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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Getting Personal: Paris is for lovers

It was a sunny afternoon in April 2015. My train had just arrived in Paris Gare du Nord, and I was so excited to finally see my Parisian boyfriend again. We had both been counting down the days for several weeks. We had Skyped, WhatsApped, texted, shed a whole lot of tears and felt the blues while we were waiting for April 15th to come along.

Norway is my country of origin. However, it’s been a while since I could call Norway my home. I’ve always traveled a lot and changed my place to call home whenever I got sick of the current location and lifestyle – or climate, for that matter. I have lived in the UK and the US, and I couldn’t stand the thought of moving back to my hometown in Norway after a fun year in Florida. So I traveled. To Poland. To Czech Republic. And it was in Prague which I had spent four amazing days with the man who ended up becoming my boyfriend. We had talked online for several months while I lived in the US, and we finally met in the romantic capital of the Czech Republic. This man was my soul mate. I felt it. And I was willing to take a risk for him. I was willing to move to Paris, so that we could be together.

I had been to Paris before. Briefly. In 2013 I had seen the Eiffeltower, eaten at touristy restaurants, seen the Louvre without entering the museum and seen the Notre-Dame. I remember falling in love with the city, mostly because of the lovely pastel macarons, delicious tarts and warm, buttery croissants. I was in love with the smell of crêpes and the taste of good fruity red wines. The small Parisian apartments in the Hausmannian buildings with their little balconies – often beautifully decorated with flowers – had become my biggest day dream. I wanted to live there. I wanted to be one of those people who were sipping espresso and eating jam on toast on the balcony while watching people pass by on the streets below. And I don’t even like espresso or jam on toast. I still wanted to be one of those people.

Moving to Paris was a whole different experience than what I had imagined it to be. My boyfriend took me to his apartment. My new home. It was not in the centre of Paris, but in the southern suburbs of the city. No Hausmannian building, but a yellow four storey brick. Not quite the idea I had in mind. At least the inside of the apartment was neat and modern. And the person living there was the man of my dreams. Which was a lot more important than the architectural style of the building I was moving in to.

Little did I know how much of an emotional roller coaster this would be, this new life in France. I took French lessons, made friends, lost friends, learned the language, got lost in translation, learned the local costums, made a fool of myself several times, laughed, cried as I’ve fallen in and out of love with Paris. And back in love again. And so it goes, on and on. All my friends in Paris are expatriates, like myself. We all share the same story. Boy meets girl, girl moves to Paris to live with boy. We all complain about the same things. About how Parisian girls won’t even give us the time of day so we’re just stuck with other expats. About how French bureacracy is a pain in the butt. About how going on strike seems to be the national sport here. And last but not least, how much we miss our traditions from home. France is not really a country of traditions. It’s a country rich in culture, but not traditions. Who would have known I’d miss my Norwegian holiday traditions as much as I do now?

Thanks to LinkedIn, I got headhunted for a teaching position in Paris. I now teach Norwegian to French students who are planning to expatriate to Norway. I teach them not only my language, but also about the traditions, the culture and the Norwegian gastronomy. The things I hold dear and miss the most when I’m away from the place I used to call home.

I still don’t call Paris my home. Paris is still my roller coaster ride. And only time will tell if the roller coaster ever stops, or if I’ll eventually evacuate – together with the love of my life.

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Incredible Caverns in France

When we first made plans to visit Dordogne, we had two main purposes in mind. One was the obvious food and wine tasting. The other is obvious only to those who already have a bit of knowledge about this region and know what makes it so unique as a destination for both local and international tourists.

The Dordogne department has hundreds of caverns. Some of them were discovered quite recently, while others were known as a tourist attraction already in the early 19th century. While some caverns are not open to the public, others have become popular tourist attractions and attract curious visitors from all over the world.

I visited four different caverns during our week in Dordogne and nearby. All four were unique and fascinating in their own way. The first cavern I got to explore was the Gouffre de Proumeyssac . We were given the option to walk down a tunnel together with a guide, or pay extra to be lowered down in a basket from the ceiling – the way the explorers did when they first discovered the cavern. As much as I would have wanted to choose the basket, my fear of heights made me chose the tunnel instead. The first sight that met me as I entered the cavern was a sign that said “No photos allowed”. How disappointing. The tour itself was no disappointment, though. In complete darkness, we were guided to a view point inside of the cavern. A light show entertained us as it illuminated the cavern and its different formations, in harmony with relaxing music.

The second one on the list was Les Grottes de Maxange . These two caverns were named after the man who discovered them, whose name was Angel – and in honor of his father; Maximilien. Les Grottes de Maxange was without a doubt my favorite visit. All along the narrow cavern are thousands of very small eccentric concretions. They are tiny stalactite-formations which instead of growing vertically, they grow in all directions. A display like this is very rare, and it’s as beautiful as it is unusual.

Third one up was supposed to be the prehistorical famous Lascaux , but unorganized as we were, we forgot to check the opening hours before arrival, and got there almost two hours before the first tour. We changed our plans and visited castles and nearby villages instead of caverns that day. However, the following day was a new opportunity to explore another cavern: Gouffre de Padirac .

To enter the Gouffre de Padirac, we were given the choice between a whole lot of stairs, or an elevator. As I’m terrified of heights, I chose the stairs – as it gives me a stronger feeling of control. A feeling of exhaustion and relief as I descended what I thought was the bottom of the cavern. But then there was another set of stairs. People had already gotten in line for the gondolas and we spent perhaps forty minutes in line, waiting for our turn. But it was worth every minute of the wait.  The gondola ride on the lake (completely formed by rain) was romantic and felt somewhat supernatural. What a unique way of exploring a cavern!

The final cavern we visited was Les Grottes de Lacave . The cavern is entered on a small electric train, which itself was a fun experience. Inside of this large natural cavern, there’s an incredible display of stalactites and stalagmites. During one part of the tour, visitors enter an area where there’s no light except from ultraviolet – displaying the incredible formations in a whole different way. A magical way.

I never thought I’d ever see anything as supernatural looking and incredible as the things I saw while visiting these caverns. And yet, there they are, underground, in the southwest of France.

Les Grottes de Maxange

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Gouffre de Padirac

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Les Grottes de Lacave

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Guest blogger: Brittany Hayward. Adventures in Perth, Australia

Sitting on a cramped bus, in the middle of the Western Australian desert made me re-think downing over 3L of “daily-recommended” water.
Being miles from anywhere led roommates Jose, Vicky and I to the truest of Aussie landscapes; the big and barren WA. Home to white beaches, optional foot attire and the world’s most isolated city.
After an exhausting 4-hour flight we hit the Sheralee Hostel in Perth. Practically an ancient ruin, the place challenged the boundaries of cleanliness. Our evening stay was accompanied by a dead cockroach, a bloody kitchen brawl of Irishman, and a Chinese man determined to catch the mouse inhabiting our room.
Waking up to our neighbors alarm an hour earlier then needed, we were ready to catch our tour leaving for the far north. Leaving the dust mites and grime behind us we boarded the 20 person bus jammed pack with tourists mostly from Europe.
Led by “Bachelor Bob” (coined due to the lack of wedding ring), Bob both guided and drove
the diverse crew up the coast. Stopping at places like the Pinnacle Desert, white sandy beaches and the Wildlife Park where Jose taught a multicoloured finch how to dance. Apparently Spaniards have a way with the wildlife.
Kilometre after another, we continued on towards Kalgone National Park. When entering I obeyed the instructions by keeping hydrated for the remainder of time hiking. The views of the rocky red terrain were one of a kind and my camera couldn’t get enough. By the end of the day we made it to Monkey Mia, but before our glorious arrival we made a much need “pee-pee” break at the Billabong Roadhouse.
Word of the wise: keep water consumption to a minimum when stopping at 3-hour increments.
We capped the day with a sunset over the Indian Ocean, and a bobbing turtle
wishing us goodnight. Getting an early start to the day we watched bottlenose dolphins swim up to shallow beach, followed by a morning of sailing at Shark Bay.
Growing closer with our fellow travelers we headed to lookouts at Shell Beach, Hamelin pools and Eagles Bluff. Our final overnight stay was a farm reserve, miles from civilization and cell phone reception. Luckily the stench of our barn accommodation didn’t bother us too much.
With only a day ahead of us we concluded the tour with sandboarding, peeing in the outback and bowing down to HRH Prince Leonard of Hutt River Principality. Hutt River is an independent state succeeding Australian rules and laws. It’s hard to imagine, but getting a stamp in our passports was definitely the biggest highlight!
The drive back to Perth was long and tiring, but left lingering views of open paddocks, grazing kangaroos and running emus. After this trip, I can confidently wash my pee down the toilet, tolerate the extent of greasiness, speak beginner Spanish, and answer all of life’s questions with She’s the Man quotes. Western Australia is forgotten and desolate, but full of hidden gems.
The 4-day tour was a blur, but I’ve got a lifetime of knowledge.
Follow Brittany’s blog and let her interesting stories and gorgeous photos take you on a wonderful journey around the world!
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