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 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.

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New Castle of Ansembourg

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Vianden (town and castle)

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Incredible Caverns in France

When we first made plans to visit Dordogne, we had two main purposes in mind. One was the obvious food and wine tasting. The other is obvious only to those who already have a bit of knowledge about this region and know what makes it so unique as a destination for both local and international tourists.

The Dordogne department has hundreds of caverns. Some of them were discovered quite recently, while others were known as a tourist attraction already in the early 19th century. While some caverns are not open to the public, others have become popular tourist attractions and attract curious visitors from all over the world.

I visited four different caverns during our week in Dordogne and nearby. All four were unique and fascinating in their own way. The first cavern I got to explore was the Gouffre de Proumeyssac . We were given the option to walk down a tunnel together with a guide, or pay extra to be lowered down in a basket from the ceiling – the way the explorers did when they first discovered the cavern. As much as I would have wanted to choose the basket, my fear of heights made me chose the tunnel instead. The first sight that met me as I entered the cavern was a sign that said “No photos allowed”. How disappointing. The tour itself was no disappointment, though. In complete darkness, we were guided to a view point inside of the cavern. A light show entertained us as it illuminated the cavern and its different formations, in harmony with relaxing music.

The second one on the list was Les Grottes de Maxange . These two caverns were named after the man who discovered them, whose name was Angel – and in honor of his father; Maximilien. Les Grottes de Maxange was without a doubt my favorite visit. All along the narrow cavern are thousands of very small eccentric concretions. They are tiny stalactite-formations which instead of growing vertically, they grow in all directions. A display like this is very rare, and it’s as beautiful as it is unusual.

Third one up was supposed to be the prehistorical famous Lascaux , but unorganized as we were, we forgot to check the opening hours before arrival, and got there almost two hours before the first tour. We changed our plans and visited castles and nearby villages instead of caverns that day. However, the following day was a new opportunity to explore another cavern: Gouffre de Padirac .

To enter the Gouffre de Padirac, we were given the choice between a whole lot of stairs, or an elevator. As I’m terrified of heights, I chose the stairs – as it gives me a stronger feeling of control. A feeling of exhaustion and relief as I descended what I thought was the bottom of the cavern. But then there was another set of stairs. People had already gotten in line for the gondolas and we spent perhaps forty minutes in line, waiting for our turn. But it was worth every minute of the wait.  The gondola ride on the lake (completely formed by rain) was romantic and felt somewhat supernatural. What a unique way of exploring a cavern!

The final cavern we visited was Les Grottes de Lacave . The cavern is entered on a small electric train, which itself was a fun experience. Inside of this large natural cavern, there’s an incredible display of stalactites and stalagmites. During one part of the tour, visitors enter an area where there’s no light except from ultraviolet – displaying the incredible formations in a whole different way. A magical way.

I never thought I’d ever see anything as supernatural looking and incredible as the things I saw while visiting these caverns. And yet, there they are, underground, in the southwest of France.

Les Grottes de Maxange

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Gouffre de Padirac

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Les Grottes de Lacave

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A little piece of Norway

In my diary I’ve already written about the places I went to in Norway during this trip, and as you know I traveled with my mother and we traveled by train the entire time. I love the concept of interrailing. You get on a train, get off somewhere, hang around for a couple of days to explore the city – and get on a different train to somewhere else to explore something new.

If I had traveled alone, I would have probably chosen a different route, as I already know the majority of places we went to, and would’ve loved to visit a non-touristic town or even a remote village somewhere, just to change things up a bit. Just because something isn’t much talked about, doesn’t mean it shouldn’t be.

On the other hand, it was nice to re-visit cities I know (Oslo and Kristiansand), the city I come from (Stavanger) and a city I had never been to, but heard a lot about (Sandefjord). All these cities, except from Oslo, are along the Southern coastline. Sandefjord in the south-east, Kristiansand in the south and Stavanger in the south-west.

Before going to Karlstad, Sweden, we went to Oslo. Since there are no direct trains from Karlstad to Sandefjord, we had to return to Oslo to catch the train to Sandefjord (which is approximately 2 hours direct from Oslo Central Station).

Oslo

Ah, memories. I remember coming to this restaurant for lunch and a glass of white wine with my friends, during the hot summer months while I was living in Oslo.

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The Norwegian Parliament building.

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Karl Johans gate. This is the main street for shopping and restaurants. It connects the Oslo Central Station and the Royal Palace, which is the building captured in the center of the photo.

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This is the Grand Hotel, a luxury 5-star hotel and a historical landmark (dates from 1874). Quite a few international celebrities and respected politicians have spent a night here, including US president Barack Obama.

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Aker Brygge and the Tjuvholmen peninsula.

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Aker Brygge and the Oslofjord.

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Sandefjord

A popular vacation spot for Norwegians and Swedes during summer. There’s a ferry route operating daily between Sandefjord and Strömstad, Sweden – in case you’d like to go on a day trip while visiting this part of Norway.

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The history of Sandefjord has been formed by the Viking Age and whaling. Here you’ll find Europe’s only specialized museum on the subject of whales and whaling.

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These buildings are the Tourist Information, Gallery Brown and Sandefjord Health Spa

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The Chapel at the harbor, the floating church.

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I enjoyed a nice iced latte and a cinnamon roll here in Café Vintage. The kind barista asked us if we wanted to taste their freshly baked bread too, and how could I resist? I also couldn’t resist photographing their creative decor. Cushions hanging from the ceiling and colorful, purposely mismatched furniture. I love it. They also sell cute clothes for toddlers here.

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Sandefjord Church.

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Kristiansand

Probably the most touristic city in the south of Norway. Especially for families with small children, as Dyreparken Zoo and theme park is located in Kristiansand. For the adult crowd there’s also always something fun happening in this charming coastal city during the summer months. Whether it’s a music festival or a different kind of event, there’s always something going on.

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For example, last week they hosted a music festival called Måkeskrik (mostly rock/metal music). And last year I went there for the Tall Ships Race.

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Photo taken from the viewpoint of Christiansholm Fortress, which was built in 1672 to defend the city of Kristiansand.

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Stavanger

My hometown. This is the fourth largest city in the country, and is the “oil capital” of Norway. The city is growing, becoming more and more urbanized but at the same time still managed to remain a traditional Norwegian city with traditional Norwegian architecture and culture.

My favorite part of Stavanger is Øvre Holmegate, more familiarly known as Fargegata – the color street. This is a classic example of traditional Norwegian architecture meets hipster/urban creatives-culture.

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(Northern) Rogaland County 

Apart from visiting the city of Stavanger, I highly recommend you broadening your horizons and checking out other parts of the region as well – obviously easier if you have a car, than depending on public transportation.

Here from Tungenes Lighthouse in Randaberg (now converted into a museum and a café)

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Karlstad , Sweden (photos and more)

I have written all about my experiences and even added some links to places I went to eat and some of the coffee shops I visited. I have also published a lot of photos. Go ahead, read all about it in my diary !

Would you like to see some more photos from the trip? No problem! Let’s start with Karlstad in this post, and I’ll write a separate post about all the different places I went to in Norway during this trip (there’s so much to tell and so many photos to show!)

Karlstad, Sweden

A city in Värmland County, famous for lake Vänern, which is in fact the largest lake in the EU. Geographically in Europe, only Russia has larger lakes. Karlstad is a popular holiday destination for those interested in outdoor activities and those who just want to spend some time away from the stressful life in the larger cities.

Just look at how green and picturesque it is here.

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This is Östra bron, Swedens longest stonebridge. The bridge was built in 1811 and is considered a historical landmark.

A boat converted into a restaurant called Båten (the boat) on the canal.

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View from the sightseeing boat trip with Karlstadbuss.

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Stadsträdgården park dates back to the 1800s. The park is full of beautiful flowers. In fact, there are over 800 different kinds of plants, trees and flowers here.

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Segerstad. If you want to explore something outside of Karlstad, there’s a wonderful forest rich in wildlife, only a fifteen minute drive away.

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