common|
|Viking Line, see those people standing at the top? That's a huge ship|
|Typical Swedish Humor (if you haven't watched "The Pirate Bay" movie, I encourage you to)|
|Stockholm Amusement Park|
I am a speed freak, I like speed, fast cars, fast bikes, racing and everything related, but I never raced (on a track, that is) in anything larger than go-karts, there is that place in Egypt where I am used to racing with my brothers and friends, here is a picture of me racing there:
|El Wadi Karting, Ain Sokhna, Egypt - Canon 60D, 35mm f/2 @ 2.5, ISO 800, 1/80 sec|
When our very generous and active host asked us where we wanted to go next after the boat trip, I asked him if there was a place where we could race, and he chose gokartstockholm.se, it is an indoor track, 420 meters long, and they have some very good cars, we went there and raced for 7 minutes, which is how long one round takes, I enjoyed myself immensely and tried achieving a quick lap time, but there were 6 other people racing on the same round, and I wasn't able to get except one clean lap, my best lap time was 38.x seconds. When I received the time slip, I saw that best times of the month ranged from 33.x to 35.x seconds, so I decided to play again hoping to improve my time, but alas, there was a long queue waiting and we could only play the next day.
|The Pit Lane|
Next day, we went there first thing after work, we had the option of playing one round, then if there were no queues we'd be able to reserve again, or instead, we could reserve a 3-round ticket, which is what I went for. So I played 3 consecutive rounds for a total of 21 minutes, and boy, that was a long time, the first round I had the three of my colleagues racing with me on the track, then the next 14 minutes I was all alone trying to get the best time possible. When I finished, I was dizzy, and my hands were all shaky, here is a picture taken of me as I was leaving the car and removing the helmet, it is all blurry, but it represents exactly how I was feeling.
|Shaky shaky, Samsung Galaxy S3|
So did my lap times get any better? The day before, my best lap time was 38.x seconds, and I was targeting 35.x seconds, however, my best lap time was 36.6 seconds, 0.6 seconds slower than my target, but a full two seconds improvement on my previous day. This lap time got the best time of the day, I was quite proud.
During the two days I drove three different cars, and the last one which got me the 36.6 seconds had the worst rear tires, and the rear-end was sliding more than I would have liked, but I still doubt better tires could easily get me to the 35 second mark. Anyway, the track marshal told me that no regular person could just come in and get a 35.x lap time, you had to be a trained professional to do it, and weigh less than I did, fair enough.
DAY 2, AMUSEMENT PARK
On day 2, after we finished the go-karts, our host invited us to the amusement park, it was packed with teenagers since it was summer vacation, and one of the rare sunny days in Stockholm, the general environment was quite energetic and full with music, game sounds, and loud screams from the youth riding the scary games. I didn't take a lot of pictures, but I did like the tall sky ride (not as tall as the Texas one of course), and the different train tracks running all over the place.
|Amusement Park, Samsung Galaxy S4|
One thing I learned during the trip, is that my phone takes very good pictures in good light, very sharp, very low noise, and very good shadow dynamic range, and it is always in my pocket, more than 20% of the pictures on the trip were taken with my phone, the 13MP sensor in the Galaxy S4 is brilliant.
After we finished playing games, we had dinner (fish and chips) in the park on the seaside, I took a few pictures with the 25mm f/1.4.
|Screams, 25 1.4 @ f/6.3, 1/250, ISO 200, this was 9 pm people, 9 pm!|
|Hanging Lights, 25 1.4 @ f/2.5|
LIFE IN STOCKHOLM
This concludes the 2 day activities I had in Stockholm, so how was life like in Stockholm? I really can't tell, I have to spend more time on my own to get a real feeling, however, below are some of my impressions:
- Everybody speaks good English, it makes communication with others a non-issue.
- Life is very costly, the average 10-15 minute taxi trip costs ~ 60 Euros, food is expensive, I went to a few shops and the prices are not cheap.
- The facilities like transportation for example are top notch, when our host wanted to get a taxi, he used an app on his Android phone, it located his whereabouts, then he pushes a button to reserve a taxi, the taxi arrival time is sent (usually less than 3 minutes), and he gets a reservation number.
- The town is very clean and organized, there are no homeless people, you know you are in one of the more expensive places.
- Eating habits are way different than what I'm used to, early breakfast, lunch is strict at 12 pm, a late lunch would start 12:30 pm (for comparison, I usually have my lunch when I return from work, between 6 and 7 pm), and a very heavy dinner around 6 pm.
- I like the English accent of Swedish people a lot, I enjoy listening to them speak English. :-)
|Close to the hotel, taken with the Galaxy S4|
|Again with the Galaxy S4, we had lunch at the restaurant below, one of the tastiest dish fishes|
|Per-Olow, our generous host, 25 1.4 @ f/1.8|
It took me more than 8 hours to prepare the pictures and write this post, I hope you enjoy it as much as I enjoyed writing it.