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.

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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.

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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.

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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!

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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.

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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).

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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!

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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.

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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.

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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!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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How everything went wrong – and how to be okay with it (Trondheim, Norway)

When buying Christmas presents for my loved ones, I am always one step ahead of everyone I know. Ridiculous as I am, I start planning and preparing everything months in advance. This year was no exception. A trip to Trondheim, after spending the holidays with my family in Stavanger – now THAT sounded like a wonderful idea!

My partner loves snow and we don’t really get to see it that often as it rarely snows in Paris. So what better gift than a trip to somewhere where we’d be guaranteed snow? From what I’d heard, there’s always a lot of snow in Trondheim during the winter months. Excited about snow in this Norwegian winter wonderland, I googled my way to a website advertising for dog sledding tours in Bymarka forest in Trondheim. And while browsing through Instagram, I saw some beautiful photos of the northern lights seen from Trondheim. I booked a dog sledding tour and I started daydreaming about the Northern lights. I’m Norwegian (from the southwest) and I have never seen them. Ever. This was not just the perfect gift for my partner. This was the perfect gift from me to myself as well!

But as things turned out, Mother nature had other plans and decided to show me the middle finger and rain on my parade. Literally.

As we got off the airport shuttle, Trondheim greeted us with dark clouds and heavy rain. 4 pm and already pitch black outside, my partner stepped right into a puddle and cursed loudly in French. Earlier that week, I had received an e-mail from the dog sledding tour company, informing me that the tour was cancelled due to the weather forecast. Rain every day. Dark clouds, wind, rain. In other words, we would most likely not see the Northern lights either. So much for a perfect gift.

I was devastated. I had lost motivation to visit the city and I felt like I had let my partner down. But we managed to overcome the disappointment – after all, we were visiting a city that neither of us had been to before and both had wanted to visit for a long time. This charming city managed to cheer us up, despite the bad weather and canceled plans. And these were our highlights:

Nidarosdomen (Nidaros Cathedral). This famous cathedral is even more impressive than I had expected it to be. And it’s only a few blocks away from the hotel we stayed at(Comfort Hotel Park)! The cathedral is built over the burial site of Saint Olav, the king of Norway (11th century), who became the patron saint of the country. This medieval cathedral is the worldwide northernmost of its kind. If you’re planning to visit, bare in mind that it’s not permitted to take photos inside of the cathedral.

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Gamle Bybro (Old Town Bridge). While visiting my parents during the holidays, my stepfather mentioned this charming little bridge as a must-see while visiting Trondheim. The view of the river and the wharfs is gorgeous! The bridge crosses the Nidelva river, connecting the main street Kjøpmannsgata to the neighborhood called Bakklandet. The bridge was constructed in 1681 by Luxembourg-born soldier and military engineer Johan Caspar von Cicignon. Back then, the location was of military-strategic significance.

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Bakklandet neighborhood is famous for its charming wooden houses and narrow streets. It is impossible not to fall in love with this neighborhood, which is probably why it’s also one of the major tourist attractions in the city. My partner and I visited Dromedar Kaffebar in Bakklandet and enjoyed some local pastries and delicious coffee drinks while staying warm, away from the pouring rain.

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Speaking of coffee… for some real, high quality coffee, check out Jacobsen & Svart Kaffebrenneri. Owner’s quote from the website; “I chose to put my family name on each coffee bag, because it’s a commitment. A commitment to perform, perfect and be proud of what I do” and “It’s simple, no bullshit and a honest approach to Nordic coffee culture”. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it over and over again: Scandinavians love coffee and coffee shops. It’s a part of our identity.

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Tyholttårnet (Tyholt tower) has more to offer than just being a 124 meter radio tower. It’s also an observation deck, giving you the greatest view of Trondheim. Inside of the tower there’s a revolving restaurant, which makes one complete revolution per hour. If you think it’s a high end gourmet restaurant, you’re wrong. The restaurant, Egon, is a Norwegian restaurant chain offering anything from pizza to quesadillas to steak to well, quite a lot of options for a reasonable price. As unromantic as that may sound, the atmosphere in the restaurant is amazing and you shouldn’t miss out on it once you’re in Trondheim. My partner and I celebrated New Year’s Eve at this restaurant. For the occasion, they had a fixed three-course menu and the atmosphere was festive and indeed very romantic. Which is exactly what I wanted for New Year’s Eve. We watched the fireworks from the tower and kissed 2016 goodbye.

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Nedre Elvehavn. Once a mechanical workshop, now a vibrant hot spot full of restaurants and bars. To honor this former industrial site, some of the original buildings and artifacts have been kept, including a dry dock and a crane.

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Fosenkaia Gjestehavn (Fosenkaia Guest Harbor). Strolling along this harbor was lovely, especially since it didn’t rain most of the time while we were there. The harbor seems to be either a current or a former industrial site and is located right behind the central train station. My partner who’s an engineer and fascinated with anything industrial, asked me to take lots of pictures, so I did.

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Vår Frue (Our Lady Church). Located in Midtbyen (town center), this church is also worth a visit – and a place to volunteer if you’re interested! The oldest part of this church dates from the 12th century and was rebuilt after fires during the 15th, 16th and 17th centuries and finally restored in 1739.

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Stiftsgården. This is the royal residence in Trondheim and is possibly the largest wooden building in Northern Europe. It has been used by royalty and their guests since 1800.

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Needless to say, even though things didn’t go according to plan, and even though the weather was rather depressing, we had an amazing time in Trondheim. Mother nature can rain on my parade as much as she likes. I’ll still get back on my feet and find an umbrella somewhere. The Northern lights and dog sledding tour remains on our bucket lists for now.

more photos below

Nidaros Cathedral

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Bakklandet

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Old Town Bridge and Wharfs

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Nedre Elvehavn

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Fosenkaia Guest Harbor

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Our Lady Church

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Why I love ChillOut Travel Store in (Oslo/Bergen) Norway – and why you will too

Once just an idea developed into a thesis topic, now a successful business – and my favorite place to hang out while visiting Oslo or Bergen in my beloved country, Norway. Welcome to ChillOut Travel Store; a travel equipment and adventure gear shop – which is also a cafe with a lounge area where you can sit down with a nice cup of coffee and the latest travel guide of your preferred destination or a travel magazine, to inspire your inner globetrotter. ChillOut Travel Store also host seminars and events – and have experienced travel advisers available to help you plan your upcoming trips whenever you’re in need of guidance.

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This place has absolutely everything you need for whatever trip it is you’re planning to embark on. Whether you’re going backpacking through Asia or Australia, hiking in the highest mountains, safari in Africa, or just a short city break in one of the European capital cities.

This is where I buy most of my travel books. This is where I go whenever I’m back in Oslo – a city I once lived in – to daydream about all the places I’m planning to visit and think back to all the places I’ve once been lucky enough to visit in the past. This is where I’d take you if we were friends visiting Oslo or Bergen together.

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Below is my interview with Emilie, store manager at ChillOut Bogstadveien (Majorstua, Oslo). Translated from Norwegian.

What would you say is the biggest advantage of working at ChillOut?

The greatest thing about working at ChillOut is that I am “traveling” every single day. I talk about the world, adventures and gain inspiration every single day. Meanwhile, it feels like we sometimes inspire people to explore the world in a way they hadn’t even realized was possible. Everyone who works here have a common interest: to explore the world – and I believe this work environment is the best I have ever experienced! Whenever people talk about ChillOut, they talk about how “good vibes” we have. I believe the reason behind it is that both our staff and costumers share the passion of traveling.

Where did you go for your last trip, and where are you going next?

I went on a couple of small trips around Europe this summer, but my latest “long trip” was when I went to Nicaragua this spring! Central America has a special place in my heart. I find it unique, exciting and extremely beautiful. For my next trip I’ve actually bought a one-way ticket to Costa Rica. It will be my third trip to this part of the world – and I’m working my way slowly down to South America. I’m hoping to reach Colombia, Ecuador, Peru and Bolivia as well – but I’m also dreaming about getting to India and Indonesia in time for surf season. And a long hike in Nepal too. But…knowing myself, I’m sure I’ll find myself a bamboo hut somewhere and stay there for three months and just surf and nourish myself on coconuts.

What are FIVE items you can’t travel without?

  • A good backpack is top priority – can’t travel without one. Being able to walk for several hours straight with my backpack is a must, as it’s while doing that you reach the most awesome places. Your backpack is your “life” while traveling. It’s your best friend and your teammate. You’re supposed to fit like a glove, and you’ll discover the feeling of living “simple” – a feeling I hope everyone is looking to discover when exploring the world.
  • Good travel utensils and a decent knife. Personally, I love exploring foreign food cultures – especially all the fruits and vegetables sold locally. Having the opportunity to visit a local market and buying all these interesting things without knowing what to expect in terms of taste or what they look like, is very exciting! Meanwhile, nothing beats a really good pineapple on a beach somewhere – and with your own utensils and knife, you won’t need to depend on someone to cut it for you.
  • Wool clothing. It might sound strange packing wool for warmer climates – especially for us Norwegians who were born and raised into wool clothing. But wool is useful and practical in many ways and everyone should make space for it in their backpack. Unlike synthetic fabrics, wool doesn’t smell of sweat – which is very convenient when there’s a few weeks between each time the laundry gets done. It also dries quickly, will keep you warm at night, flights and long bus journeys during the night.
  • Headlamp. Entering a dark hostel dorm room in the middle of the night is not cool, and even less cool when breaking the unwritten “hostel law” of turning on the light when everyone’s sleeping. In situations like these, a headlamp is fantastic. Meanwhile, certain locations might not have as efficient power/electricity as others, and the power might go off quite frequently while traveling. So having light available is always a good idea.
  • Diary. I never travel without one. I love to write but I don’t necessarily always have the “dear diary” style of writing. I write about people I meet and their stories, about moments I’ll never forget, songs I’ve listened to, dishes I’ve eaten and places that made a big impression on me. Right there and then I sometimes find it exhausting to write about it – but in retrospect, they’re priceless.

What was the last travel novel you read – and what made you choose this one?

It was actually a travel novel about hiking in Patagonia, the fantastic national park in Chile and Argentina. It’s a place that kind of intimidates me but I know I will have to experience it soon! The nature down there looks so wild and I believe a trip there will be a highly unique experience. Thing is, I want to see everything down there, but it’s a very large area spread out in two different countries, something that makes a trip there quite the challenge. That’s something I love and I’m looking forward to completing it!

What does an average day at work look like for you at ChillOut?

It consists of a lot of work sorting all the merchandise, ordering new items and moving merchandise from the stockroom into the store. We also put a lot of work into keeping the shop tidy and looking for new ways to display merchandise to give the store a generally cool vibe. However, our main priority is the costumers – helping everyone and making sure their needs are met. Regardless of what kind of trip they’re planning. We have anything from costumers who are planning to travel the world, to those planning a weekend trip to Prague, family vacations in Spain or Everest Base Camp. There’s plenty of variety!

What is your best travel advise?

This one’s tricky! I get this question quite often, but I tend to give different answers every time. My top three destinations would be: Indonesia, all countries in Central America, and Nepal. And my best packing tip is to bring lots of smooth music to listen to while you’re traveling.

Visit www.ChillOut.no for more information about who they are, their merchandise, upcoming events and where to find them in Oslo and Bergen.

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Champagne tasting in Aÿ, France

The Goutorbe family presents its exquisite bottles which contain your most secret dreams. All the love of the earth, all the mystery of creation.

These are the words written in the brochure for the champagne house of H. Goutorbe, located in Aÿ – famous as a centre of the production of Champagne.

It is no secret that the French are proud of their wine. And the reputation of champagne has given the region with the same name even more of a reason to be proud. Marketed as a luxurious beverage, this sparkling wine is so much more than just sparkling wine. Champagne is a protected trademark and a symbol of France as a country of high quality produce.

We visited the house of H. Goutorbe because we needed to buy a few bottles of Champagne for our upcoming Christmas and New Year’s Eve celebration. We could have just gone to the nearest supermarket to buy a few bottles, but as my partner’s parents live just a one hour drive away from the Champagne region, we figured we’d might as well join them and buy our golden bubbles straight from the producer. My partner’s parents are loyal satisfied costumers who visit this particular producer annually to stock up on the good stuff. It was easy to see why.

Along with a group of British tourists, we were given a tour around the production site before heading to my favorite part of the visit: the champagne tasting. The guide described the traditional way to produce champagne compared to the modern way, the process of fermentation, bottling, and explained the difference between vintage (blend of grapes harvested in a particular year) and non-vintage (blend of different wines from different years) champagne. She took us to the cellar and explained the process of the second stage of fermentation. I’m not gonna tell you everything as there’s already a great video on their website documenting the entire process!

During our tour we noticed a fun detail that made me like this family even more. A gallery full of gorgeous travel photos. Just like me, they love to travel. Once a year they travel to a new destination and bring a bottle of their trademark champagne with them. Wherever they go, they capture a photo featuring a bottle of their champagne in front of beautiful landscapes, a volcano in Hawaii (!), monuments and even in front of penguins and glaciers in the Antarctic. How cool is that?!

Moving on to the champagne tasting we were welcomed to a cozy room with a large fireplace, and ended the visit with a taste of the golden bubbles before placing our order and taking home some fine bottles waiting to be shared in good company while celebrating those special occasions with our loved ones.

Would you like a tour?

Website: H. Goutorbe 

Visit: 9 bis, rue Jeanson / F. 51160 Aÿ-Champagne

Phone: +33(0)326552170

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The old press device

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The modern ones

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The cellar

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Champagne Bubbles: Christmas market in Reims, France

Starting the afternoon with a champagne tasting in the region of Champagne, followed by a trip to the local Christmas market in Reims – now, that’s quite something!

According to multiple articles online and offline in local newspapers, the Christmas market in Reims ranked better than all the markets in the French capital. Reims, a city known as one of the centres of champagne production, is already quite touristic and already knows how to attract guests….besides the golden bubbles!

With the Christmas market centered around the beautiful Cathedral of Notre-Dame de Reims – a UNESCO World Heritage Site – you’re already off to a good start. Stay until darkness falls, and watch the magical sound and light show that illuminates the Cathedral. Make sure you find a good spot to watch it from, as the market gets very crowded in the evenings!

Are you visiting with small children? Do they like ponies? Who am I kidding…who doesn’t like ponies, right? At the Christmas market in Reims the little ones can go for a pony ride. I wanted to take a selfie with one of the ponies, but they were all surrounded by kids who wanted to pet them, so I decided to be an adult and walk away.

Speaking of entertainment for the little ones: they can meet Santa Claus here!

With over 120 chalets displaying local produce, ornaments, souvenirs and ideas for Christmas gifts (I fell in love with a backpack that I didn’t buy) it is certain you’ll find something to take home with you. And if you’re hungry for a sweet treat, there’s plenty of cookies, nougat, candy, churros, Belgian waffles and crêpes for you to dig in. However, if you want something savory, your options are limited to tartiflette, raclette and panini sandwiches. But don’t worry, there are quite a few restaurants conveniently located right next to the market, which gives you the option to leave and come back, just as you want.

And in terms of champagne tasting; you can do that at the Christmas market and around the corner from it too – whichever you prefer!

more information: Reims Tourism

when: until December 24th

where: Reims city centre (TGV train to Reims Centre)

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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

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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

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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?

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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

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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

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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

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(photos from the market on Champs-Élysées)

 

 

Art is all around? Guided tour with Street Art Paris

tour was complimentary, but opinions are all my own

who: Street Art Paris

what: guided walking tour, discover street art in Paris

where: Belleville (meeting point 107 rue Oberkampf)

why: Discover Paris from a different angle and learn interesting facts about Parisian street art and artists (local ones and visitors)

Is all graffiti vandalism? Is all street art graffiti? What exactly is street art anyway – and is it really an important part of Parisian culture?

For centuries, the city of Paris has been an inspirational and educational source for creative souls and have attracted artists from all around the world. As a result, Paris has acquired a reputation as the “City of Art”. The city is known for the famous art displayed in the famous Louvre and Musée d’Orsay and the famous architectural style of the Eiffel Tower and the Arc de Triomph. Mainstream community have mixed feelings about the city’s street art – and some may even refer to it as vandalism. Thankfully, times are changing. History is changing. And recent events have made it more clear than ever that we need the freedom of opinion and expression. And what better way to express yourself than through art? Isn’t that what the famous paintings displayed in the Louvre were all about, as well? This is why it’s important that you take a minute to appreciate the underground creative community. This is the art of today.

107 Rue Oberkampf, the guided tour’s meeting point. This is no coincidental address. This is the location of Le MUR (the wall), which once was a billboard site – now a contemporary urban art spot which has since 2007 been an officially sanctioned street exhibition space. In France there are currently 14 walls like Le MUR. Twice per month an artist is commissioned to fill Le MUR with a new piece of art for the public to enjoy. We got there just in time for the transformation of an empty black wall to a fascinating piece by Toulouse-based artist Snake (visit the website of Le MUR or go to rue Oberkampf yourself to see the finished piece!)

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I’m sure you’ve heard of the clothing brand OBEY. Founded by American street artist and illustrator Shepard Fairey, who first became known for his “André the giant has a posse”(OBEY) sticker campaign and gained wide recognition for his Barack Obama “Hope” poster in 2008. Today, Fairey has an impressive resumé with work included in the collections at the Smithsonian, the Victoria and Albert museum in London – and many others. We found André the giant on two different locations.

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Chiotte is the vulgar slang word for toilet in French. Which is why the logo of local street artist Chiot is, well, toilets. You migh have to look up to see his art, as these colorful toilets are most often painted on chimneys. The artist works at night with absolutely no security and is a highly respected one in the community.

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Kashink is one of the few active female artists in the French street art scene. Her signature style is the huge four eyed characters with thick lines and bright colors. She only paints men – and she paints them fat, hairy and often gay. This piece was painted illegally – at daytime!

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Moving on to Rue de la Fontaine au Roi, popular site for street artists but most recently known as one of the sites for the attacks in November last year. Street artists made it their mission to recreate an atmosphere of peace and unity and draw positive attention to this street – which is very similar to what people did at Place de la Republique after the attacks, when they decorated the square with flowers, candles and letters to their loved ones. At the end of the day, we’re all the same, we all want peace and happiness. We just have different ideas of what our decoration should look like.

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I don’t know who did this one, so if you happen to know – please comment below so I can credit the artist.

If you live in Paris, you may have seen these bicycles – well, what’s left of them – before. He calls himself Ride in Peace, a French artist and bike courier who fixed a lot of old bikes to use them for art displays like these.

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This is the signature style of Manolo Mesa, a Spanish artist who paints with a stick and is famous for using the “ghost effect”.

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I absolutely love this mural. The theme is Nepal and the art is created by Doudou Style and Pearl (the girl and the panda). French artist Pearl specializes in realistic portraits and finds inspiration in African art. Doudou Style is a Parisian painter, graphic designer, illustrator and animator.

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Tucked in a side alley in Belleville,  you’ll find Rue Dénoyez – the most important street in Paris for the graffiti community. The entire street is one big canvas and it is perfectly legal to paint there. Some of the artwork found on this street is simply amazing, like this portrait by Manyoly, an artist from Marseille who finds inspiration in photos she’s taken of women she met on her travels.

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This one’s by Eddie Colla, an American artist known for his wheat paste and stencil art. He often paints humans with masks, like this one.

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Place Fréhel, which is often referred to as “the missing tooth”, is a square that didn’t exist before the collapse of buildings on Rue de Belleville in 1986 turned it into a no man’s land. For a long time it was just a place without a purpose, but it is now used as a public garden and a canvas for street artists. The most famous art found on this square has been there almost ever since the year Place Fréhel became what it is. This piece is by French artist Benjamin Vautier aka Ben and the phrase written is French for “beware of words”.

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This piece was painted by art teacher and painter Jean Le Gac and portrays a detective searching for x-street. I’m sure the joke must sound better in French.

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And here’s a more recent piece. Titled “we are late”, by Pox.

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Intra Larue is an interesting artist. This French woman gives a feminine touch to Paris and to all the places she visits – with her boob sculptures. These sculptures are always painted differently and placed high and low on random locations.

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The city of Paris is also decorated with something else I’m sure you’ve noticed on various locations. Meet Invader , the artist behind the mosaic “pixel art” and the mobile application game that lets you collect points as you discover these little guys. Kind of like Pokemon Go, isn’t it?

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Our guide, Virginie, took us to the Belleville park – a park you’d only really know about if you live in the nearby area. This piece is a commissioned artwork created by talented local artist Seth.

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More by Seth (the maison de l’air building)

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This powerful piece of art is by Wild Drawing, an Indonesian artist based in Greece. The piece was made to honor the victims of terrorism.

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The tour guide obviously saved us some of the best for last, when taking us to see the mural with current theme “The dream”. This gorgeous piece by Hopare was done completely free hand.

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Do you recognize this lady? It’s FKA Twigs. The piece was made by talented artist Alex .

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Credits to Street Art Paris – for sharing all knowledge about these artists and their work. If you happen to be in Paris and want something fun and educational to do on a weekend – why not book a street art tour like this one? And if you’re a creative type interested in learning the art of graffiti, check out their graffiti mural workshops!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The traditional or the kinky? Christmas Markets in Hamburg, Germany

Ah, Christmas markets. Lovely decorations everywhere, nostalgic music playing in the background – and a valid excuse to walk around snacking and drinking punch in the middle of the day. If there’s a country that knows how to do Christmas markets properly, it’s Germany. Lucky as I am, I already went to (some of) the ones in Hamburg last weekend and early this week. And believe me – there’s a market for every taste. There’s one for those who love fun fairs, plenty for those who like to keep it more traditional and there’s even a steamy one for the kinky crowd!

Winter Dom is an annual fun fair (there’s actually a Spring Dom and a Summer Dom too) – and the biggest one in Northern Germany. My partner and I, kind of found it by coincidence while on our way to the “Santa Pauli” market – and I’m glad we did. We had just eaten a large meal so riding roller coasters and other fast rides was not very tempting, nor did we want to buy anything to snack on (yet), but the Winter Dom is definitely the place to be for the thrill-seekers who love roller coasters (yes, one of them has multiple loops). You can also go ice skating or visit a haunted house or ride the ferris wheel. All I wanted was to take in all the sights and stroll along, hand in hand with my significant other. I couldn’t stop smiling. The nostalgia, the Christmas magic – I needed this.

Dates: 04.11.16 – 04.12.16

Where: Heiligengeistfeld, St. Pauli (U3 subway to St. Pauli or Feldstrasse

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Santa Pauli – we wish you a kinky Christmas? Welcome to the sexiest Christmas market in Germany, located on the Reeperbahn – the city’s red light district. This one’s is for those who want to buy a special gift for their special someone and keep it their special little secret. Or maybe you don’t want to be secretive about it. I’m not gonna judge. Would you like a striptease? Enter Santa Pauli’s strip tent. If you want to avoid all of that but still want to hang out at the market, then don’t worry. There are plenty of regular Christmas shops and places to grab a drink or something to eat there too.

Dates: 17.11.16 – 23.12.16

Where: Spielbudenplatz (U3 subway to St. Pauli)

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On almost every corner between St Pauli and Rathaus, there’s a small Christmas market where you can buy yourself a snack or a hot beverage. I went with apple and cinnamon punch and chocolate covered marshmallow cookies (photo below).

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Historic Christmas market on Rathausmarkt opened on Monday – and of course we were there to check it out! This market was my favorite one in Hamburg. The perfect place to go shopping for traditional Christmas ornaments and decorations and a great place to spend time with your friends, family or your partner. Have a drink or five, enjoy a nice warm meal or a sweet treat and enjoy the celebration of this wonderful holiday. Thank you Hamburg, thank you for this joyful experience!

Dates: 21.11.16 – 23.12.16

Where: Rathausmarkt (U3 subway to Rathaus)

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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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