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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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My Travel Highlights of 2016

2017 is already here and my New Year’s resolutions have been made – along with an even larger bucket list than ever before. Seems like the more I travel, the hungrier I get for more. And the more I learn, the more I realize how little I once knew about the great world out there and all the people living in it. While 2016 was the year I traveled only within the borders of my continent, Europe, 2017 will take me to at least two others – and who knows where else destiny decides to take me this year?

2016 was a year filled with great highs as well as some lows. Unstable economy, feeling lonely as an expatriate in a foreign country, death in the family, losing touch with friends, pitching article after article to magazines with little result, getting criticized for putting so much time and effort into my blog when I “should be spending my time doing something more useful” – these events have caused a lot of stress, sadness and feeling of hopelessness for me. Traveling – and the love and support from my partner – gave me the strength I needed to be able to look back on 2016 as a great year instead of feeling like a complete failure.

Because…

I welcomed 2016 by watching the beautiful fireworks display in Warsaw, Poland with my family and my partner. We visited the Christmas market in the Old Town and danced the night away at the New Year’s gala in our hotel.

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I visited London, England for the first time in many years, and had a great time catching up with a friend who moved to London for work. We went salsa dancing, salsa eating (nachos) and visited all the touristic sites together.

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A romantic weekend trip to Copenhagen, Denmark was the Christmas present from me to my significant other. We stuffed our faces with Danish pastries, laughed our asses off while the fish tickled our toes at a duo fish spa, visited the castles and the little mermaid and enjoyed the snow – although I would have been happier if my partner hadn’t kept throwing snowballs at me.

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I visited Belgium for the first time…and second…and third. My partner and I embarked on plenty of amazing road trips this year and visiting certain destinations in Belgium was part of those trips. Romantic Bruges, charming Antwerp and multicultural Brussels. I’ve fallen in love with Belgium – and Belgian beer!

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And then there was the trip to Luxembourg in May. The surprise birthday present from my partner. We visited Luxembourg city, two castles elsewhere in the country and saw Hans Zimmer live in the amazing concert venue Rockhal. Probably the best birthday I’ve ever had.

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Late June and early July was spent traveling by train with my mother. From Oslo, Norway to Karlstad, Sweden – then back to Norway to visit Sandefjord and Kristiansand, before returning to Stavanger to spend a couple of days relaxing at home before returning to France. Photo below was taken while visiting Tungenes Fyr (lighthouse).

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The weekend of Bastille Day (14th of July) was spent visiting Saint Malo, Mont Saint-Michel, Dinan and Rennes in France. My partner and I watched the fireworks in Saint Malo, drank cider and ate delicious crêpes (the local Bretagne/Brittany specialty). Calories and carbs taste better in France than anywhere else.

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One of my biggest highlights of the year was to volunteer in Moldova. I got to know so many lovely people – volunteers and locals – and my host family was the nicest I could  ever have asked for. I also got to taste some amazing wine from the Purcari Winery while I was there. I’ve been spreading the word about how great Moldovan wine is, ever since.

 

Another great highlight was the writing retreat in Barcelona, Spain with Pink Pangea where I got to know like-minded travel writers – all women – explored the city of Barcelona and did a lot of soul searching as well. We laughed, shed some tears, plenty of hugs and shared our most personal stories – travel related and non-travel related. It was therapeutic and inspired me to not just become a better writer but a better person as well.

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In September my partner and I embarked on yet another road trip to a different part of France. This time to the southwest. We explored some spectacular caverns, enjoyed the local wines and visited idyllic and picturesque little towns. I have never taken as beautiful photos as I did in the southwest of France. No wonder so many people dream about this country, and so many writers find inspiration here.

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We didn’t spend longer than twenty-four hours at home before we were back on the road again. Well, towards the airport this time to catch a flight to Athens, Greece. The week in Athens was filled with food, historical ruins, food, more history and even more food. Greek cuisine is simply just too good!

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Winter Beer Day, Christmas markets and celebrating my parents wedding anniversary and my stepfather’s birthday was how we spent our long weekend in Hamburg, Germany…And taking pictures from the Elbphilharmonie concert hall. What a windy affair that was.

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And then there was December and all those Christmas markets. Paris (France), London (England), Reims (Champagne, France), Cologne (Germany) and Oslo (Norway). I didn’t get a white Christmas this year either, but I got so much more. So much more that mattered a lot more to me than snowflakes. Spending time at these markets with the people I care about, laughing, smiling and cheering while tasting local specialties – now that sure got me into the Christmas spirit! Photo below is from Oslo, Norway.

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Now, excuse me while I pack my bags to go to Marrakech, Morocco tomorrow. 2017 started in Trondheim, Norway and after a few days of rest in France I am now ready for new adventures!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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.

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Nidaros Cathedral

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Bakklandet

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Old Town Bridge and Wharfs

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Nedre Elvehavn

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Fosenkaia Guest Harbor

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Our Lady Church

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What are FIVE items you can’t travel without?

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

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

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

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

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

What is your best travel advise?

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

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

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Champagne Bubbles: Christmas market in Reims, France

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

more information: Reims Tourism

when: until December 24th

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

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Wonderful Wonderland: Christmas markets in London

Eleven AM, with a heavy backpack killing my back, wearing a way too warm winter coat making me feel sweaty and disgusting. I had made my way from the Eurostar terminal at St. Pancras railway station to the Hyde Park corner metro station in the heart of London – a city I had visited multiple times before. My main purpose for this trip was to visit a friend who had moved here. But it wasn’t my sole purpose. I was also in London to visit the Winter Wonderland Christmas market and the little market on Leicester Square, to share yet another exciting post with you guys to get you all into the Christmas spirit – just in case my posts on the Parisian markets or the ones in Hamburg weren’t enough to get you to start rockin’ around the Christmas tree.

Before entering the Winter Wonderland, be prepared to have your bags searched by security guards. My over-sized backpack made the guard chuckle. “You’re planning to move in here?” he asked jokingly. I’m sure a lot of people would have loved to move in to the Winter Wonderland. I’ve already worked and lived on Disney property in Orlando, which is kind of the same thing – but less cold and less foggy.

I bought a cup of hot cider – which is way better than it sounds (in case you haven’t already tried it) and went to explore the market. Just like the Winter Dom in Hamburg, Germany, the Winter Wonderland is a combination of a traditional Christmas market and a large fun fair. The Wonderland also presents exciting entertainment such as different circus shows, The Nutcracker on Ice, puppet shows for the little ones and live music for the festive crowd.

You’re welcome to go ice skating on the Wonderland’s ice rink, or perhaps you’d rather grab a drink in the Bar Ice instead? As I am pretty much Bambi on ice, I’ll skip the ice rink and head over to Bar Ice and drink a cocktail from an ice cup instead. Cheers!

General Information

what: Hyde Park Winter Wonderland

where: Hyde Park (metro: Hyde Park corner or Marble Arch)

when: Until January 2nd, 2017

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It was still early afternoon and none of the shows were on yet and my backpack (yes, it’s just a lame excuse to cover up my fear of heights and high speed) prevented me from riding any attractions, so I decided to move on to a different part of the city to visit a smaller and more traditional kind of Christmas market.

Leicester Square. The square is transformed into a Holiday heaven – where Santa himself is waiting for the little ones to come and tell him their dearest wish. If meeting Santa doesn’t interest you because, well, you’re an adult, then why not book tickets to the theatrical show La Soirée? If acrobatics, burlesque and pyrotechnics is your thing (and you’re over 18), you’ll have a great time!

If not, strolling along this lovely little market with a hot beverage in your hand while doing a bit of Christmas shopping, is not a bad idea either.

General Information

what: Christmas in Leicester Square

where: Leicester Square (metro to Leicester Square or Piccadilly Circus)

when: 11.11.16 – 08.01.16

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Moments of Weakness: Christmas markets in Paris

It’s already December and Christmas is just around the corner! What better way to get into the Holiday spirit than by visiting multiple Christmas markets?

A few days ago, I visited two of the many markets in Paris: The most famous one (Champs-Élysées) and the biggest one (La Défense). I enjoyed a nice cup of hot wine, bought myself some delicious artisan salted caramel nougat and pain d’épices (spice bread) and ended up buying some saucissons au canard(dry cured duck sausages), perfect for apéro. I didn’t plan on buying any of these things, but that’s what happens when you take pictures at a Christmas market in France. You photograph food and the next minute you’re tasting it, having a nice conversation with the producers and buying products from them.Well, I guess I had a moment of weakness, but then again, how can anyone possibly resist French food – or charming French vendors?

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Champs-Élysées is currently decorated with gorgeous Christmas lights to celebrate the Holiday. When they light up at night, the boulevard transforms into something magical  – like taken out of a Disney movie. Last night I felt that magic, as I was strolling along the boulevard. However, the day I went to visit the Christmas market – in the morning – something way less magical happened. I witnessed a fight between a tourist and a pickpocket who had allegedly stolen a purse from the tourist. Seemed like the tourist won the fight – and the pickpocket surrendered and moved on to the next target; me. The pickpocket-lady tried to approach me, so I started speed walking my way out of there.

Few minutes later, there I was. Safe and sound at the Christmas market. As you all know, most European countries have increased security at the Christmas markets due to recent events, and even though it was strange to see more police officers than civilians at the market (it was 11 am), it sure made me feel at ease. My hands were cold, so I bought myself a cup of hot wine to warm my frozen fingers and to satisfy my taste buds. I took a picture of some lovely Christmas ornaments. The vendor noticed and asked me jokingly if I could take a picture of him too. I laughed politely, wished him a good day and moved on to the next chalet. The ornament-vendor wasn’t the only one pulling that joke. Most of the vendors did. I wanted to take a picture of the French traditional artisan nougat. So I did. “Do I look good in the photo? Do you want a different pose?” the vendor asked me in French. I explained to him that he wasn’t the star of the photo – the nougat was. He offered me to try three different types. The traditional one, a cashew one and one with salted caramel – which I ended up buying. The smell of raclette lingered in the air. Although the smell is awful, the fact that I know it’s raclette and raclette tastes amazing, made me wanna feed my stomach with this heavenly melted cheese.

The Christmas market on Champs-Élysées is quite spread out, as the main road and its traffic divides the market in half. Nonetheless, the market was quite a joyful event thanks to the funny vendors, high quality produce, delicious street food and lovely Christmas lights on the Champs-Élysées. Make sure you visit this market in the evening to get the wonderfully magical atmosphere!

where: Avenue des Champs-Élysées, 75008 Paris

when: From 11.11.16 to 08.01.2017

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La Défense has the biggest and most authentic Christmas market in the region of île de France. This market is set up like a village, filled with more than 300 chalets displaying handmade crafts, fresh produce and small restaurants. Set in the financial district, the market was obviously full of businessmen – and women – enjoying a nice lunch at the market before returning to the office. As I photographed the food displayed by one of the restaurants, one of the chefs called me over to tell me “that’s 2 euros per picture”. I wasn’t sure if he was joking or not, and he could tell by the confused look on my face. He laughed and shook his head to confirm that he was indeed messing with me. A vendor called me over and asked me if I wanted to taste some nougat. I had to disappoint him as I had already bought some from someone else. A lady offered me some caramelized almonds. I didn’t buy any – and felt guilty about it.  I didn’t take many pictures at this market, as it was way too crowded and actually way less picturesque than the market on Champs-Élysées. Picture-perfect or not, this market has great variety in terms of handmade ornaments, outerwear, artisan produce, street food – and drinks. The market is also right next to a shopping center, which gives you the opportunity to go shopping for Christmas presents before or after exploring the Christmas market. Be careful – or you’ll end up spending too much, eating too much and drinking too much. But then again, when in France…

where: Parvis de la Défense, 92400 Paris La Défense

when: 17.11.16 – 27.12.16

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Other Christmas markets in Paris

Christmas market and ice rink near the Eiffel Tower – at Champ de Mars

place Saint-Germain-des-Prés

Montparnasse Tower

Montmartre

Gare de l’Est

Notre Dame Cathedral

Place d’Italie

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(photos from the market on Champs-Élysées)

 

 

Exploring the Ancient Ruins of Athens, Greece

Ah, Greece. The fascinating country with an even more fascinating history – and mythology. Travel back in time and imagine the city as it was during the classical period of ancient Greece. Back when Athens was the center for the arts, learning and philosophy.

Visit the ruins  of what once was a spectacular library. Visit the ruins of the many temples built in honor of the Greek gods and goddesses. Visit the ancient cemetery. Ancient theaters. The stadium. For the love of Zeus – just put on some good shoes, bring your camera and visit absolutely everything!

I visited Athens with my significant other. What was supposed to be a relaxing beach vacation on the outskirts of Athens, turned out to be more of an educational city trip instead. After just a day of doing nothing, we both realized how difficult it is for two restless adventure-seekers to be able to enjoy a full week of laziness, so we decided to take the local bus (KTEL) to Cape Sounio (photos below) to see the beautiful ruins of the Temple of Poseidon. Two days later we took the bus the opposite direction, to the city of Athens where we spent a complete day exploring the city. Two days later, we went back to the city for another full day of exploring monuments, ruins and everything else that makes Athens as fascinating as it is. In Athens, you never really run out of things to do.

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As we got off the bus in Athens we were kind of clueless as to where to start – and we didn’t even know where we were, except that we were somewhat close to the Acropolis. Turned out we were right in front of the Parliament House – just in time to see the changing of the guard. A fun experience for tourists. And it’s totally free. Too bad I forgot to take pictures of the ceremony.

We continued to the Temple of Olympian Zeus, where we were given the option to buy individual tickets to see the temple only – or a package which allows you to visit multiple sites on the same ticket. We already knew we wanted to visit the Acropolis anyway, so we went with the package deal. Considering we ended up visiting every single site listed on the ticket, we definitely made the right decision – which also saved us a lot of money!

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While on our way to the next site, we made a quick stop to photograph the Arch of Hadrian, a monumental gateway between the Temple of Olympian Zeus and the rock of the Acropolis. Speaking of Acropolis; did you know that the word acropolis comes from the Greek words “akron” (highest point) and “polis” (city)?

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Ancient citadel, historical Acropolis was as captivating as I expected it to be. But also as crowded – and under renovation. Even with cranes, workers and selfie-taking tourists blocking the full view, visiting these ruins is a magical experience unlike any other. I overheard tourists comparing it to Rome, but this is nothing like Rome. This is Athens. They are both beautiful cities and might have certain similarities, but you shouldn’t compare. The Greek gods would not approve of comments like that. I don’t know about you, but when in Greece, I think it’s a good idea not to mess with them!

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The Parthenon, a former temple on the Acropolis. The temple was dedicated to the goddess Athena.

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Built at the foot of the Acropolis, there’s the Theater of Dionysus. It was used as a theater since the sixth century Before Christ, and has recently been brought back to life as it has been renovated and will apparently be hosting more and more theater performances in the future.

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As fascinating as the ruins are, there’s also another reason to visit the Acropolis. Just check out this gorgeous view over the city!

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After visiting the Acropolis, we walked down the hill – only to walk up another one, to get a great view over the Acropolis from a distance. While on top of the Areopagus rock (Areopagus translates to “Ares’ Hill”) we enjoyed the view – together with a bunch of other tourists. A lot of tourists visit this rock because it was, supposedly, from this location Apostle Paul had delivered his famous speech, “Now what you worship as something unknown I am going to proclaim to you. The God who made the world and everything in it is the Lord of heaven and earth and does not live in temples built by hands”.

We didn’t hang out there for too long as we were both starting to feel quite thirsty and slightly tired. We needed to sit down somewhere, preferably a nice little cafe or restaurant – with an ice-cold, refreshing beverage.

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We wanted to visit Hadrian’s Library the same day, but had to save it for later as it was closed by the time we got there. On our second day trip to Athens, we did indeed get to visit this library created by Roman Emperor Hadrian. Once the largest library in Athens, now only ruins are left.img_20161011_212110

We also visited the Temple of Hephaestus. I was surprised by how well-preserved this temple is!

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The last site we visited was Kerameikos, the ancient cemetery of Athens which is an archaeology site and museum….and for some reason it’s also the home of land turtles? At least we found five individual turtles wandering around the site, happy and healthy.

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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