Sickness, Sangria and making efforts (Madrid, Spain)

Sometimes things don’t go as planned…I feel like I say that so often it’s becoming ironic.

Only two short weeks after returning home from Panama, my suitcase was already ready to be packed and boarded onto a plane. This time a little closer to home, though. More precisely; Madrid, Spain.

IMG_20170310_161330.jpg

The trip had been planned for a long time as a birthday present from me to my partner. I was fully aware that he couldn’t take any additional days off from work, which gave us only a day and a half to explore the city.

Little did I know that I’d end up traveling to Madrid while being extremely ill for the second week in a row. And little did I know how many times a day it’s physically possible to run to the toilet, almost faint and still force yourself to function – without collapsing. The human body is a machine when the human mind is stubborn as eff. I’ll tell you that!

Our flight was supposed to depart at eight thirty PM.  We were supposed to get there around ten PM, which would give us enough time to find a good restaurant, enjoy some tapas over a few glasses of red wine and celebrate the rest of the evening with some invented-for-tourists-and-not-really-authentic sangria. Because that’s basically what sangria is, most places.

Instead, our flight was delayed and we arrived in Madrid around eleven PM. We were supposed to take a taxi to the city center, but the line to get a cab was the longest line I’d ever seen. Ever. After running back and forth like headless chicken, feeling clueless and yelling at each other for not coming up with a solution, the solution came to us like a miracle sent from the man above: A bus. Why hadn’t we even thought of that before?

By the time we made it to the hotel, it was already ten minutes to midnight. The hotel (Petit Palace Posada del Peine) was modern, the staff was friendly and our room had everything I’d expect from a 4-star hotel. It was nice, clean and my only complaint would be that our air conditioning didn’t work. My partner found that to be a lot more awful than I did, though. His idea of a good night sleep would probably be to place a mattress inside of a human-sized fridge, if he could.

Midnight. In my opinion, that’s way too late to be going out for dinner. I suggested just going to bed and pretend not to be hungry. My partner thought that was the worst idea ever…so we asked the hotel receptionist if she knew any restaurants nearby that would still be open. Most of them were; for one more hour. Turns out, Spanish people eat late.  Very late. They’re basically owls.

As we sat down to order a large tapas platter, my nausea started to kick in. I absolutely love tapas and wouldn’t mind eating tapas three times a day, every day until death do us part (that’s an exaggeration) but as I had been sick ever since I made it back from Panama, just the smell of food made me feel ill. Just like my high school crush, it was something I wanted but couldn’t have, and when I got it, I didn’t want it anymore.

Croquetas, Pimientos de Padron, deli meats, manchego cheese, Spanish style meatballs and sausages, enormous olives and delicious, warm bread. I wanted to eat it all, but my body didn’t quite agree with me. However, chugging sangria was a-okay!

The next day, I was feeling just as ill as the day before… Just like I’d expected. The breakfast buffet looked great and my partner was having a blast, eating all sorts of deliciousness, while I could barely even force myself to eat some fruit and drink some green tea. Maybe it would be a good idea to stop by a pharmacy and by some sort of a miracle cure. Popeye’s spinach, for example?

IMG_20170309_111346.jpg

Before searching for a pharmacy, we decided to stick to our original plan and follow Lonely Planet’s architectural route to see some of the main highlights without making a bunch of detours. We saw the Plaza de la Villa, which used to be the permanent seat of Madrid’s government from the Middle Ages until recent years, when the city council relocated to Plaza de la Cibeles (which was also part of our route). We wanted to take a short break at Plaza de Espana, and watched street artists making huge soap bubbles and kids chasing them. The bubbles, not the artists. Our break lasted a bit longer than planned, as we ended up becoming so mesmerized by bubbles that we ended up trying to photograph them  – which turned out to be way harder than expected.

IMG_20170418_134008.jpg

Moving on to Gran Via, the upscale shopping haven for locals and visiting shopaholics. The street is known as the Spanish Broadway, with all your favorite musicals featured in Spanish. I seriously wanted to buy tickets to see Mamma Mia, as we walked past the poster. I already know the songs and the story by heart anyway (in English), so who cares if I don’t understand any Spanish? My boyfriend was not impressed.

IMG_20170418_134102.jpg

We walked past the Musee du Prado and Caixa Forum, but didn’t visit the museums. I’m absolutely certain I would have loved them both…if only I had been feeling better. We had already made it towards the end of the route and I was feeling exhausted from trying to stay strong all day.

IMG_20170418_135140.jpg

So we took another break, and went to the nearest pharmacy and bought me some medicine. It tasted disgusting. I ended up re-naming the medicine Fernando, as I could never remember what it was called and only knew it started with an F. Fernando became my best friend that day. Despite how disgusting he was.

Last stop, Antigua Estacion de Atocha, the old Atocha train station – and quite impressive one, too!

For the evening, we’d signed up to join a food tour with Walks of Spain to learn more about the local cuisine, local restaurants and their history. We followed Andrés (along with a group of Americans and some Portuguese tourists) to some amazing little eateries that we’d probably just pass by, hadn’t it been for him. And boy would we have missed out, if we did!

The first restaurant he took us to, was a 19th century tavern where both local and international celebrities have sipped on the famous aperitif of the city – vermut de grifo – and enjoyed the taste of the true Spanish tortillas. After getting us all a bit tipsy on vermouth, he took us to his favorite ham bar to taste the finest of Spanish deli meats and his favorite local wines. Moving on to a new restaurant, paella was the next dish to be served. Along with that, the wine tasting continued and yet another dish was served. Obviously, a meal is not complete without dessert – and a wine tasting is not complete without cheese. Surprisingly enough, thanks to Fernando, I managed to taste absolutely everything – even the cheese and the dessert  – without feeling sick!

I had a fantastic time at the food tour. It was by far the highlight of the day.

The next day, we got up early to check out the El Rastro flea market, which turned out to be extremely crowded. It seemed like every person who was visiting or lived in Madrid had decided to go to the market at the same time. Everybody. Instead of sleeping, eating, going to church, whatever else it is people normally do on a Sunday morning. We escaped the crowd to visit yet another crowded place: Mercado de San Miguel. I wondered, was noon too early for a cocktail? Nah, it’s always eight o’clock somewhere.

IMG_20170313_203333.jpg

We finished our Madrid adventures with one last tapas platter and one last Sangria pitcher, before visiting Plaza Mayor one last time, and returning to our hotel to pick up our stuff. Did I feel happy about how this trip turned out?

IMG_20170305_165943

I didn’t take half as many photos as I would have wanted to, and I kind of feel like I owe it to Madrid to go back, take better photos, revisit everything, eat everything and make it the greatest trip of my life. I feel like I owe it to my partner too, as I was probably the worst travel companion ever and his birthday present didn’t turn out quite the way neither of us had expected.

The moral of the story is; if there’s one thing that’s more important than creating memories, visiting places and learning new things – it’s having the health to do it all.

IMG_20170303_141352IMG_20170418_134700 (1)IMG_20170418_135024IMG_20170418_135257IMG_20170418_135447IMG_20170418_135629IMG_20170418_135759IMG_20170418_134156IMG_20170418_134312IMG_20170418_134418IMG_20170418_134505IMG_20170418_134556

 

 

 

 

 

Advertisements

A day at the market in Essaouira, Morocco

I went to Essaouira for the DIPINTO17 Retreat for Creative Entrepreneurs – but as you all know, a retreat is never “all work, no play”. A retreat is first and foremost a learning experience, motivational, inspirational – and a great way to make new friends and learn about the culture of the host country. While visiting the traditional market (the souk) in Essaouira, I got to experience shopping in a way I hadn’t done since I went to Tunisia with my parents. I got re-introduced to the concept of haggling. Modest as I am, it’s not something I feel comfortable with – but hey, you gotta do what you gotta do. Right?

There I was, watching and learning from others before – somewhat – getting the hang of it. After all, back in Tunisia it wasn’t me who took care of the haggling. I was a seven year old kid back then. I remember my parents buying me a lot of souvenirs from the island of Djerba, and little did I know how much effort they had to go through to buy me those souvenirs for a reasonable price.

Reasonable price is never the price written on the price tag. That price is a rip-off, and only naive and modest tourists (like myself) will ever pay that price for something you can get half price if you just grow a pair and speak up. When I first arrived at the souk in Essaouira, I ran around like a headless chicken, not knowing what to do or what to say. My only advantage was that I speak French and could pretend to be a penny-pinching French tourist instead of the vendors thinking I’m some rich American throwing money around and buying everything from everyone. Yes, those are stereotypes, and no, they’re not always true. I know that, you know that, the Moroccans know that.

IMG_20170110_130640.jpg

The market in Essaouira is a lot more relaxed than the one in Marrakech. Here, there are no snake charmers, no monkeys on a leash, no one trying to nearly force you to get Henna tattoos done, no one getting mad at you for not looking at their merchandise. Although I love certain things about the souk in Marrakech, and although the chaos and energy can sometimes be fun and although it adds to the experience,  I will have to admit that I prefer the traditional market in Essaouira.

The vendors are generally quite relaxed. If you don’t enter their shop, they will not say anything. And once you enter the shop they will ask you if you’re looking for anything special and help you find what you’re looking for. And obviously propose other options.That’s it. And that’s the way I like to go shopping.

IMG_20170118_110827.jpg

The number one beauty product to invest in when in Morocco – the motherland of Argan oil – is exactly that, argan oil for hair and body. And where better to buy it than in Essaouira, the part of Morocco where the oil is produced. I asked a vendor how much he wanted for a travel size bottle, and he pointed at the price tag. It seemed like a reasonable price to me. My new friends from the retreat – including a local – gave me a surprised look and asked me shockingly if I really did pay the price written on the price tag. I was confused. Of course I did. It seemed cheap. And doesn’t an actual price tag mean that the price is fixed? Apparently not.

“You should have haggled!” they said. I tried again somewhere else. I entered a shop selling beautiful pashmina scarves. I took a deep breath. The vendor offered a price. Was it high? Was it low? I had no idea. We negotiated. I suggested fifteen dirhams less. He suggested five. We met halfway, I paid and we shook hands. I was still confused as to whether or not I should have gone harder or if I was too hard on him. I took another deep breath and moved on.

IMG_20170110_130523.jpg

Leather wallets. I wanted to get one as a gift for my partner. I found the perfect one and I negotiated harder than I had done in the previous shop. I almost felt sweat dripping from my forehead as I tried to act stubborn and hard to sell, when all I really wanted was to say “I can’t do this” and just pay, shake hands, smile and leave. But I did it. I negotiated!

IMG_20170118_110958.jpg

I wanted to take a lot of pictures at the market but worried I’d offend the vendors if I photographed their merchandise without buying anything. So I purposely photographed only the places where I bought things from, the places where I’d asked for permission first – and a few sneaky shots taken in a hurry. While photographing my surroundings I noticed an adorable little kitten sitting on a man’s knee while the man was playing guitar. I couldn’t stop looking at the cute little kitten, and felt rather embarrassed when I suddenly made eye contact with the man – who probably thought I was staring at him all this time!

And then there was the strange experience that turned out to be the highlight of the day. One of my friends from the retreat had entered something that looked like Ali Baba’s cave, a tiny room with multiple treasure chests (yes, treasure chests) filled with gorgeous jewelry. The happiest man I’d ever seen, with a bright blue turban, welcomed me and three of my new friends (we had been separated from the rest of the group) to his cave and offered me and another woman a seat while the guys waited in the back. “What do you like? What do you need? You can try anything!” he said joyfully and dug his hands into one of the treasure chests and offered us a handful of random jewelry. “Try whatever you want” he said. One of our friends tried a bracelet that turned out to be a tad bit too tight and the vendor laughed and said “You eat too much couscous, my friend!”. “Here – try this one!” he laughed and suggested some other options. Before she knew it, she had three bracelets on her arm. She also tried on a beautiful necklace. Everything was gorgeous. She liked it too, but put on an act to not seem too easy to sell. “You are a strong Berber woman!” he laughed, referring to the Moroccan Berbers, an unconquered people.

IMG_20170110_130259.jpg

I tried on a few bracelets. Many of them were way too big for my tiny wrists (the only thing tiny on me). “You don’t eat enough couscous!” he laughed and offered me to try another one. A bracelet I fell completely in love with. I also tried on a lovely necklace but wasn’t sure whether I wanted to buy it or not. “It is perfect for you” he said, trying to convince me to buy it. I hesitated and told him “If I buy too much, I’ll have no more money for couscous!”.

In the end we all ended up with jewelry for a ‘family price’ discount, and the funny vendor even handed out some freebies for our two male friends. Now this guy could sell anything to anyone, just by being the funniest and most dynamic vendor I’ve ever met. I didn’t even go there to buy jewelry. I went there for the entertainment. The jewelry was just a pleasant bonus. Someone give this man a one man show!

IMG_20170118_110555.jpg

What a day it had been. What an experience. Oh, how I’d love to go back to Essaouira with an empty suitcase and just stay at the market for one more day – or two. And that’s coming from someone who has a phobia of haggling.

Photos below are from a restaurant I want to visit next time I’m in Essaouira(we didn’t have time while we were there). There’s live music in the evenings, and just look at how amazing and artsy this place is!

img_20170118_111119

img_20170110_130810img_20170110_130915

While heading towards the market, we saw a lot of this.

IMG_20170110_131013.jpg

And this. I love the colors!

img_20170118_111628img_20170118_111808

Our villa was a 20-25 minute drive from the city centre. Domaine La Colline des Oliviers .

IMG_20170118_095159.jpg

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

How to visit Oslo, Norway on a BUDGET

When you think of Norway, what is the first word that comes to mind besides cold weather, mountains, fjords and salmon?

Maybe not the first thing that comes to mind, but definitely not far from it, the word I’m thinking of is most commonly introduced as a follow-up to “I’d love to visit Norway, but…..”

Yeah, you got it. It’s expensive. So damn expensive. Pardon my language, but I really needed to emphasize that word. Norway is expensive. I know that, you know that, everybody knows that. And the capital is one of the most expensive cities in the country – although I believe Bergen, Trondheim and Stavanger will burn holes into your wallet and eat your money just as fast as the capital city would do.

But guess what – I have lived in that city and I’m here to share some travel hacks with you all. I want to make Oslo more accessible to ANY traveler – on ANY budget. Not just the privileged kids who can go wherever they want without worrying about the costs. Listen up. I have created TWO different lists of where to eat, sleep and what to do during your weekend in Oslo. Two different lists for two different budgets. Low and lower. I have also created a list of upcoming events in Oslo, so that you can plan your weekend around one of those events – or have an idea of when Oslo will be busier than usual.

oslo6

Budget for the BROKE traveler

Where to stay:

Norway is generally a safe place to use websites like Couchsurfing.com . But if crashing on a strangers’ couch ain’t quite your thing, don’t worry. There are options. For 26 euros per night you’ll get a bed in an 8-bedded dorm at Anker Hostel (although bed linen and a towel will add a little extra to the cost). The hostel is located a ten minute walk from the heart of the city center, and a five minute walk from the cool hipster neighborhood Grünerløkka.

Are you traveling with friends? At P-Hotels you can get a 3-persons room for 95-96 euros (31-32 euros per person) per night or a 4-persons room for 110 euros (27-28 euros per person) per night. The hotel is located in the city center, close to the busy shopping street Karl Johan.

Where to eat:

In spring/summer/early fall; do like Norwegians do. Go to a nearby supermarket (Rema 1000 and Kiwi are the cheapest ones), buy a disposable barbecue (costs about 1-2 euros) and whatever you wanna barbecue and find a park where you can peacefully have a picnic in the grass and barbecue. It is not permitted to barbecue in the Palace Park. My personal recommendation would be Frogner Park, St. Hanshaugen Park or Sofienberg Park.

At Harald’s Vaffel you can get either a regular Norwegian waffle or a gourmet waffle with blue cheese and bacon or any of the other varieties on the menu (between 2 and 4 euros).

Aker Brygge is not a part of Oslo I’d recommend you to visit for a low budget meal, but if you want an authentic Norwegian experience, go to pier number 3 and buy some boiled fresh shrimp from the local fishermen.

The supermarket chain Meny has a deli department where you can buy freshly made meals like salads, burgers, fish, meat, anything – and ask them to re-heat it for you.

If you’re one of those people who needs their daily coffee fix, visit Deli de Luca at Karl Johan’s gate. There’s a bunch of Deli de Luca’s everywhere in Oslo, but that particular one has a large seating area. If you want to accompany your coffee with a pastry, go for the Kanelbolle (cinnamon roll) or Skolebrød (sweet roll with custard and icing with grated coconut).

If you really, really like hot dogs, you’ll be in for a treat. Cafes, mini markets, gas stations, newsagents – a lot of them offer “varme pølser” (warm sausages). They’re hot dogs. And they cost 1-2 euros, which is cheap in Norway.

What to do:

  • Visit The Vigeland Sculpture Park . There is no entrance fee to visit this famous and sort of bizarre sculpture park. I used to live only a stone’s throw away from the park and went there a lot during the summer to lay in the grass with a good book and a basket of strawberries – and a great view of the gigantic centerpiece that looks like a gigantic…well..google it and you’ll know what I mean.
  • Visit Akershus Fortress . You can visit the fortress free of charge and explore it on your own, or pay 6 euros for a guided tour. There will be an additional cost to visit the museum.
  • Walk through the Palace Park and see the exterior of the Royal Palace.
  • Visit the famous  Opera building and its marble and granite exterior and get a nice view of the Oslofjord from the rooftop.
  • Visit the University Botanical Garden free of charge.
  • Spend a day in the forests of Nordmarka – you’ll find some cafes there, in case you forget to pack your lunch!

oslo1

oslo2

oslo3

 

Budget for the SOMEWHAT POOR traveler

Where to stay:

Comfort Hotel Børsparken is where I always stay, when in Oslo. It’s 82 euros per night for a single room – with breakfast included, and free coffee and tea all day in the lobby. There’s also a gym in the hotel. If you’re traveling with a friend or your partner, you can have a double room for 87 euros per night. The hotel is located close to the central train station and the Opera.

Anker Hotel is located right next to the hostel by the same name. For 90 euros per night you’ll get a single room with breakfast included in the rate. If you’re a group of five friends traveling together, you can book a family room for the price of 179 euros (35 euros per person) per night.

Where to eat:

Jensen’s Bøfhus is a steakhouse located right next to the parliament building, close to the Karl Johan street. The taste and quality of the food is nothing out of the ordinary, but with a lunch menu offering a meal for the price of 6-10 euros it’s worth it. Absolutely. Remember, in Norway this is considered a cheap meal. And it’s way batter than the 1 euro hot dogs you’ll find everywhere in the city!

Fiskeriet is a combined restaurant and fish market. They offer anything from fancy oysters (which is a lot more pricey than everything else on the menu) to traditional creamy fish soup (18 euros) to fish cake with bread and aïoli  (14 euros) and a lot more. And they are rumored to have the best fish & chips in town!

Illegal Burger has – in my opinion – the best burgers in town. Actually, I might even go as far as call them the best burgers in Norway, and I share that opinion with food critics who voted it the best burger-restaurant in Norway, two years in a row. The price is a little less than average Norwegian price – so it’s not cheap, nor too expensive. You can choose between the char grilled meat or the veggie patties (all burgers can be done vegetarian). The fries come with aioli sauce. Yum!

ChillOut is, as you all know, my favorite hangout-spot in Oslo. Which is why I dedicated an entire post to the place. I highly recommend you visit the hipster district Grünerløkka, have a coffee and a snack at ChillOut Travel Store, relax and read one of their many travel guides or travel magazines. Also, sign their guestbook while you’re there. Share one of your greatest memories from a recent trip or write down all the things you’re looking forward to do in Norway!

Cocoa used to be another one of my favorite hangout-spots in Oslo, at least while I lived in Grünerløkka and was close to all the cool cafes, restaurants, secondhand shops and everything else that neighborhood has to offer. Cocoa is Norway’s first hot chocolate/cocoa-cafe. They offer hot chocolate with various flavors and toppings, and cold chocolate with different flavors as well. The pastries are just as yummy as their hot choc.

What to do:

  • Get yourself an Oslo Pass – which gives you free entry to more than 30 museums and attractions, free travel on all public transportation, free entry to outdoor swimming pools, free walking tours, discounts on sightseeing, ski simulator, Tusenfryd Amusement Park , concert tickets, climbing, ski and bike rental, and special offers in restaurants, shops, entertainment and leisure venues.
  • Stroll along Aker Brygge, visit the Astrup Fearnley Art Museum. Order the today’s special (18 euros) or just a dessert at restaurant  Rorbua (everything else is quite pricey) and enjoy the view of the Oslofjord.
  • Visit Mathallen – a glamorous food court and meeting point for locals. The food is quite pricey, so I recommend just going there for a snack – perhaps a yummy pastry to satisfy your sweet tooth, or a sandwich if you need something more filling?
  • Join The Norwegian Trekking Association on a guided tour! I used to work for this association when I lived in Oslo and I know just how professional these guides are and I know they’ll take you to some amazing destinations – whichever the tour you choose. They do anything from day tours to week-long tours. All you need to do is browse through the website and search for a tour that fits your interests, skills, budget and time frame – sign up – or send them an e-mail if you have any questions.

img_20161228_133207Processed with VSCO with t1 presetoslo4Processed with VSCO

oslo5.jpg

Upcoming Events in Oslo

Processed with VSCO with c1 preset

dsc_0329img_20160701_144738

aviary-image-1445951888491.jpeg

Important note: Euro is not the currency in Norway. Norwegian Kroner is. I just converted the currency to make it easier for you to understand the prices.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

22 hours in Marrakech, Morocco

After four amazing days at a retreat for creative entrepreneurs by HDYTI in Essaouira, a port city on Morocco’s Atlantic coast, it was almost time to return home. But I didn’t want to go home without having ever visited the city I’d be flying out from, so I booked a night in the gorgeous Sapphire Riad & Spa in the Marrakech medina and had less than 24 hours to explore everything I wanted to see and eat everything I wanted to eat in the dynamic city of Marrakech, a popular destination for solo travelers, couples, families as well as groups of friends. If you were ever in doubt whether 22 to 24 hours is really enough time, doubt no more. Perhaps you’d like to know more about my trip to Essaouira or read a little more about the luxurious Riad I stayed at? Don’t worry, blog posts will be up soon!

But first, here’s how I spent 22 hours in Marrakech

3 pm: Arrived in Marrakech, checked in at the Riad and got a tour around the gorgeous property – and enjoyed some complimentary mint tea and pastries. How divine!

img_20170110_125938

4 pm: The owner and staff members at the Riad were all lovely. In fact, they were so kind that I didn’t even have to worry about getting lost in the market as I was accompanied by a staff member to all the places I wanted to visit until it was time to return to the Riad for dinner. I guess he worried I’d get lost and never find my way back and end up sleeping on the streets somewhere. Which I am 100% certain would be the case if I had been wandering around completely by myself. I am a woman of few talents, but getting lost is definitely my biggest talent. I am always a damsel in distress whenever I travel solo. Always. Although that’s nothing to brag about, really.

Thanks to a male staff member from the Riad guiding me around the city, I felt safer than ever – except from when I almost got run over by scooters, bicycles and tuktuks going full speed through the small streets of the Medina.

First stop was the Maison de la Photographie de Marrakech – a museum of Moroccan photography. I would have never been able to find this museum on my own as it’s quite hidden past the souks of central old town Marrakech, down the narrow alleys of the Medina, somewhere around there, you’ll find this lovely little museum. Most of the photos displayed were in black and white and they all told a story. My favorite photo was one of a woman sitting next to two men, exposing her bare legs and laughing. She looked like a Moroccan Marilyn Monroe. Another photo I liked, was a photo of a group of veiled women. I loved the contrast between them and the leggy vixen.

I wanted to sit down and order a beverage at the roof terrace cafe, but impatience got the best of me as the waiter never came my way to take my order. So I skipped the pause cafe and focused on my photography instead.

img_20170110_125459img_20170110_125723

5:30 pm: “Do you want to visit the Ben Youssef Madrasa Koran school?” the lovely man from the Riad asked me. Of course I did. I wanted to see everything. Not trying to be holier than thou or anything but thankfully I was dressed like a conservative gal and not like a careless westerner in short shorts and a tank top like some of the tourists I’d seen in the Medina and even entering the Ben Youssef Madrasa. I love my shorts and tank tops just as much as the next girl, don’t get me wrong, but there’s a time and place for everything.

Founded in the 14th century, this former Islamic college is the most stunning piece of architecture found in the Medina (in my opinion). With a courtyard richly carved in cedar, marble and stucco, consisting entirely of inscriptions and geometric patterns, this historical site is simply too beautiful to miss out on.

img_20170110_125240img_20170110_125400

6:00 pm: We spent about one hour visiting the busy market in Djemaa El-Fna. I wasn’t planning on buying anything and I barely even dared to look and no way did I touch anything at all. The vendors at the market seemed to be quite aggravated whenever I said no to whatever they had to offer. One lady tried to push me into getting henna tattoos done – something I should avoid like the plague as I suffer from eczema. I declined politely and she got seriously offended and asked me one more time, purposely ignoring my previous answer. I told her yet again that I wasn’t interested and she rolled her eyes at me and mumbled “oh la la, les touristes”. Lesson one; if you want to sell me stuff, make me laugh. Works like a charm. Just ask the gentleman in Essaouira who almost had me rolling on the floor laughing my butt off – and sold me jewelry when I wasn’t even planning to buy anything.

We finished the tour with a cup of tea at the market square, watching the sunset while acrobats entertained us with their choreographed moves.

img_20170111_140636img_20170111_140759

7:15 pm Morocco is amazing in many different ways, one of them being the way disabled people are treated. With respect, dignity and given the opportunity to work a full time job just like everybody else. Just because you depend on your wheelchair to get from A to B doesn’t mean you have to be physically bound to it at all times. Just ask the Moroccan tuktuk-drivers. In Morocco the disabled are given the opportunity to work as tuktuk-chauffeurs – and I think we got the most fast and furious one of them all.  At times I worried we’d run someone over with our full-speed tuktuk. That guy was not stopping for anyone. Buses, cars, women, children, red lights, queues, you name it – ain’t nobody got time for that!

Back at the Riad, I had about thirty minutes to relax in my room before getting ready for my three course meal. I’ll tell you all about my meal in a separate post (on the Riad). I’ll tell you one thing, though. It was delicious. Just like everything else I ate in Morocco.

8:50 am: The Riad had arranged for a guide to come meet me in the morning to take me to the sites I wanted to visit before heading to the airport at 1 pm. A bubbly Moroccan woman with the most beautiful smile and charming accent waited for me by the entrance to the Riad. She introduced herself and promised me we’d have enough time to do both the Jardin Majorelle and the Bahia Palace before returning to the Riad for my manicure appointment at noon. We hailed a cab and left the Medina to visit these spectacular sites.

Luck was on our side as there was absolutely no line to enter the Jardin Majorelle. We took advantage of the situation and the guide had me posing for photos pretty much everywhere in the garden – also for some videos that I’m not even sure I’m gonna share with anyone as I am probably the most awkward person you’d ever see on video. It’s cringe worthy, I tell you. The garden was amazingly beautiful. With the exception of one thing: vandalism done by tourists who think it’s a great idea to carve their initials into the bamboo, cactuses and other plants in the garden. It upset my guide to see it. And me too.

IMG_20170111_140320.jpg

Jardin Majorelle (or Majorelle Garden) is a botanical garden and the Islamic Art Museum of Marrakech. The building was designed by French artist Jacques Majorelle in the 1920’s and 30’s and the garden has been open to the public since 1947. Since 1980 the garden was owned by fashion designer Yves Saint-Laurent and his partner Pierre Bergé. Yves Saint-Laurent’s ashes were scattered in the Majorelle Garden.

img_20170111_140137img_20170110_124658img_20170110_124416

09:30 am Next stop, Bahia Palace. We hailed a cab and went to the opposite part of Marrakech. Ahead of schedule and again no line to buy tickets. Being an earlybird sure pays off!

The palace was built in the late 19th century and the name “Bahia” is actually Arabic for “brilliance” and “beautiful”. The palace was originally built for the Grand Vizier of the Sultan and was later occupied by his son and the four wives and several concubines.

Today, the spectacular Bahia Palace is one of the biggest tourist attractions in Marrakech.

img_20170111_135559img_20170111_135700img_20170111_135834

10:45 “Would you like to visit a Berber pharmacy and learn about the local products?” my guide asked me and explained to me that she loved the makeup from there as well as the spices, oils and scents. Curious as I am, I obviously said yes. I ended up buying a whole lot of products as well. A really good lipstick (finally one that actually hydrates my lips and doesn’t stain), a stinky cream for my eczema, some sort of remedy for when you have a blocked nose – and five or six other products. Saffron included – so I guess I’ll have to start searching for recipes and actually use it!

img_20170110_124257img_20170110_124147img_20170110_124040

11:30 am We still had about thirty minutes before I had to return to the Riad and I wanted to spend those thirty minutes wisely. My guide suggested that we’d walk to the Saadian Tombs and visit them quickly.

The Saadian Tombs date back from the time of the sultan Ahmad al-Mansur in the 15th-16th century). They were only first discovered in 1917 and were restored by Beaux-arts service. About sixty members of the Saadi dynasty were buried in the mausoleum. Their servants and soldiers were buried outside, in the garden.

img_20170110_123501img_20170111_135429

12:00 am Back in the Riad, just in time for my manicure appointment. My fragile, broken nails looked horrible and needed as much care and attention as possible. The lady who gave me the manicure told me to eat more bananas. In Poland they usually tell me to rub lemon juice on my nails. In Norway they tell me to drink more milk. Guess I should do all of the above to maintain good healthy nails.

1:00 pm The King was in town and traffic was worse than usual as everyone had to take an alternative route since the main one was blocked for security reasons. My taxi driver got me to the airport in time and even gave me a few mandarins to enjoy while waiting for my flight. I ate one and packed two in my handbag. A little souvenir from a country that has the freshest fruit juice I’ve ever had and the juiciest fruit salad I’ve ever tasted.

As I waited for my flight I browsed through the photos I’d taken during my 22 hours in Marrakech and smiled to myself. I might not have seen it all, but I sure am happy with everything I did see!

img_20170111_140910IMG_20170110_125117.jpg

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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.

warsawmarket

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.

bigben

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.

copenhagen1

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!

img_20161107_203238

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.

Processed with VSCO with c1 preset

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).

img_20161204_134036

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.

Processed with VSCO

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.

IMG_20160811_235501

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.

IMG_20160927_120514.jpg

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!

img_20161011_212110

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.

img_20170104_112745

img_20170104_112614

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.

IMG_20161228_132446.jpg

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!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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.

img_20170103_130000

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.

IMG_20170103_124627.jpg

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.

IMG_20170103_125336.jpg

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.

IMG_20170103_122632.jpg

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.

img_20170103_122304-1

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.

IMG_20170103_124301.jpg

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.

IMG_20170103_123451.jpg

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.

IMG_20170103_124847.jpg

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.

IMG_20170103_124949.jpg

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

img_20170103_125909img_20170103_125815img_20170103_125718

Bakklandet

IMG_20170103_125100.jpg

Old Town Bridge and Wharfs

img_20170103_125613img_20170103_121338img_20170103_125212img_20170103_124431img_20170103_125452img_20170103_121921

Nedre Elvehavn

img_20170103_124117img_20170103_124215

Fosenkaia Guest Harbor

img_20170103_123343img_20170103_123719img_20170103_123815img_20170103_123620img_20170103_124004img_20170103_122830

Our Lady Church

IMG_20170103_124734.jpg

 

 

 

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.

img_20161228_133207img_20161228_133419

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.

IMG_20161228_133034.jpg

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.

img_20161228_132900img_20161228_133554img_20161228_133841

 

 

 

 

 

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

img_20161214_115018

The old press device

img_20161214_120533img_20161214_120309

The modern ones

img_20161214_114905

The cellar

img_20161214_114723img_20161214_115345img_20161214_113940img_20161212_131339

 

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)

img_20161212_131545img_20161212_131700img_20161212_131839img_20161212_131946img_20161212_132058img_20161212_132211img_20161212_132333img_20161212_132443img_20161212_132657img_20161212_132923img_20161212_133106img_20161212_133307img_20161212_133442img_20161212_133725

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

img_20161209_122241img_20161209_123604img_20161209_123509img_20161209_123358

img_20161209_123712img_20161209_123830img_20161209_124003img_20161209_124134img_20161209_124346img_20161209_124531img_20161209_124624img_20161209_124724img_20161209_124859img_20161209_125156

img_20161209_125040img_20161209_125312

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

img_20161209_121101img_20161209_120938img_20161209_120840img_20161209_120735img_20161209_120634