Putanga – Life on the Road

Stories from my journeys around the world…

Back in Manila

Posted by Monica Johansen on August 24, 2011

I keep living out of a suitcase. On Saturday afternoon I returned from a two weeks business trip to Australia, and already on Sunday I had to jump on a plane to the Philippines. I am not complaining though, I actually enjoy living life on the road, but every now and then I feel a little bit tired.

My home for the week

This week I am conducting a training class for a customer in Manila, and it is nice to finally be back on these islands. It is well over a year since the last time I was here, and I have missed the smiling Philippine people and these charming islands. One of the things I love about the Philippines is that when you walk down the street you will experience that total strangers wave at you and say hello with a big smile on their faces. It makes you feel very welcome, and it puts a smile on my face every morning when I walk to my customer.

At this time of year it is still wet season in Manila (the wet season here lasts from late May to early November), so it has been raining a little bit every day.  But luckily most of the rain comes down late in the evening or during the night, so when I wake up in the morning the ground is wet and the air is fresh but the sun is shining. It is actually quite pleasant.

The only thing I am struggling a little bit with is the food. Now, generally the food in the Philippines is excellent, but they eat a lot of meat and pork in particular, so if you don’t eat meat – like me – you might struggle to find something you can eat in the typical food courts and common lunch places. However, most hotels have great restaurants, so if you are willing to pay a little more you can get pretty much anything you want. For instance, early last year I wrote about the buffet in Dusit Thani Hotel, which is absolutely awesome and also quite affordable. I think I should pay them a visit sometime this week.

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All Roads Lead to Rome

Posted by Monica Johansen on July 24, 2011

I am sitting in the lobby of my hotel in Rome, soon about to head to the airport to catch my flight home to Singapore. I have been on holiday in Italy since Tuesday July 12, and it has been two interesting weeks with train rides, Italian food, photography, art, history and hanging out with good friends.

Colosseum in Rome

I started my journey in Rome almost two weeks ago, and it was by time I finally visited the famous Italian capital that used to be one of the most influential ancient cities in the world. Rome is a city filled with history, and I have always wanted to see the ruins of Colosseum, the Spanish Steps, the Sistine Chapel and Saint Peter’s Basilica. While walking around in Rome, with old buildings, impressive ornaments and ruins on almost every corner, I could almost imagine what it would have been like to live there during the days of the great Roman Empire.

It was quite easy to get around in Rome. The metro is convenient and quick, but the city center is in fact so small that you can easily walk from sight to sight, which I ended up doing. However, what I didn’t like about Rome was all the beggars and people trying to sell you all kinds of crap on the street, and I would also recommend avoiding the peak tourist season because the streets are so crowded you are sometimes walking in a queue. Also, I didn’t find the Romans particularly polite, and some of them were quite rude, but maybe they were just fed up of all the tourists visiting their city in the summer.

The Vatican

The Vatican Museum was interesting but also very crowded. I had very high expectations to the Sistine Chapel, but I must admit that I was rather disappointed. Firstly, I expected the famous chapel ceiling pained by Michelangelo to be even more impressive than the museum ceiling, but in fact it wasn’t at all. Secondly, people were informed that talking and photographing was not allowed, but most people ignored it so it was very noisy inside the chapel. I have been inside a significant number of religious buildings in Asia, such as Hindu temples, Buddhist temples and Christian churches, and although I am not religious I always try to be respectful and quiet to avoid disturbing people who are there to worship their Gods. Unfortunately, not everyone seems to show the same courtesy, and it is a shame that the Sistine Chapel has been turned into a tourist trap. However, Saint Peter’s Basilica was very impressive. The walls and ceiling are filled with ornaments and statues, and apparently the basilica was designed by Michelangelo himself. It is definitely a sight worth seeing.

I spent the first two days alone in Rome, but on Wednesday evening a good old friend of mine from Oslo, Evi, came down to celebrate my 40th birthday and spend some time with me in Italy. Her journey was rather challenging as the airline (Norwegian) forgot her luggage in Stockholm and two men in a pirate taxi tried to swindle her, but in the end we managed to sort everything out and the rest of the journey was good.


On Friday afternoon we jumped on a train to Bologna where we met my Norwegian-Italian friend Edward and some other friends from Norway. Edward’s family owns a large apartment in Bologna and a house in a village outside Bologna called Fontanelice. We spent the weekend in Fontanelice with our friends and Edward’s lovely Italian mother who looked well after us and made sure we had a wonderful time. I ended up suggesting to Edward that his mother should adopt me, because I would love to have a family just like that.

On Sunday night Evi and I said goodbye to the bunch and went back to Bologna to do some sightseeing. Bologna is probably more famous for shopping than Italian history, but the San Petronio Basilica is quite interesting. The lower part of the cathedral was built in marble and the building was originally meant to outshine even the Saint Peter’s Basilica in Rome, but when the Vatican discovered this Pope Pius IV made sure no more money was provided to the project, and the rest of the cathedral was built with red bricks. Bologna is also known for the numerous towers in the city, with Asinelli and Garisenda being the two most famous ones. Asinelli is the tallest rising 97 meters above the ground, and it is possible to walk up all the steps and get a great view of the city.

Ponte Vecchio in Florence

On Tuesday morning Evi took the train back to Rome to fly home to Norway and I jumped off in Florence and took another train to Pisa to meet my friend, Jarle, also from Oslo. Jarle and I spent the first day in Pisa to check out the famous leaning tower, and on Wednesday we took the train back to Florence to spend a few of days in one of the most historical cities in Italy. Florence was extremely touristy, but also very charming. The Cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore is a stunning sight, but the thing I was looking most forward to was to visit the Uffizi Gallery with work by famous Italian artists like Leonardo Da Vinci, Michelangelo and Sandro Botticelli. Unfortunately, the queue to enter the gallery was gigantic, so we ended up jumping on a guided tour to skip the at least two hours waiting time in the queue. It would cost us a bit more money, but it was definitely worth it.

Close to the Uffizi Gallery is the famous bridge Ponte Vecchio, which is thought to be the oldest bridge in Florence. The interesting thing about this bridge is all the shops along both sides. In the 15th century these shops were greengrocers, butchers and fishmongers, but then perhaps because of their bad smell, Ferdinando I replaced them with goldsmiths, making the road more elegant and cleaner. Hence, if you are looking for jewelry in Florence, Ponte Vecchio is the place to go.

Jarle took the train to Rome on Friday morning and flew back to Norway the same day, while I spent another day in Florence before I finally jumped on a train to Rome where my journey now has ended. I have had a great holiday in Italy, but nevertheless I am really looking forward to getting home to good old Singapore. After all, there is no place like home…

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Travel, Travel, Travel

Posted by Monica Johansen on July 11, 2011

OK, time is flying away faster than a Ferrari on Autobahn these days. After my visit to Japan in the beginning of June I had to go back to Australia for another three weeks. The first two weeks was in Canberra, and at this time of year the Australian capital is anything but pleasant. It was freezing cold, between 1 and 5 degrees Celsius in the morning, and despite bringing my warmest winter jacket and having the customer put the heater on maximum I was still cold all the time. It was actually quite depressing, and after two weeks I was starting to question the meaning of life.

Brisbane city center

But, above the clouds the sky is always blue etc, etc, and the last week in Australia was spent in sunny Brisbane. The moment I got out of the airport and I felt the warm air and I saw the palm trees my mood rapidly increased, and in the taxi to the hotel I was smiling again. The week in Brisbane was pleasant. I stayed at a very nice hotel called Oaks Festival Towers, which is located in the city center two blocks from the main shopping area. Although I had booked just a standard room, they gave me a two bedroom apartment with a river view and I didn’t have to pay any extra.

I came home from Brisbane early in the morning on Saturday, July 2, and already the same evening, after just 16 hours in Singapore, I had to fly back to Japan. This time I didn’t go anywhere else than Nagoya, but since I arrived on Sunday morning, and my hotel room wasn’t ready yet, I went out to the Nagoya Castle, which I hadn’t had a chance to see the last time I was there. Outside the castle I met a very nice old Japanese man who asked me in English if I was a tourist. I told him that I was on a business trip but I was taking any opportunity to do some sightseeing. The old man then wanted to show me a traditional Japanese theatre next to the castle, and he ended up giving me a guided tour and telling me a lot about Japanese art and culture.

Nagoya Castle

I must admit that at first I couldn’t help wondering what he wanted from me, because I am so used to locals in Asian countries stopping me and trying to get money from me somehow. But after a while I realized that this nice old man just wanted to practice his English. So while he practiced his English I took the opportunity to practice my Japanese. Unfortunately, I am still a beginner, but it is fun trying anyway.

My trip to Japan only lasted for a couple of days. I was back in Singapore already on Wednesday afternoon, and I have been home since. It was great to spend an entire weekend at home for once, although I was rather busy doing customer documentation, laundry and cleaning my apartment. Nevertheless, there is no place like home.

Tonight I am heading out on a new adventure. I am flying to Rome in Italy, and I will be on holiday for almost two weeks. Frankly, I can’t remember the last time I had that many days off from work, and right now I can’t wait to jump on that plane. Europe, here I come! 😀

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The Land of the Rising Sun

Posted by Monica Johansen on June 10, 2011

Finally!!! At last I have had the opportunity to work in Japan! Japan has never before been part of my territory, and in other companies I have worked for Japan has been completed separated from the rest of APAC from an organizational perspective. Luckily, my current company doesn’t have any consultants in Japan, so when there is a need for onsite consulting I am the one they will send.

The Imperial Palace in Tokyo

Since this was my first time in Japan I decided to stay a couple of extra days to do some sightseeing and take some photos, so I flew over already on Friday night and arrived in Nagoya early Saturday morning. My customer is based on Nagoya, which luckily is located along the Tokaido Shinkansen bullet train line with high speed trains running from Osaka to Tokyo. Along the same line you will also find Kyoto, and the train ride from Nagoya to Kyoto is only about 30 minutes. Hence, when I arrived in Nagoya I jumped on a train to Kyoto to see one of the more cultural cities of Japan. I was planning to stay one night in Kyoto, and at the train station I met an American gentleman who was there for business just like me and who offered to help me find my hotel since he knew the area rather well. We ended up spending the rest of the day together since we both were alone. On Saturday we walked around in Kyoto to see the Imperial Palace and some of the temples, and on Sunday morning we took the bus to the Rokuon-ji temple complex to see the quite famous Golden Pavilion (Kinkakuji). In the afternoon my American friend was meeting a colleague, and I jumped on a train to Tokyo to get a glimpse of the Japanese capital.

Sushi restaurant in Nagoya

Tokyo was quite different from what I expected. The city is huge, but very modern and it actually reminds me more of an American city than any Asian city I can think of. However, there is an interesting mix of old and new buildings, and one of the most interesting attractions is the Imperial Palace (yes there is one in the old capital Kyoto and another one in the new capital Tokyo). I spent one night in Tokyo before I headed back to Nagoya on Monday afternoon to meet my Japanese colleague who was working with me on site to translate etc. One of the real challenges in Japan is of course the language, and unfortunately my Japanese is worse than their English, so I was very happy to have someone with me who could translate. Another challenge is the traditional and very strict etiquette in Japan. Growing up in a dojo I already know quite a bit about the Japanese culture, but knowing how to behave on customer site is a quite different thing.

I have now completed the first week of my project, and tomorrow morning I am flying home to Singapore. It has been a great experience to work here, and I have enjoyed seeing the beautiful temples, meeting the kind and polite people and eating great food. I think will miss this fantastic country, but luckily I am going back in a few weeks to complete the project. It is something I am really looking forward to. 🙂

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Sunny Brisbane

Posted by Monica Johansen on May 24, 2011

I have started on my fourth and final week in Australia before I finally can head home to Singapore and stop living in a suitcase for a short while. I am currently in Brisbane, and I have been here since Tuesday afternoon last week.

Brisbane River

I have been in this city once before, in fact the weekend when Kevin Rudd won the election in November 2007. I remember this because Brisbane is Rudd’s home town and the entire city was celebrating when he won. Unfortunately, Rudd’s career didn’t end well, but that is another story.

Anyway, I didn’t spend a lot of time in the city back then since I was more interested in visiting Australia Zoo (north of Brisbane) and Currumbin Wildlife Sanctuary (south of Brisbane). However, this weekend I had an opportunity to take a closer look at the city center and the areas along the river encircling the CBD. Brisbane is quite a nice city. Located in Queensland, it is the third largest city in Australia, and the winters are nice and mild due to the northern location.

There are in fact quite a few things to see and do in Brisbane, but I didn’t plan my visit very well and unfortunately the weather on the weekend wasn’t too good either. However, if you are interested you can find more information here.

Right now I am just looking forward to getting home after a very long and exhausting journey, so I will save the sightseeing for my next visit, which by the way will be already next month.

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