TePe Sigeman & Co Chess Tournament

I was standing in the bathroom braiding my hair and thinking about the upcoming event. Nils had asked me to join him for the opening ceremony of the TePe Sigeman & Co chess tournament, and I had been so excited about getting a chance to wear a pretty dress that I had talked about it for days (more than a month of backpacking had limited the opportunities to dress up). Nils of course did not care at all about how we looked, but some female guidance never hurt anybody, and I was of course looking magnificent… I mean we were.

Wonder why I cut Nils out of my profile picture...  Photo: Calle Erlandsson

Wonder why I cut Nils out of my profile picture…
Photo: Calle Erlandsson

Toothbrushes and glamour
The opening ceremony was hosted at Malmø City Hall, a stunning old building with lots of detail and decorations. I especially enjoyed the huge paintings of Danish Kings hanging all over the walls. It was nice reminder that Swedish and Danish history is tied together. I would say that the Danes have always made the Swedes stronger! Furthermore the opening ceremony consisted of some nice speeches, a little live music from a string quartet (the guy playing the violin… not sure it is a violin… could probably have been a chess player. He was so committed to his breathing that I could hear it and his veins were pulsing – the music was lovely) and the drawing of starting numbers for the tournament.

It is the guy to the left.

It is the guy to the left. Is it a violin? 

I joked with Nils that he would probably get the worst number (three blacks against the top seeds) he did… and answered:

“There is no such thing as a bad pairing. No matter what pairing I get I will be happy, because I get to play chess”

I wish I could relate in any form of way, but we have not all been raised by Bob Marley’s spirit. Anyhow food was served and I definitely felt that I fitted in between the huge chandeliers, baroque carvings and white tablecloths even despite of the fact that Nigel Short was sitting to my right. I have to admit though; he is hiding his dubious opinions and questionable behaviour towards women pretty well behind that charming British facade. All in all I hope Nils gets to play more tournaments of that kind.

And dinner was served!

And dinner was served!

The little red riding hood
In the first round Nils was playing with the black pieces against the rather controversial Baadur Jobava. He is quite a lot of fun, which is probably the reason why he is always wearing those sunglasses. I have to say I like his down to earth way of greeting everybody before the round, it gives a really nice vibe and makes the spectators, sponsors, judges and so on feel like somebody actually care. You get a long way with being friendly and I think that a lot of the better players have a hard time finding the space for that, since their ego takes up most of the room. On the other hand it is hard to tell if Jobava is actually sober when doing this. In Reykjavik he was also playing Nils and the first sight that meet us when entering Harpa (the playing hall) 5 minutes before the round, was Jobava holding a big beer and an even bigger slice of cake. As Nils said: “it is hard to take serious”. But why does it always have to be that serious?
The game was finished and we were on our way out of the playing hall, when Jobava pointed at my hat:

Jobava: “I like your hat”
Me: “Thank you! I bought it in Kosovo”
Jobava: “It is red, so Nils must be a wolf”

Referring to the story about “The Little Red Riding Hood”. If anything I would claim that the roles should be reverted. Nevertheless I think Jobava is a nice kick to any tournament and he makes sure that something is going to happen, whether it is a spectacular game or bringing pizza trays into the club and getting kicked out is 50/50 chance. Also I have a hard time disliking him after he referred to me as “pretty lady”.

Baadur Jobava white against Nils Grandelius

Baadur Jobava white against Nils Grandelius

Eat, sleep, play, and repeat!
I think that Nils would probably agree to the statement: “breakfast is the most important meal of the day”, he would add that coffee is also necessary and I agree. Nothing is going to happen before coffee is served so Nils woke up every morning and placed a cup beside my bed. Then he wet to work and I went to the kitchen. Every morning this was my routine:

  1. Make him a big omelette with some new filling
  2. Pick his clothes
  3. Iron the shirt I had picked
  4. And polish his shoes

I felt like a real housewife but on the other hand, he would have done exactly the same for me, if I had been the one playing. At least I hope so; otherwise he will be in grave trouble.
They played 5 rounds and 4 out of 5 I was there almost all day to “support him”. I am not sure what to call it since I just become extremely nervous when I sit all day and follow his game. I do not trust his play enough to relax, unfortunately. I have commented one game from the tournament, so you can get a feel of how I think when Nils is playing: http://www.viewchess.com/cbreader/2017/6/12/Game37312.html
To ease my nerves I made sure to sit right in front of Stellan Brynell while he was doing his commentary, just to make sure somebody would suggest the right moves. The annoyance in his voice when I pointed out something he had missed was completely worth it. I had even suggested that he needed a sidekick and I would be happy to help him out and elevate the commentating from Sahara sand to Sunny Beach. He thought it was the worst idea ever, but I think the audience would be happy to hear all the good stories/gossip I can tell from the chess world.

I think he could need some extra spice in his life. Maybe... a Co. commentator!

I think he could need some extra spice in his life. Maybe… a Co. commentator!

A little detour to Copenhagen Chess Challenge
Do you ever get tired of pretending to be housewife? Yes. I am not suited for that role and I already decided to do something else the day on the 3. round. In Ballerup outside of Copenhagen some of my friends were playing the Copenhagen Chess Challenge and I thought it would be a good idea to go and be a supporter somewhere else than at the Tepe Sigeman. Martin Lokander had played a quite dubious tournament and I had made myself ready to step in and show him the way. First I bought a chocolate gold medal with the text “you are the best” and forced him to wear it during the round, and then I brought him and his friend Deniz to a Bodega (a bar with cheaper beer) in the centre of Copenhagen. As Martin had said earlier that day:

“I played this tournament 5 years ago and concluded I was never going to visit Ballerup again. 5 years later I had forgot everything about it and indeed Ballerup is the most horribly boring city I have ever been to”

In the tournament they have also applied the rule that you cannot make a draw before move 30, which is completely outrageous when there is already 4 double-rounds. What are they trying to achieve… get people to hate chess? Martin is definitely completely right about the city and therefore our night out also contributed to lift his spirit. Actually he did not loose one game after he received my guidance. Never forget: You are the best, Martin!

At first Martin thought the medal was embarrassing... that opinion did not change

At first Martin thought the medal was embarrassing… that opinion did not change

The tournament in general (OBS. serious text)
The playing venue was Malmø Statsteater (the theatre) and once again they really managed to make the surroundings enjoyable for the eyes. I personally believe that it is a big pleaser for the spectators that they experience this professional vibe, when there are 6 players in a nice looking room with cut of sections for the judge, spectators, players and a accessible room with a commentator. The tournament was well organized and except for the lack of posters and advertising in general, they did everything right. The rest of the entertaining is up to the players and despite of the fact that one victory and 4 draws was enough to win the tournament, there was enough drama on the board to keep the spectators attention. This also has something to do with the choice of players. I find the idea of having women (one or more) in the tournament very interesting; since it appeals to a broader audience (both commercial wise and chess wise), and it is not seen that often in closed tournaments. Rating average is not everything, interesting chess and players I am a bigger fan of (not to forget Nils). Maybe, they should also consider a co-commentator for next year. I got a suggestion 😉

The playing area

The playing area

Something to celebrate
In the end Jobava Baadur and Nils Grandelius ended up sharing the victory with 3 points out of 5. As Nils said: “what he had learned from being a second for Magnus Carlsen, only +1 is needed”. Their shared victory was celebrated together with the rest of the participants (Harika, Eljanov, Erik and Nigel), the sponsors and people who had helped during the tournament. All in all it was a small party who enjoyed dinner at Sigeman & Co’s lawfirm. Jobava was very eager to go to the casino but nobody wanted to join him. Nils and I had planned to go and it was very hard to explain why we could not. You see, in Sweden you have to be 20 years old to go to the casino, and I am not. Once again Nils avoided having to stay up late and waste his money, maybe Nigel was right, when he called Nils a slippery bastard. Instead of the casino Nils, Erik, Finn (a tech guy) and I went to a bar and grabbed a beer before closing time. A nice finish to a strong tournament.

Some discussion after the last game.

Some discussion after the last game.

   

I came, I saw, I conquered

Margaret I was the first female ruler of Denmark and the founder of the Kalmar Union. Her reign lasted from the 3rd of August 1387 to 28th of October 1412 and her dominion stretched across both Norway and Sweden. Already back then the Scandinavian countries needed a Danish woman as a leader who could guide them towards greater accomplishments. As we all know, history often repeats itself and indeed here we are with a Danish Nordic Champion.

1.Round I take Scania
I had just arrived in the airport and was pretty confused. I had been up at 3 in the morning to catch my flight from Reykjavik and was basically still half asleep. The first round of the Nordic Chess Championships for Girls u-20 was going to begin soon and I had no idea on how I would get there. Luckily for me I got the best friends and when I stepped out of the airport I was meet by Martin Lokander, a sign saying “Ellen Kakulidis” (I probably would not have noticed him otherwise) and a freshly brewed cup of coffee. The rest of the Danish team had already announced that they had left me on my own and I now completely relied on my Swedish helper.
We were walking through the old part of Stockholm, had just grabbed some food and were now on our way to “Stockholms Schacksalonger” the playing venue:

Ellen – “What opening should I play?”
Martin – “Who are you playing and what colour do you have?”
Ellen – “I know nothing”
Martin – “At night in this spot you can eat the spiciest hotdog in the world”
Ellen – “…What”
Martin – “What…”

The round started and I was pretty nervous as always. I used a great deal of time just focusing on staying awake. The clip from the movie Mr Bean’s vacation, where he is putting toothpicks under his eyelids to keep them open, played in my head. Already after the opening I was low on time and the move Bf4 (she moved her bishop to a square where I could just take it) was like sent from heaven. I went straight to bed.

2. Round I challenge my friends
15 minutes late Sara and Ingrid walked through the door. Apparently Ingrid had to do her makeup and it took longer than expected. At least she sat at the board looking better than the rest of us, when she slowly got a worse looking position. The stakes were high since both Ingrid and Sara were my classmates at NTG and Simen was probably going to analyse the game at their next lesson. Overall I was satisfied with the game except for the move g4? It does not improve much and just erases the possibility of playing f4 later on. Nils would have described the move as a “criminal move” and I am sure Ulf would not have been proud… but a victory is a victory and the show must go on… when you play double rounds.

To play 33.g4 is just... ugly

To play 33.g4 is just… ugly

3. Round I conquer Norway
I have had a lot of fancy preparations since Martin started to tell me what to play, but I have to say, that this prep from Peter Grove blew the socks of Martin, my opponent Sara Næss and myself. It is very rare that we see talent in this pure form, but to play 3..h6 in the French should from this day on be called the Grove-variation regardless of who it truly origins from. When I decided what to play I almost felt sorry for Anton who tried to prepare Sara, but they loudly spoke about some master tactics like 1.h4 and 2.Rh3 when I tried to “spy” on them and therefore I had no mercy. Furthermore I did not even castle the whole game and it ended up being a masterpiece. Poor Sara was now on half a point out of three and as the good friends we are, we all laughed when Ingrid came up with the joke:

Ingrid: “What is the different between Sara and a joke?”
Ingrid: “The joke got a point”

I have commented the game in Danish on Aalborg Skakforenings webpage if you are interested: http://aalborgskakforening.dk/klubliv/kommentarer-og-parti-fra-nm-for-piger/. I also have to mention that I believe Sara will make a comeback next year! I personally have scored 0 of 4, 0 of 5 and 1 of 5 in the Nordic Championships and we have all forgotten that now… I hope.

Naturally we went out on the local chess bar “Krukan” to celebrate that I had scored 3 out of 3. We were probably going anyway but it is always good with extra excuses. Ingrid, Sara, Erik and Martin were some of the people joining the party. A couple of beers a little Bang! some lies about the Norwegian girls age and then we decided to go home. We did not exactly reach the hotel before midnight, but that had more to do with the fact that Ingrid had to jump out of the Metro and find the nearest bathroom. Sara and I enjoyed a couple of chilli-cheese-tops and had the chance to discuss how reasonable we were while waiting.

Haha I love the expression in Erik's face and the fact that Lokander is completely read

Haha I love the expression in Erik’s face and the fact that Lokander is completely read

4. Round I kill all resistance
I am a little disappointed that Erik Blomqvist did not come to support me during this important battle. He came Saturday, but seemed more interested in going to the bar than cheering for me. I would in particular have found it funny if I had the support of the three best chess players in Sweden Nils, Erik and Martin when I played the Swedes; I had to settle for 2 out of 3, but I think that is good enough. Nevertheless I was super nervous about this decisive match and the only thing calming me down was the encouraging words from Peter Grove: You are to bad for the game to matter. Thank you very much then I do not need to worry. I again used some time in the opening but only because I tried to avoid playing the whole game against Stellan Brynell (who were the team leader of Sweden and definitely prepared the players). Nils had (almost) for the first time tried to help me by sending a file!?!?! But I just concluded that I was too dumb to understand the point of the moves and I did not want to play it (if you do not understand the amount of question- and exclamation marks after file, I can explain. When I played in Runavik last year, Nils helped all the others to prepare and so on. I asked for help and his answer was “you are not good enough to understand it”… He was right). However the time in the opening was well spent because she definitely struggled when I deviated from her plan. I had some very nice tactics towards the end and you are welcome to play through the game and comments here: http://www.viewchess.com/cbreader/2017/5/31/Game199141421.html

I already knew that this victory meant that I had won the tournament and therefore Martin and I went out to celebrate with a round of sushi! The champagne we saved for later… much later! I also have to say that I am really sorry. I had promised Martin to play 1.g4 if I had already secured the victory before the last round, but I chickened out when the better part of my said it was bad sportsmanship. Of course he is absolutely right. 

Mmmm, sushi was a great way to celebrate

Mmmm, sushi was a great way to celebrate

5. Round and the time to surrender
The nerves had definitely gone away but it is hard to say that was a good thing. She played directly into my favourite opening, the exchange slav, and I could have gotten an advantage at once… but missed it! The game was the least pretty of the tournament and it took some time before I woke up and finished the job. A pretty 5 out of 5 and probably the biggest win streak I have ever had.
Peter Grove tried to lead the rest of the Danish forces into battle, but the resistance was though. We have to remember that it was not only the Danes who were Vikings. Nevertheless I am also pretty sure that the rest of the team were saving their full strength for next year when they have to defend our title.

The time had come and Stellan could no longer postpone the award of my victory. I got a firm handshake and maybe (just maybe) a little smile. It could have been the light or his Swedish politeness, because I have a hard time imagining Stellan giving any kind of recognition. What can you expect from a man whose favourite show is the Antiques Roadshow. The prize giver even tried to take some of my credit by saying I was “half Swedish” and give some to Norway “because I had lived and trained there”, but no no, if you do not want me at my worst, you do not deserve me at my best!
The prize giving was followed by a fun night with Ingrid, Sara, Martin and Anton. First we went to the cinema and saw Beauty and the Beast and then we strolled through Stockholm. Ingrid of course with her second place trophy in hand. She even convinced an old couple she had won a step tournament. I also came up with some funny stories when I took the train home. But it is actually kind of nice that people congratulate you.

Last but not least I threw a party at my place last Saturday and I finally got the chance to drink champagne from the trophy. On that note I think it is time to move on and play a new tournament, I cannot live on this victory forever. Next goal is the double, when I play the Nordic Women Championship. The Kalmar union is great but Denmark is best!

Probably the last time I try that, but it was kind of fun

Probably the last time I try that, but it was kind of fun

I got a different opinion

I was sitting at the local burger joint with Aman Hambleton and Dagur Ragnarsson, who had just picked me up at the airport. This was my 4th time in Iceland, and once again I had the chance to enjoy the view of the beautiful landscape. Not even the fact that Hambleton was pouring his ketchup all over his fries, like a true Canadian, could ruin the mood. After 3 weeks in Eastern Europe, the only thing on my mind was Nils and the chess tournament, Reykjavik Open.

The tournament also featured some modern legends like Anish Giri, Baadur Jobava and Ellen Kakulidis!

The tournament also featured some modern legends like Anish Giri, Baadur Jobava and Ellen Kakulidis!

Back in business
Reykjavik Open was once again played at concert hall, Harpa, with a stunning view and a little bit of live music during the weekend. The tournament had visitors from chess enthusiast, musicians, mayors and one day around 1.000.000 kids (at least it felt like this amount) who had an event in the same building. A little schoolgirl even performed the 1st move on board 1, where Nils was playing. She was a little nervous, probably because she realised what a great honour it was to stand that close to Nils, when I gave her the killer eyes down from board 79… I am just kidding, she was actually very cute and I am sure that Jobava was a little jealous. I enjoyed the different twist before the opening of every round and as last year the only thing I can criticise about the whole event is my lack in abilities regarding chess.

“One ticket for the elevator please. Yes I would like to stay for 9 days”

The sentence above describes my whole tournament. Not once did I manage to make a surprising result – in a good or bad way. Instead I kept on losing to the higher rated opponents and winning against the lower rated (in a very solid and confident way!). I knew that the solution probably was to take a bye and step out of the uncomfortable situation, but I was too stubborn. Luckily for me Nils was doing pretty well, and I could just focus on other things like the good company and beer.

Here you can se a commented game by Martin Lokander. The only game I am proud of. First round against Tania Sachdev: http://www.viewchess.com/cbreader/2017/5/19/Game314906.html

Sue is missing in this picture, where we are investigating an interesting sculpture

Sue is missing in this picture, where we are investigating an interesting sculpture

We are getting late!
One thing that I definitely noticed is the difference in routines when I compare Nils and me; I have come up with the 10 holy rules of Grandmaster preparation before the game:

  1.                       It does matter for how long you sleep (at least 10 hours!?)
  2.                       You should always complain in the morning, about not sleeping enough
  3.                       You should never arrive at breakfast more than 10 minutes before closing time
  4.                       Any clothing is acceptable to wear to breakfast
  5.                       You cannot prep without prepping what to prep (making a list)
  6.                       One hour before the meal you walk – it does not matter where
  7.                       It does matter when and what you eat before the round. Burger is a NO-go
  8.                       Before the round you should brush your teeth and take a shower to feel fresh
  9.                       No matter result, always complain, that you did not play well enough
  10.                       When dinner is done, your anger must be gone

Usually we always met with some friends for both the daily walk and the two meals. Our most common company were Gawain, Sue and Erik and we were often joined by others. The selection of restaurants was great and we tried every restaurant where our food coupons were a legit payment. Some restaurants were more surprised with the coupons than others, apparently the other chess players did not want to walk to far, and since some of the restaurants could reach the great distance of a whole kilometre, they where not used to being paid in pieces of paper with “Reykjavik Open” written on them.

A very nice view from one of the many "Grandelius-walking-tours"

A very nice view from one of the many “Grandelius-walking-tours”

I am to young for that stuff
As usual my main focus was on the side events and during Reykjavik Open they gave me plenty of chances to get my mind of chess… or at least the chess in the main tournament. It all started with Erik Blomqvist having a rather unlucky start of his Reykjavik adventure, when he lost to two lower rated opponents in a row. Since we are a very experienced group of people, we all suggested the blitz-tournament as the cure for this illness. Gawain could even assure Erik that the blitz in Dubai had been the turning point for him, when he went ahead to win it all. After I promised to buy the first beer, there was nothing more to talk about; it was also very hard to make it any worse. Additionally it has to be said, that Erik would do anything it takes to be on top of the game… but more about that later! Anyhow the blitz tournament was played and as expected Erik went on to win and I had to get another beer to forget everything about it. I had great support the first couple of rounds before the serious players had to go to bed (I need to mention that they all placed below Erik in the main tournament. Wonder why), but I need to figure out how to win on my own, when I do not have the possibility to bribe three strong players into staring at my opponent and make him uncomfortable.
A small party at a hotel room naturally followed the Harpa Blitz, but it was a short pleasure with some hand-and-brain (Hand-and brain is a chess game where you have two teams of two players: one who says a piece and one who makes a move. And I really need to mention that I won all of my games on the board in hand-and-brain… but lost all of them on time) and unknown bottled liquids imported from Japan. When the party was on its way to town, possibly the casino, Erik came up with the second brilliant idea of the night (first one was choosing me as his hand-and-brain partner):

“Maybe I should go to sleep”

Always quit, while you are ahead, and the others still had not reached the lobby.

A very intense first game. I won, not the game but the trash-talking!

A very intense first game. I won, not the game but the trash-talking!

My favourite happening during this tournament was the pub quiz. In general I really enjoy quizzes and games like Trivial Pursuit or Bezzerwizzer and to combine it with chess, some friends and some beers is just brilliant. I did not expect much of myself and that was the right thing to do since I had very limited knowledge. My partner however was a good supplement and we went on to get the highest score with 25/30 questions. They did not believe us at first, we are a very suspicious couple, so they had to tipple check our answers. Obviously we were just better and their only choice was to hand us our prize! All in all I am very happy about the fact, that I at least won something in Reykjavik. Here is one of the questions from the quiz:

“What did the 28 games Sämisch played in Busum and Linköping in 1969 have in common?”

A very nice view from one of the many "Grandelius-walking-tours"

How far are you willing to go?

Now more about what I meant, when I said Erik would do anything it takes. I had one very interesting question that I asked about 10 different players the last day of the tournament:

“How many fingers would you cut of, if you got an additional 100 elo point in strength per. finger?”

I got a lot of different answers that I find very curious. All of the Indian players and Nils answered “none” they did not think it was worth it. Gawain and Erik were instead discussing if they would settle for two or also go for the third and thereby make sure they would be the best players in the world. On the other hand (pun intended), they had also been discussing if they should go pro in the board game Bang! And skip chess, so maybe their confidence were not on top. I do not now if this says anything about willingness to sacrifice to become a better player or the faith in your ability to become better on your own, but I know that Mikhail Tall only had three fingers on one hand and was an excellent player!

The Hallgrímskirkja. Is that right?

The Hallgrímskirkja. Is that right?

As we say in Danish “The road to hell is paved with bad excuses”
The tournament got wrapped up with a nice party with free meatballs! We played some Bang! And enyoing the braindead fun of spinning a lucky wheel 20 times for the prize of 20 euro a spin. And NO we did not win anything big, maybe 4 beers if we combine the prizes… However it was a great night and my only regret was booking a flight that left 6:30 in the morning. Great job, Ellen.

I know this blog might be a little late, since the tournament was played almost a month ago, but I have been busy… I promise. There will soon follow a blog about my performance in the Nordic Championship for girls U-20. I hope you have not given up on me 😉

   

Ninja turtles, Jedi’s and naked baby aliens

At some point the fun has to end, and both of us have to go back to our regular lives at home. When I say regular life I talk about the flight I have to catch the 18th of April from Copenhagen, so that I can play Reykjavik Open. Anyhow we had only planned 12 countries on our 20-day trip, and since we managed to do all of them, it must now be the time to go “home”… my 15 hours bus ride awaits and here comes a blog post about our last three stops in central Europe: Vienna, Bratislava and Prague!

A funny sign

A funny sign

Huge Wiener Platz
We had just had a huge schnitzel in a nearby restaurant and were getting ready to leave:

  • Lokander: “Should we tip?”
  • Ellen: “I can barely afford the food and much less to pay for someone else’s!”
  • Lokander: “We should tip”
  • Ellen: “Fine I will leave the 8 Leks and 5 Kune I have in my pocket”

Lokander later referred to that as: “the cheapest tipping he had ever experienced”. I just explained that it was tipping on budget and something is always more than nothing! Nonetheless Vienna is not a cheap city to stay in, and I had a hard time adapting to the fact that a meal and a beer no longer was cheaper than a pack of gum bought in Sweden. What to see in Vienna:

  1. The National Library is really worth stopping by. The whole building is wonderful and both Martin and I enjoyed a long relaxing pause in the park (approximately 10 minutes, we did not have time for more). I have to say, that I could really see myself sitting on a bench with a book outside of this library the whole summer… If I lived or studied in Vienna.
  2. The Historical Art Museum: “Three hundred years ago Maria Theresa was born in Vienna. In 1740 she succeeded her father, Emperor Charles VI, the last male Habsburg ruler, in what were difficult times. Almost all the European powers waged war against her, believing that the young woman would not be able to hold on to her crown. How wrong they were: Maria Theresa became one of Europe’s greatest rulers and mother of sixteen kids”. The Historical Art Museum in Vienna was more than just a museum; they had signs all over the museum marking important women through history and called for feminism. I love it. Here I also had the chance to shine (bore Martin to death) with my extra knowledge from ancient history classes about ancient sculptures from Greece: Archaic, Classic and Hellenistic sculptures and their features… I probably only remember this because my teacher refused to give me the highest grade at my exam, and I subconsciously still know that I f***ing deserved it! The four Ninja Turtles also became a topic, but I gave up when Martin said he did not know what “The Ninja Turtles” was or who they were named after. Come on, how should it otherwise be possible to remember the most famous renaissance artists: Leonardo, Michelangelo, Donatello and Rafael and their work!? Nevertheless the whole museum is stunning both on the inside and outside. In the end, Martin did not even regret paying the 15-euro entrance fee.Archaisk, Classic and HellinistikArchaic, Classic and Hellenistic 
  3. The Votive Church you cannot miss even if you want to. This neo-gothic church really wraps up the city and once again underlines how spectacular the architecture of Vienna is.

I ended up getting the most amazing dress at a random store we passed by on the way home. As mentioned earlier I was on budget, but once again I was happy to have the love and support from family and friends, when I needed it the most (it is referring to the dress) 😉

The Historical Art Museum. Theres is an exact copy of the building if I turned the camera around. That would be the The Natural History museum.

The Historical Art Museum. Theres is an exact copy of the building if I turned the camera around. That would be the The Natural History museum.

The garden in front of the National Library, which can be seen in the background

The garden in front of the National Library, which can be seen in the background

The city hall - this is also the place where Vienna Open is played!

The city hall – this is also the place where Vienna Open is played!

Naked baby alien
Wow, I really do not know what to say. I barely remember the city of Bratislava since the people we met were so strange. I mean the beautiful castle completely faded in the light of the weirdness being emitted from the “Downtown Backpacker Hostel”. Before I tell this story I have to say, I am not a racist and I have a high weird-tolerance:

  • Martin and I had just received our keys for the room and were preparing to leave the bags and go out and see something. When we walk through the door to the “Van Gogh” room we were met by the sight of a Muslim man from Senegal who was praying. We both said hello and sorry for disturbing and walked past him in silence. The man did not say anything but just starred at us in anger before he continued praying. At this moment another person who lives in the room walks in and accidently steps on his prayer rug (the rooms at hostels are very small, it clearly was an accident). The Muslim man gets extremely angry takes his mat and continues praying outside of the room while watching videos of people screaming??? I later learned that this man sold wood (voodoo) figures for a living. At first I felt bad for being scared of this man, since he was black and Muslim, but as Lokander said, it had nothing to do with his skin-colour or religion, but the fact that his behaviour was extremely strange, nevertheless all of his brothers were nice! I ended up changing room, but mainly because everybody said he snored awfully loud. I left Lokander behind.

This was just the beginning. After we both had quickly walked down the stairs and outside the hostel, we decided to grab some food, see some sights and maybe take a beer. The first two ideas were great, the later… I do not know what to say:

  • I had talked to an Italian guy, who wanted us to have a beer with him and his American friend. Lokander and I agreed and went to the hostel bar. At first everything seemed quite “normal”, but as the conversations went on, it really took a surprising turn. The American guy became completely obsessed with psychoanalysis and chess players and started asking the weirdest questions I have ever heard:
    “If chess players had to play naked in a tournament, do you think it would affect their performance?
    “Imagine chess players holding a baby while playing. How many would drop the baby, when seeing a winning move and having to perform it?”
    “Aliens are arriving at earth. They cannot communicate in language or writing. Do you think chess would be a suitable game to use for communication?”

I was completely speechless. The last thing he said to us when we left the hostel in the morning was:

“Naked, baby, alien!”

I have to admit; I am probably going to use these questions for my blog, when I make player profiles during Reykjavik Open. It is definitely going to be interesting.
Yes the castle was interesting, the war memorial nice, the old city beautiful – but I think it will take some time, before I stay at a hostel again, or mention the fact that I play chess…

A war monument in Honor of those who where killed by the Red Army

A war monument in Honor of those who where killed by the Red Army

The castle

The castle and one out of many Chinese tourists… 

The castle

The castle

Last stop: Prague, Prag, Praha?
Our journey took an unexpected turn when we realised that we were going to Prague during the Easter. Why you ask? Basically the city is full of tourist partying and celebrating. Danes and Swedes everywhere and everything was booked. The only available place was “Gay Hostel” for 250-euro a night… well luckily I am an interracial breed and have family everywhere, which we really could benefit from this time. Central apartment for free, yes please, and thank you to my fathers cousins daughter!
Since it was Easter we had the pleasure of some Easter markets and a completely people packed city. Prague is amazing and instead of recommending something to se (which would be basically everything: take a guided tour or just walk around for a couple of days. Martin have been here… a lot, and still got things to discover) I am going to tell you some fun facts we got from the “free”-walking-tour:

  1. In the Czech Republic they on average consume 142.6 litres of beer per person per year (infants included). This is on average 80.7 litres more than an ordinary Dane! (We personally did a beer tasting with 15 different kinds. Martins favourite was cherry-beer).
  2. The biggest “religion” in the Czech Republic is atheism and it is one of the least religious countries in the world. Since the percentage of atheist is so high, Jediism is an official religion in the Czech republic. More than 1500 people wrote jediism, when they were asked what religion they belonged to by the state. (Jediisme is basically based on the Jedi’s way of living in Star Wars).
  3. The president of the Czech Republic Miloš Zeman once said that he wished death upon all vegetarians. A little harsh if you think about how hard it already is to be a vegetarian in this country.
  4. The enormous castle on top of the hill gets illuminated every evening. The president at that time was a friend of Mick Jagger. The state itself could not afford to pay for the lighting but Mick offered to do so. The lighting is officially sponsored and paid from his personal pocket.

And do see the clock, but do not expect anything. It is the biggest tourist trap and has been voted the second most disappointing tourist attraction more than once. The Mona Lisa wins every year. Anyone who has been in Prague knows what I talk about.

Prague Classical Music and Opera.

Prague Classical Music and Opera

A great view from the other side of the river of the castle

A great view from the other side of the river of the castle

 

St. Vitus Cathedral in the castle area

St. Vitus Cathedral in the castle area

I definitely also recommend the Chocolate Museum! You can eat all the chocolate you want for a very small amount of money. I am pretty sure I got value… but I also had nausea the rest of the day. Martin do not even like chocolate anymore.

And then there were one…
The last step on the journey was in a bus with 70% Danish teenage girls from a basketball team (that really liked talking loudly the whole ride) and 20% Danish teenage boys (that have a vodka they share). I took a great picture though, that really illustrates that the Danish youth is no better than the Albanian average person when it comes to queuing. I can also conclude that I basically have taken the bus from Albania to Sweden… not in one sitting, but I think it counts!

The bus ride from hell

The bus ride from hell

This is my last official post about this trip. My head is now pointed at Reykjavik and the game of chess once more. The tournament starts the 19th of April, and a short teaser will soon be posted!

Thank you very much Martin for a remarkable journey, and I am so sorry that I had to end our friendship today because you confessed you like pineapple on pizza.

The climb

The days are quickly passing by and Martin and I are desperately trying to keep up with the fully packed schedule. Now we have moved from Bosnia and Herzegovina, where we strolled around the old parts of Sarajevo and Mostar, to Croatia, where we enjoyed the sun and ocean in Split and Zadar, to Slovenia where we only had time for a very short visit in Ljubljana. City girls, beach boys, castles and dragons, there is a time and place for everything.

Bingo!
Our hostel was owned, ruled and controlled by an older woman. Young people were walking in and out, while both an unknown man and a child were screaming at her from different stairs in the building. We had barely given her the money for the room, before she stuck a full map of Sarajevo with 50 different marks on it in our hands.

  • “Now go out and see something”

The woman screamed back at the stairs while a Turkish man walked into the room. I was looking at the map, at Martin and then back on the map again:

  • Ellen “We should be able to see all of this tonight”
  • Martin “It will be a long walk and evening”
  • Ellen “Uhhhh, lets play bingo and cross of the marks as we go!”

We were going to leave for Mostar early in the morning, so we only had the rest of the evening to do all of Sarajevo, however we had a lot of experience and had already concluded, that there is not a city, which we are not able to see in a day! Good walking shoes, strong legs, a map and acceptance of the fact that you are not going to drink, eat or sleep are the keys.

Me crossing of the last sight

Me crossing of the last sight

As expected we managed to see all of the 50 marks on the map and even get a Bosnian beer at a bar. We were both completely exhausted and when we were finally home and done, I eagerly climbed the stairs to my bed in the hope of some sleep before the early morning. As I dropped my head on the pillow and closed my eyes I became aware of loud chrushing, ratteling and whimpering noices. Apparently the Turkish man was snoring, and I was not ment to get any sleep that night either…

We managed not to break a bridge, shoot a prince or start a war
Which makes both me and Martin successful visitors of Bosnia and Herzegovina. When you also take into count that we ate Cevapi, drank local beer, drove through the mountains, saw the bridge in Mostar and the 50 sightseeing point of Sarajevo, I think we did a pretty good job! Things you have to see:

  1. “The yellow fort” on top of a really steep hill is a must. On the way you get to enjoy the beauty and emotions of a cemetery filled with white gravestones as a monument to the people fallen during the Siege of Sarajevo, and if you you manage not to give up due to exhaustion and get to the top and the fort, you are rewarded with a bench and a gorgeous view of the city.
  2. Benderija’s house also known as “the spite house” is really a sightseeing point in my taste. This house is meant as a pure example of the stubbornness of the people in Bosnia and Herzegovina. The story goes that when the Austrian-Hungarians occupied Bosnia, they wanted to construct a lot of buildings and where this man (Benderija) had his house, they wanted to place the city hall, but Benderija refused to move. After long negotiations he said “fine, you can get this land, if you move my house to the other side of the river, brick by brick”. They did and here it is.
  3. Mostar is a small city located about 2.5 hours from Sarajevo and is definitely worth to pass by. Here you really have the chance to sit by the river and enjoy a mighty cevapi, stunning nature, old architecture and the fun of tourist-spotting.

We went through most of Bosnia and Herzegovina with bus and managed to visit 2 cities in just a little bit more than a day, but I could definitely spend some more time here!

The view in Mostar

The view in Mostar

The famous bridge in Mostar

The famous bridge in Mostar

The view from the "yellow fort" in Sarajevo

The view from the “yellow fort” in Sarajevo (the white pointe things is the cemetary)

You are my sunshine, my only sunshine, you are ice cream
After thorough observation Martin and I have come to the conclusion that all people in Croatia exclusively live of ice cream. If you had to buy one ice cream at every place it was possible on the Croatian coast, there would be a distance of approximately the width of 3 British tourists. Both Split and Zadar definitely attracted tourists in a way, that we had not experienced a lot in the former places we had visited. Especially Split was fully packed with British tourists and kids who wanted to party even though their age should have been a limit to their drinking.

We had almost three full days on the Croatian coast, and the rides were at least as beautiful as the destinations. Here we did not rush around with a map and a tight schedule but strolled around on the piers with a ice cream in our hands. The weather was perfect, and it is really easy to understand, why many people go on vacation on these locations. In Zadar they even have a perfect spot to watch the sunset, so of course we also grabbed that chance… together with 200 other people who had the same idea.
I know these cities have a lot of remains from old times, and we did also have time to visit these sights, but I would always prefer a capital and full city experience over a sun vacation with beaches and sea.

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Martin enjoying the sunset, probably thinking of Anton

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Castles and dragons but the knights stay in chess
How do you approach a city, when you know you only have half a day to see it? No idea, you just panic and walk around in circles. Due to easter we had some minor changes in our plans and realized we had to leave for Vienna in quite a hurry. Luckily Ljubljana is not the biggest city, and we at least had time for a few stops like the opera, the castle and a walk on the bridge with dragon statues! I would recommend something to see, but since I barely saw anything, it would not be a qualified recommendation. The city felt somewhat like a hidden gem, and I could definitely see myself coming back to explore further!

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Dragons are cool

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The opera

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But it’s just the price I pay, destiny is calling me
Mr.Brightside is playing of the speakers, and I am singing with no regard for the 3 other persons on the bus:

  • Martin: “This is probably the first song you like, that is not aggressive”
  • Me: “My music is not aggressive, it just prepares me to figtht”
  • Martin: “Fight? Good, then you can protect me when I continue to listen to Beyonce”

I have tried to argue that my music is not aggressive, but Martin refuses to listen just because my playlist is called “rock when you don’t give a fuck” and contains two songs from a band called the “Foo fighters”. The word ‘fighters’ is too scary when you are used to songtitles like “Let your heart hold fast” and have routines that take more than 45 minutes in the morning.
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Will be continued…

Fake news and broken pyramids

We are sitting on the bus between Montenegro and Bosnia and Herzegovina, where we are enjoying an amazing view of the black and white mountains surrounding a deep blue lake. Most of the road on this busride is like taken from a fairytale and the setting could have been appropriate for any Lord of the Rings movie. The last 6 days we have been in Macedonia, Albania and Montenegro and this time it has mainly been the breathtaking parts of nature, that have been in the highlights.

“Look, look this is me!”
We had just arrived in Skopje with bus from Pristina, and were now considering what our next move should be. I had heard rumours about a chess tournament being played in Skopje, and for me the only option was to visit. Martin, who is of course as exited about chess that I am, agreed to go and visit Karpos Open, just for a couple of hours. Every time we arrive to a new country I ask the same question:

  • Ellen: “Who is the best player in this country”
  • Martin: “Ehhh, Nikoladic. He had about 2650 but in the later years when the alcohol took over his elo fell to about 2500 something”
  • Ellen: “You only change the name and tell the same story, be more creative if you want me to believe it”
  • Martin: “The story fits for about 75% of all chess players, so I think it is very realistic”

If you have not already figured it out, we do not know much about chess, but you can be a great chessgroupie and supporter anyway! At least I hope that is what Martin Percivaldi, Jonas Bjerre and Filip Boe thought, when I came to support them in Skopje after also having visited them in Jurmala. Some would call me a true fan! As always there were not a lot about the chess Martin and I found interesting, instead we found the chess shop, were I bought a pink “I love chess” pen (which I am going to force Nils to use when we play Reykjavik Open) and we talked to the owner about the various books. The highlight was, when I found an old edition of the Danish chess magasine with a picture of me and eagerly waved it in both Martin and the sellers face. This was after we had already found the bar.

The playing hall at Karpos Open

The playing hall at Karpos Open

Ellen the great
“This is the truth and nothing but the truth.”
The first impression of Skopje is, that it is stunning. They have these great “marble” buildings with huge pillars and gold this and light that and sculptures everywhere. But this is fake news. Or at least everything is new and stolen from the rest of the world – The Brandenburger Tor, the Wall Street bull and last but not least, the Parthenon in Athens! They even have a huge sculpture of Alexander the Great and “claim” that he comes from their country “Macedonia”, but this is a lie. I come from the Macedonian area in Greece and I am a direct descendent of Alexander the great… my father says. Things you have to see:

  1. The city center square is the place to find the huge sculpture of Alexander the Great placed in the middle of a fountain with lights and music. From here you can also see the 666 year old bridge and many ancient greek inspired buildings. This is the place to enjoy a cold beer in the evening.
  2. The old fort on top of the hill. I recommend this purely based on the view. Even though they actually have some history connected to this place.
  3. Go to Ohrid! Ohrid is a town placed at the great lake between Macedonia and Albania. Here you really get to enjoy the best part of those countries, with more than 1100 year old churches, fresh caught fish, viewpoints from the mountains and cemetarys with free walking peacocks. I must warn though, that the cab drivers do not stay away from the beer or rakia, just because he is driving in the mountains.

Things you should avoid:

  1. Do not believe everything you are told. There are many parts to this story. Even Bulgaria claims that Alexander is from their area. Since the body was never found, who knows. I just find it funny that the guide immediately assumed that we were going to have an argument because I was half greek. We had, but for different reasons.
Fake Parthenon, with light

Fake Parthenon, with light

One out of many amazing pictures from Ohrid

One out of many amazing pictures from Ohrid

The devils bridge (666 years old)

The devils bridge (666 years old)

And then we went to Albania…
Untill now we have only been pleasantly surprised. This time Tirana really made sure, that we had to search every corner to find something slightly decent. It all started at the bus station where the cab drivers were basically blocking the exit from the bus screaming “TAXI, TAXI to OHRID”. Yeah thanks I just arrived from there, let me out. Then we had decided to by our ticket to Podgorica in advance to save time, but the woman we talked to in 1 of the 25 ticketoffices claimed, that there were no busses to Podgorica ever, however she could arrange a cab for 90 euro. No thank you. Instead we decided to go to the hostel and ask them, and of course they told us that ticket office number 6 is selling the buss tickets, and the people just do not want to help because of dirty competition. Not the best start.
We got a map of the city, and were ready for a long day with sightseeing, when we discovered, that they almost did not have anything to offer. The top thing to see was a pyramid that was broken… nevertheless we found a quite nice park at an artificial lake and we bought some cake at the biggest pastry shop I have experienced. A true bite of heaven. Even though the prices were so low that I twice in a row started crying from laughter, when we had to pay, I was glad that we were going to leave in the morning.
After having “donated” the rest of our Albanian papermoney to some random person, we found the bus for Podgorica.

  • Bus driver: “It cost two euro to put the bag in the trunk”
  • Me: “I want my bag with me inside of the bus”
  • Bus driver: “No , you have to put it here”
  • Me: “I am not going to pay to put my bag in a place I do not want it”
  • Martin: “Ellen, please just give him the money”
  • Me: “No, I refuse”.

At this point Martin was kind of scared that the Albanian man would not let us on the bus, nevertheless I had already had a full breakfast and coffee and therefore stuck to my principles. The bus driver’s face was kind of red, when he finally gave up arguing. Nobody can fool me. I am not going back to Tirana. Ever. And apparently Martin do not want to bring me to North Korea, when he plans on going there.

The very "nice" pyramid

The very “nice” pyramid

In Albania they do not play chess, they play domino

In Albania they do not play chess, they play domino

The view from the park is pretty acceptable

The view from the park is pretty acceptable

The great escape from Albania
When we arrived in Podgorica the rain was pouring down. For the third time in a row we had forgot to download the map to the hostel and we were now very confused on which way we had to go. As the great leader that I am, I said “no worry” and started walking. Since the rain decided to increase, we had to find a restaurant and get some shelter. Martin could then appropriately get something to eat, and I could connect to the wifi and check the road. Once again we had no problems with guessing the wifi password (usually you just put 123 after the name of the place) and I could confidently inform that he hostel were placed about a 100 meters from the bus station… and that we only had walked about 2 kilometers past it. But hey, at least I tried, and this only contributed to keeping our walking average at about 15 km a day. Things you have to see:

  1. The Montenegrean “Niagara” falls is located about a 15 minutes drive outside of Podgorica and is an immense waterfall surrounded by the beautiful nature of Montenegro. As opposed to the Niagara falls in USA, you can here enjoy the sight without all the tourist and have the possibility to jump from rock to rock and see the waterfall from different angles.
  2. The old bridge and leftovers from 15th century was a perfect place to take a small walk. The stairs from the hill leading down to the river is a lovely climb despite of the crap that is thrown here by careless people. The car tire in the river and plactic bags hanging from the trees really ruined a lot of pictures.
  3. The 10th century church and the spooky overgrown graveyard was really a different church experience. We were both stunned by how well preserved one of the wall paintings was, and agreed that our/this church number 23 on this trip was the best.

Things you should avoid:

  1. Nils informed me that this is the most criminal city of Europe. I really felt scared of the people(s)… English abilities in this town. That is definitely criminal. Otherwise it seemed pretty quiet.
Me and my new Macedonian haircut enjoying the "Niagara" waterfall

Me and my new Macedonian haircut enjoying the “Niagara” waterfall

The old area and bridge

The old area and bridge

The new church

The new church

Once again all the traditional meals consist mainly of meat and both Martin and I are considering to go vegetarian when we get home… Yeah right. I think that boat sailed for Martin when he ate a veal heart yesterday and said: “I feel superior to the animal”. Maybe you do, but you snore like a bear.

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Some very nice people, we meet in Ohrid!

Will be continued… 

 

   

When everybody goes left, we go right!

It is the 29th of Marts, my bags are packed, my 15-euro ticket with Wizzair is printed, my shoes are tied and my travel plans are pointed at Eastern Europe. Starting in Budapest and then heading for Beograd in Serbia and Pristina in Kosovo was the plan for the first 5 days out of my 20-day trip, together with Martin Lokander.

The sunset when I arrived in Budapest

The sunset when I arrived in Budapest

This is a party hostel!
Lokander and I had just arrived at the hostel in Budapest, that we had booked from home. It had been a recommendation from another backpacker I met in Estonia on my first trip, and Lokander and I agreed to book it for the first two nights. We were now standing in a broom closet with pictures of naked and drunk people hanging on the wall, while the manager tried to cover the hostel policies without his voice fading out from the cheers behind the door, where the rules to the “Drinking Olympics” were being explained.

Manager: “You should know this is a party hostel”
Lokander: Looking partly frightened and angry on me
Manager: “You live with 4 other people in your room”
Lokander: Looking a little released
Manager: “You should be okay with people coming home very late”
Me: “That is not a problem, then we can be late too”
Manger: “And people might have sex on your room”
Lokander: Stopped breathing

I personally overheard the last sentence but Lokander swears that was what he said. We got our keys and decided to take the stairs to avoid the guy vomiting like a volcano in the elevator at half past nine.

Me: “I saw there were a boat party tomorrow with champagne”
Lokander: “I am going to die on this trip”

Welcome to Hungary, where you get both Buda and Pest
We stayed in Budapest for 2 nights and that was enough to see the most important sights, and get a feeling for the nightlife. I have to mention that we walked more than 22 km, jumped on some trams from time to time and were out from 9 am to 2 pm to manage. Budapest is a city with a lot of charm both in cultural sights and the nightlife. Things you have to see:

  1. They have a lot of bridges crossing the Danube River and all of them are worth taking a stroll on, since they all are build in different styles and have amazing views to both sides of Budapest. I recommend walking both at day and at night to get the full experience.
  2. The castle and museum inside is a big time consumer, but I would say it is a must. The whole Pest side is really worth to see, and if you are being thorough it could take a couple of days to explore all the sights.
  3. The Skt. Stefan’s cathedral is stunning from the outside and inside. A little tip, the box in the entrance is for donations, it is free to enter the church.

Things you should avoid:

  1. Buying ice cream at night from the stands out on the streets. Even though it looks really good, the taste is synthetic and they will overcharge. It is a trap!

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The dome

The dome

The parliament

The Parliament

Tracksuits, gold chains, blond hair and Kafanas, this is Serbia!
We took the train from Budapest to Belgrade in Serbia, it took about 8 hours, but we got the chance to see the Serbian landscape, talk to 5 different conductors and the police from 2 different border controls. It was not very efficient but kind of cosy to get the question “why are you going to Belgrade”, when you have absolutely no idea. Different answers each time! When we arrived at the train station in Belgrade, we were actually discussing if it could be possible that we went back in time. I was more worried about the 5-euro hostel we had booked and what kind of standards we would be met by. Martin tried to convince me that for 5 euro he would sleep on a chair. We did not end up sleeping on a chair, but Hostel Capital was definitely a different experience. We stayed in an 8-bed room with two old men, 2 Germans and 2 Chinese girls who were buying, repacking and shipping different products from the hostel. The shower was really dirty and we were asked to move bed 2 times, but at least I overcome some boundaries. The staff also contributed to the rather weird atmosphere:

Me: “How much tax do you pay in Serbia?”
Hostel manager 1: “Tax, tax what?”
Hostel manager 2: “Can you hear that ehhhek sound?”
Hostel manager 1: “Did you smoke weed?”

We decided to not ask any further questions and went out on a bar instead.
A very typical discussion on this trip has been how neither Martin nor me fit the typical gender descriptions. When we are on a bar I want a cold beer and listen to “Living on a Prayer” or “Highway to Hell”, Martin prefers a sweet drink and the soundtrack from the musical “Lala Land”. He tried to make me order for him and I did:

Bartender: “What would you like”
Me: “Something sweet”
Bartender: “I suggest the ‘Sex with the bartender’”
Me: “Nice, one of those for him and I will take a Mojito”

He makes the orders now. The music did not fit any our preferations. In Serbia you only listen to Serbian music. At this bar they had a keyboard and two singers live. The keyboarder liked smashing his face on the keyboard and both singers paused their singing when they needed a hive of filtered air from their cigarette. It is not very often you feel so much pain and joy on the same time.

To be Serbian is a lifestyle
We were in Belgrade for one night and almost a full day. It was nothing like I imagined. We took a long stroll around one side of the city when we arrived, and were met by impressive buildings, parks, statues and people. I did not feel unsafe once, and could easily imagine myself going back on a longer vacation to enjoy the low prices and the beauty in the park and view around the old fort. Things you have to see:

  1. The free walking tour is an absolute must! It took 2.5 hours and it could easily have lasted longer. The guide was funny and gave a lot of information without being boring. She even brought homemade Rakia so that we could taste their traditional alcohol at 11 am… Here you also got a full explanation of “the Serbian lifestyle” which is basically sitting at Kafanas (café/bars/restaurants) and drinking all day every day. The earlier headline was a description of how the mafia dressed after the war and some bonus info, also from this tour.
  2. The old fort you also walk around on the guided tour, but I could definitely spend more than 1 whole day here. The fort contains a very long history that started in 5.000 bc and involves e.g. the Romans, Ottomans and 115 different wars. The place is amazing with a big and lovely park and the best view to the city and rivers.

Things you should avoid:

  1. Rakia. It is horrible. It taste like those bottles of Alkogel smell.
  2. Booking the cheapest hostel. The 2 euros extra to get a clean shower, I will pay without hesitation the next time.
The fort

The fort

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Avoid Kosovo they said. It will be horrible, they said…
Everybody told us to avoid Kosovo and Pristina, so of course we had to go there. The bus from Belgrade took about 6 hours and only 4 of them were in complete darkness in the middle of nowhere. When we arrived the bus station was completely empty. I had talked to a man from Kosovo on the bus and told him about our trip and where we ere going to stay and I now realised that he was either: a) really nice and helpful or b) going to rob us. I was very suspicious and scared in the beginning but actually the people in Kosovo are really helpful. Every time we looked lost people approached us and helped us in the right direction, even though they did not speak a word English. The hostel and the people on the hostel was also by far the nicest. Overall we kind of had the wrong impression.
There is one big problem though… It took approximately 4 hours to see all of Pristina, and not only because everything is closed at Sundays. We saw everything that was mentioned in the brochures and still we could not fill out a whole day with activities. On the other hand, we both consider retiring here, since you can eat a full meal with a beer for 3 euros. I would not recommend this place for a longer trip, but it is worth passing by, at least to get your prejudices altered.

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New Born sign

NEWBORN sign

The ugliest building in the world, we were told!

The ugliest building in the world, we were told!

The most asked question
Some of you would probably ask, why we are going to Kosovo or why we thought Eastern Europe would be interesting or anything else related to our trip, and those are good questions. The most asked question is a stupid question: “How does Nils feel about you travelling with another man”. This also occurred when I travelled with Rasmus, so here is a short answer. Men and woman CAN be friends (we are living in the 21. -century come on people).

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I understand when my 91-year-old great grandmother asks me this question, but otherwise the perception of a regular friendship with a male and a female should not be difficult. Since I was 6 years old and played Fifa every Wednesday with my best friends at that time, Anders, I have always had more male friends than female. For me it is very natural and I think the gender of one person’s friends should not matter, when you consider, whom you like to hang out with. Furthermore many would consider it more practical to travel with a man in the more suspicious parts of Eastern Europe… and yet again I would probably be the one taking the fight if anything happened. To sum it up, maybe those gender-neutral and feministic things going on in Sweden is not that bad, since your gender is only really defining how many X-chromosomes you have in your body and not how good a friend you will be or your capacity in a street fight. Last but not least Nils and I trust each other, and that is probably what you call a healthy relationship 🙂

Maybe the next stop should be the moon?

Maybe the next stop should be the moon?

Will be continued…

Two different Danes in the brilliant Baltic States

You might not know where you are going on your next trip, but here is a small guide to the Baltic States, and a “short” description of how we handled the infinite amount of possible things to do. Rasmus went from boy to man and we both got 3 new countries on the experience map. Follow our journey on this blog!

Gammelt billede fra J-VM i Grækenland 2015

Gammelt billede fra J-VM i Grækenland 2015

The Grand Tour was the traditional trip of Europe undertaken by mainly upper class European young men

“The Grand Tour aims to develop the personality by giving the traveller insight and understanding of other cultures.” – Wikipedia

The daily schedule consisted of: me always waking up 5 minutes before the alarm and then waking Rasmus. A sightseeing tour planned in detail by Rasmus. Me walking around and pointing to every window, saying: “that looks nice” with a coffee in my hand, while Rasmus reads out loud from his book of the history/information of the place we are going to visit. Us visiting 8 different churches, museums, monuments, national goats shops, whatever, before deciding to go home. When back at the hostel, one of us always argued to go to the pub-crawl, beer-pong-tournament, late night bird spotting or whatever else might ruin our sleep. Here the reasonable person always gave in and agreed to go with the demand that we still wake up early the next morning to see the rest of the city… which we always did full of pain and regret.
There were two main things that were always discussed:

  1. If we had to choose between a history- or art museum
  2. Where we wanted to eat

I personally love art, either you understand it or you just enjoy it. Art is often more than just a painting or sculpture, and often says a lot about the time when it was made. When reading about art history you need both the history and the art. Pure history I enjoy too. Especially when visiting new countries, since I want to understand how the people and government developed. When reading history I prefer cold facts and long texts, which is often better in books. Ergo I was team art museum and Rasmus was team history museum. Often we had time for everything, since Rasmus did a very good job with the planning. In his guidebook we made it to 50 out of 50 recommended stops in every city.
I believe that one of the most important things when visiting a country is to taste their local food and products. In my family we have a tradition of always having food as the main expense, when we travel. Rasmus preferred when the food was cheap and filling. His food highlights “before seeing the light” were fast-food chains and supermarkets. I always made sure that we at least had one meal, which consisted of the national dish.
Before the trip, I do not know what we expected, but one thing is sure, I did not expect Rasmus to say this:

“I finally realize the meaning of an educational trip, after having done this trip with you, Ellen!”

This kind of perfectly describes Rasmus development regarding food!

This kind of perfectly describes Rasmus development regarding food!

I do not think he expected that either, but I hope he will continue on developing his new taste for art-history and great cuisine. Next time I will bring him on a Southern European art- and wine-tasting trip. If you also want to see the light, you can sign up for the next trip on: www.EllensCulturalCaravan.dk. “Turning boys to men”… in a non-sexual way 😉
Please note: Your cost of living might double.

A short overview of what is worth to see!
First of all we only visited capital cities, so there is still a lot to see. Second of all, everything is interesting, but I try to pinpoint the sights that really made an impact in each of the capitals. Last but not least, this is my personal opinion and I am definitely biased.


Lithuania, Vilnius:
I personally loved this city. Every time you pass a corner, you are met by amazing old buildings, especially churches. The history of Lithuania is a little bit older than the history of the other countries in the Baltic States (fewer Soviet and other occupations), and the history is really alive in the baroque style capital. Things you have to see: 1) St. Peter and St. Paul’s church, which is a beautiful catholic church. 2) The KGB museum or Museum of Genocide Victims, not sure of the name, but this place will make an impression that lasts, with its gruesome history during the Soviet occupation and the KGB cellars and execution chambers. 3) The Republic of Uzupis. It started with hipsters taking it to the next level and ended as a self-declared state with a flag, a constitution written in 23 languages, an 11-man army and an independence day the 1st of April. Rasmus and I considered asking if they needed a national chess team, since the whole point is humour. Things you should not do: go to the “Forto Dvaras” restaurant. It might sound cool, that they serve traditional Lithuanian food in a stone basement, but when we asked the waiter what she would order from the menu and she answered “nothing”, we figured that the food was not going to be the highlight of Lithuania.

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Latvia, Riga:
This city is designed for groups of young people who want to party and still experience some culture. There is a little bit of something for everyone – from big food markets to free walking tours. Unfortunately this was also the city, were we had the least amount of time, because of our chess detour to Jurmala. Things you have to see: 1) The Rock Café is the centre of Riga’s nightlife. This club is in three floors and has everything you need for a place to party. We are talking huge dance floors, live rock bands and much more. I was here twice but was not capable of taking a photo. 2) Riga central market is a gigantic market selling every fresh produce you might desire. Here you can just enjoy strolling through the cheese, fish, meat or vegetable building with something nice to eat in you hand you bought because you were not able to resist the temptations. It would definitely be a dream come true, to have a market like this in my backyard. 3) On the other side of the river there is a part of town built in the “Art Nouveau” style. Here you can enjoy the art nouveau architecture with big ornaments and other decorations while just being satisfied with experiencing a place, that most tourist probably miss out on. Things you should not do: DO NOT DRINK BALSAM. IT IS HORRIBLE.

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Tallinn, Estonia:
Welcome to wannabe-Finland. You do not understand the language, you do not find better Internet speed, but you do get to experience a combination of the modern city with big glass buildings and the cobbled roads of the old town behind the fortress walls. This city is fantastic and the list could be miles long, but I will try to restrain myself. Things you have to see: 1) The Estonian National Museum is a paradise for every slightly art-interested soul. This is the place that I made it happen… referring to Rasmus’ transformation from an uneducated boy to a man fascinated with art! This museum has great short text-explanations placed in every room, so that even the people with the minimal knowledge of art have a chance to understand the transformation from Baroque to Expressionism from Socialist realism to Post modernism and so on. 2) The “Kiek in de Kök” museum. What? Yes you read it right. This museum offers both a glance from the top of one of the artillery towers after climbing 4 floors of Estonian history and a guided tour through the bastion tunnels. It might be expensive, but it is worth it. You will laugh because of the name at least once, I promise. 3) The place where the Danish flag fell from the sky and became the first national flag in history. I am definitely biased on this one, but even though the story is not completely true it is worth knowing. Things you should not do: Bring Rasmus to a beer-pong tournament, he is not worthy of being anyone’s beer-pong buddy.

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Our trip ended with me waking in the middle of the night and realising that Rasmus is about to miss his plane… as usual. I luckily managed to wake him after several tries. Rasmus calmly looked at the clock and left the hostel as if nothing was wrong. I was really tired the next day. My trip continued to Helsinki in Finland after this, but here I met up with Nils, and we were not as ambitious with our sightseeing. Next time we decided to pick a more romantic and warmer place to visit… our next trip together is in April, and we are going to Reykjavik…

There is no place like home and yet again
I am currently home in Aalborg and calques my father’s house for some pocket money for my next trip that will start the 29th of March. I just need to stop the fire in my bank account. Luckily the rumour goes, that beer is cheaper than water in Eastern Europe.

See you next time!

See you next time!

A small Danish detour

I sat a bit restlessly on the couch and played with Google Maps because of boredom. It had been my plan to go to Nice in France from March to June and work, so that I could improve my French. Unfortunately (or luckily!?) I did not get any of the jobs for which I had applied, and I had now given up all hopes on my French plans, both in life and chess. New ideas were starting to knock on my door instead, and suddenly I realised: “I should go alone on a backpacking trip to the Baltic countries!” I eagerly told my plans to Nils, my father and some of my friends, who all seemed a little baffled and confused by my sudden urge to go to the Baltics, about which I knew nothing at all. Nils mostly worried that it would not be safe for me to go alone, but he did not have the time to join me. I called Rasmus Thøgersen, my loyal traveling partner from our trip to India, who promised to protect me in a case of emergency… by running away. Anyhow, the conversation went:

Ellen: “Will you join me on a backpacker trip to the Baltic countries!?!?”
Rasmus: ”Why would I ever go there???”

I told him to call me, if he changed his mind. I had already booked and planned everything.

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I will see you at “Jimmy Jumps House”
I arrived in Vilnius in Lithuania around 3 o’clock on the 1st of March. I stepped out of the airport, looked around, and jumped on the first bus in sight, since every sign was written in Lithuanian.

Me: “Do you go to the city centre?” Chauffeur: “Yes, yes”.

It did not go to the city centre… but a bit of walking never hurt anybody, and thanks to my GPS, I found the hostel “Jimmy Jumps House,” where Rasmus was currently staying. How would you describe this youth hostel, definitely designed to scare away anyone above the age of 30? It is hidden in a backyard in a very dubious alley. The only way to get in is to already know the password, or to be lucky that someone with a password needs to get in through the giant metal door at the same time.

At least the hostel made sure the neighbours got some sleep!

At least the hostel made sure the neighbours got some sleep!

When you walk the stairs, the walls are covered with various paintings made by backpackers throughout the years, and a broad spectrum of light chains hanging from the ceiling. When I checked in, I was asked to always leave my shoes before entering the reception, that the breakfast only consisted of 2 freshly-made waffles, and that my “room” was a 8-bed dorm which I had to share with 7 boys.

I took a deep breath and thought to myself: “this is nice, it is healthy to get out of your comfort zone… in every possible direction at once!”

The two other hostels where we stayed in Riga and Tallinn; “the Naughty Squirrel” and “the Knights House” shared the same vision. I must say that it was a really pleasant experience to stay in these youth hostels. You really get the chance to socialize with other young backpackers, and both Rasmus and I grabbed the opportunity and talked to as many people as possible from all over the world. The fact that I hardly got any sleep for 10 days, I consider a decent sacrifice.

Me in front of the St. Peter and St. Paul's church in Vilnius

Me in front of the St. Peter and St. Paul’s church in Vilnius

A Dane, an Englishman, an American and a German went to a bar…
For some reason, everyone that travels seems to be a native English speaker. The first 5 persons we meet were from the following countries: America, England and Australia. Rasmus and I agreed that that was a bit sad, as Danes are known for bragging about their English abilities, and this company made it rather difficult.
The first night, when we were ready to get out and see the town at night, the party got mixed a little and now more resembled one of those jokes starting with: “A Dane, an Englishman, an American and a German went to a bar…” and the night kind of evolved like one of the jokes would have. At least I found it extremely funny when Tom the Englishman (leader of our “pub-crawl”) got so drunk that he followed a different group of people he did not know and lost all track of us after our first bar stop, or when the Australian girl, Sara, ate her burger upside down. Most of the people do not fit the stereotypes, but sometimes I wonder; does anyone ever look at me and think: “that is so typically Danish”. Maybe they did, when I tried to translate a self-made joke from Danish to English. Or that is perhaps more typical me?

“It is funny how Tom’s name is Tom, when he is so drunk!” and that is funny because “tom” in Danish means “empty” and “drunk” in Danish is called “fuld,” which also means “full.”

Both Pedro the Portuguese and Sara from the land down under laughed, and I do not think it was only out of pity. They are both really sweet people and they got the love story of the century.

From the left: Sara, Pedro, Rasmus, Eliot and German guy???

From the left: Sara, Pedro, Rasmus, Eliot and German guy???

The show must go on!
Rasmus and I were sitting on the bus between Vilnius and Riga, when suddenly Jesper Thybo wrote a message:

“We are in Jurmala and are going to play a strong blitz-tournament. Come!”

Rasmus looked at me, with a hint of chess thirst in his eyes:

“Do you want to play blitz?”

A couple of days before we left for our trip, I actually talked to Jesper, and we both realized we were going to be near each other by coincidence. Even then we considered visiting, because Jesper was playing for his IM-norm, and a whole group of Danish players and coaches would be there. We had not discussed it further but in the bus we understood, that:

  1. Jesper had made his norm and the main tournament was finished (congratulations Jesper on your second IM-norm!)
  2. Tonight they were playing a very strong blitz-tournament, and by coincidence we would actually be able to make it to the playing hall on time
  3. Party spirit was in the air.

It took 5 seconds to find a train between Riga and Jurmala (I know Jakob Vang Glud suggested Taxi, but we tried to keep our detour in the backpacker spirit) and then we decided to go and party… I mean play some chess!
20 minutes before the start of the round, Rasmus and I walked through the door with our big backpacks, slightly dirty clothes and full fighting spirit. The round was of course 30 minutes delayed, but that gave us some time to chat with our Danish friends and make sure that we at least had a free bed to sleep in that night.
There is a lot that can be said about that night but sometimes it is better not to. Rasmus made a good effort both on and outside the board, I on the other hand need to improve everything; chess abilities, wingman skills, dance moves, you name it. I met some new people though and learned that some friends you can always count on… like my tequila buddy!
The next “morning” (after a very slow start) I finally found Rasmus and we decided to leave for Riga. The trip was made in silence until we found our hostel “the Naughty Squirrel” where a young woman received us in the reception. She insisted that we should have a welcome shot of Balsam and for the first time that day, both mine and Rasmus’ voices were strong and clear:

“NO, THANK YOU!”

nooo

Chess is a universal language, but it is better to communicate in English
The nice thing about chess is that it can be played anywhere, and suddenly a tournament just appears where you happen to be. You can almost always choose to play and meet some new chess players, if you want to. The great thing about backpacking is that you have to sleep at a place, no matter where you go. You are almost forced to meet other people, since the main point of the youth hostels are the common rooms, which are never empty. Seeing the world is one thing, talking to people from around the world makes traveling the best thing…

Unless you try to speak in French, then you just realize your French is hopeless.

To be continued!

   

Ich bin ein Schachspieler

For the fifth year in a row, a group of Danish chess players invaded a small village named Bad Zwicshenahn in Northwest Germany, to play the annual NordWest-Cup. The Danish invasion consisted of a number of young players and was firmly led by the Danish youth coach Mads Boe.

Foto: Cara O´Driscoll

Foto: Cara O´Driscoll

Secret Santa
According to tradition, I drove to Bad Zwicshenahn with the Vangsgaard family (Claus, Bjarke and Freja). As always, Freja and I were soundly asleep in the backseat, and Claus was at the wheel going 180 km/h on the German autobahn (which, by the way, is one of the only German words I know beside Krankenwagen and Apfelstrudel). Luckily, we skipped the queue this time, and actually arrived more than five minutes before the first round. I know that you probably wonder why we do not leave with a bit more time to spare. That is basically impossible with the Vangsgaard family. They are always late, no matter what. That is also the only reason why my nickname “the fifth Vangsgaard” is a little misleading, since I prefer to stand outside the tournament hall a couple of hours before they even open. Nevertheless, I have always joined the Vangsgaard family on trips to tournaments, and I consider myself an unofficial part of their family, and Freja my “sister”. She also confirmed this when she spontaneously joined Christmas the 22nd of December with a bunch of my relatives and acted as Santa.

“Good friends are like stars. You don’t always see them, but you know they’re always there”.

Freja Vangsgaard you are a star!🌟

Ein Gulaschsuppe mit Brot, danke
Each year, we all check in at the same hotel, Hotel Copenhagen (quite natural that we should feel at home there), with the lovely owner, an elderly lady named Ellen (great name!), who served us goulash soup and schnitzel mit pommes throughout our stay. I told her that I was moving to Copenhagen later this year, and she eagerly explained that she too had lived in Copenhagen, in 1952, right next to the Tivoli Gardens, and that she loved the city. I simply nodded, and wondered what part of that story might have changed the most during the last 65 years. The restaurant is the centre of attention. This is where we eat, analyse, and, last but not least, where we have Internet. Between every round, and in the evening, you get the chance to analyse your games with help from Mads, and if you are feeling really daring, you can socialise with the rest of the delegation. Otherwise the Internet connection is strongest in the corner (which is my favourite spot). Here you can also save yourself the embarrassment of not being able to recall any of the young players’ names.

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The one-eyed man is king in the land of the blind
The tournament is separated into three groups: A, B and C, with A being the strongest – an open Swiss for players above 1800 ELO. Even though I strongly considered playing the B group, which allowed players up to a rating of 1900 WLO, Freja eventually convinced me it would be quite embarrassing, even if I won, since I have played the A group the last 3 years. In my defence, I have only made bad results in this tournament, and this was not an exception. Why do I keep coming back then? Well, sometimes the results matter less than the company… thus spoke the happy loser.

Ikke alle morgener er lige gode...

Not all mornings are equally good…

I have a tendency in life to make it harder for myself than necessary. One of the big discussions during this trip was the question of a license. I am not talking about a driver’s license, but a license to play an opening. Chess openings also require knowledge about the theory. Some openings more so than others, and the conclusion was that you do not have a license to play the sharpest line in the Two Knights Defence, where you sacrifice a pawn, if you only know the first 8 moves. My argument was “learning by doing” but it felt more like “get destroyed without playing and realise it is bullshit”. I was not happy with Martin Lokander and his decision that I should play sharp lines, especially when Mads Boe gave me a look if as I were stupid. Luckily, I turn 20 this year, and cannot get picked for the youth events even if he wanted to select me, and I took revenge by forcing Martin to play the delayed exchange KID 🙂

Lokander has annotated his game, and you can see it if you click the link. It is in Swedish though… I hope that is because he was annoyed and/or frustrated: http://www.viewchess.com/cbreader/2017/2/21/Game2105656.html

He even wrote a lovely poem in Swedish about playing in a solid style. I think he should consider a career swap

“Taktik, angrepp, är jag i tid?

Så slipper man tänka, när man är solid.

Har jag rätt pjäser kvar,

är ställningen ej oklar.

För som Ulf vill jag spela,

och poängen min dela”.

If I lose, you’d better take the trophy!
In the top rows, as far away from the hall of shame (the last three boards are put in a separate area, we called it “the hall of shame”) as you can come, there sits a cheerful redhead among the players who did not fail miserably again this year. The girl is of course Freja Vangsgaard, who once again shone, with an ELO performance of 2238, and a victory against the youth coach’s son. Actually, the whole family did well (except me, I am apparently the black sheep) and they were sitting as far away from me as possible. At least I got to walk a lot, and I had an excuse to leave my miserable positions for an extended period of time. After further consideration, I have concluded that Freja performed even better than usual this time, because we shared a single bed in a 3-square-meter room during the whole tournament. Being so close to me all the time must have inspired her.

Freja som ser glad ud på den enkelt seng som vi delte

Freja looking very happy in the single bad we shared

Better luck next time!
One again it was a nice trip to Bad Zwicshenahn, and I really enjoyed being back on the road with the Vangsgaard family. Sometimes you need a reminder as to why you think chess is fun, and there is no better way than to play a tournament with good friends.

Last but not least, I want to say congratulations to my good friend Jesper Thybo, who made his first IM-norm this weekend. He did not make it with any ladies though… but the party was great and I hope he soon will make another one!

Wijk aan Zee (Tata Steel Chess)

In a place far, far away, in the province of North Holland in the Netherlands, lies a small town called Wijk aan Zee. This is where the 73rd Tata Steel Chess tournament is taking place, and I took the chance and visited the event for a couple of days. If you have never heard of Wijk aan Zee, or the tournament played here, I will try to summarize it briefly. This is a tournament where strong grandmasters each year compete to qualify for or win the main event. It is played in closed groups with 14 players in a round robin (you meet all players in your group). The tournament that has been known as Tata Steel Chess and the Corus Chess Tournament has been won by many great names, like Bent Larsen, Mikhail Tal, Ulf Andersson!, Garry Kasparov and many others. This year, players like Levon Aronian, Anish Giri and even the world champion (who has already won the tournament 5 times) Magnus Carlsen are fighting for the 2017 spot on the Chess Wall of Fame.

Just a small part of the wall

Just a small part of the wall

Personally, I was more interested in the challenger groups, since my intention in visiting was to be moral support for my boyfriend, Nils Grandelius. When I boarded the plane heading for Amsterdam, I did not expect much. However, it turned out to be something of an experience, with plenty of good company and a nice start to my own chess year in 2017.

“Just smile and nod”
I had been studying the entrance before I walked up to the receptionist, with a slightly insecure expression on my face. “I need one of those card things.” The receptionist was staring at me as if I were stupid. “We only give those cards to the masters, challengers and press.” I scratched my arm. “Well, my name should be on one of those card things. You see, I am the girlfriend of one of the players.” She looked at the cards on her desk and then back at me. “I am sorry, but your name is not here.” I looked across the desk and pointed at my card. “It is right there, my name is Ellen”. She mumbled something and handed me the card. I went to get my entrance number for the amateur group, and smiled at the thought that she did not even check if my name really was Ellen, and that she might basically have given a random stranger access to the press and conference rooms.

“I need one of those card things” – Ellen Kakulidis

I will not say that I got full value for this card...

I will not say that I got full value for this card…

It was neither my first nor my last experience where I felt a little awkward, and where I made some of the dramatis personae a little suspicious. The first one was in the hotel lobby the day I arrived, when I asked for the key to a room whose number I did not know. One day, I also tried to get into the press room with my fancy card, but did not know how to use it. I just stood there for 2 minutes and waited for someone to open. A man finally opened the door from the inside, and (again) gave me a look as if I were stupid (which might be fair enough…). I had to show him my card twice before he believed I actually had access, and I only stayed for 20 seconds because I saw some of the players from the masters group, got scared, and quickly disappeared before any harm was done. I thought it was better to wait for Nils outside. I promised not to embarrass him by asking anyone for their autograph.
Usually, I am not this horrible when talking to other people, but it is difficult not to get affected by all the greatness at such a big event. I am simply not used to potentially meeting the people I have read about in my chess books. I also remember the first time I saw Arthur Yusupov. I had just started reading his series of chess books, and I was so impressed that I hid under the dining table when he walked into the restaurant at the European Youth Chess Championships in Georgia 2014. Most people would point out that heroes are just people as well. I will just quote:

“Never meet your heroes”

With this method, you actively prevent yourself from doing something stupid/embarrassing. Like trying to hook you best friend up with half of the top boards at the Olympiad. (I am so sorry Freja. I will be a better wingwoman this weekend 😉 )

Apparently I have achieved everything in life
Bent Larsen once said:

“Normal people have to see Naples before they die, but a chess grandmaster has to win Wijk aan Zee first.”

I consider myself pretty normal, I am not a grandmaster, and I did not win the main event, but I think it was close enough, and that that should count. Besides, I have already been to Naples, so I should be covered.
My stellar achievement consists of winning a 3 round tournament with 2,5 points out of 3. I played very well throughout, or at least very solidly, which in my head are two sides of the same coin. At one point, Nils even said the following about one of my moves: “too much talent”. Apparently it is a famous saying by Stellan Brynell, when the move is not the best one in the position, but clearly the prettiest. I gladly ignored the sarcastic tone.

ewelwk

Here I played 19.d5! The point is that you can not really defend the e4 pawn because of the pin on the queen, other than the move Rc4, but after b3, it is trapped! And yes, the position arose from an exchange Slav, and yes, the move 19.Ne2 is correct.

I owe a big thank you to my splendid second Martin Lokander, who in many ways ensured my very solid result. Before the tournament started, I gave him full authority to pick my openings. The deal included:
1) I would play anything he told me (no matter what) for the whole tournament 2) I could blame him, if I lost the game 3) The roles would be reversed for his next tournament! Every evening, I just had to tell him what colour I was set to play in the upcoming game, and he would then bring me a fresh file the next morning, with the 3 first moves I had to play. If I was extra lucky the file would even contain something like “e4, e5 for dummies” (probably something used for 8 year old kids,) and a very sincere “good luck” wish. Martin is presumably also very satisfied with the result, since I now consider sparing him the pain of being forced to play the exchange French, Slav or any of my other solid openings, of which he explicitly disapproves.
He also agreed to comment one of my games, which can be seen if you click the link (I recommend that you do so, especially if you are curious to what kind of openings he made me play): http://www.viewchess.com/cbreader/2017/1/20/Game95414640.html

I ended my personal victory by singing “I Am The Champion” all the way down the stairs at the hotel. When we met Eric Hansen in the reception, I ended on the note: “I got no time for losers…” and a big smile for the guys.

The whole world at one table
The population of Wijk aan Zee is around 2,500 people, and that number is perhaps doubled during January, when all the chess players eagerly arrive. Why is this important? First of all, most of the town gets redecorated into the biggest dream of every colour-blind person; black and white. You cannot find a place that has not got a chessboard in the window or chess pieces hanging from the ceiling. Some restaurants even change their names to chess related stuff. It seems as if the restaurants think that it is like stealing candy from children. “Hey guys, they have a chess master menu, we should eat at that place!” Second of all, you actually need to make a reservation to get a table, which is sort of obscure. We were five people eating together, when I was on my visit: GM Nils Grandelius (Sweden), GM Eric Hansen (Canada), GM Gawain Jones (UK), WIM Sue Maroroa Jones (New Zealand) and WCM Ellen Sofia Kakulidis (Denmark). It was much less scary than it sounds, and if we had been joined by a Chinese kid, who did not play chess or speak any English, there would be some kind of balance.

Gawain was going for a dry January, so me and Eric had to double our amount of beer just to support him. What are friends for :)

Gawain was going for a dry January, so me and Eric had to double our amount of beer just to support him. What are friends for 🙂

The atmosphere was great, even when the main part of the table had lost. We solved this issue by letting the winners pay. Suddenly, all results were pleasant in some way, and dinner took on much the same spirit as Robin Hood (taking from the rich (winners) and giving to the poor (losers).
The partying was kept to a minimum, even the night I won my tournament. We had the chance to crash some event with free bar, but as the responsible grownups we are, “we” decided not to do so. I think we will get another chance at some point. At least Eric owes me some tequila, because he only remembered one thing about me from the Olympics. It was not my name, where I came from, or who I was in any way – but the fact that I liked Tequila. We can make a party of that at some point in the future.

Last, but not least, I want to finish off with a big good luck wish for Nils, Gawain, Eric, Sue and Aryan.

“I’ll be back!”

Pædagogik for dummies

Det her indlæg handler primært om mit sammenstød med den pædagogisk verden og alle udfordringer med at undervise børn. Der medfølger nogle gode fortællinger 🙂

Work, work, work, eller hvad Rihanna sang

Work, work, work, eller hvad Rihanna sang

Siden jeg flyttede til Oslo, har jeg været ansat hos dragulf.no som underviser/skakinstruktør. Jobbet har indebåret at tage ud på forskellige skoler og undervise elever mellem 1-3. klasse i skak. Desuden har der været nogle sidejobs som instruktør på en pigeskaklejr og turneringsleder ved et skoleskakstævne. Personligt har jeg ingen form for pædagogisk uddannelse, og har aldrig været på kurser, som forberedelse til et arbejde som dette. Mine underliggende kompetencer har udelukkende været de jobs, jeg har haft som privatlærer I Danmark, egen personlig erfaring med børn (meget begrænset) og logisk tænkning. Ellers var det bare at kaste sig ud i det at skulle undervise i skak på en række skoler i Oslo og samle erfaring hen af vejen.

At sætte sig i respekt
Det er første dag på arbejde, og jeg er blevet sendt ud på Ila skole i centrum af Oslo. Gruppen består af bare 8 elever, og jeg skal kun undervise i 45 minutter. Jeg møder op 15 min før, som senere blev en god vane, da det gav mig tid til at stille bræt og brikker frem, og få lærerne til at låse lokalet op og indsamle børnene inden undervisningsstart. 5 minutter efter timestart, er bare to elever mødt op. Jeg kigger lidt forvirret omkring og beslutter mig for at starte. *klap* *klap*. “Hej mit navn er Ellen og jeg snakker lidt mærkeligt fordi jeg er dansk, hvis I ikke forstår mig kan I bare sig til, og så skal jeg forsøge på norsk” (det er utroligt hvor meget man kan føle, at børn bare stirrer direkte igennem ens sjæl). En lille dreng fra første klasse kigger meget usikkert på mig og dørene bliver åbnet og resten af eleverne kommer ind. Jeg gentager hvad jeg lige har sagt. “Godt så, hvor mange ved hvordan brikkerne rykker?” Alle udover den lille dreng rækker hånden op. Jeg tager en brik op på demobrættet og begynder at vise. Der går omtrent 2 sekunder inden jeg bliver afbrudt af Håkon, som begynder at tage alle brikkerne og vise hvordan de gør. Selvom det er korrekt, må der være nogen form for orden “ja tak, nu er det mig, som er lærer, så det er mig som viser”. Håkon ignorerer mig og fortsætter med den næste brik. Jeg står lidt med åben mund. “Håkon vil du være venlig at sætte dig ned på din plads”. Håkon stopper for første gang under hele timen med at snakke og kigger op på mig. “Kan du overhovedet spille skak?”. Jeg står totalt lam i 10 sekunder og stirrer dumt ud i luften, hvorefter jeg svarer: “Ja, jeg er faktisk lige kommet hjem fra VM og OL”. Og så var den diskussion lukket. Håkon satte sig ned, og jeg er nu begyndt at introducerer mig selv som landsholdsspiller.
Det er svært at opnå naturlig respekt, når man er kvinde, 1,59 høj og ikke taler sproget. Der må man drage til andre midler. Ydmyghed er ikke noget børn i alderen 7-10 år forstår sig på, og jeg er ret sikker på, at de ikke forholder sig kritisk til den givne information, så det er bare med at komme med en lang smøre om, hvor god man selv er og så slutte af med “og derfor er I heldige, at jeg vil undervise jer”.

At få dem til at respektere, at man ved bedst
Jeg står og overværer to drenge spille, den ældste af dem flytter sin dronning for 10. gang og tager endnu en brik fra modstanderen. “Haha, jeg vinder let, se alle de brikker jeg har taget”. Han kigger triumferende på mig. Jeg tænker lidt og siger i bestemt tone “som jeg har sagt tidligere: I starten af skakpartiet er det godt at flytte bønderne i centrum og derefter udvikle officererne. Hvis du flytter den samme brik mange gange, har du kun én soldat i din hær”. Drengen kiggede underligt på mig “dronningen er min yndlingsbrik og jeg vinder hver gang. Jeg står og studerer brættet lidt længere og kommer i tanke om sætningen:

“Don’t change a winning concept”

hvorefter jeg beder den dreng, som har tabt alle sine partier, om at træde til side og se på “fint så lad os spille”. Der gik ikke mere end to partier, før eleven mumlede at han havde forstået budskabet. Jeg så ham aldrig igen… jeg mener, jeg så ham aldrig begå samme fejl igen 😉
Det var ikke den eneste gang, hvor jeg stødte på en situation, hvor eleverne tvivlede på det jeg sagde. Det mest forekommende problem var, diskussionen om hvilket felt dronningen skal stå på. Når man har svært ved at finde en logisk forklaring og man ikke ved hvordan man skal illustrere, at de har vendt brættet forkert, må man bare slå foden ned og sige “jeg har ret og du tager fejl” og så skynde sig videre. Jeg har i hvert fald ikke fundet en bedre løsning… endnu.

Når børnene nægter at spille
Der er ikke gået mere end 20 minutter af lektionen, og der står allerede 4 ud af de 11 børn på holdet og annoncerer, at de ikke har tænkt sig at spille mere. Jeg peger på den opgave jeg har sat op på demobrættet, og siger at de kan løse den i stedet. 3 af dem adlyder og går hen og stirrer med tomt blik på brættet, den sidste går hen til døren. “Hvor skal du hen?” Spørg jeg i en streng tone. “Jeg vil ud og lege, jeg gider ikke spille skak, det er et dumt og nemt spil”. Dumt spil kan han have ret i, tænker jeg for mig selv “der er stadig 25 minutter tilbage af lektionen og derefter kan du gå”. Han hører ikke efter og går ud af døren. De andre tre elever kommer tilbage til mig og er nu utilfredse med at jeg lod ham gå, for det betyder vel også, at de må gå. “Jeg kan ikke med vold tvinge jer til at blive, men de eneste I snyder, er jer selv”. To mere satte jakkerne på og forsvandt. Ikke helt vellykket…
Hvad skal man gøre, når eleverne nægter at gøre, hvad man beder dem om? Det er en fritidsaktivitet, de har selv betalt for at komme, og jeg får min løn om der er 1 eller 20 elever til time. Jeg har besluttet mig for ikke at skælde ud og råbe, jeg kan sige noget i streng tone, så at de forstår, at jeg er alvorlig, men ikke mere end det. Jeg kan ikke tvinge eleverne til at blive, og jeg kan ikke true dem med, at de ikke må deltage, når det er det, de ønsker. Hvad gør man så? Omvendt psykologi og at prikke til konkurrencenerven, er det som har virket bedst. Noget i retning af “hvis du går nu, så bliver Julie nok bedre end dig til skak” eller “ja du kan bare gå, så er der mere tid til de andre”. Men ærligt det er svært, for børn er ikke dumme, og nogle er opdraget til, at de gør hvad der passer dem.

Snyd og bedrag
Jeg har sat eleverne til at spille, og går rundt og overværer deres partier, imens jeg giver gode råd. Jeg ser i øjenkrogen, at en af drengene for 2. gang i samme parti, snyder med hvordan han rykker brikkerne. Jeg går hen og retter ham “du kan ikke lave det træk, det er ulovligt”. Nå siger han og spiller videre. To træk senere gør han præcis det samme. Jeg får eleverne til at sætte sig på række og siger vi kan spille simultan. De jubler. Tålmodigt går jeg rundt mellem brætterne og rykker brikkerne (for heldigvis ved de ikke skakuret er opfundet), imens jeg nøje følger de mest pædagogisk skakprincipper jeg har lært. Ikke langt inde i simultanen forsøger ham der snyder, at påstå at hans tårn stod på et andet felt end det gjorde, så at han kunne tage min dronning. Jeg kigger strengt på ham om siger “jeg har memoreret hele partiet fra træk 1, vi kan spille det igennem, og så kan jeg vise dig, at du igen snyder”. Han kiggede bare måbende på mig, og jag bad ham om at lægge kongen ned, som symbol på at han havde tabt. Der var ikke mere diskussion om den sag.
Alle de andre elever på holdet, havde fået en illusion om, at han var klart den bedste spiller, og derfor blev han aldrig modsagt, når han lavede et træk, som ikke var tilladt. Selvom de andre kan reglerne, var de altid uopmærksomme på et tidspunkt, så han fik chancen. Han vandt konsekvent alle partier, indtil jeg konsekvent sad ved hans bræt og overværede hvert eneste træk. Hver gang han fremover forsøgte at snyde, kom der en streng løftet pegefinger og et skuffet blik. Han var smart nok til at gennemskue, hvordan han skulle snyde, men han er nok også smart nok til at forstå, at det kan han fremover kun gøre, når jeg ikke er tilstede. Moral er desværre ikke noget, som jeg kan lære en elev på 7 kurser*45 min. Jeg har accepteret, at der er begrænsninger, og det faktisk ikke er min pligt at opdrage andres børn.

Der er så mange ting, som man ikke forstår
Dette var kun et uddrag af de mange situationer, hvor jeg har stået og tænkt “hvad fanden gør jeg nu”. Jeg er ikke det mest pædagogiske menneske og jeg er ikke på forhånd blevet rustet til situationerne, så jeg har bare forsøgt at løse problemerne, så godt som en 19-årig kvinde nu kan. Efter meget kort tid blev jeg dog nødt til at indrømme overfor min mor, at jeg havde fået en ny respekt for folkeskolelærere og pædagoger, da jeg pludseligt forstod, at det ikke altid er lige nemt. Man vil jo så gerne, at alle ens elever skal elske det, man underviser i, så meget som man selv gør, men sådan er virkeligheden bare ikke… og jeg har endnu ikke fundet et argument for, hvorfor skak er sjovt eller nyttigt, til de elever, som bare ikke forstår det. Måske er det bedst, at jeg lader være med at prøve, så trækker jeg i hvert fald ikke flere med ned i den dybe verden af håbløs depression, frustration og tidsspild også kendt som skak.