My Travel Highlights of 2016

2017 is already here and my New Year’s resolutions have been made – along with an even larger bucket list than ever before. Seems like the more I travel, the hungrier I get for more. And the more I learn, the more I realize how little I once knew about the great world out there and all the people living in it. While 2016 was the year I traveled only within the borders of my continent, Europe, 2017 will take me to at least two others – and who knows where else destiny decides to take me this year?

2016 was a year filled with great highs as well as some lows. Unstable economy, feeling lonely as an expatriate in a foreign country, death in the family, losing touch with friends, pitching article after article to magazines with little result, getting criticized for putting so much time and effort into my blog when I “should be spending my time doing something more useful” – these events have caused a lot of stress, sadness and feeling of hopelessness for me. Traveling – and the love and support from my partner – gave me the strength I needed to be able to look back on 2016 as a great year instead of feeling like a complete failure.

Because…

I welcomed 2016 by watching the beautiful fireworks display in Warsaw, Poland with my family and my partner. We visited the Christmas market in the Old Town and danced the night away at the New Year’s gala in our hotel.

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I visited London, England for the first time in many years, and had a great time catching up with a friend who moved to London for work. We went salsa dancing, salsa eating (nachos) and visited all the touristic sites together.

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A romantic weekend trip to Copenhagen, Denmark was the Christmas present from me to my significant other. We stuffed our faces with Danish pastries, laughed our asses off while the fish tickled our toes at a duo fish spa, visited the castles and the little mermaid and enjoyed the snow – although I would have been happier if my partner hadn’t kept throwing snowballs at me.

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I visited Belgium for the first time…and second…and third. My partner and I embarked on plenty of amazing road trips this year and visiting certain destinations in Belgium was part of those trips. Romantic Bruges, charming Antwerp and multicultural Brussels. I’ve fallen in love with Belgium – and Belgian beer!

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And then there was the trip to Luxembourg in May. The surprise birthday present from my partner. We visited Luxembourg city, two castles elsewhere in the country and saw Hans Zimmer live in the amazing concert venue Rockhal. Probably the best birthday I’ve ever had.

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Late June and early July was spent traveling by train with my mother. From Oslo, Norway to Karlstad, Sweden – then back to Norway to visit Sandefjord and Kristiansand, before returning to Stavanger to spend a couple of days relaxing at home before returning to France. Photo below was taken while visiting Tungenes Fyr (lighthouse).

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The weekend of Bastille Day (14th of July) was spent visiting Saint Malo, Mont Saint-Michel, Dinan and Rennes in France. My partner and I watched the fireworks in Saint Malo, drank cider and ate delicious crêpes (the local Bretagne/Brittany specialty). Calories and carbs taste better in France than anywhere else.

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One of my biggest highlights of the year was to volunteer in Moldova. I got to know so many lovely people – volunteers and locals – and my host family was the nicest I could  ever have asked for. I also got to taste some amazing wine from the Purcari Winery while I was there. I’ve been spreading the word about how great Moldovan wine is, ever since.

 

Another great highlight was the writing retreat in Barcelona, Spain with Pink Pangea where I got to know like-minded travel writers – all women – explored the city of Barcelona and did a lot of soul searching as well. We laughed, shed some tears, plenty of hugs and shared our most personal stories – travel related and non-travel related. It was therapeutic and inspired me to not just become a better writer but a better person as well.

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In September my partner and I embarked on yet another road trip to a different part of France. This time to the southwest. We explored some spectacular caverns, enjoyed the local wines and visited idyllic and picturesque little towns. I have never taken as beautiful photos as I did in the southwest of France. No wonder so many people dream about this country, and so many writers find inspiration here.

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We didn’t spend longer than twenty-four hours at home before we were back on the road again. Well, towards the airport this time to catch a flight to Athens, Greece. The week in Athens was filled with food, historical ruins, food, more history and even more food. Greek cuisine is simply just too good!

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Winter Beer Day, Christmas markets and celebrating my parents wedding anniversary and my stepfather’s birthday was how we spent our long weekend in Hamburg, Germany…And taking pictures from the Elbphilharmonie concert hall. What a windy affair that was.

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And then there was December and all those Christmas markets. Paris (France), London (England), Reims (Champagne, France), Cologne (Germany) and Oslo (Norway). I didn’t get a white Christmas this year either, but I got so much more. So much more that mattered a lot more to me than snowflakes. Spending time at these markets with the people I care about, laughing, smiling and cheering while tasting local specialties – now that sure got me into the Christmas spirit! Photo below is from Oslo, Norway.

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Now, excuse me while I pack my bags to go to Marrakech, Morocco tomorrow. 2017 started in Trondheim, Norway and after a few days of rest in France I am now ready for new adventures!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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How everything went wrong – and how to be okay with it (Trondheim, Norway)

When buying Christmas presents for my loved ones, I am always one step ahead of everyone I know. Ridiculous as I am, I start planning and preparing everything months in advance. This year was no exception. A trip to Trondheim, after spending the holidays with my family in Stavanger – now THAT sounded like a wonderful idea!

My partner loves snow and we don’t really get to see it that often as it rarely snows in Paris. So what better gift than a trip to somewhere where we’d be guaranteed snow? From what I’d heard, there’s always a lot of snow in Trondheim during the winter months. Excited about snow in this Norwegian winter wonderland, I googled my way to a website advertising for dog sledding tours in Bymarka forest in Trondheim. And while browsing through Instagram, I saw some beautiful photos of the northern lights seen from Trondheim. I booked a dog sledding tour and I started daydreaming about the Northern lights. I’m Norwegian (from the southwest) and I have never seen them. Ever. This was not just the perfect gift for my partner. This was the perfect gift from me to myself as well!

But as things turned out, Mother nature had other plans and decided to show me the middle finger and rain on my parade. Literally.

As we got off the airport shuttle, Trondheim greeted us with dark clouds and heavy rain. 4 pm and already pitch black outside, my partner stepped right into a puddle and cursed loudly in French. Earlier that week, I had received an e-mail from the dog sledding tour company, informing me that the tour was cancelled due to the weather forecast. Rain every day. Dark clouds, wind, rain. In other words, we would most likely not see the Northern lights either. So much for a perfect gift.

I was devastated. I had lost motivation to visit the city and I felt like I had let my partner down. But we managed to overcome the disappointment – after all, we were visiting a city that neither of us had been to before and both had wanted to visit for a long time. This charming city managed to cheer us up, despite the bad weather and canceled plans. And these were our highlights:

Nidarosdomen (Nidaros Cathedral). This famous cathedral is even more impressive than I had expected it to be. And it’s only a few blocks away from the hotel we stayed at(Comfort Hotel Park)! The cathedral is built over the burial site of Saint Olav, the king of Norway (11th century), who became the patron saint of the country. This medieval cathedral is the worldwide northernmost of its kind. If you’re planning to visit, bare in mind that it’s not permitted to take photos inside of the cathedral.

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Gamle Bybro (Old Town Bridge). While visiting my parents during the holidays, my stepfather mentioned this charming little bridge as a must-see while visiting Trondheim. The view of the river and the wharfs is gorgeous! The bridge crosses the Nidelva river, connecting the main street Kjøpmannsgata to the neighborhood called Bakklandet. The bridge was constructed in 1681 by Luxembourg-born soldier and military engineer Johan Caspar von Cicignon. Back then, the location was of military-strategic significance.

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Bakklandet neighborhood is famous for its charming wooden houses and narrow streets. It is impossible not to fall in love with this neighborhood, which is probably why it’s also one of the major tourist attractions in the city. My partner and I visited Dromedar Kaffebar in Bakklandet and enjoyed some local pastries and delicious coffee drinks while staying warm, away from the pouring rain.

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Speaking of coffee… for some real, high quality coffee, check out Jacobsen & Svart Kaffebrenneri. Owner’s quote from the website; “I chose to put my family name on each coffee bag, because it’s a commitment. A commitment to perform, perfect and be proud of what I do” and “It’s simple, no bullshit and a honest approach to Nordic coffee culture”. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it over and over again: Scandinavians love coffee and coffee shops. It’s a part of our identity.

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Tyholttårnet (Tyholt tower) has more to offer than just being a 124 meter radio tower. It’s also an observation deck, giving you the greatest view of Trondheim. Inside of the tower there’s a revolving restaurant, which makes one complete revolution per hour. If you think it’s a high end gourmet restaurant, you’re wrong. The restaurant, Egon, is a Norwegian restaurant chain offering anything from pizza to quesadillas to steak to well, quite a lot of options for a reasonable price. As unromantic as that may sound, the atmosphere in the restaurant is amazing and you shouldn’t miss out on it once you’re in Trondheim. My partner and I celebrated New Year’s Eve at this restaurant. For the occasion, they had a fixed three-course menu and the atmosphere was festive and indeed very romantic. Which is exactly what I wanted for New Year’s Eve. We watched the fireworks from the tower and kissed 2016 goodbye.

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Nedre Elvehavn. Once a mechanical workshop, now a vibrant hot spot full of restaurants and bars. To honor this former industrial site, some of the original buildings and artifacts have been kept, including a dry dock and a crane.

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Fosenkaia Gjestehavn (Fosenkaia Guest Harbor). Strolling along this harbor was lovely, especially since it didn’t rain most of the time while we were there. The harbor seems to be either a current or a former industrial site and is located right behind the central train station. My partner who’s an engineer and fascinated with anything industrial, asked me to take lots of pictures, so I did.

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Vår Frue (Our Lady Church). Located in Midtbyen (town center), this church is also worth a visit – and a place to volunteer if you’re interested! The oldest part of this church dates from the 12th century and was rebuilt after fires during the 15th, 16th and 17th centuries and finally restored in 1739.

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Stiftsgården. This is the royal residence in Trondheim and is possibly the largest wooden building in Northern Europe. It has been used by royalty and their guests since 1800.

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Needless to say, even though things didn’t go according to plan, and even though the weather was rather depressing, we had an amazing time in Trondheim. Mother nature can rain on my parade as much as she likes. I’ll still get back on my feet and find an umbrella somewhere. The Northern lights and dog sledding tour remains on our bucket lists for now.

more photos below

Nidaros Cathedral

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Bakklandet

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Old Town Bridge and Wharfs

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Nedre Elvehavn

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Fosenkaia Guest Harbor

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Our Lady Church

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