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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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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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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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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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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