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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

more photos below

Nidaros Cathedral

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Bakklandet

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Old Town Bridge and Wharfs

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Nedre Elvehavn

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Fosenkaia Guest Harbor

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Our Lady Church

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Winter Beer Day – Celebrating beer in Hamburg, Germany

One of the first things that come to mind when I think of Germany is beer. Without a doubt. Thanks to Oktoberfest, we all have this image of Germans being a festive crowd who will drink you under the table any day. Which they probably would, given the challenge.

But the German beer culture is so much more than that. And I was soon to discover exactly how sophisticated the industry is, and how passionate the craftsmen are about their products. As a blogger who already happened to be in the right part of Germany that weekend, I was invited to the Winter Beer Day – an annual event that takes place in Hamburg, more specifically: Altes Mädchen, Lagerstrasse 28B, 20357 Hamburg.                The event is hosted by Altes Mädchen and Craft Beer Day – and you don’t have to wait until December next year for the next upcoming event, because there’s also a Summer Beer Day!

As I entered the event – ready to celebrate German beers – I was given a beer glass and the opportunity to wander around and speak to any representative from any brewery and taste whatever I wanted to taste and ask whatever questions I wanted to ask about the different beers – and about the breweries they came from.

First one up was a Golden Pale Ale from Berlin based SuperFreunde – definitely a beer for those who enjoy a bitter aftertaste (40 international bitterness units). “What is the mildest or most subtle one you have?” I asked one of the brewers. He laughed and said “None of our beers are really mild. This one’s the mildest”. The beer I tasted was perhaps a bit too masculine for little me, but I’m happy I got to try it as the beer was of high quality and definitely something I’d recommend to people who love Pale Ales!

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A Danish microbrewery was the next one that caught my attention. The brewery Fanø Bryghus is located on Fanø island which is part of the Wadden Sea National Parks, a UNESCO heritage site. My inner nomad is itching to embark on a road trip through Denmark, and will without a doubt visit Fanø when that time comes. “Can I try your Christmas beer?” I asked the owner – in Norwegian. He replied in Danish and poured me some Julebryg, which had a hint of coffee and cinnamon flavor and had been brewed for four weeks – with vanilla beans in the barrel! I loved it and asked to try another one. He offered me one called “Beer Geek Slumber Party” which was a Belgian style strong beer (11%). It didn’t taste strong at all, and I’m certain that one pint of that would be enough to get me wasted without even realizing it. “We also have a beer that’s brewed with oysters”, he said. I didn’t try it, as I’m allergic to shellfish. My partner did, and his words were “it’s kind of good, but it’s strange”. Now I’m definitely curious about visiting Fanø to see how this strange oyster beer is made”!

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I took a short break from drinking alcohol and had a taste of root beer from local brewers HobbyBrau before moving on to something quite unusual from Pirate Brew Berlin. These guys collaborate with local producers, and with their motto being “brewing it social” you’ll most certainly find elements of unique ingredients in all their different beers. I tried their chili flavored one, made with chili from a local producer. Interesting idea, interesting taste!

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Moving on to Ratsherrn – the brewery I initially got in touch with, as I wanted to visit the brewery and write a post about it. And here I was, tasting their beer at an amazing beer tasting event instead. I wanted to try the Pumpkin beer, which is made with the same ingredients used to make pumpkin pie. For someone who loves everything pumpkin, this one was definitely a big thumbs up. Their winter ale called Lumberjack was quite nice as well.

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All these impressions had made me somewhat tipsy. No, that’s an understatement. I was starting to feel lightly drunk and I needed a break. And a burger. And sweet potato fries with a whole lot of mayo on the side. The food truck offered all of that – and it was exactly what I needed in order to be able to continue this enjoyable quest of tasting beers without having to deal with any consequences.

Wildwuchs Brauwerk – another brewery from Hamburg, offered me a beer called Alt Kanzler Rauch Bier, which translates to “Old chancellor smoked beer”. This is a humorous way to honor Helmut Schmidt and his chain smoking-habit.

Hopper Brau – also from Hamburg, offered me a beer called “Weizheit” (which was a wheat IPA brewed in a cognac barrel for four weeks) before moving on to the dark side, to “Dunkle Macht” meaning Dark Force. With a name and a label like that, how can you go wrong?

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Love for metal and vikings brought me to Wacken Brauerei – whose motto is “Beer of the Gods”. I asked them what their bestseller is and they told me they don’t have a bestseller yet, as they only just started in July. I wish them all the best of luck for the future and I’m glad I got to taste their smoked porter called Surtr and their Nordic strong ale Walküren Schluck.

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Obviously the breweries I didn’t get around to taste beer from, deserve an honorable mention too! I’ll check out their beer on a later date – whether it’s at an event like this one, a visit to the brewery or maybe I’ll even find their products in a bar or a beer shop somewhere? Check out Kehrwieder Kreativbrauerei , Fräulein Brauer , Welde Braumanufaktur , Stone Brewing , Ugly Duck Brewing Co. , Elav Brewery Italy , Blockbräu , Bierfabrik Berlin , Circle 8 Brewery , Hops & Barley .

Before leaving the Winter Beer Day, I wanted to go to the events’ first workshop (out of five). Claus Winther from Fanø Bryghus (the Danish one) told the story of his brewery, talked about the challenges of running a microbrewery in Denmark and answered questions from the public. And obviously we all got to taste some beer as well!

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I left Winter Beer Day feeling educated, satisfied and slightly drunk. I’ve taken notes and added some favorites to my list and will look out for them next time I go beer shopping. And I’ll make sure to schedule in a visit to Summer Beer Day next year. Will you be there too?

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(this was a complimentary visit, but all opinions remain my own)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

How a Drunk Guy’s Story Brought me to Antwerp, Belgium

Maybe nine or ten years ago, I fell in love with a story told by someone who was very, very drunk. Someone who had fallen in love with the city of Antwerp in Belgium, and couldn’t stop talking about it. “I want to find a nice Belgian girl and settle down in Antwerp. I had the best time of my life there, you know. It’s a beautiful city. And the people there are so friendly, and the beer – oh my God – the beer”, he slurred and took a sip of his non-Belgian beer. “You have to go to Antwerp, you really have to”, he continued. While most other people at that party got fed up with listening to him obsessing over Antwerp and wouldn’t take his drunken slur seriously , I just wanted to know more. I wanted to fall in love with Antwerp too.

And now, many years later, I was finally on my way to Antwerp. My boyfriend and I had decided to go on a road trip to Brussels and decided to spend one night in Antwerp because of my strong desire to go there. And the city was just as amazing as I had expected it to be. I had fallen in love-  just like the drunk guy at the party.

We stayed at the Hotel Prinse, which is an old-fashioned four star hotel set in a 16th century building only a stone’s throw away from the historical center of Antwerp. When we arrived, we received welcome drinks (a glass of wine each). What a pleasant surprise. Cheers to us. Cheers to Antwerp!

The old city center of Antwerp reminded me of how much I love living in Europe. The ancient buildings and narrow streets, the stunning Cathedral of Our Lady and intimate pubs and restaurants on every corner. We grabbed a beer at Paters Vaetje and enjoyed the beautiful autumn sunshine. Tourists of all ages were taking selfies on the Grote Markt (Great Market Square), while others were hanging out drinking beer like us, or snacking on some of the Belgian specialties; chocolate, waffles or fries!

We strolled the narrow streets and tried our hardest to resist the smell of delicious waffles and the sight of tasty chocolate. I wanted to eat it all. But instead of stuffing our faces with calories, we went to see the Het Steen – a medieval fortress, built in the early middle ages. This beautiful fortress managed to get my mind off snacking – at least for a little while – until we both agreed to return to the Grote Markt to buy fries from Frituur Number One, which for some reason has become kind of famous and is always crowded with tourists. Basically, curiosity brought us there. The fries were basic, though. Nothing out of the ordinary. So don’t expect a mouthgasm – unless you already get one from whatever random fries you order anywhere else.

Dumb as we were, we hadn’t made any dinner reservations anywhere and started to panic as we got turned down by one restaurant after another. Eventually we found a nice restaurant called De Bomma , which I think translates to “at grandma’s”, which would make sense as the concept is nostalgic, traditional food –  just like from your grandma’s kitchen…if she was Flemish. The food was good. I especially loved the appetizer; cheese croquettes with fried, crispy parsley on the side. I had never tried parsley prepared in such a creative way before, but it sure was interesting and a lot better than non-fried, non-crispy parsley!

After a heavy meal at grandma’s, we made the clever decision to go to a beer bar to make our already full stomachs even fuller. According to online reviews, Cafe Kulminator was supposed to be one of the best – or THE best – beer bars in the city of Antwerp. My boyfriend was kind of scared to go there, as some reviews said the owners were not very friendly towards francophone’s. I reassured him it would be okay, and I’d do all the talking – as his french accent would give him away. The owners didn’t seem unfriendly, though. And what a fascinating establishment. Random decoration, random furniture and a whole lot of board games everywhere. It looked like my grandma’s attic. Or a flee market. Cafe Kulminator has probably every type of Belgian beer that exists, behind the counter – and the menu looked more like an enormous dictionary than a menu. We gave up on the menu and just ordered what they had on tap.

As I’m not a big fan of the coffee served in hotel breakfast buffets, I was happy to discover that there are plenty of coffee shops to choose from in Antwerp. We visited Caffe Mundi, a coffee shop specialized in roasting high quality coffee. I highly recommend this place if you’re the kind of person who want to know exactly what you’re drinking, as the menu gives you the option to choose between blends and single origin coffee – the very best coffee from different countries around the world.

I finished my coffee and thanked the barista. I silently thanked the rest of Antwerp too. For letting me enjoy this charming city. For letting it be exactly what I hoped it would be.

Thank you drunk guy, for the recommendation. You were right. You were right about everything.

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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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Solo travel and Social Anxiety

We all have dreams. We all have a passion for something. But do we all have the guts to follow our dreams and face all the obstacles? Do you ever find yourself thinking “I’m not smart, extroverted or talented enough to make it”?

Is your passion the same as mine? Do you want to travel the world, write about it and inspire others to get out there, see the world and live the life they’ve always dreamed of? Did you just say “yes” to all these questions, but deep down inside you know you’d never be able to expose your life and share your deepest thoughts on a blog like this? And although you like the idea of traveling solo, you’re sure you’d pee your pants before even getting to the airport?

Trust me, I’ve been there. In fact, I’m still there. People who don’t know me very well usually mistake me for an extrovert, as I talk a lot when I’m in a social setting where it’s expected of me to participate in the conversation. Some may notice how awkward and nervous I am when I talk, while others think it’s just the way I am. Trust me, there’s so much more going on in my head than what I’m able to say out loud. I’m always anxious in big groups of people, because I always feel like I’m the one who doesn’t fit in. The outcast. The weird one. Yet, traveling solo doesn’t bother me at all anymore. It was scary the first time – just how everything is scary the first time you try something new. Being alone doesn’t bother me. But being labeled as someone who is brave, just because I went places completely on my own – now THAT’S what bothers me.

I am not brave because I travel solo. I am brave when I manage to go to birthday parties and other events where I’m surrounded by a lot of people I don’t know and I try my hardest to act normal, when all I want to do is grab my jacket and run away. I am not brave because I dine alone in restaurants or spend a week alone in a hotel. I am brave when I manage to make a phone call, when all I want to do is hang up immediately and lay down in fetal position to calm my nerves. I am not nervous about flying alone, taking the train alone – and I probably wouldn’t have a problem with going on a cruise by myself either (I have to try that one day). I am not scared of unknown places. I am not scared of blogging about my travels and sharing my tips. I am not scared of sharing photos and updates from my trips online.  What does scare me is what people I already know, think of me. I am scared of their judgement. But I’d never let social anxiety or shyness get in the way of my dreams. And neither should you. My fears will never be the boss of me. And neither should yours.

A lot of people have told me they envy me for traveling solo, running a travel blog and making a little money from it, from time to time. Now that you’ve read this post, remember that I am not braver than you. We are just fighting different battles.

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These photos were taken by my boyfriend – my current travel partner (most of the time) – in Étretat, Normandie, France

 

Review: A night at the elegant Château de la Cazine (Limousin region, France)

Where it is:  Domaine de la Fôt, 23300 Noth, rural Limousin region (France)

Website: http://www.chateaudelacazine.fr/en/

Who it is suitable for: romantic getaway, weddings, those who want to pamper themselves with spa-treatments and need a break from everyday stress

Thumbs up for…:  friendly staff, lovely room with gorgeous decor

Thumbs down for…: the swimming pool. It was supposed to be heated, but I got myself an ice-cold surprise as I entered

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Ah, those romantic weekend-getaways. People have different ways of spicing up their relationship. Castles, spa-treatments and local gastronomy is ours. Fortunately,  me and my significant other live in France, where  there’s plenty of charming chateau-hotels to choose from and the restaurants will (most likely) not disappoint you. A lot of these classy chateaus offer bicycle rental, spa-treatments or have their own swimming pool and maybe even a tennis court.

Château de la Cazine offer all those things – and more. The chateau offers relaxing spa treatments and has an outdoor swimming pool for those who want to relax in the nice, supposedly heated water. It was freezing cold when we were there, though.

If swimming pools and spa-treatments don’t interest you, then what about horse riding? Fishing? Or maybe you’d like to play tennis, rent a bicycle – go mountain biking if you’re more of an adventurous type – or maybe you’d like to use the chateau’s own gym? Remember, if you need a soothing sports massage after a good workout, you can get one of those here too!

Although the chateau is located in a rather remote area, it’s safe to say you won’t get bored. This beautiful venue is also frequently used for weddings and as a honeymoon location. In case you’re a bride or groom to be; this place is perfect for that idyllic wedding in the french countryside. Just perfect.

And what are the rooms like? Sophisticated, old-fashioned and elegant en-suites, designed and decorated with a modern twist to the style of Louis XIV. You enter the room and immediately feel like a royal. I wore my invisible crown all day that day.

Now, let’s talk about the restaurant.

At first I was slightly disappointed. We spent a long time waiting for the server to take our order. A very long time. So long, in fact, that we decided not to order any cheese or dessert, as we were afraid we’d be stuck there waiting impatiently for something that possibly wouldn’t even arrive. The rest of the evening was fine. The meal was nice, the wine was good, the atmosphere was lovely. The breakfast the following morning was the typical french breakfast with bread, jam, pastries, coffee/tea and juice. They also served other things like ham and different kinds of cheese, to cater to the international crowd, I guess. That’s a big plus.

After a lovely breakfast and a nice little chat with the lovely receptionist, it was time to check out and remove my invisible princess crown.

 

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That time when I traveled solo from state to state (US)

A couple of years ago, I was a temporary resident in the sunshine state. A legal alien in Florida. At times I really felt like an alien, with my many “fish out of water” experiences. Humidity was completely foreign to me, and so was the concept of Walmart and its culture. Walmart in Florida was different than anything I’d ever seen before. I’m not talking about the selection of products or the size of the place. I’m talking about the people of Walmart. The exhibitionists, the eccentric men and women who just don’t care what people think, and the ones who were too spaced out to even pay attention. This was my first impression of The United States of America. And then something else happened. I started to get days and weeks off from work – which, by the way, was Disney World. I wanted to spend my free time wisely. I wanted to travel from state to state and see more of the land of the free and the home of the brave. And I wanted to do it by myself.

Before venturing into the unknown, I asked for advice from different people who had already done a bit of traveling within the US, and others who were experienced solo travelers. I wanted my first experience to be a good one. I wanted to make sure I’d be safe and not too lonely. I think I worried more about loneliness than my own safety, to be honest. How naive and foolish of me.

I ended up going to New York City. Manhattan. I should have gone to Brooklyn, as Brooklyn is more my style. In fact, I love Brooklyn so much that if anyone offered me a loft apartment and a job there, I’d drop my life in Paris in a heartbeat. Instead of four nights in Brooklyn, I stayed at Empire Hotel on the upper west side, as I used to be a big fan of the TV-series Gossip Girl. The hotel was one of the filming locations and my favorite character was the one who owned that hotel in the series.The city that never sleeps never slept. I got myself a private guide who gave me a 6 hour walking tour and I explored the rest of the city completely on my own and mostly by foot. And guess what, I have never felt as safe as I did in New York City.

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And then there was Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. It wasn’t technically a solo trip, as I had gone there specifically to be someones wedding date. But I did spend most of the time alone anyway, so it kind of was a solo trip. I was neither impressed nor unimpressed with Pittsburgh. People seemed friendly, the Pittsburgh sandwich was quite alright (with its fries and coleslaw inside of the sandwich) and the city itself seemed like a fun place to party or watch football – at the Heinz Field stadium, obviously.

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Before moving to the US, I volunteered as a staff member for the Norwegian Travel Exposition. It was a wonderful opportunity for me to mingle with important people in the industry, and I wanted to make sure I didn’t waste a single minute of it. I stayed at the exposition from 10 AM to 7 pm every single day that week. Determined and hopeful. Thanks to my stubborn attitude, I was introduced to the CEO of Mall of America. It was quite a coincidence, actually. He needed to make a phone call but didn’t have a phone, and I immediately came to the rescue and offered him mine. We ended up chatting, he tried to convince me to visit Mall of America and perhaps apply for an internship. I never got around to applying for an internship there, but I did put this enormous mall on my bucket list. And I did end up going there. The summer of 2014, approximately six months after my encounter with the CEO of Mall of America. Solo. Hello Bloomington and Minneapolis, Minnesota!

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I also went to Boston, Massachusetts that summer. I had never seen this many Dunkin’ Donuts shops in my entire life. And I had never felt as close to Europe as I did in Boston. Certain parts of the city had kind of a British feel. After seven months away from my continent, it felt good to be somewhere that kind of reminded me of something closer to home. I enjoyed Boston. Too bad I’m allergic to shellfish and was unable to enjoy some of their local specialties – because their seafood is supposed to be absolutely amazing!

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People visit Chicago, Illinois for different reasons. Mine was personal. As I’m half Polish, I was interested in visiting Chicago to learn about the history of the Polish community in the city. I booked a guided tour of The Polish Museum of America and visited one of the Polish restaurants in what used to be the Polish downtown in Chicago. There I was, enjoying a meal just like the ones my mother used to make, in a country far away from Poland – yet, both the waiter, the chef (his mother) and the news reporter on the TV in the background, were right there, speaking the language. This was the first time I had felt slightly homesick during my solo travels. I was happy to be in cool Chicago, but my pierogi dinner (filled dumplings) triggered something inside me. I missed my mother.

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Denver, Colorado. If only I had a dollar for every time someone asks me if I went there to smoke grass, I’d be a millionaire by now. And the answer is no, I didn’t go there to smoke anything. I went there because I wanted to go there. The highlight of the trip was discovering an amazing independent bookstore called Tattered Cover Book Store. I bought five books there, and wanted to buy so much more. Their selection of travel books was great. No, great is an understatement. Fantastic.

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And now, let’s talk about California, shall we? I visited San Francisco and Los Angeles on the same trip, and then returned to Cali to visit San Diego a few months later. I loved San Francisco and San Diego. L.A. not so much. I felt like I was too middle class and basic (guess I explored the wrong neighborhoods) , too ugly and too non-artistic to fully enjoy what Los Angeles has to offer for people who want to be more than just the average tourist, but can’t afford a lavish lifestyle. San Francisco was as windy as I expected it to be (I was there in November) but I fell in love with the city and its hip and artsy vibe. I also had a short fling with a guy I met during that trip, which made the taste of San Francisco even sweeter. But the sweetest was the taste of San Diego sunshine, vegan tacos at SOL CAL Cafe, street markets and feeling the sand between my toes and letting the waves crash on my feet (Coronado Island). San Diego was my California dream.

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Beverly Hills (below)

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Golden Gate bridge, San Francisco

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This legal alien went to The White House. Not really, but I saw it from a distance while visiting Washington D.C. – the capital of the United States (in case you didn’t know). I saw all the monuments, as they were pretty much all next to each other, and I ate delicious street food from food trucks, alongside a whole lot of businessmen in suits. (the photo below is of the United States capitol)

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Savannah, Georgia was another city on my bucket list. Why? Well, I love the movie Forrest Gump and Savannah was one of the filming locations for that movie. I went to the exact same spot where that famous bench used to be – only to find out that it was no longer there. Well, you know what Forrest Gump used to say…”Life is like a box of chocolates. You never know what you’re gonna get”.

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So the big question is; what have I learned from traveling solo? 

I have learned that it’s okay to be alone. It’s no big deal to dine alone in restaurants, visit museums alone or explore monuments and sites completely by myself. It’s absolutely fine! Sure, I had moments where I felt lonely and wished someone was there to share these memories with me. But the freedom, oh the freedom, it made everything worth it. If I wanted to visit four coffee shops in one day, I could. If I wanted to have an early dinner or a very late breakfast, I could! And if I wanted to spend two hours in a book store and the rest of the day in a museum – guess what, I could do that too!

Don’t get me wrong, I love to travel with my boyfriend, my friends and my family, but I’d rather go on another solo adventure than spend my time waiting for someone to join me on my trip, only to find out that they’re not going after all. Then what? Don’t you ever let your fear or other people’s opinions get in the way of your solo travels, and don’t you ever wait around for someone who says they “might” join you, if you’re certain that they won’t. Spread your wings. Fly solo.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Barcelona: Lost in Wonderland

There I was. Barcelona.

La Rambla was as busy as it was rumored to be. Tourists, souvenir sellers, taxis, locals. So much noise. So much life. I watched and listened with curiosity.

I love Spain. The Spanish language is beautiful, the people are friendly – and who doesn’t like sunshine, tapas and sangria? But there’s more to Barcelona than just that. And my trip to this gorgeous city was unlike any experience I’ve ever had.

Park Güell and its colorful mosaic. One of my definite highlights. This is one of the major works by architect Gaudi, the man behind the beautiful basilica Sagrada Familia and many other fantastic buildings in the city of Barcelona. He put his magic touch on the city back then, so that you and I can admire these fairytalesque buildings today.

Speaking of fairy tales. I came to Barcelona first and foremost for a writing retreat hosted by Pink Pangea. But the retreat became more of a soul-searching experience than anything else. I met these wonderful women of all ages. We laughed together, we cried together, we shared. Oh, how we shared. By sharing my deepest thoughts and most personal stories, not only did I reach out to these women, but I reached inside of my heart and opened it for the world to see.

I had the time of my life with these women. We got lost multiple times, though. We visited the crowded Mercado de la Boqueria. We photographed, tasted dried fruits and caramelized nuts and we got separated from the crowd. Me and a fellow blogger from the retreat. It was easy to lose track in Barcelona. Track of time. Track of people. Track of sanity. We went to the beach right before midnight. Into the water. Wet dress. Sand everywhere. Smiling from ear to ear. Like children. And again, during a walking tour, we got separated from the crowd and ended up walking elsewhere and had a lot of fun doing it. Like children.

One day I got up early to catch a glimpse of the sunrise and enjoy the streets during the silent hours. The only people who were out at the time, were the street sweepers and the people who hadn’t made it back to the hotel after the night before. It was a different Barcelona. The city I had learned to know would wake up in a couple of hours.

I loved the silence of that morning. Back home, silence is a sign of boredom. I crave the energy and the childish spontaneity I had back in Barcelona. Gaudi’s world. Wonderland, where me and my fellow writers were all Alice.

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Park Güell

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The things you discover when getting lost

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The market

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Some of the works of Gaudi

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One of his most famous buildings: Sagrada Familia

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The morning I got up earlier than everyone else

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Tapa. Pimientos del Padron.

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A sweet taste of Bruges, Belgium

I had wanted to visit Belgium for such a long time. Six years ago, I even bought a plane ticket to Brussels and was planning to stay with some people I met on Couchsurfing . Unfortunately, I had to cancel that trip due to financial problems. Two years later, I made plans to go to Antwerp. But that trip never happened either. I was starting to wonder if it just wasn’t in the cards for me to ever go to Belgium. 

I was wrong. You know the saying “the longer you have to wait for something, the more you will appreciate it when it finally arrives”? I guess that’s why I hadn’t made it to Belgium yet. It just wasn’t the right time. But this year, this spring, I finally made it there. I spent a fantastic weekend in Bruges, a beautiful city often referred to as “Venice of the north”.

The sun was shining and I wore a pink summer dress to celebrate spring and the lovely weather. My boyfriend and I were looking forward to a romantic weekend together in this gorgeous Belgian city. There were so many things I wanted to see – and taste!

I’m not a beer drinker at all, but I had heard good things about the famous Kriek (Belgian cherry-flavored beer) and other Belgian fruit beers. We visited a few craft beer bars and absolutely every single beer I tried, was amazing. That’s coming from someone who doesn’t like beer! I highly recommend 2be – a great bar with a large selection of beers on tap. They also have a beer shop, if you wanna take some souvenirs/beverages home with you.

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The beer tasting made me hungry for a snack – or two. I went to one of the many Friterie’s to get fries in a cone. Because, French fries are actually Belgian – and not French. And they definitely tasted better in Belgium. And my second snack? White chocolate covered Belgian waffle on a stick from Go.Fre, sprinkled with nuts. It was delicious!

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We had recently bought our bright new Nikon-camera and were ready to explore the city and take some gorgeous photos with it. It wasn’t a hard task. The picturesque bridges and beautiful canals, the medieval architecture. How could anyone not fall in love with this city?

Before leaving Bruges, we bought some fine Belgian chocolates. Now was not the time to worry about dieting. I couldn’t possibly imagine a high as good as the taste of those luxurious artisan chocolates.

A perfect way to end a perfect trip to the country I wanted to visit for so long.

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The Vegans Guide to Paris

I came up with the idea of writing a vegans guide to Paris after having spent a week exploring that side of Paris with a friend who is vegan. My friend had never been to Paris  or even France before and had been told and/or read online that she’d have a hard time finding anything to eat in France. After all, France is known for its Foie Gras, Boeuf Tartare and creamy pastries and buttered croissants. France is not exactly famous for being a veggie haven. But I did my research. And I got results. Needless to say, vegans won’t starve in Paris. Quite the contrary. I found several restaurants, a few coffee shops and even a 100% vegan supermarket!

Where To Get Your Vegan Coffee

Oatmeal Paris in the 5th arrondissement (metro: Censier-Daubenton, line 7) is a 100% vegan cafe. They offer coffee-drinks and other hot drinks, “sandwich du moment”, oatmeal of the week and different desserts. I tried their tarte tout chocolat, a rich chocolate mousse tarte. It was delicious! My cappuccino was good too, and so was the matcha latte that my friend ordered. Besides, this place is great for Instagram-snapshots!

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Las Vegans in the 10th arrondissement (metro: Bonne Nouvelle, line 8 and 9) is a 100% vegan take-out place. They offer hot coffee drinks, smoothies and are mostly known for their delicious doughnuts and ice cream. They also offer salads and vegan kebabs if you’d rather have something savory. Both me and my friend ordered a banana caramel doughnut. Good place for a quick takeout!

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Le Pain Quotidien is a restaurant and bakery franchise located in different parts of Paris. I didn’t take my friend there, but I’ve been there several times on my own and I know they have a lot of vegan options on the menu. They offer coffee, pastries, salads, fruit juice, tasty sandwiches and more. I usually order the hummus or the avocado tartine (open sandwich) when I’m there. They’re both vegan and delicious!

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Where To Get Your Vegan Sweet Treats

Vegan Folie’s in the 5th arrondissement (metro: Place Monge, line 7) is a 100% vegan bakery. I have heard a lot of positive things about this place, but was unable to go there as they were closed for the week while my friend was here. I’ll definitely check it out one day, though!

Ara Chocolat in the 9th arrondissement (metro: Anvers, line 2) is a vegan-friendly artisan chocolate shop. I only found out about this place today – so it’s yet another place I need to visit.

Where To Have Lunch/Dinner

Gentle Gourmet in the 12th arrondissement (metro: Bastille 1, 5 and 8) is a 100% vegan bistro-style restaurant. This restaurant is a perfect place for a date/romantic meal and for those of you who love and appreciate modern french gastronomy. I started with a faux gras with raspberry jelly and sauce, accompanied with bread and decorative, eatable flowers. The server recommended the portobello mushroom burger with polenta sticks as a main course, so I ordered it. Sadly, I didn’t order any dessert as I was too full. I will definitely return to this restaurant….and order a dessert – no matter how full I am.

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42 Degrés in the 9th arrondissement (metro: Poissonnière, line 7) is the first 100% raw food restaurant in France. This vegan raw food restaurant is – like Gentle Gourmet – for those who appreciate modern bistro-style dining. I haven’t been to this chic raw food place just yet, but would love to go one day!

Hank Burger in the 3rd arrondissement (metro: Rambuteau, line 11) is a 100% vegan burger restaurant. If you’re in the mood for fast food rather than fine dining, you should definitely check out this place!

Végét’Halles in the 1st arrondissement (metro: Châtelet, line 1, 4, 7 and 14) is a vegan/vegetarian restaurant that I’ve heard great things about, but have yet to visit. They have a large menu with plenty of options and I’m sure even the pickiest eater will find something they like there.

Where To Get Your Vegan Groceries

Un Monde Vegan in the 3rd arrondissement (metro: Strasbourg – Saint-Denis, line 4, 8 and 9) is a 100% vegan supermarket. It doesn’t look that big from the outside, but they have absolutely everything you need. And more. Everything you need for a vegan barbecue, cookbooks (in French), cereals and oatmeal, cheese and spreads, faux gras, vegan rillette, pizzas, different kinds of pasta and sauces, candy and chocolate, biscuits, ice cream – you name it.

…And last but not least, tips to non-vegans like myself, who are planning to host a vegan friend:

  • Cater to their needs. All supermarkets have basic things like soy milk and cereals without honey or traces of milk. And obviously fruit and fruit juice. So even if you don’t want to cook a proper vegan dinner, at least serve them a good breakfast.
  • However, if you do want to cook them dinner, ask them what they like. Just because someone is vegan, doesn’t mean they like absolutely every single vegetable. And it doesn’t mean it’s okay for you to serve them dry lettuce just because you want steak and they can’t eat it. Be nice. Make an effort.
  • Don’t ask them annoying questions like “Why did you go vegan? Do you think you’ll be able to stay that way for a long time? Don’t you think it’s just a phase?”. I got the exact same questions about having tattoos, and about moving to France. And I’m sure vegans get those questions even more often than I did, and I’m sure they’re sick and tired of hearing it.
  • Be open-minded. Take your friend to a vegan restaurant. Have a good time!