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.

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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.

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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.

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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!

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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.

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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!

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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!

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

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And this. I love the colors!

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

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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.

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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!

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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.

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Upcoming Events in Oslo

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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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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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Why Christmas Markets in Cologne, Germany are simply magical

This year I’ve visited quite a few different Christmas markets. Lovely Christmas markets – by all means – but maybe a bit too much in a short matter of time..so much that I was starting to feel like I’d overdosed on Christmas and worried about coming down with the worst hangover ever. I didn’t want to be the Grinch, but sometimes too much feels like too much. On top of everything, I had caught a cold which made the idea of traveling to visit yet another Christmas market seem rather exhausting.

That was until I went to Cologne in Germany this week.

Spellbound by the charm and the authenticity of the markets located in this wonderful city, I had regained my Christmas spirit and tossed away my inner Grinch.

Each of these six markets has its unique style. Although the one in front of Cathedral Kölner Dom is the most well known of the city’s Christmas markets, there is absolutely no reason for you not to check out the others as well. You’ll be missing out on a simply magical experience!

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The marine themed market by the harbor looks amazing as darkness falls and lights illuminate the bridge connecting the two parts of the market separated by the river Rhine.

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The market by the Cathedral has a layer of little Christmas lights installed above all the stalls – enchanting little lights that make you feel like you’re gazing at a beautiful starry night sky.

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The Old Town market (Heimat der Heinzel) has a spectacular ice rink and lovely decorations, just enough to get you into the Holiday spirit and head to the bar for a glühwein or an eierpunsch – last one being my favorite hot beverage in Germany (hot eggnog).

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Then there’s the market that – in my opinion – is the most romantic one. With illuminated hearts decorating the trees, a cute little Ferris wheel turning in a strangely high speed for an attraction like this and plenty of cute little shops, how can you not fall in love with the market – or AT the market (the atmosphere is there, so why not?).

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The other two markets were lovely as well. I ate well (perhaps a bit too much at times), I drank well, I was in good company with my partner and his family, we laughed, we bought cute little gifts, we sang, we smiled.

Thank you Cologne – Thank you Germany. Thank you for getting me into the Holiday Spirit. I’ll see you again, next year!

Until then, let these photos inspire you.

Photos from the market by the harbor

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Photos from Neumarkt (the market of the angels)

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Photos from the Old Town market (Heimat der Heinzel)

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…and the romantic one right next to that market

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Photos from the Nikolausdorf market

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And let’s not forget the market by the Kölner Dom

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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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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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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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Paris Outskirts: Oise (thrill rides and castles)

Paris is beautiful. No doubt about it. Beautiful parks, amazing Haussmanian architecture, famous monuments, delicious food, fashionable people. But do you know any thing at all about the banlieues (suburbs) and the districts close to Paris?

Paris. We’ve all seen the thousands of photos shared on social media. We all know what the Eiffel tower looks like. And the Louvre too. And most of us Francophiles have heard the song “Champs-Élysées” and have either been – or want to go – shopping on this famous boulevard. “Now I feel like a real Parisian,” I heard one tourist say out loud as she let her friend hold her fancy shoppingbag from Ladurée – containing overpriced macarons- while she was trying on a beret from a souvenir stand. She was probably the kind of tourist who came to Paris determined to visit the same sites, do the same things, and share almost identical photos with others who had been there and done that before her. Or maybe she wasn’t like that at all. Maybe she just didn’t know any better. Maybe she even wanted to befriend locals and get to know the REAL Paris. Maybe even….the towns and villages close to Paris? Certain Parisians would probably burst out laughing and tell you you’re wasting your time exploring the suburbs, when everything you need is right there, in the centre of Paris. Others would encourage you to see absolutely everything and maybe even offer to come with you. Me, I am a curious soul, interested in seeing every corner of France – and not just the ones mentioned in glossy magazines. 

Before I moved to Paris, I was completely unaware of all the amazing places located only a stone’s throw away from the big city. Parks as beautiful as the ones in Paris, enchanting castles, charming little villages, lovely cafes and restaurants. It’s enough to make you wanna book a flight to Paris – without even visiting Paris.

I will write about each department individually, as this post would seem never-ending, otherwise. You see, the outskirts of Paris have quite a lot to offer!

First, I’ll take you a bit further than just a stone’s throw away, but still not too far to qualify for a spot in this series:

Oise

Parc Asterix

Oise (named after the river Oise) is a department 84 km north of Paris. The biggest tourist attraction of the department is also one of the most visited annually by locals; Parc Asterix – a theme park based on the stories of Asterix (a series of French comics). The park has a large variety of roller coasters as well as many other attractions and shows.

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Beauvais

If you’re flying to Paris with Ryan Air, you’ll be arriving in Beauvais, which serves as the capital of the Oise department. I have never been to Beauvais myself, but I’d love to visit the city’s spectacular gothic cathedral (Cathédrale Saint-Pierre de Beauvais)  and photograph the facade of the Museum of the Oise Department, which is a museum in the former bishop’s palace and is classified as a historical monument. And why not visit one of the expositions at the museum while you’re there?

Senlis

Medieval town Senlis is another destination you should add to your list. Visit the impressive, Gothic cathedral – a national monument of France. The ruins of the Royal Castle is also worth seeing. The actual castle dates back from the 1200’s. Once you’ve visited the cathedral and the castle ruins, sit down and relax with a glass of red or white in one of the local restaurants.

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Château de Pierrefonds

Another must-see is the Château de Pierrefonds, a beautiful medieval castle built between the late 1300’s-early 1400’s. I visited the castle last year, and coincidentally  got there in time for the local medieval festival. I bought myself some souvenirs and farmers produce from the festival market and enjoyed a tasty crêpe to-go!

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Château de Chantilly

Last but not least, Château de Chantilly, a historical castle located in the town of Chantilly. The chateau houses the Musée Condé, which is one of the finest art galleries in France and is open to the public.The park is a French formal garden, which is the same style of garden as the ones of Versailles. While visiting the beautiful garden, we saw happy newlyweds posing for photos, using the gorgeous nature as a backdrop for their wedding photographs. The estate overlooks the Chantilly Racecourse (Hippodrome de Chantilly) , and the Great Stables. Make sure you check out the equestrian shows and demonstrations while you’re there. It’s great fun to watch!

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Château de Montvillargenne

Would you and your significant other like a romantic celebration at a 4-star spa hotel? Then check out Château de Montvillargenne. My partner and I celebrated our one year anniversary at this luxurious chateau. They have an indoor swimming pool, sauna, Turkish bath and they offer a variety of spa treatments – including a duo massage for couples (we tried it, we loved it!). The rooms are neat, the interior is modern and the restaurant serves fine gourmet cuisine. If you’re already in the neighborhood and if you have the budget for it – why not spoil yourself a little?

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Château d’Ermenonville

Set in a medieval chateau, this sophisticated hotel château d’Ermenonville is located in a calm environment – in the heart of the Ermenonville forest, overlooking the Jean-Jacques Rousseau Park. The restaurant has a good reputation and I’d love to dine there someday soon. Just waiting for yet another special occasion.

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Why You Should Visit my Hometown, Stavanger (Norway)

As a teenager, I couldn’t wait to grow up and move away from my hometown. A boring, old-fashioned city with bad climate. How anyone could possibly fall in love with that place, was beyond me. But times have changed. Now I fall in love with my hometown again and again, every time I come back to visit. Let me introduce you to Stavanger, a charming little gem in the southwest of Norway.

The city is primarily known as the Norwegian oil capital, which has shaped the identity of the city in many ways. For example, one of the main tourist attractions in the city is the Norwegian Petroleum Museum, the local hockeyteam is called “Stavanger Oilers” and the city’s nickname is “Oljebyen” which means “Oil city”.

But there’s more to Stavanger than that. The region is blessed with spectacular nature. Visit the beautiful Norwegian fjords, Kiragg mountain and the pulpit rock. And when you’re done hiking or finished your tour with the Lysefjord sightseeing cruise, there’s plenty of cozy coffee shops where you can go to relax with a good cup of coffee in Stavanger city. Norwegians love their coffee, and they take their coffee-culture very seriously. Don’t forget to order one of the local pastries like kanelbolle (cinnamon roll), skolebolle/skolebrød (bun with egg cream) or solskinnsbolle (cinnamon roll with egg cream) to go with your beverage – to get the true Scandinavian coffee-break experience. 

Take a stroll along the picturesque Old Town, where all the houses are itty bitty and painted white. Visit the little galleries and charming boutiques and imagine you’re back in the early 1900s. Here you’ll also find the Norwegian Canning Museum, which displays a typical factory from the 1920s.

And for a completely modern approach, visit Øvre Holmegate, more familiarly known as “Fargegata” (Colorstreet). This colorful neighborhood is home to some of the most chic bars, cafes and boutiques in the city and is a joy to visit. It’s a good spot to take some cool Instagram snapshots too!

Dining in Stavanger can be expensive, but totally worth it – as long as you select your restaurant wisely. My personal favorite is the Renaa restaurants, Re-naa; a gourmet restaurant which has been recognized for its excellence and awarded with a Michelin-star, and Renaa: Matbaren, which is the cheaper option – but with the same, high quality and a relaxing atmosphere. Another favorite is Døgnvill – Bar & Burger, for when I want a delicious gourmet burger accompanied by a tasty milkshake.

Should you check out the nightlife in Stavanger? If you want an awesome night out, yes! Believe it or not – and this is coming from someone who has lived in Oslo (the capital) too – I’m not the first person to say that Stavanger has better bars and clubs than many other Norwegian cities. And most of them are centered around the port! Check out Checkpoint Charlie , Gnu , Chevy’s and Folken if you wanna hit up the indie/rock/metal scene. If you’d rather dance the night away to the beats of the latest house/pop music, check out Alf&Werner , Hall Toll or Hexagon. If you prefer dancing to a more underground style of electronica and indie music, check out Cementen. If you just wanna hang out and drink craft beers in a more relaxed and mature atmosphere, Cardinal is the place for you. Or Circus , if you want a beer bar with a younger vibe.

The best time to visit Stavanger is between May and September. Every year in late July, there’s the annual food festival Gladmat (which is great fun if you’re a foodie) and the Tattoo Convention (for the alternative crowd). Next year – in May – there will be a wine festival too!

So what are you waiting for?

Visit my hometown in Norway. Visit Stavanger!

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