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!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Why Christmas Markets in Cologne, Germany are simply magical

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Until then, let these photos inspire you.

Photos from the market by the harbor

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Photos from Neumarkt (the market of the angels)

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Photos from the Old Town market (Heimat der Heinzel)

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…and the romantic one right next to that market

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Photos from the Nikolausdorf market

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

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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)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Spontaneous Trip to Trier, Germany

One of the things I love the most about road trips is the freedom to be spontaneous. The freedom to spend more time in one place – or leave earlier than expected to go somewhere completely different instead. Or just add an extra day if going home seems a bit too soon. Am I ever ready to go home from a road trip? No.

One of those road trips led me to Germany, to a city called Trier (or Treves, if you prefer its former name).

We were on the road, my boyfriend and I, on our way from Luxembourg to France. Our trunk was full of Belgian fruit beers and six different dipping sauces for fries – the result of a trip to a supermarket in Belgium, a couple of days earlier. As much as I love beer, fries and dipping sauces, I didn’t feel completely satisfied. I wanted more. I wanted German candy. And German chocolate. Or just an excuse to go to Germany to satisfy my need for adventures. The nearest city that seemed interesting based on a quick search on Google, was Trier. And boy was it interesting!

Before getting our fix of Ritter Sport and Haribo, we decided to check out the city and its tourist attractions. The High Cathedral of Saint Peter and the Church of Our Lady (Liebfrauenkirche) were the first monuments we went to explore. The cathedral, a Roman Catholic church, is the oldest cathedral in Germany. The Church of Our Lady is, along with the Cathedral of Magdeburg, the earliest Gothic church in Germany and is located next to the Trier Dom.

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We moved on to the Hauptmarkt, where my partner decided it was time for lunch – more specifically, a curry wurst (Bratwurst hot-dog with curry ketchup). I’m not much of a hot-dog eater, so I skipped lunch to save space for what I already knew would be a heavy meal – at the traditional German restaurant we were planning to visit later that day.

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We wanted to visit the Imperial Roman Baths (Kaiserthermen), but decided not to – as there was too much renovation work going on and the entrance fee was kind of high (considering the fact that we  wouldn’t be able to see much anyway). We took a few photos from afar and were satisfied with that. I guess I’ll have to come back in the future and visit the ruins properly after the renovation work is completely finished.

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Another historical piece found in Trier is the Porta Nigra, a large Roman city gate. Today, it is the largest Roman city gate north of the Alps. The gate is designated as part of the Roman monuments – which, along with the High Cathedral of Saint Peter and Church of Our Lady – are UNESCO World Heritage Sites.

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While on our way to see the Roman Baths, we came across another gorgeous site; the Electoral Palace (Kurfurstliches Palais) – a gorgeous rococo building from 1615.

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After a few hours of walking around exploring this lovely city in the Moselle region (which is a region of amazing white wine, FYI), my belly started rumbling and begging me to feed it. I’m never one to disagree with my belly, so my partner and I agreed to look for a good restaurant somewhere nearby, where we could both enjoy a big, fat meal and celebrate this nice little spontaneous day trip.

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Hello, Zum Domstein ! What a great dinner it was. My significant other ordered a wiener schnitzel. A classic choice. And me, I channeled my inner grandma and ordered meat loaf. Accompanied by a pint of banana beer, because banana beer is simply amazing.

We parked our car right next to a supermarket, which gave us immediate access to buy as much as we could carry of those sweet, delicious Haribo sweets and Ritter Sport chocolates. What a great way to end an already lovely day.

Thank you Trier, for the unexpected as well as the expected.

 

 

 

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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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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Paris Outskirts: Oise (thrill rides and castles)

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

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

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

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

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

Oise

Parc Asterix

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

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Beauvais

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

Senlis

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

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Château de Pierrefonds

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

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Château de Chantilly

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

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Château de Montvillargenne

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

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Château d’Ermenonville

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

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Why You Should Visit my Hometown, Stavanger (Norway)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

So what are you waiting for?

Visit my hometown in Norway. Visit Stavanger!

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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

 

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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