Why York (England) holds a special place in my heart

York. A historic walled city in North Yorkshire, England. Founded by the Romans and once capital of the Roman province of Britannia Inferior, and later of the kingdoms of Northumbria and Jorvik. Growing up in Norway, we learned a lot about the vikings and their conquests. We learned a lot about Jorvik and I’m sure there are some Norwegians out there who still claim York – sorry, Jorvik – as their own.

My British stepfather and my Polish mother came to Norway as immigrants and even though they both claim they feel more connected to their native country and its culture, I can tell that they’ve become more and more Norwegian as time goes by….which is probably one of the reasons why they ended up buying a holiday apartment in York, when they first started searching for an apartment in England.

My parents know – and I know – that there are plenty of reasons to love York, besides the Viking history and Nordic street names (Swinegate, for example, meaning Svinegata and refers to a place were pigs were kept). Here’s a few reasons I can think of:

UNESCO

The city of York is part of the UNESCO Creative Cities Network as a city of Media Arts. The city has invested in its cultural institutions, initiating plenty of iconic activities such as the York Mystery Plays and the Illuminating York Festival.

Safety

Coming from someone who have moved around and traveled a lot, I can assure you you’ll feel safe in York – and I would highly recommend it as a destination for solo travelers!

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Tourist Attractions 

Visit the beautiful Cathedral York Minster, the medieval Clifford’s Tower, one of the many museums (Castle museum or the Jorvik Viking centre) or take a Yorkboat tour along the beautiful river Ouse.

Harry Potter

This city definitely has a Harry Potter-esque vibe to it. Wouldn’t it be nice to stroll along these little streets with your shopping bags, or maybe sit down somewhere with a good book – maybe Harry Potter – and sip a cup of tea and just enjoy this fairy tale-like atmosphere.

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Parks

York is blessed with beautiful parks. During the warm summer months you’ll see people everywhere, having a nice little picnic, going for a run or a bicycle ride, or….making out with their loved one, in the grass.. There’s also a bunch of geese everywhere for some reason – and they are not only in the parks! (And lots of white doves too, like these guys).

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Ethical Shopping

There are a lot of secondhand shops in York. And when I say a lot, I mean tons. Everywhere. Many different charity organizations have their own shops, which gives you the option to choose which cause you want to donate to. I usually visit all of them and buy a little something here and there, to support as many organizations as possible. The clothes are usually sold ridiculously cheap anyway.

Nightlife

York has a great university and is a very student-friendly city with lots of bars. But then again, wherever you go in England there will be lots of bars/pubs. I’ve been to a few different ones in York, and it’s safe to say there’s something for every taste and every price range.

Christmas

Celebrating Christmas in York is magical. They have an amazing Christmas market where you can buy local Yorkshire produce for your Christmas feast – or some lovely decorations or warm outerwear. When it snows in York – on all those little houses in the city center – it looks just like taken out of a fairy tale. Mesmerizing. More information about this year’s Christmas festival here .

These are all “old” photos and I didn’t have any photos from winter in York, so you’ll just have to take my word for it and enjoy these photos from June 2015 instead.

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My mother and I, enjoying the countryside not far from York

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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.