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.

 

That time when I traveled solo from state to state (US)

A couple of years ago, I was a temporary resident in the sunshine state. A legal alien in Florida. At times I really felt like an alien, with my many “fish out of water” experiences. Humidity was completely foreign to me, and so was the concept of Walmart and its culture. Walmart in Florida was different than anything I’d ever seen before. I’m not talking about the selection of products or the size of the place. I’m talking about the people of Walmart. The exhibitionists, the eccentric men and women who just don’t care what people think, and the ones who were too spaced out to even pay attention. This was my first impression of The United States of America. And then something else happened. I started to get days and weeks off from work – which, by the way, was Disney World. I wanted to spend my free time wisely. I wanted to travel from state to state and see more of the land of the free and the home of the brave. And I wanted to do it by myself.

Before venturing into the unknown, I asked for advice from different people who had already done a bit of traveling within the US, and others who were experienced solo travelers. I wanted my first experience to be a good one. I wanted to make sure I’d be safe and not too lonely. I think I worried more about loneliness than my own safety, to be honest. How naive and foolish of me.

I ended up going to New York City. Manhattan. I should have gone to Brooklyn, as Brooklyn is more my style. In fact, I love Brooklyn so much that if anyone offered me a loft apartment and a job there, I’d drop my life in Paris in a heartbeat. Instead of four nights in Brooklyn, I stayed at Empire Hotel on the upper west side, as I used to be a big fan of the TV-series Gossip Girl. The hotel was one of the filming locations and my favorite character was the one who owned that hotel in the series.The city that never sleeps never slept. I got myself a private guide who gave me a 6 hour walking tour and I explored the rest of the city completely on my own and mostly by foot. And guess what, I have never felt as safe as I did in New York City.

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And then there was Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. It wasn’t technically a solo trip, as I had gone there specifically to be someones wedding date. But I did spend most of the time alone anyway, so it kind of was a solo trip. I was neither impressed nor unimpressed with Pittsburgh. People seemed friendly, the Pittsburgh sandwich was quite alright (with its fries and coleslaw inside of the sandwich) and the city itself seemed like a fun place to party or watch football – at the Heinz Field stadium, obviously.

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Before moving to the US, I volunteered as a staff member for the Norwegian Travel Exposition. It was a wonderful opportunity for me to mingle with important people in the industry, and I wanted to make sure I didn’t waste a single minute of it. I stayed at the exposition from 10 AM to 7 pm every single day that week. Determined and hopeful. Thanks to my stubborn attitude, I was introduced to the CEO of Mall of America. It was quite a coincidence, actually. He needed to make a phone call but didn’t have a phone, and I immediately came to the rescue and offered him mine. We ended up chatting, he tried to convince me to visit Mall of America and perhaps apply for an internship. I never got around to applying for an internship there, but I did put this enormous mall on my bucket list. And I did end up going there. The summer of 2014, approximately six months after my encounter with the CEO of Mall of America. Solo. Hello Bloomington and Minneapolis, Minnesota!

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I also went to Boston, Massachusetts that summer. I had never seen this many Dunkin’ Donuts shops in my entire life. And I had never felt as close to Europe as I did in Boston. Certain parts of the city had kind of a British feel. After seven months away from my continent, it felt good to be somewhere that kind of reminded me of something closer to home. I enjoyed Boston. Too bad I’m allergic to shellfish and was unable to enjoy some of their local specialties – because their seafood is supposed to be absolutely amazing!

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People visit Chicago, Illinois for different reasons. Mine was personal. As I’m half Polish, I was interested in visiting Chicago to learn about the history of the Polish community in the city. I booked a guided tour of The Polish Museum of America and visited one of the Polish restaurants in what used to be the Polish downtown in Chicago. There I was, enjoying a meal just like the ones my mother used to make, in a country far away from Poland – yet, both the waiter, the chef (his mother) and the news reporter on the TV in the background, were right there, speaking the language. This was the first time I had felt slightly homesick during my solo travels. I was happy to be in cool Chicago, but my pierogi dinner (filled dumplings) triggered something inside me. I missed my mother.

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Denver, Colorado. If only I had a dollar for every time someone asks me if I went there to smoke grass, I’d be a millionaire by now. And the answer is no, I didn’t go there to smoke anything. I went there because I wanted to go there. The highlight of the trip was discovering an amazing independent bookstore called Tattered Cover Book Store. I bought five books there, and wanted to buy so much more. Their selection of travel books was great. No, great is an understatement. Fantastic.

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And now, let’s talk about California, shall we? I visited San Francisco and Los Angeles on the same trip, and then returned to Cali to visit San Diego a few months later. I loved San Francisco and San Diego. L.A. not so much. I felt like I was too middle class and basic (guess I explored the wrong neighborhoods) , too ugly and too non-artistic to fully enjoy what Los Angeles has to offer for people who want to be more than just the average tourist, but can’t afford a lavish lifestyle. San Francisco was as windy as I expected it to be (I was there in November) but I fell in love with the city and its hip and artsy vibe. I also had a short fling with a guy I met during that trip, which made the taste of San Francisco even sweeter. But the sweetest was the taste of San Diego sunshine, vegan tacos at SOL CAL Cafe, street markets and feeling the sand between my toes and letting the waves crash on my feet (Coronado Island). San Diego was my California dream.

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Beverly Hills (below)

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Golden Gate bridge, San Francisco

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This legal alien went to The White House. Not really, but I saw it from a distance while visiting Washington D.C. – the capital of the United States (in case you didn’t know). I saw all the monuments, as they were pretty much all next to each other, and I ate delicious street food from food trucks, alongside a whole lot of businessmen in suits. (the photo below is of the United States capitol)

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Savannah, Georgia was another city on my bucket list. Why? Well, I love the movie Forrest Gump and Savannah was one of the filming locations for that movie. I went to the exact same spot where that famous bench used to be – only to find out that it was no longer there. Well, you know what Forrest Gump used to say…”Life is like a box of chocolates. You never know what you’re gonna get”.

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So the big question is; what have I learned from traveling solo? 

I have learned that it’s okay to be alone. It’s no big deal to dine alone in restaurants, visit museums alone or explore monuments and sites completely by myself. It’s absolutely fine! Sure, I had moments where I felt lonely and wished someone was there to share these memories with me. But the freedom, oh the freedom, it made everything worth it. If I wanted to visit four coffee shops in one day, I could. If I wanted to have an early dinner or a very late breakfast, I could! And if I wanted to spend two hours in a book store and the rest of the day in a museum – guess what, I could do that too!

Don’t get me wrong, I love to travel with my boyfriend, my friends and my family, but I’d rather go on another solo adventure than spend my time waiting for someone to join me on my trip, only to find out that they’re not going after all. Then what? Don’t you ever let your fear or other people’s opinions get in the way of your solo travels, and don’t you ever wait around for someone who says they “might” join you, if you’re certain that they won’t. Spread your wings. Fly solo.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A sweet taste of Bruges, Belgium

I had wanted to visit Belgium for such a long time. Six years ago, I even bought a plane ticket to Brussels and was planning to stay with some people I met on Couchsurfing . Unfortunately, I had to cancel that trip due to financial problems. Two years later, I made plans to go to Antwerp. But that trip never happened either. I was starting to wonder if it just wasn’t in the cards for me to ever go to Belgium. 

I was wrong. You know the saying “the longer you have to wait for something, the more you will appreciate it when it finally arrives”? I guess that’s why I hadn’t made it to Belgium yet. It just wasn’t the right time. But this year, this spring, I finally made it there. I spent a fantastic weekend in Bruges, a beautiful city often referred to as “Venice of the north”.

The sun was shining and I wore a pink summer dress to celebrate spring and the lovely weather. My boyfriend and I were looking forward to a romantic weekend together in this gorgeous Belgian city. There were so many things I wanted to see – and taste!

I’m not a beer drinker at all, but I had heard good things about the famous Kriek (Belgian cherry-flavored beer) and other Belgian fruit beers. We visited a few craft beer bars and absolutely every single beer I tried, was amazing. That’s coming from someone who doesn’t like beer! I highly recommend 2be – a great bar with a large selection of beers on tap. They also have a beer shop, if you wanna take some souvenirs/beverages home with you.

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The beer tasting made me hungry for a snack – or two. I went to one of the many Friterie’s to get fries in a cone. Because, French fries are actually Belgian – and not French. And they definitely tasted better in Belgium. And my second snack? White chocolate covered Belgian waffle on a stick from Go.Fre, sprinkled with nuts. It was delicious!

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We had recently bought our bright new Nikon-camera and were ready to explore the city and take some gorgeous photos with it. It wasn’t a hard task. The picturesque bridges and beautiful canals, the medieval architecture. How could anyone not fall in love with this city?

Before leaving Bruges, we bought some fine Belgian chocolates. Now was not the time to worry about dieting. I couldn’t possibly imagine a high as good as the taste of those luxurious artisan chocolates.

A perfect way to end a perfect trip to the country I wanted to visit for so long.

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Why your next holiday should be Zanzibar Island!

In collaboration with Love & Dove Africa, I’m excited to tell you all about the place that could be your next holiday destination, your honeymoon, family trip, romantic getaway – or at least for now, the new addition to your bucket list. Welcome to Zanzibar!

(all images  in this post are copyright to Love & Dove Africa)

The Zanzibar Archipelago is located in the Indian Ocean, 15 miles off the coast of Tanzania. Zanzibar is the ultimate Indian Ocean Paradise with a fascinating history, with its magnificent old city Stone Town and incredibly spectacular beaches. Zanzibar is a rich cultural and artistic hub. During your visit to this beautiful island you will be awed by the rich culture, artistry and history. Over centuries, different cultures have influenced Zanzibar to become what it is today. Sumerians, Assyrians, Egyptians, Phoenicians, Indians, Chinese, Persians, Portuguese, Omani Arabs, Dutch and the British have settled here at one time or another and influenced the local culture into its present fusion. The beautiful Swahili language is spoken on the Zanzibar island. Stone Town, Zanzibar City’s old town, was included in UNESCO’s World Heritage Sites in year 2000.

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Zanzibar is a perfect destination both for those who want a relaxing holiday and those who want adventures. Here you can combine spectacular safari adventures with calm days on the beach on this magnificent tropical island. A holiday in Zanzibar is ideal for marine junkies and water sports enthusiasts. You can choose from activities like snorkeling, scuba diving and deep sea diving (among others). You will enjoy the graceful shorelines of Zanzibar islands, with views of exotic ancient dhows in full sail. Enjoy casual walks while soaking your feel in warm, shallow waters along the edge of the white sandy beaches. Zanzibar is a marvelous destination for retreats with its “home away from home” atmosphere. To add even more luxury and relaxation to your trip, enjoy the wonderful spa treatments. And prepare yourself for great Swahili cuisine!

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Cultural Tours in Zanzibar

Listed below are some inspirational experiences and touristic activities that one can engage in while in Zanzibar. These activities are not only enjoyable but also culturally and historically informative. You can take day tours with the assistance of a tour guide.

Tour of Spice Plantations and Markets

Some have referred to Zanzibar island as the “spice island”. These tours are uniquely special because the local guide will aid you in learning more about the history of the spice trade in the region. There are several spice farms spread out on the island. For those of you foodies out there, who are interested in venturing into obtaining some knowledge on the Swahili culinary culture, a spice tour on a farm is an ideal activity! Under the supervision of a local guide, you can take approximately four tours to any of the several spice farms and learn more about the growing process of the spices. Some spices grown include cinnamon, nutmeg, ginger, vanilla, cardamom , chilies, saffron, curries and gloves among others. Fresh fruits are wildly grown on the island – such as coconuts, oranges, limes, lemons, jackfruits and durians among others. It’s a beautiful experience strolling down the narrow farm paths, taking in the aroma of several fresh spices. Especially if you’re a foodie, like myself! At the end of the tour, you may even enjoy some delicious traditionally prepared Swahili dishes, directly from the fresh farm produce. You may also purchase spices, which are reasonably priced. You can’t get more organic than that!

Stone Town Seaside front

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Arts and Crafts Tours

Zanzibar island has a rich fusion of artistry inspired by African, Omani Arab, Persian, European, Indian and Portuguese influences among others. You can take a tour in Stone Town visiting several vibrant workshops dealing in handmade textiles, woodwork and fine arts. You will find tailored textiles made from the local Khanga, a local cotton textile which is traditionally worn by young girls and women around the region. These textiles come in amazing colors and prints and usually have special Swahili inspired expressions printed on them. At the wood workshop, you’ll see how the beautiful oriental inspired wooden beds – and the famous Zanzibar majestic doors – are made. The wood works have such magnificent intrinsic hand caved details, which is a special artistry of the island. On this tour you’ll take a stroll down the narrow alleys of the Old Town, you’ll enjoy the sights of the splendid, historical architecture. You can also visit local markets at Darajani, Mwanakwerekwe, the bazaars and ruins of the Sultan palace. The Old Town is filled with amazing restaurants and cafes where you can enjoy fresh seafood and juices prepared the special Shawili way. Some of these cafes and restaurants are overseeing the picturesque Indian Ocean view, which will give you a soothing feeling after a great morning or afternoon tour. Bring your camera!

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Arts Zanzibar

Seafood Stall at Forodhani Gardens

Tour to Prison Island

Visiting the “Prison Island”/Changu Island is a great daytime excursion in Zanzibar. The Sultans used the little island sanctuary as a jail for rebellious slaves in the 1860s. In the late 1800s the British built a prison here, which was used as  a yellow fever quarantine center and not as a prison as commonly believed. On the island, you walk down the footpaths and visit the Aldabra Giant Tortoise sanctuary, which are originally gifted from the Seychelles and they’re supposedly 100 years or older – and at a hefty weight of 200 kilos! You can also see some different bird species, butterflies and duiker antelopes. This island is also a perfect location for snorkeling, with its white sand beach. A beautiful restaurant and resort is also located here.

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Watersports Activities 

The turquoise waters along the coast of Zanzibar and Pemba Island are also packed with abundant sea life and coral reef for snorkeling and diving and several water sports. For those of you who have a big sense of adventure and love water sports, these activities are a must do. Besides snorkeling and diving, other activites include jet skiing, windsurfing, kayaking, parasailing, fishing, and dhow cruising (especially in the evening) and more.

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Visit the Old Slave Market & Anglican Cathedral

While in Stone Town, a visit to the old slave market is an informative trip about the horrifying treatment of slaves in Zanzibar. You will get to see the appalling conditions of the dingy slave chambers where slaves were held captive and shackled. Outside, by the Cathedral, there’s a monument depicting how slaves were shackled in a pit. It’s historical and worth seeing while in Stone Town. For a small fee, a guide will give you a tour. On the same compound, is the Angelican Cathedral, which is constructed on the location of the former slave market. The altar of the cathedral is the specific site where the whipping post is located, where slaves were punished.

Slave Monument

Slave Market Catheral

I don’t know about you, but my head is already in Zanzibar, daydreaming about snorkeling, safaris, eating Swahili cuisine and smelling those fine spices, buying handmade merchandise and learning about local history. 

If you wanna learn more about these tours and Love & Dove Africa’s other tours or just get inspired by their photos, check out their website , follow them on instagram and  twitter !

 

Northwestern France (francophiles, you’ll love it!)

In my diary I’ve already written about the little road-trip I made with my boyfriend, and how we spent Bastille Day, and where we ate, what we did – everything worth mentioning about this beautiful journey through the northwest of France. Oh, how I love to go on these adventurous road-trips in France. There are hidden gems in every region. Picturesque villages, historical buildings and medieval castles, beautiful old architecture and local products worth your attention, worth tasting and definitely worth taking home as souvenirs.

Bretagne is a region I had already visited before, but only for a weekend – and only to visit a friend and her family (in Brest). There were so many places I had never discovered in this region, and I was finally on my way to visit at least a few of those places. And still – I have so much more to see!

Our first destination was Saint-Malo, a gorgeous coastal city. We went there to see the fireworks on Bastille Day. Which, by the way, was great!

Saint-Malo

This is a city historically known for its privateers, which were basically pirates – but “good ones” as they were approved by the king.

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Saint-Malo was way more crowded than it looks. We literally spent 45 minutes trying to find somewhere to park, as all the spots in the city center were taken by people who came to the city to watch the fireworks in the evening.

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Saint-Malo Hotel de Ville is way nicer than a lot of other City Hall buildings, right?

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Saint-Malo is quite famous for these tall granite walls that surround the Old Town.

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Mont Saint-Michel

This island is located in the bay where Bretagne and Normandie merge, and many people are confused with what region it belongs to. Well, as much as I think the Bretons would have loved to claim it their own, it’s actually in Normandie. And what a beautiful treasure it is, this island and its monastery!

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The main source of income for the residents on Le Mont Saint-Michel is tourism, and with over 3 million visitors pr year they’re definitely keeping themselves busy!

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The monastery seen from the viewpoint – and a sneaky seagull!

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The Cloister

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Dinan

….And we were back in Bretagne! Visiting Dinan was a spontaneous decision. And quite a pleasant surprise. It’s an old idyllic town that will make any francophile start daydreaming.

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Many walls like these are decorated with gorgeous flowers

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One of the many restaurants in Dinan

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The river Rance

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The river Rance from a different perspective. Taken during our boat trip on the river.

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Basilique Saint Sauveur

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Rennes

Our final destination was the young and vibrant city Rennes, also in Bretagne. This city has a reputation for being a party central for students, and it’s easy to understand why. There’s a bar on pretty much every single corner. If you’re not really into the bar-scene, there’s a gorgeous park worth checking out for those lazy days in the sun, for the ones who love flowers, and for the photographers in need of a beautiful backdrop or fantastic close-ups of colorful flowers.

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Here it is…The beautiful Parc du Thabor.

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