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.

warsawmarket

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.

bigben

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.

copenhagen1

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!

img_20161107_203238

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.

Processed with VSCO with c1 preset

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).

img_20161204_134036

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.

Processed with VSCO

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.

IMG_20160811_235501

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.

IMG_20160927_120514.jpg

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!

img_20161011_212110

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.

img_20170104_112745

img_20170104_112614

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.

IMG_20161228_132446.jpg

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!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Advertisements

Wonderful Wonderland: Christmas markets in London

Eleven AM, with a heavy backpack killing my back, wearing a way too warm winter coat making me feel sweaty and disgusting. I had made my way from the Eurostar terminal at St. Pancras railway station to the Hyde Park corner metro station in the heart of London – a city I had visited multiple times before. My main purpose for this trip was to visit a friend who had moved here. But it wasn’t my sole purpose. I was also in London to visit the Winter Wonderland Christmas market and the little market on Leicester Square, to share yet another exciting post with you guys to get you all into the Christmas spirit – just in case my posts on the Parisian markets or the ones in Hamburg weren’t enough to get you to start rockin’ around the Christmas tree.

Before entering the Winter Wonderland, be prepared to have your bags searched by security guards. My over-sized backpack made the guard chuckle. “You’re planning to move in here?” he asked jokingly. I’m sure a lot of people would have loved to move in to the Winter Wonderland. I’ve already worked and lived on Disney property in Orlando, which is kind of the same thing – but less cold and less foggy.

I bought a cup of hot cider – which is way better than it sounds (in case you haven’t already tried it) and went to explore the market. Just like the Winter Dom in Hamburg, Germany, the Winter Wonderland is a combination of a traditional Christmas market and a large fun fair. The Wonderland also presents exciting entertainment such as different circus shows, The Nutcracker on Ice, puppet shows for the little ones and live music for the festive crowd.

You’re welcome to go ice skating on the Wonderland’s ice rink, or perhaps you’d rather grab a drink in the Bar Ice instead? As I am pretty much Bambi on ice, I’ll skip the ice rink and head over to Bar Ice and drink a cocktail from an ice cup instead. Cheers!

General Information

what: Hyde Park Winter Wonderland

where: Hyde Park (metro: Hyde Park corner or Marble Arch)

when: Until January 2nd, 2017

img_20161209_122241img_20161209_123604img_20161209_123509img_20161209_123358

img_20161209_123712img_20161209_123830img_20161209_124003img_20161209_124134img_20161209_124346img_20161209_124531img_20161209_124624img_20161209_124724img_20161209_124859img_20161209_125156

img_20161209_125040img_20161209_125312

It was still early afternoon and none of the shows were on yet and my backpack (yes, it’s just a lame excuse to cover up my fear of heights and high speed) prevented me from riding any attractions, so I decided to move on to a different part of the city to visit a smaller and more traditional kind of Christmas market.

Leicester Square. The square is transformed into a Holiday heaven – where Santa himself is waiting for the little ones to come and tell him their dearest wish. If meeting Santa doesn’t interest you because, well, you’re an adult, then why not book tickets to the theatrical show La Soirée? If acrobatics, burlesque and pyrotechnics is your thing (and you’re over 18), you’ll have a great time!

If not, strolling along this lovely little market with a hot beverage in your hand while doing a bit of Christmas shopping, is not a bad idea either.

General Information

what: Christmas in Leicester Square

where: Leicester Square (metro to Leicester Square or Piccadilly Circus)

when: 11.11.16 – 08.01.16

img_20161209_121101img_20161209_120938img_20161209_120840img_20161209_120735img_20161209_120634

 

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?

img_20161202_122001

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

img_20161202_120415img_20161202_120609img_20161202_120724img_20161202_120827img_20161202_120950img_20161202_121327img_20161202_121735img_20161202_121852img_20161202_122134img_20161202_122247img_20161202_122407img_20161202_122522img_20161202_122809img_20161202_123111img_20161202_123231img_20161202_123400img_20161202_123506img_20161202_123840

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

img_20161202_125144img_20161202_125310img_20161202_125552img_20161202_125427img_20161202_125711img_20161202_125833img_20161202_125938img_20161202_130109img_20161202_130212img_20161202_130341

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

img_20161202_121105img_20161202_121600img_20161202_121442

(photos from the market on Champs-Élysées)

 

 

Winter Beer Day – Celebrating beer in Hamburg, Germany

One of the first things that come to mind when I think of Germany is beer. Without a doubt. Thanks to Oktoberfest, we all have this image of Germans being a festive crowd who will drink you under the table any day. Which they probably would, given the challenge.

But the German beer culture is so much more than that. And I was soon to discover exactly how sophisticated the industry is, and how passionate the craftsmen are about their products. As a blogger who already happened to be in the right part of Germany that weekend, I was invited to the Winter Beer Day – an annual event that takes place in Hamburg, more specifically: Altes Mädchen, Lagerstrasse 28B, 20357 Hamburg.                The event is hosted by Altes Mädchen and Craft Beer Day – and you don’t have to wait until December next year for the next upcoming event, because there’s also a Summer Beer Day!

As I entered the event – ready to celebrate German beers – I was given a beer glass and the opportunity to wander around and speak to any representative from any brewery and taste whatever I wanted to taste and ask whatever questions I wanted to ask about the different beers – and about the breweries they came from.

First one up was a Golden Pale Ale from Berlin based SuperFreunde – definitely a beer for those who enjoy a bitter aftertaste (40 international bitterness units). “What is the mildest or most subtle one you have?” I asked one of the brewers. He laughed and said “None of our beers are really mild. This one’s the mildest”. The beer I tasted was perhaps a bit too masculine for little me, but I’m happy I got to try it as the beer was of high quality and definitely something I’d recommend to people who love Pale Ales!

img_20161122_103607

A Danish microbrewery was the next one that caught my attention. The brewery Fanø Bryghus is located on Fanø island which is part of the Wadden Sea National Parks, a UNESCO heritage site. My inner nomad is itching to embark on a road trip through Denmark, and will without a doubt visit Fanø when that time comes. “Can I try your Christmas beer?” I asked the owner – in Norwegian. He replied in Danish and poured me some Julebryg, which had a hint of coffee and cinnamon flavor and had been brewed for four weeks – with vanilla beans in the barrel! I loved it and asked to try another one. He offered me one called “Beer Geek Slumber Party” which was a Belgian style strong beer (11%). It didn’t taste strong at all, and I’m certain that one pint of that would be enough to get me wasted without even realizing it. “We also have a beer that’s brewed with oysters”, he said. I didn’t try it, as I’m allergic to shellfish. My partner did, and his words were “it’s kind of good, but it’s strange”. Now I’m definitely curious about visiting Fanø to see how this strange oyster beer is made”!

img_20161122_104025

I took a short break from drinking alcohol and had a taste of root beer from local brewers HobbyBrau before moving on to something quite unusual from Pirate Brew Berlin. These guys collaborate with local producers, and with their motto being “brewing it social” you’ll most certainly find elements of unique ingredients in all their different beers. I tried their chili flavored one, made with chili from a local producer. Interesting idea, interesting taste!

IMG_20161122_104626.jpg

Moving on to Ratsherrn – the brewery I initially got in touch with, as I wanted to visit the brewery and write a post about it. And here I was, tasting their beer at an amazing beer tasting event instead. I wanted to try the Pumpkin beer, which is made with the same ingredients used to make pumpkin pie. For someone who loves everything pumpkin, this one was definitely a big thumbs up. Their winter ale called Lumberjack was quite nice as well.

img_20161122_103808img_20161122_104726img_20161122_104819

All these impressions had made me somewhat tipsy. No, that’s an understatement. I was starting to feel lightly drunk and I needed a break. And a burger. And sweet potato fries with a whole lot of mayo on the side. The food truck offered all of that – and it was exactly what I needed in order to be able to continue this enjoyable quest of tasting beers without having to deal with any consequences.

Wildwuchs Brauwerk – another brewery from Hamburg, offered me a beer called Alt Kanzler Rauch Bier, which translates to “Old chancellor smoked beer”. This is a humorous way to honor Helmut Schmidt and his chain smoking-habit.

Hopper Brau – also from Hamburg, offered me a beer called “Weizheit” (which was a wheat IPA brewed in a cognac barrel for four weeks) before moving on to the dark side, to “Dunkle Macht” meaning Dark Force. With a name and a label like that, how can you go wrong?

img_20161122_104915

Love for metal and vikings brought me to Wacken Brauerei – whose motto is “Beer of the Gods”. I asked them what their bestseller is and they told me they don’t have a bestseller yet, as they only just started in July. I wish them all the best of luck for the future and I’m glad I got to taste their smoked porter called Surtr and their Nordic strong ale Walküren Schluck.

img_20161122_105006

Obviously the breweries I didn’t get around to taste beer from, deserve an honorable mention too! I’ll check out their beer on a later date – whether it’s at an event like this one, a visit to the brewery or maybe I’ll even find their products in a bar or a beer shop somewhere? Check out Kehrwieder Kreativbrauerei , Fräulein Brauer , Welde Braumanufaktur , Stone Brewing , Ugly Duck Brewing Co. , Elav Brewery Italy , Blockbräu , Bierfabrik Berlin , Circle 8 Brewery , Hops & Barley .

Before leaving the Winter Beer Day, I wanted to go to the events’ first workshop (out of five). Claus Winther from Fanø Bryghus (the Danish one) told the story of his brewery, talked about the challenges of running a microbrewery in Denmark and answered questions from the public. And obviously we all got to taste some beer as well!

img_20161122_105113img_20161122_105225

I left Winter Beer Day feeling educated, satisfied and slightly drunk. I’ve taken notes and added some favorites to my list and will look out for them next time I go beer shopping. And I’ll make sure to schedule in a visit to Summer Beer Day next year. Will you be there too?

img_20161122_103916

(this was a complimentary visit, but all opinions remain my own)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Eating & Drinking Our Way Through Brussels, Belgium

With a pint of raspberry flavored beer in one hand and my Brussels guidebook in the other, I tried to make some sort of a list of things to see and do in the capital city. We were only a forty-nine minute drive away from the city – according to Google maps – and in no hurry, whatsoever. The weather was lovely in Antwerp. Sunshine and not a cloud in sight. May the rest of the day be blessed with sunshine too – I said to myself. Fingers crossed.

Before making our way downtown, we went to see the Atomium, which is a building that was originally constructed for the Universal Exhibition – just like the Eiffel tower in Paris – and is now a major tourist attraction. The Atomium depicts nine atoms and is in the shape of the body-centered cubic unit cell of an iron crystal, magnified 165 billion times.

img_20161104_173851

We didn’t buy tickets to enter the building itself as the lines were too long and we were too impatient to stand in what looked like a never-ending line to buy tickets, then another long line to enter. Neither me nor my partner were ever good at being tourists. We’re just good at taking photos of stuff and moving on to the next place. Which is exactly what we did.

We stayed at the Bedford Hotel & Congress Centre, a large hotel conveniently located in the heart of Brussels, just around the corner from the famous Manneken Pis. We were agreeably surprised by the price of the hotel. 130 euros for two nights  – including breakfast!

IMG_20161109_170006.jpg

Although we saved a lot of money thanks to our nice-price accommodation, we definitely didn’t keep our wallets closed while in Brussels. Not at all. Just ask the barmen and the chocolate-salesmen (and women).

I couldn’t resist buying myself a hot chocolate – white chocolate and coconut – from Le Comptoir de Mathilde , even though I didn’t initially want one. Everything in that store looked tempting, and I would have bought half the store if my partner hadn’t put his foot down and dragged me out of the store after I got my hot chocolate. No wonder I’m not skinny.

img_20161105_170753img_20161110_145847img_20161110_150000

We bought ourselves some yummy chocolate as well as cute souvenirs for our loved ones at the lovely store La Belgique Gourmande. I wanted to buy everything there. I mean, I found the most adorable cookie tins – obviously filled with deliciousness – which would fit perfectly together with all the other stuff I’m hoarding in my apartment. La Belgique Gourmande also offered a large selection of beer. But so did the mini market around the corner. And the souvenir shops across the street. That’s just Belgium, really.

img_20161110_145737img_20161107_195239img_20161110_145617

Speaking of beer; when in Brussels, you have to visit Delirium Café. This bar is enormous, and so is their selection of beer. With 30 beers on tap and over 3000 beers in total, how can a beer lover possibly resist? Even if you don’t like beer, you’ll love the Belgian fruit beers. Hands down. I ordered the cactus beer by Floris (photo below – the green one), which was one of the few fruit beers on tap. And I loved it. Amazingly refreshing and sweet, but not too sweet.

IMG_20161110_150426.jpg

The most beautiful part of Brussels is without a doubt the Grand Place, or Grote Markt, the central square of the city – and a World Heritage Site. There’s no better place in Brussels to take beautiful pictures than here. “Smile to the camera,” he said. I did, but not to the camera. I looked away instead. “Let’s get back to the hotel and relax with a beer before dinner,” I suggested. He laughed at me. “All you wanna do is drink beer”. He made it sound like I had a drinking problem. My only problem was feeling like a kid in a candy store. That’s me in Belgium.

img_20161110_150553img_20161110_150113img_20161110_150923img_20161106_185138

C’est Bon, C’est Belge was the name of the restaurant we went to that evening. And yes, it was good. Traditional Belgian cuisine. It was really good. We both ordered the same thing; a tasting platter with five different traditional local dishes and some deli meat/sausages. Everything tasted as good as I imagined it would. And the waiter was everything you want in a waiter: he had a great sense of humor, he was efficient and he knew the menu by heart – and the beers too!

As always, whenever I visit a new place, I check out their local coffee shops. So in Brussels I found this place called OR Espresso Bar. When I told my partner I wanted to go there, his immediate reaction was “but you don’t like espresso”. Which is true. I don’t like espresso, but as a coffee shop, I knew they’d have other things too. Like the lemonade he ordered for himself. Me, I went with a classic latte.

img_20161110_145452img_20161110_145303

And what better way to say goodbye to Brussels than by eating waffles? Mokafé is known for serving the best Belgian waffles in Brussels, so we went there after breakfast. Yes, after breakfast. We weren’t hungry, we just needed to stuff our faces with a large amount of Belgian calories. Just one last time.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

How a Drunk Guy’s Story Brought me to Antwerp, Belgium

Maybe nine or ten years ago, I fell in love with a story told by someone who was very, very drunk. Someone who had fallen in love with the city of Antwerp in Belgium, and couldn’t stop talking about it. “I want to find a nice Belgian girl and settle down in Antwerp. I had the best time of my life there, you know. It’s a beautiful city. And the people there are so friendly, and the beer – oh my God – the beer”, he slurred and took a sip of his non-Belgian beer. “You have to go to Antwerp, you really have to”, he continued. While most other people at that party got fed up with listening to him obsessing over Antwerp and wouldn’t take his drunken slur seriously , I just wanted to know more. I wanted to fall in love with Antwerp too.

And now, many years later, I was finally on my way to Antwerp. My boyfriend and I had decided to go on a road trip to Brussels and decided to spend one night in Antwerp because of my strong desire to go there. And the city was just as amazing as I had expected it to be. I had fallen in love-  just like the drunk guy at the party.

We stayed at the Hotel Prinse, which is an old-fashioned four star hotel set in a 16th century building only a stone’s throw away from the historical center of Antwerp. When we arrived, we received welcome drinks (a glass of wine each). What a pleasant surprise. Cheers to us. Cheers to Antwerp!

The old city center of Antwerp reminded me of how much I love living in Europe. The ancient buildings and narrow streets, the stunning Cathedral of Our Lady and intimate pubs and restaurants on every corner. We grabbed a beer at Paters Vaetje and enjoyed the beautiful autumn sunshine. Tourists of all ages were taking selfies on the Grote Markt (Great Market Square), while others were hanging out drinking beer like us, or snacking on some of the Belgian specialties; chocolate, waffles or fries!

We strolled the narrow streets and tried our hardest to resist the smell of delicious waffles and the sight of tasty chocolate. I wanted to eat it all. But instead of stuffing our faces with calories, we went to see the Het Steen – a medieval fortress, built in the early middle ages. This beautiful fortress managed to get my mind off snacking – at least for a little while – until we both agreed to return to the Grote Markt to buy fries from Frituur Number One, which for some reason has become kind of famous and is always crowded with tourists. Basically, curiosity brought us there. The fries were basic, though. Nothing out of the ordinary. So don’t expect a mouthgasm – unless you already get one from whatever random fries you order anywhere else.

Dumb as we were, we hadn’t made any dinner reservations anywhere and started to panic as we got turned down by one restaurant after another. Eventually we found a nice restaurant called De Bomma , which I think translates to “at grandma’s”, which would make sense as the concept is nostalgic, traditional food –  just like from your grandma’s kitchen…if she was Flemish. The food was good. I especially loved the appetizer; cheese croquettes with fried, crispy parsley on the side. I had never tried parsley prepared in such a creative way before, but it sure was interesting and a lot better than non-fried, non-crispy parsley!

After a heavy meal at grandma’s, we made the clever decision to go to a beer bar to make our already full stomachs even fuller. According to online reviews, Cafe Kulminator was supposed to be one of the best – or THE best – beer bars in the city of Antwerp. My boyfriend was kind of scared to go there, as some reviews said the owners were not very friendly towards francophone’s. I reassured him it would be okay, and I’d do all the talking – as his french accent would give him away. The owners didn’t seem unfriendly, though. And what a fascinating establishment. Random decoration, random furniture and a whole lot of board games everywhere. It looked like my grandma’s attic. Or a flee market. Cafe Kulminator has probably every type of Belgian beer that exists, behind the counter – and the menu looked more like an enormous dictionary than a menu. We gave up on the menu and just ordered what they had on tap.

As I’m not a big fan of the coffee served in hotel breakfast buffets, I was happy to discover that there are plenty of coffee shops to choose from in Antwerp. We visited Caffe Mundi, a coffee shop specialized in roasting high quality coffee. I highly recommend this place if you’re the kind of person who want to know exactly what you’re drinking, as the menu gives you the option to choose between blends and single origin coffee – the very best coffee from different countries around the world.

I finished my coffee and thanked the barista. I silently thanked the rest of Antwerp too. For letting me enjoy this charming city. For letting it be exactly what I hoped it would be.

Thank you drunk guy, for the recommendation. You were right. You were right about everything.

img_20161031_134504img_20161101_160028img_20161101_160942img_20161102_124902img_20161102_125109img_20161102_125231img_20161102_125343img_20161102_125751img_20161102_125837img_20161102_125500img_20161102_102951img_20161102_125623img_20161102_130045img_20161102_125939

 

 

 

Paris Outskirts: Oise (thrill rides and castles)

Paris is beautiful. No doubt about it. Beautiful parks, amazing Haussmanian architecture, famous monuments, delicious food, fashionable people. But do you know any thing at all about the banlieues (suburbs) and the districts close to Paris?

Paris. We’ve all seen the thousands of photos shared on social media. We all know what the Eiffel tower looks like. And the Louvre too. And most of us Francophiles have heard the song “Champs-Élysées” and have either been – or want to go – shopping on this famous boulevard. “Now I feel like a real Parisian,” I heard one tourist say out loud as she let her friend hold her fancy shoppingbag from Ladurée – containing overpriced macarons- while she was trying on a beret from a souvenir stand. She was probably the kind of tourist who came to Paris determined to visit the same sites, do the same things, and share almost identical photos with others who had been there and done that before her. Or maybe she wasn’t like that at all. Maybe she just didn’t know any better. Maybe she even wanted to befriend locals and get to know the REAL Paris. Maybe even….the towns and villages close to Paris? Certain Parisians would probably burst out laughing and tell you you’re wasting your time exploring the suburbs, when everything you need is right there, in the centre of Paris. Others would encourage you to see absolutely everything and maybe even offer to come with you. Me, I am a curious soul, interested in seeing every corner of France – and not just the ones mentioned in glossy magazines. 

Before I moved to Paris, I was completely unaware of all the amazing places located only a stone’s throw away from the big city. Parks as beautiful as the ones in Paris, enchanting castles, charming little villages, lovely cafes and restaurants. It’s enough to make you wanna book a flight to Paris – without even visiting Paris.

I will write about each department individually, as this post would seem never-ending, otherwise. You see, the outskirts of Paris have quite a lot to offer!

First, I’ll take you a bit further than just a stone’s throw away, but still not too far to qualify for a spot in this series:

Oise

Parc Asterix

Oise (named after the river Oise) is a department 84 km north of Paris. The biggest tourist attraction of the department is also one of the most visited annually by locals; Parc Asterix – a theme park based on the stories of Asterix (a series of French comics). The park has a large variety of roller coasters as well as many other attractions and shows.

img_20150709_201727img_20150709_201857

Beauvais

If you’re flying to Paris with Ryan Air, you’ll be arriving in Beauvais, which serves as the capital of the Oise department. I have never been to Beauvais myself, but I’d love to visit the city’s spectacular gothic cathedral (Cathédrale Saint-Pierre de Beauvais)  and photograph the facade of the Museum of the Oise Department, which is a museum in the former bishop’s palace and is classified as a historical monument. And why not visit one of the expositions at the museum while you’re there?

Senlis

Medieval town Senlis is another destination you should add to your list. Visit the impressive, Gothic cathedral – a national monument of France. The ruins of the Royal Castle is also worth seeing. The actual castle dates back from the 1200’s. Once you’ve visited the cathedral and the castle ruins, sit down and relax with a glass of red or white in one of the local restaurants.

img_20150511_132849img_20150511_210828

Château de Pierrefonds

Another must-see is the Château de Pierrefonds, a beautiful medieval castle built between the late 1300’s-early 1400’s. I visited the castle last year, and coincidentally  got there in time for the local medieval festival. I bought myself some souvenirs and farmers produce from the festival market and enjoyed a tasty crêpe to-go!

img_20150816_185723img_20150816_185628img_20150816_185805

Château de Chantilly

Last but not least, Château de Chantilly, a historical castle located in the town of Chantilly. The chateau houses the Musée Condé, which is one of the finest art galleries in France and is open to the public.The park is a French formal garden, which is the same style of garden as the ones of Versailles. While visiting the beautiful garden, we saw happy newlyweds posing for photos, using the gorgeous nature as a backdrop for their wedding photographs. The estate overlooks the Chantilly Racecourse (Hippodrome de Chantilly) , and the Great Stables. Make sure you check out the equestrian shows and demonstrations while you’re there. It’s great fun to watch!

Processed with VSCO with c1 preset

img_20161028_143916Processed with VSCO with c1 preset

 

Château de Montvillargenne

Would you and your significant other like a romantic celebration at a 4-star spa hotel? Then check out Château de Montvillargenne. My partner and I celebrated our one year anniversary at this luxurious chateau. They have an indoor swimming pool, sauna, Turkish bath and they offer a variety of spa treatments – including a duo massage for couples (we tried it, we loved it!). The rooms are neat, the interior is modern and the restaurant serves fine gourmet cuisine. If you’re already in the neighborhood and if you have the budget for it – why not spoil yourself a little?

2016-04-03 01.31.39 2.jpg

2016-04-03-02-22-33-3

Château d’Ermenonville

Set in a medieval chateau, this sophisticated hotel château d’Ermenonville is located in a calm environment – in the heart of the Ermenonville forest, overlooking the Jean-Jacques Rousseau Park. The restaurant has a good reputation and I’d love to dine there someday soon. Just waiting for yet another special occasion.

img_20150511_112733

And you, will I see you in the department of Oise?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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!

Processed with VSCO with g3 preset2016-04-21-03-15-27-2Processed with VSCO with g3 presetProcessed with VSCO with c1 preset

2016-04-21 03.16.35 2.jpg

Processed with VSCO with c1 preset

stavanger2fb_img_1477396849048

fb_img_1477599847935fb_img_1477599903056fb_img_1477599914217

A weekend in Luxembourg

On a beautiful weekend in mid-May, my better half took me on a surprise trip to a destination unknown. It was my birthday that weekend, and he knew exactly what I wanted for my big day. The idea of packing my suitcase with absolutely no idea where I’m headed to, while someone else takes care of everything has actually been a fantasy of mine for a long time. Usually I find not knowing and not organizing things on my own, to be a somewhat stressful affair. And yet I love surprises. As much as I hate not knowing. What a paradox. I was told to get in the car with an open mind and a suitcase packed with whatever I would have worn had we stayed home in Paris that weekend. Traffic signs gave away a few hints along the road. We were not headed to the airport. We were not headed south, nor west. The large crossroads close to the border suggested Belgium, Germany, Luxembourg or Eastern France. I was clueless. They all seemed like good options to me!

And shortly after, there we were. Luxembourg City, the capital of the country by the same name. A small rural country, peaceful and green. The capital city is famed for its medieval old town, perched on sheer cliffs. A small country, but a country rich in history. The Grand Duchy of Luxembourg contains around fifty historical castles – more than a hundred if you ask those who also consider the old manor houses as castles.

We spent the first day strolling around, exploring and photographing Luxembourg City. What really caught the eye was the Palais Grand-Ducal, a beautiful palace in the city center. We were obviously not the only ones who were fascinated by it, as it was surrounded by tourists taking pictures or smiling for the camera. There seemed to be some sort of an EU-festival happening in Luxembourg that day – as plenty of locals were waving European Union-flags, marching bands were parading the streets and women in traditional costumes were handing out flyers. Although we had no idea exactly what they were celebrating, it was fun to be there and take part of it.

We wanted to try local specialties while we were there, but we couldn’t find the very few things that were supposed to be traditional dishes from Luxembourg on any restaurant menu at all. So we went to a restaurant called Urban and had burgers instead. And we had burgers again the next day, from an equally great burger restaurant; Snooze. So, I did’t learn much about the local cuisine in Luxembourg, but they sure know how to make delicious, gourmet burgers!

The next day was spent visiting a few castles. The New Castle of Ansembourg and its spectacular garden was our first visit. It started to rain towards the end of the visit, but lucky as we were, we managed to visit the garden entirely before getting soaked. The next one on the list, was also the last one – due to the weather. The Vianden castle is set on a rocky promontory, overlooking the river Our and dominating the town of Vianden. We only saw it from afar – again, due to the weather -and went to grab a drink in a cafe downtown, while waiting for the rain to stop.

The weather didn’t clear up that day. The following day was, however, sunny and nice. What a lovely birthday present from the higher powers. What wasn’t as lovely, was the present from the police; a parking ticket due to illegal parking. Parking was free of charge during the weekend – but the weekend was over. It was Monday morning.

We left Luxembourg City to go somewhere else – for another surprise. A concert at edgy, new venue Rockhal in Esch sur Alzette (still Luxembourg). Hans Zimmer, the well-known German composer, whose works include The Lion King, Pirates of the Caribbean, Inception, and more. The show was fantastic. At times I was misty-eyed and had goosebumps – that’s how amazing it was. Applause to you, Hans Zimmer. I haven’t felt this emotional since I saw another famous composer, John Williams (works include music from Spielberg’s movies) in concert.

From being a small country I knew little to nothing about, to a country where I have now spent my birthday and created wonderful memories together with my partner, I now smile when I think of Luxembourg.

Processed with VSCOProcessed with VSCO with g3 presetProcessed with VSCOProcessed with VSCOProcessed with VSCO with g3 preset

Processed with VSCO

 

New Castle of Ansembourg

Processed with VSCO with g3 presetProcessed with VSCO with g3 presetProcessed with VSCO with g3 presetProcessed with VSCO with c1 presetProcessed with VSCO with c1 presetProcessed with VSCO with g3 presetProcessed with VSCO with c1 preset

Vianden (town and castle)

Processed with VSCO with c1 preset

Processed with VSCO

 

 

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.

11907206_10207270784196954_2500934451051244296_o

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!

Processed with VSCO with g3 presetProcessed with VSCO with c1 preset

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!

Processed with VSCO with c1 presetProcessed with VSCO with c1 preset11896281_10207276871429131_6315145448264584154_o

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.

2016-09-14 11.51.27 1.jpg

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.

Processed with VSCO with c1 preset

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!

Processed with VSCO with g3 preset

 

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.