A day in Terra Botanica – The theme park devoted to plant life (Angers, France)

Like many other women, I am obsessed with flowers. Looking at them, smelling them, photographing them, learning about them – I love it and I can’t get enough of it.

So it doesn’t exactly come as a shocker to those who know me, that I’ll always make sure to schedule in a visit to the local botanical garden, whenever I’m planning a trip to a new destination. It’s just one of those things I have to do. Because, enjoying the scent of beautiful flowers while strolling through a picturesque garden is something that gives me a feeling of tranquility. And it fills my Instagram with amazing colorful photos too!

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The day I scrolled through my news feed on Facebook and stumbled upon an article (including a video) on Terra Botanica – a botanical theme park in France – I knew I’d just made a great discovery. I had found my paradise.

Right there in Angers, a city in western France.

I thought to myself, a theme park AND botanical gardens in one? That’s just a whole other level of happiness right there – and it’s something for all generations to enjoy.

Me, I have moments where I behave older than your grandma, and moments where I behave like a little child, which makes it all just perfect.

Considering the fact that I already live in France, I knew I could easily go to Angers on a weekend trip – which made the temptation to go there, even bigger. Just a two and a half hour drive from Paris, and I’d be there.

I showed my boyfriend the article on Terra Botanica and played him the video. He wasn’t too excited about it, being a macho man and all. “A flower park? The rides don’t even look exciting. It’s just slow and boring”, were his exact words, when referring to the scenic boat ride and the journey in a nutshell (pedaling through the forest, past the tops of the trees). Boring my ass. It looked awesome.

My puppy eyes and multiple repetitions of “please, please, please” and “come on” – as if I was a little girl begging her parents to take her to Disneyland – paid off in the end.

We spent the day of arrival just visiting the city of Angers, which is a lovely city famous for its medieval castle with as many as 17 towers!

The following day, we left the hotel at an early hour and were all set and super stoked (well, at least I was) and couldn’t wait to spend a full day enjoying everything Terra Botanica had to offer, before returning home from our overnight getaway.

The sun was shining through the windy clouds, bees were buzzing around and flowers of every color imaginable were decorating every corner of the park. Due to the strong wind, the big yellow air balloon was sadly closed to visitors, but we still had lots of other interesting things to see and do!

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First thing up, was a 4D adventure. There are actually two different adventures, depending on what time of the day you get there. In the morning and until 2 pm, there’s a film where you’ll see things from a water droplets point of view and follow its journey from the sky to the heart of the plant. After 2 pm, there’s a film where you’re placed at the wheel of a Jeep and you’ll drive right into a dinosaur reserve. My boyfriend is a huge fan of dinosaurs and absolutely loved it. So did I. It reminded us of Jurassic Park, and who doesn’t love Jurassic Park?

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Then we pedaled into the forests and enjoyed the view of the park from above while snapping a few photos, before changing the perspective and admiring the view from the relaxing boat ride. I asked my boyfriend if he still thought the park was boring, and he said no. Ah, see? I bloody told him so!

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We fed our brains with interesting information about plants adaptations in different habitats (accompanied by hologram projections) before walking through different rooms to experience those different climate types and seeing the plants adapted to it.

After feeding our brains, we fed our bellies with a quick lunch from one of the restaurants in the park. My fish and chips was surprisingly as good as the fish and chips I’ve had in England – which means it’s freakin’ delicious (for a fast food meal). While my boyfriend was sitting there chewing on a mediocre hot dog, I could tell by the look on his face that he wanted to steal my fish. And then he asked me if I’d really be able to finish all of that, and offered to help out if not…

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We continued exploring the park and moved on to the butterfly greenhouse. I’ve already been to plenty of butterfly greenhouses/butterfly sanctuaries in my life, and I just can’t seem to get enough of them. Ever. I love how aesthetic butterflies are. The colors, the patterns and even the way they flutter their wings. From a hobbyist photographers point of view, they are magnificent creatures.

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Before leaving the park, we went to see something kind of creepy, yet extremely fascinating; carnivorous plants. Yes, meat eating (insects, mainly) plants. Some of them have teeth and look quite intimidating, while others just look like some kind of a tube. Harmless. Apparently they eat mosquito’s, so if you’re someone who’s always targeted by those bloodsucking insects, you might wanna consider investing in a carnivorous plant.

carnivorous plants

We left the park feeling smarter, feeling happy and feeling exactly the way I’m sure the park was designed to make you feel.

What else should you know about Terra Botanica?

  • It is closed during winter (doesn’t quite come as a surprise, does it?)
  • There’s an Autumn festival in the park from the 28th to the 31st of October, and a Spring festival on April 1st and 2nd!
  • It is located in Angers, and is a 1 hour drive from Nantes and Rennes, 1 hour 20 minutes from Tours and 2 and a half hour drive from Paris.
  • It’s on the top 10 list of TripAdvisor’s Preferred in France Theme Parks.
  • Book tickets online and you’ll get a discount!

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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.

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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.

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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!

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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!

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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?

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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.

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Have a Magical Day in Disneyland Paris

Magical. Nostalgic.Disney will always hold a special place in my heart. Not just because I grew up watching Disney-movies and idolizing the beautiful Disney princesses and crushing on their handsome princes, but also because I spent one of the most amazing years of my life working at Disney World. So did it really come as a surprise that I would eventually visit Disneyland Paris? I don’t know about you, but I think it’s good for the soul to take a trip down memory lane and release ones inner child!

Entering Disneyland requires a lot of patience. Just like any other Disney park. The lines are always extremely long, even if you get there about an hour before the park opens. It’s a good warm up exercise, though – as you’ll be spending an awful lot of time standing in line for most of the attractions anyway. But it’s all worth it – it really is!

Time-travel to the 1920’s as you stroll along the Main Street USA and hang out in the Town Square. Buy some cute little souvenirs and a sweet treat and enjoy yourself.

Did you know that the first “Pirates of the Caribbean” movie was inspired by the water-based Disney-attraction? This spectacular ride is waiting for you, right here in Disneyland Paris (as well as in Tokyo and Magic Kingdom). I’m usually not a big fan of drops – in fact I hate them – but the drops are such a small part of this visually amusing ride, that it’s all worth it. When you’re a scaredy-cat like me, it’s not really easy and  not always enjoyable to visit theme parks with a group of friends or family. At certain parks I’ve spent all day being the bag-holder while waiting for my friends to finish, so we could go home and get it over with. That’s not magical. That wouldn’t happen at Disneyland. In the Disney parks there’s something for everyone.Even for me.

For example, I absolutely love the delightful and slow “It’s a small world” ride. What a cute portrayal of world peace and unity. The Snow White attraction and the Pinocchio ride were both nice as well, although I think I would have enjoyed them more if I was twenty years younger. Alice’s Curious Labyrinth is kind of fun if you find your way out of the labyrinth without too much hassle. If not, well, you’ll find it rather annoying and frustrating.

Dining in Disneyland Paris is kind of a downer when you’re used to the variety found in Disney World. Apparently, the restaurants used to have different themes and serve different food – but now it’s all burgers, fries and same old dull food almost everywhere. I’d rather enjoy a large breakfast, skip lunch and dine in Disney Village instead. Or stuff my face with pastries – because, hey, it’s Disneyland and I’m here to release my inner child.

The Castle of the Sleeping Beauty is as enchanting as the Cinderella Castle in Magic Kingdom, and the fireworks are as amazing as any fireworks display by Disney.

Can you feel the magic?

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Work Abroad: My year as a Disney World cast member

Once upon a time there was a girl from the far, far north. Her name was Kristine and she was as pale as the snow that was covering the city she once lived in. Her life was a bore and she wanted to break free from it all. She wanted to spread her wings and fly far away,  across the Atlantic ocean – to work for the Mouse in the Sunshine State. One day she received the magical message she had been impatiently waiting for: Mickey Mouse was excited to welcome her to his team and rescue her from her old, boring habits. The pale northerner was the happiest she’d ever been and couldn’t resist the urge to break into song and dance, with the sound of wind howling outside. On a magical night in January 2014, her new life began. A beautiful new life. And she lived happily ever after…

…Or at least for one year, until the contract finished and the temporary worker visa expired. And was it really all that “magical”? Why did they recruit someone all the way from Norway to work in Florida?

I’ll explain all of that – and more. First of all, I didn’t work at Magic Kingdom, which is the main park and what most people associate with Disney World because of the iconic Cinderella castle, all the meet & greet’s and obviously all the fun attractions, like the “Pirates of the Caribbean”-ride and Space Mountain. A lot of people who have never been to Disney World, seem to think that Magic Kingdom is the only park there. Well, guess what? There’s five more (including the two water parks).

I worked at Epcot, a park dedicated to the celebration of human achievement, technological innovation and international culture. Epcot has a “world showcase” themed area, containing 11 pavilions which are all themed and dedicated to represent a specific country (Mexico, Norway, China, Japan, USA, Canada, France, Italy, Morocco, UK and Germany). The title of my position was “cultural representative” for the Norwegian Pavilion and I was given the option to work in merchandise, food & beverage or attractions. I chose merchandise, as I was already experienced as a merchandiser.We sold high quality Norwegian outerwear, cosmetics, miniature trolls and other figurines, candy and canned foods, books and obviously toys and other merchandise from the movie Frozen. At Disney World, there’s no such thing as staff or uniforms; you’re a cast member and you’re wearing a costume. It sounds a lot more fun that way, doesn’t it? And it was. It made us feel like we were playing a part, just as much as any Disney character would. And why wouldn’t I wanna feel like a Disney princess?

An important part of the program was the housing situation. Disney World provided housing for all their international workers, with apartments ranging in size from 1 bedroom to 4 bedrooms – which were all shared with others. In the US it’s quite common to share a dorm room with another person, but in Europe – at least in Northern Europe – we’re not used to sharing a bedroom with someone we don’t know. The lack of privacy obviously caused a lot of challenges and sometimes led to conflicts between people, either due to cultural differences or personality differences. I was told a fair share of scary stories during that year and witnessed some as well – and during my program I heard they added even a third bed into most of the apartments. Who knows? You might become best friends with your roommates. You might hate their guts. Maybe you’ll be indifferent.

Still, the most amazing part of the program was meeting wonderful new people. I made some of the greatest friends I’ve ever had, made amazing memories with them and together we all celebrated Christmas, birthdays and other important events that would have made me feel homesick if it wasn’t for these people. Our managers at Disney World were fantastic as well. My father passed away while I was working in Florida and the managers comforted me as if they were my real family. I will never forget how supportive and caring they were. I will never forget how happy I was being part of the Disney family.

And you know what else made me happy? Getting free access to all the Disney Parks whenever I wanted that year! If I could have traveled back in time and told 5 year old me that I would later work for the Mouse and hang out in Disney World as much as I wanted, I’m sure 5 year old me wouldn’t even believe it. Because it kind of sounds to good to be true, right?

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