Why Christmas Markets in Cologne, Germany are simply magical

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Until then, let these photos inspire you.

Photos from the market by the harbor

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Photos from Neumarkt (the market of the angels)

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Photos from the Old Town market (Heimat der Heinzel)

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…and the romantic one right next to that market

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Photos from the Nikolausdorf market

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

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Eating & Drinking Our Way Through Brussels, Belgium

With a pint of raspberry flavored beer in one hand and my Brussels guidebook in the other, I tried to make some sort of a list of things to see and do in the capital city. We were only a forty-nine minute drive away from the city – according to Google maps – and in no hurry, whatsoever. The weather was lovely in Antwerp. Sunshine and not a cloud in sight. May the rest of the day be blessed with sunshine too – I said to myself. Fingers crossed.

Before making our way downtown, we went to see the Atomium, which is a building that was originally constructed for the Universal Exhibition – just like the Eiffel tower in Paris – and is now a major tourist attraction. The Atomium depicts nine atoms and is in the shape of the body-centered cubic unit cell of an iron crystal, magnified 165 billion times.

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We didn’t buy tickets to enter the building itself as the lines were too long and we were too impatient to stand in what looked like a never-ending line to buy tickets, then another long line to enter. Neither me nor my partner were ever good at being tourists. We’re just good at taking photos of stuff and moving on to the next place. Which is exactly what we did.

We stayed at the Bedford Hotel & Congress Centre, a large hotel conveniently located in the heart of Brussels, just around the corner from the famous Manneken Pis. We were agreeably surprised by the price of the hotel. 130 euros for two nights  – including breakfast!

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Although we saved a lot of money thanks to our nice-price accommodation, we definitely didn’t keep our wallets closed while in Brussels. Not at all. Just ask the barmen and the chocolate-salesmen (and women).

I couldn’t resist buying myself a hot chocolate – white chocolate and coconut – from Le Comptoir de Mathilde , even though I didn’t initially want one. Everything in that store looked tempting, and I would have bought half the store if my partner hadn’t put his foot down and dragged me out of the store after I got my hot chocolate. No wonder I’m not skinny.

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We bought ourselves some yummy chocolate as well as cute souvenirs for our loved ones at the lovely store La Belgique Gourmande. I wanted to buy everything there. I mean, I found the most adorable cookie tins – obviously filled with deliciousness – which would fit perfectly together with all the other stuff I’m hoarding in my apartment. La Belgique Gourmande also offered a large selection of beer. But so did the mini market around the corner. And the souvenir shops across the street. That’s just Belgium, really.

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Speaking of beer; when in Brussels, you have to visit Delirium Café. This bar is enormous, and so is their selection of beer. With 30 beers on tap and over 3000 beers in total, how can a beer lover possibly resist? Even if you don’t like beer, you’ll love the Belgian fruit beers. Hands down. I ordered the cactus beer by Floris (photo below – the green one), which was one of the few fruit beers on tap. And I loved it. Amazingly refreshing and sweet, but not too sweet.

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The most beautiful part of Brussels is without a doubt the Grand Place, or Grote Markt, the central square of the city – and a World Heritage Site. There’s no better place in Brussels to take beautiful pictures than here. “Smile to the camera,” he said. I did, but not to the camera. I looked away instead. “Let’s get back to the hotel and relax with a beer before dinner,” I suggested. He laughed at me. “All you wanna do is drink beer”. He made it sound like I had a drinking problem. My only problem was feeling like a kid in a candy store. That’s me in Belgium.

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C’est Bon, C’est Belge was the name of the restaurant we went to that evening. And yes, it was good. Traditional Belgian cuisine. It was really good. We both ordered the same thing; a tasting platter with five different traditional local dishes and some deli meat/sausages. Everything tasted as good as I imagined it would. And the waiter was everything you want in a waiter: he had a great sense of humor, he was efficient and he knew the menu by heart – and the beers too!

As always, whenever I visit a new place, I check out their local coffee shops. So in Brussels I found this place called OR Espresso Bar. When I told my partner I wanted to go there, his immediate reaction was “but you don’t like espresso”. Which is true. I don’t like espresso, but as a coffee shop, I knew they’d have other things too. Like the lemonade he ordered for himself. Me, I went with a classic latte.

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And what better way to say goodbye to Brussels than by eating waffles? Mokafé is known for serving the best Belgian waffles in Brussels, so we went there after breakfast. Yes, after breakfast. We weren’t hungry, we just needed to stuff our faces with a large amount of Belgian calories. Just one last time.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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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Have a Magical Day in Disneyland Paris

Magical. Nostalgic.Disney will always hold a special place in my heart. Not just because I grew up watching Disney-movies and idolizing the beautiful Disney princesses and crushing on their handsome princes, but also because I spent one of the most amazing years of my life working at Disney World. So did it really come as a surprise that I would eventually visit Disneyland Paris? I don’t know about you, but I think it’s good for the soul to take a trip down memory lane and release ones inner child!

Entering Disneyland requires a lot of patience. Just like any other Disney park. The lines are always extremely long, even if you get there about an hour before the park opens. It’s a good warm up exercise, though – as you’ll be spending an awful lot of time standing in line for most of the attractions anyway. But it’s all worth it – it really is!

Time-travel to the 1920’s as you stroll along the Main Street USA and hang out in the Town Square. Buy some cute little souvenirs and a sweet treat and enjoy yourself.

Did you know that the first “Pirates of the Caribbean” movie was inspired by the water-based Disney-attraction? This spectacular ride is waiting for you, right here in Disneyland Paris (as well as in Tokyo and Magic Kingdom). I’m usually not a big fan of drops – in fact I hate them – but the drops are such a small part of this visually amusing ride, that it’s all worth it. When you’re a scaredy-cat like me, it’s not really easy and  not always enjoyable to visit theme parks with a group of friends or family. At certain parks I’ve spent all day being the bag-holder while waiting for my friends to finish, so we could go home and get it over with. That’s not magical. That wouldn’t happen at Disneyland. In the Disney parks there’s something for everyone.Even for me.

For example, I absolutely love the delightful and slow “It’s a small world” ride. What a cute portrayal of world peace and unity. The Snow White attraction and the Pinocchio ride were both nice as well, although I think I would have enjoyed them more if I was twenty years younger. Alice’s Curious Labyrinth is kind of fun if you find your way out of the labyrinth without too much hassle. If not, well, you’ll find it rather annoying and frustrating.

Dining in Disneyland Paris is kind of a downer when you’re used to the variety found in Disney World. Apparently, the restaurants used to have different themes and serve different food – but now it’s all burgers, fries and same old dull food almost everywhere. I’d rather enjoy a large breakfast, skip lunch and dine in Disney Village instead. Or stuff my face with pastries – because, hey, it’s Disneyland and I’m here to release my inner child.

The Castle of the Sleeping Beauty is as enchanting as the Cinderella Castle in Magic Kingdom, and the fireworks are as amazing as any fireworks display by Disney.

Can you feel the magic?

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A weekend in Luxembourg

On a beautiful weekend in mid-May, my better half took me on a surprise trip to a destination unknown. It was my birthday that weekend, and he knew exactly what I wanted for my big day. The idea of packing my suitcase with absolutely no idea where I’m headed to, while someone else takes care of everything has actually been a fantasy of mine for a long time. Usually I find not knowing and not organizing things on my own, to be a somewhat stressful affair. And yet I love surprises. As much as I hate not knowing. What a paradox. I was told to get in the car with an open mind and a suitcase packed with whatever I would have worn had we stayed home in Paris that weekend. Traffic signs gave away a few hints along the road. We were not headed to the airport. We were not headed south, nor west. The large crossroads close to the border suggested Belgium, Germany, Luxembourg or Eastern France. I was clueless. They all seemed like good options to me!

And shortly after, there we were. Luxembourg City, the capital of the country by the same name. A small rural country, peaceful and green. The capital city is famed for its medieval old town, perched on sheer cliffs. A small country, but a country rich in history. The Grand Duchy of Luxembourg contains around fifty historical castles – more than a hundred if you ask those who also consider the old manor houses as castles.

We spent the first day strolling around, exploring and photographing Luxembourg City. What really caught the eye was the Palais Grand-Ducal, a beautiful palace in the city center. We were obviously not the only ones who were fascinated by it, as it was surrounded by tourists taking pictures or smiling for the camera. There seemed to be some sort of an EU-festival happening in Luxembourg that day – as plenty of locals were waving European Union-flags, marching bands were parading the streets and women in traditional costumes were handing out flyers. Although we had no idea exactly what they were celebrating, it was fun to be there and take part of it.

We wanted to try local specialties while we were there, but we couldn’t find the very few things that were supposed to be traditional dishes from Luxembourg on any restaurant menu at all. So we went to a restaurant called Urban and had burgers instead. And we had burgers again the next day, from an equally great burger restaurant; Snooze. So, I did’t learn much about the local cuisine in Luxembourg, but they sure know how to make delicious, gourmet burgers!

The next day was spent visiting a few castles. The New Castle of Ansembourg and its spectacular garden was our first visit. It started to rain towards the end of the visit, but lucky as we were, we managed to visit the garden entirely before getting soaked. The next one on the list, was also the last one – due to the weather. The Vianden castle is set on a rocky promontory, overlooking the river Our and dominating the town of Vianden. We only saw it from afar – again, due to the weather -and went to grab a drink in a cafe downtown, while waiting for the rain to stop.

The weather didn’t clear up that day. The following day was, however, sunny and nice. What a lovely birthday present from the higher powers. What wasn’t as lovely, was the present from the police; a parking ticket due to illegal parking. Parking was free of charge during the weekend – but the weekend was over. It was Monday morning.

We left Luxembourg City to go somewhere else – for another surprise. A concert at edgy, new venue Rockhal in Esch sur Alzette (still Luxembourg). Hans Zimmer, the well-known German composer, whose works include The Lion King, Pirates of the Caribbean, Inception, and more. The show was fantastic. At times I was misty-eyed and had goosebumps – that’s how amazing it was. Applause to you, Hans Zimmer. I haven’t felt this emotional since I saw another famous composer, John Williams (works include music from Spielberg’s movies) in concert.

From being a small country I knew little to nothing about, to a country where I have now spent my birthday and created wonderful memories together with my partner, I now smile when I think of Luxembourg.

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New Castle of Ansembourg

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Vianden (town and castle)

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