Moments of Weakness: Christmas markets in Paris

It’s already December and Christmas is just around the corner! What better way to get into the Holiday spirit than by visiting multiple Christmas markets?

A few days ago, I visited two of the many markets in Paris: The most famous one (Champs-Élysées) and the biggest one (La Défense). I enjoyed a nice cup of hot wine, bought myself some delicious artisan salted caramel nougat and pain d’épices (spice bread) and ended up buying some saucissons au canard(dry cured duck sausages), perfect for apéro. I didn’t plan on buying any of these things, but that’s what happens when you take pictures at a Christmas market in France. You photograph food and the next minute you’re tasting it, having a nice conversation with the producers and buying products from them.Well, I guess I had a moment of weakness, but then again, how can anyone possibly resist French food – or charming French vendors?

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Champs-Élysées is currently decorated with gorgeous Christmas lights to celebrate the Holiday. When they light up at night, the boulevard transforms into something magical  – like taken out of a Disney movie. Last night I felt that magic, as I was strolling along the boulevard. However, the day I went to visit the Christmas market – in the morning – something way less magical happened. I witnessed a fight between a tourist and a pickpocket who had allegedly stolen a purse from the tourist. Seemed like the tourist won the fight – and the pickpocket surrendered and moved on to the next target; me. The pickpocket-lady tried to approach me, so I started speed walking my way out of there.

Few minutes later, there I was. Safe and sound at the Christmas market. As you all know, most European countries have increased security at the Christmas markets due to recent events, and even though it was strange to see more police officers than civilians at the market (it was 11 am), it sure made me feel at ease. My hands were cold, so I bought myself a cup of hot wine to warm my frozen fingers and to satisfy my taste buds. I took a picture of some lovely Christmas ornaments. The vendor noticed and asked me jokingly if I could take a picture of him too. I laughed politely, wished him a good day and moved on to the next chalet. The ornament-vendor wasn’t the only one pulling that joke. Most of the vendors did. I wanted to take a picture of the French traditional artisan nougat. So I did. “Do I look good in the photo? Do you want a different pose?” the vendor asked me in French. I explained to him that he wasn’t the star of the photo – the nougat was. He offered me to try three different types. The traditional one, a cashew one and one with salted caramel – which I ended up buying. The smell of raclette lingered in the air. Although the smell is awful, the fact that I know it’s raclette and raclette tastes amazing, made me wanna feed my stomach with this heavenly melted cheese.

The Christmas market on Champs-Élysées is quite spread out, as the main road and its traffic divides the market in half. Nonetheless, the market was quite a joyful event thanks to the funny vendors, high quality produce, delicious street food and lovely Christmas lights on the Champs-Élysées. Make sure you visit this market in the evening to get the wonderfully magical atmosphere!

where: Avenue des Champs-Élysées, 75008 Paris

when: From 11.11.16 to 08.01.2017

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La Défense has the biggest and most authentic Christmas market in the region of île de France. This market is set up like a village, filled with more than 300 chalets displaying handmade crafts, fresh produce and small restaurants. Set in the financial district, the market was obviously full of businessmen – and women – enjoying a nice lunch at the market before returning to the office. As I photographed the food displayed by one of the restaurants, one of the chefs called me over to tell me “that’s 2 euros per picture”. I wasn’t sure if he was joking or not, and he could tell by the confused look on my face. He laughed and shook his head to confirm that he was indeed messing with me. A vendor called me over and asked me if I wanted to taste some nougat. I had to disappoint him as I had already bought some from someone else. A lady offered me some caramelized almonds. I didn’t buy any – and felt guilty about it.  I didn’t take many pictures at this market, as it was way too crowded and actually way less picturesque than the market on Champs-Élysées. Picture-perfect or not, this market has great variety in terms of handmade ornaments, outerwear, artisan produce, street food – and drinks. The market is also right next to a shopping center, which gives you the opportunity to go shopping for Christmas presents before or after exploring the Christmas market. Be careful – or you’ll end up spending too much, eating too much and drinking too much. But then again, when in France…

where: Parvis de la Défense, 92400 Paris La Défense

when: 17.11.16 – 27.12.16

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Other Christmas markets in Paris

Christmas market and ice rink near the Eiffel Tower – at Champ de Mars

place Saint-Germain-des-Prés

Montparnasse Tower

Montmartre

Gare de l’Est

Notre Dame Cathedral

Place d’Italie

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(photos from the market on Champs-Élysées)

 

 

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Why You Should Visit my Hometown, Stavanger (Norway)

As a teenager, I couldn’t wait to grow up and move away from my hometown. A boring, old-fashioned city with bad climate. How anyone could possibly fall in love with that place, was beyond me. But times have changed. Now I fall in love with my hometown again and again, every time I come back to visit. Let me introduce you to Stavanger, a charming little gem in the southwest of Norway.

The city is primarily known as the Norwegian oil capital, which has shaped the identity of the city in many ways. For example, one of the main tourist attractions in the city is the Norwegian Petroleum Museum, the local hockeyteam is called “Stavanger Oilers” and the city’s nickname is “Oljebyen” which means “Oil city”.

But there’s more to Stavanger than that. The region is blessed with spectacular nature. Visit the beautiful Norwegian fjords, Kiragg mountain and the pulpit rock. And when you’re done hiking or finished your tour with the Lysefjord sightseeing cruise, there’s plenty of cozy coffee shops where you can go to relax with a good cup of coffee in Stavanger city. Norwegians love their coffee, and they take their coffee-culture very seriously. Don’t forget to order one of the local pastries like kanelbolle (cinnamon roll), skolebolle/skolebrød (bun with egg cream) or solskinnsbolle (cinnamon roll with egg cream) to go with your beverage – to get the true Scandinavian coffee-break experience. 

Take a stroll along the picturesque Old Town, where all the houses are itty bitty and painted white. Visit the little galleries and charming boutiques and imagine you’re back in the early 1900s. Here you’ll also find the Norwegian Canning Museum, which displays a typical factory from the 1920s.

And for a completely modern approach, visit Øvre Holmegate, more familiarly known as “Fargegata” (Colorstreet). This colorful neighborhood is home to some of the most chic bars, cafes and boutiques in the city and is a joy to visit. It’s a good spot to take some cool Instagram snapshots too!

Dining in Stavanger can be expensive, but totally worth it – as long as you select your restaurant wisely. My personal favorite is the Renaa restaurants, Re-naa; a gourmet restaurant which has been recognized for its excellence and awarded with a Michelin-star, and Renaa: Matbaren, which is the cheaper option – but with the same, high quality and a relaxing atmosphere. Another favorite is Døgnvill – Bar & Burger, for when I want a delicious gourmet burger accompanied by a tasty milkshake.

Should you check out the nightlife in Stavanger? If you want an awesome night out, yes! Believe it or not – and this is coming from someone who has lived in Oslo (the capital) too – I’m not the first person to say that Stavanger has better bars and clubs than many other Norwegian cities. And most of them are centered around the port! Check out Checkpoint Charlie , Gnu , Chevy’s and Folken if you wanna hit up the indie/rock/metal scene. If you’d rather dance the night away to the beats of the latest house/pop music, check out Alf&Werner , Hall Toll or Hexagon. If you prefer dancing to a more underground style of electronica and indie music, check out Cementen. If you just wanna hang out and drink craft beers in a more relaxed and mature atmosphere, Cardinal is the place for you. Or Circus , if you want a beer bar with a younger vibe.

The best time to visit Stavanger is between May and September. Every year in late July, there’s the annual food festival Gladmat (which is great fun if you’re a foodie) and the Tattoo Convention (for the alternative crowd). Next year – in May – there will be a wine festival too!

So what are you waiting for?

Visit my hometown in Norway. Visit Stavanger!

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A different side of Warsaw, Poland

When you think of Poland, do you think about Kraków? Do you think about vodka? Do you think about unpronounceable names with too many consonants and not enough vowels? Well, let me give you something new to think about.

Welcome to Warsaw, the capital city of my favorite Eastern European country (because I’m half Polish and obviously biased). Welcome to a diverse, cosmopolitan city and its young, vibrant environment. It’s not all young and urban here, though. There’s still the Old Town with its beautiful ancient architecture, and the historical royal palaces and their parks on the outskirts of the city. I’m gonna talk more about some of those.

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My favorite park is the Lazienki Park, which is the largest park in Warsaw. It was designed in the 17th century, and the palace on the water – Lazienki Palace – is a must see while visiting this picturesque park. What is the history of this marvelous palace and park complex, you may ask. It was built as a summer residence for King Stanislaw August, and was later used by the President of Poland. Today, its a museum and a venue for cultural, scientific and entertainment events. Speaking of which; from May to September – at noon and at 4 pm – free outdoor Chopin concerts take place there. Take the bus (116, 166, 180) from the central train/bus station to Lazienki Królewskie and check it out!

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Another park I’ve fallen in love with is the garden of the historic Wilanów palace – the “Polish Versailles”, and second home to various Polish kings. Just like the Lazienki Palace, the Wilanów Palace is also open for tourists to visit as a museum. Take the bus (519 or 700) from the central train/bus station to come here and enjoy this idyllic garden!

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After spending a full day in one of these parks, I’m sure your legs are gonna be exhausted from all the walking. And maybe you need a bit of caffeine and some sugar? And a what about a cuddle? You’re probably wondering what on earth I’m on about, and it’s not as weird as it sounds – although some people may still find it weird anyway. Follow me to Miau Cafe – the first cat cafe in Warsaw! I have never felt as calm and relaxed as I did in the lounge area of this establishment. It’s completely hygienic, as all food and drinks are prepared in a closed kitchen area – away from the furry kitties. And the cats are not crawling all over your stuff if you (or the hostess) tell them to back off.

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I’m sure some of you are interested in visiting Poland because you want to go shopping. I don’t blame you. My mother is crazy about it, so I’ve spent a whole lot of time with her inside of the malls of Warsaw searching for things we don’t need, to impress people we don’t like. At least it’s not that expensive to go shopping in Warsaw – although it’s way more expensive now than it used to be, before Poland became one of the fastest growing economies in the EU. Zlote Tarasy is kind of hard to miss if you come to Warsaw city center by train or bus, as it’s just across the street from the central train station. This mall has everything you need and more. All kinds of stores, a hypermarket, a food court and a movie theater.

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The other one worth checking out is the large shopping mall Arkadia , which is easy to reach by public transportation, as nine of the tram lines and six of the buses go there. Grab an ice-cold beer at the Bierhalle or one of the many ice cream desserts at Grycan. Enjoy!

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Let me ask you again; when you think of Poland, what do you think about? Did any of these things tempt you into visiting Warsaw during your next trip to Poland?

If yes, then here’s another idea for what you can do in Warsaw. Sit down in a Pierogi-restaurant, order those dumplings filled with deliciousness, raise your pint of Polish beer or your vodka-based cocktail and say “Na Zdrowie!”. You’re welcome.