Travel is a challenge right now. One, we have a toddler, two, he is not vaccinated, and three, travel is not the same yet. Since we have been hermits for more than the past year, Edwin has missed out on experiences we were hoping to give him. For example, we have taken Edwin out to eat once. He screams when he wants something, he makes a lot of noise when he is happy; in other words, he doesn’t have the best manners when it comes to dining out. Another example – since Edwin has made the switch to his crib, he has not slept anywhere else. I so want Edwin to grow up a traveler with wanderlust, but I’m scared to actually start trying. So what do we do?
We are starting by beginning a new installment of his monthly photos. For the first year of his life, he was featured as a superhero in a fictional setting with a character represented by his dad. For this second year of his life, the theme will be travel destinations. Each month will feature a different European location with a photo taken by me. Edwin will be donning clothing from that country and I will join him on his travels. Although these images are photoshopped, I’m hoping by highlighting something important to us and capturing a moment around a theme, he will find an appreciation for travel. Edwin definitely loves superheroes, so it worked the first time around, right?
Beyond the photos, we are hoping to actually take Edwin somewhere this summer. We are going to start with a sleepover at pops’ house, but then, hopefully, venture all the way to Indianapolis. Baby steps, right? 😉
The background in this image spotlights one of my favorite places in Paris, Notre-Dame on Île de la Cité. I took this image in 2013 while going on a flâneur. Here is a post I wrote for that walk. Edwin’s outfit is brought to you by La Redoute; a French fashion retailer. The font for la vie est belle (life is beautiful) is Vincent Van Gogh’s handwriting. The decorative border is in one of our favorite styles – Art Nouveau. Although Van Gogh and Art Nouveau are not originally from France, they flourished there.
Below are some small excursions we have enjoyed so far this summer.
If you are visiting Iceland or just stopping for a bit, I highly recommend you go to the Blue Lagoon. Yes, it is kind of touristy, but it didn’t start that way. It began as a place the locals discovered, and then it became more commercialized. Below, you will learn more about the Blue Lagoon and some tips if you are planning on visiting.
What is the Blue Lagoon?
The Blue Lagoon is a lava field that is the dumping grounds for the water from the geothermal plant. The water is perfectly clean for bathing in, but it is not like this is a natural spring if that is what you were thinking.
What Should I Know Before I Go?
You need to start by making a reservation. Spots fill up fast, so book in advance.
A stop at the Blue Lagoon works best if you are just arriving or getting ready to leave Iceland. It is about a 25 minute drive from Keflavik, so it makes sense to stop while you are near the airport. I personally prefer going when I arrive in Iceland because you are able to freshen up from the flight. Our flight also came in around 6:30 am, so the Blue Lagoon was pretty empty, and we didn’t feel like we were missing out on something else since it was so early.
You will have to take a shower (naked) before you go in the lagoon. I recommend getting the package with the robe and flip flops (unless you plan on bringing your own). You will walk in, then the attendants will be there if you need assistance with getting a locker. The shower stalls have doors, but not everyone covers up, just so you know. If you are a private person, you can definitely make this work, so don’t avoid going because you feel uncomfortable. With the shower, they will have soap and a conditioner for you to put in your hair. The minerals in the water can dry out your hair, so put the conditioner in and leave it.
When you are in the lagoon area, you will hang up your robe and place your flip flops by the hook with your locker number. Then it is time to hop in. The air can be very cool, but don’t worry, the water is nice and warm. Different areas are warmer and cooler so you can find the temperature you like. The basic package comes with a mud mask you put on for about 10 minutes, then rinse off. The package above that comes with an additional mask of your choice and a drink. There is also a sauna and steam room. Simply wander around the lagoon to grab what you need.
The water is salty and has a high mineral and clay content. The silica makes it have that milky look and when combined with the sun, it is a milky blue.
The Blue Lagoon also features a spa, restaurant, and hotel. Since we were going the budget route, we just opted to enjoy the Blue Lagoon. Our experience for two cost about $150.
If this seems a bit too pricey or touristy for you, there are other options such as heated pools and other lagoons across Iceland. I really think you should check out this part of Icelandic culture; whichever option seems best for you.
Just over a year ago, our new travel buddy was born. With Covid, there was zero travel that actually occurred during his first year of life. He didn’t even leave the state! That is about to change. Now that our family is on summer break, we are ready to start showing Edwin the world. Some of our travels will be local, and some will take us out of Illinois, but all will incorporate enjoying our time together, having new experiences, and exploring our curiosity. We look forward to instilling a travel bug in our sweet boy, and taking steps to helping him open his mind to all that traveling can teach us.
We started small for our first day of summer break, but it was a wonderful experience at Brookfield Zoo. Edwin mostly enjoyed the people-watching, but he also took an interest in the triceratops.
Winter can be a challenging time for some as we adjust to the seasonal changes. Winter in 2020 is even more likely to be a challenge. As we seek safety by staying at home, we might find that we are struggling to maintain sanity. My husband and I turned to a country used to adjusting to difficult winters for a solution.
Denmark is a country that is often rated one of the happiest countries in the world. When visiting Scandinavia, we embraced their culture, and attempted to bring it home with us. With long, dark winters, what is their secret? The answer is Hygge.
Hygge is a concept that has recently gained popularity. According to Meik Wiking, the author of The Little Book of Hygge, this phenomena is “about an atmosphere and an experience rather than about things.” According to his book, there are ten elements to help achieve this feeling of home and comfort. Let’s take a look.
So, how do we do this? It is important to find pleasure in little experiences – to notice these moments. My husband and I have created a Hygge advent calendar the past couple of years so we can enjoy something special and unique together each day. Some things you may want to try to include:
Light candles at dinner.
Put on those fuzzy socks when you are around the house.
Plan special meals and eat slowly. Enjoy the act of cooking and eating.
Create a little book nook with pillows and blankets. Make time to read.
Enjoy a warm beverage such as tea, coffee, or hot cocoa when the sun goes down.
Avoid reaching for your phone when you have down time.
Try to stay connected to others. Zoom, Facetime, recipe exchange, virtual bookclub, etc.
Go outside when you can. According to cold cultures, there is no such thing as bad weather, just bad clothing. Enjoy time outside during daylight by going for a hike, playing in the snow, or sitting by a bonfire.
Hang in there. Try to enjoy our time now, even when all we want to do is press fast-forward.
I first met the city of Copenhagen in 5th grade while reading the novel, Number the Stars by Lois Lowry. Even then I was amazed at how put together Denmark seemed to be. Whether it was attributed to their push for equal rights or their active fight to protect the Jews, it was a place I knew I wanted to visit in the future.
Twenty years later, I was finally able to visit Copenhagen during my honeymoon. We planned a Scandinavian getaway, and this was the city I was most looking forward to visiting. Denmark has ranked near the top of the World’s Happiest Places list for many years, and I wanted to see what the Danish did to make them so darn happy. Perhaps there would be a way I could incorporate that into my own way of life. Of course, it’s not that easy since I don’t control the government, and this seems to be a big stakeholder in providing happiness. Imagine that. But, never fear, I did gather some insights to bring home.
Since I shared this experience with someone who is pretty important to me, I thought it would be advantageous to include his perspective. Nothing like putting the husband to work. His name is Michael, and he has some great insights to share. Stay tuned for his input.
Together, we have compiled a list of ten moments to induce liberated travel. So, let’s begin.
Stay in the old port of Nyhavn.
This is the neighborhood we called home. The colorful harbor may seem like a tourist trap, but it was a perfect place to make our base. If you’ve ever seen a picture of Copenhagen, this is probably the place it was taken. I wouldn’t necessarily recommend eating around here, but the central location made for a great place to start each morning. Several of the items on this list were just a bike ride away from our hotel. Being a photographer, I especially appreciated being able to get out before anyone else, and imagine this historic port as it was back in the 1600’s with the sailors and ladies of the night welcoming them for a drink and a bit more.
So, Michael, what are your thoughts? Nyhavn is a bit touristy, would you recommend staying there? I guess it depends on what you’d like to experience in the city. I can see why it has a “touristy” vibe at times, however there are things about this area that if done correctly can still be a unique and authentic Danish experience. For example, sitting by the pier and docks enjoying a beer in Nyhavn’s touristy places can seem expected from someone who is visiting the picturesque scene, however enjoying a relaxed conversation with someone accompanied by a delicious beverage and taking it easy is all part of the Scandinavian experience – it is the way that Danes (as well as adjacent Scandinavian countries) live their lives. The streets and pedestrian walkways might be a bit crowded at times with people who are not native at all to the area, but if you learn to appreciate what originally made it such a hot spot of the city in the first place and take in the environment above the other aimlessly ambling tourists, you can enjoy the place itself and not just what you might see on the surface or pushed into the storefront windows of souvenir shops. For me, riding my rented bike through this area and learning how to correctly navigate through the streets as a part of the regular traffic is what made me feel a little more connected with the area rather than just another tourist. Plus, the hotel that we stayed at was a nice local and historic spot in Nyhavn which also made us not feel as much as visitors, but more part of the culture. We had traditional Danish breakfasts there and were able to talk with the people at the front desk who knew everything about the city and made great recommendations for how get to the places that we researched ahead of time that makes Copenhagen special. I would certainly recommend staying in Nyhavn, just make sure to embrace the philosophy of experiencing the area and culture for what it is, not just what the pandering shop keeps expect you to see.
Get your beer and BBQ fix with Warpigs.
I didn’t start drinking beer until I met my husband, and now I am cursed with going to craft breweries and drinking flights of beer. It is a pretty tough life, but I’m managing. I had kind of heard of Warpigs before we left, but it was my husband that was the expert on this matter. I figured, he is the one who taught me how to love beer, so I trusted his guidance in visiting this brewery. We were definitely not disappointed. Although it took some unique navigating to find the hidden golden brew, we prevailed.
Michael, what makes Warpigs such a well-known brewery? Being a craft beer enthusiast, my introduction to Warpigs brewery started off by just hearing about it in the craft beer community. People would always be talking about it and whenever it would be available in the states (whether at a liquor store for purchase or at a restaurant or bar), people seemed to lose their minds to get their hands on it and would soon be sold out. Based on my observation of this high demand, I kept my eyes open for whenever I would have the opportunity for me to get my hands on some. Once I finally did, I could see what all the fuss was about. Not only is their beer great and vast in regards to their different styles, but also after learning more about the history of the brewery and it’s beginnings as the collaboration of the Danish brewery, Mikeller and Indiana’s own 3 Floyds Brewery, has a strong foot in the door of the craft beer community. Anyone who is into craft beers knows at least one, if not both of these renowned breweries and their team-up to form Warpigs is just as big. The collaboration between these two separate, yet somehow strangely similar breweries have created Warpigs which has expanded from their starting point in Copenhagen, now to new Warpigs brewpubs in the U.S.. The Warpigs Brewpub in Copenhagen is a large industrial looking establishment, with a large variety of great beers, accompanied by an absolutely amazing menu of BBQ style food served from their in-house butcher station! A great place to eat and enjoy a great beer!
Experience it all at the Glyptotek.
I am a sucker for art museums, especially when filled with nude marble statues. It is kind of funny because I’ve been exposed to this kind of art so much, that I forget some people may think it is taboo. I was going to show some pictures to my 5th grade students, and I remembered that our culture has a little bit more censorship with nudity, even when it is art. What I appreciate so much about marble sculpture is the ability to capture emotion, movement, and just the overall realism. Something the Glyptotek has done very well to showcase the art is providing a stark contrast for the background. The walls are painted bold shades of blue to really make the marble stand out. As if this weren’t enough, the Glyptotek is home to mummies, a cafe, paintings, and gardens.
There is more to appreciate about this museum besides its collections. Can you tell us a little more about the Glyptotek museum? How did it get started? I was not really very familiar with the Glyptotek museum before going to Copenhagen, but I was familiar with the founder of it, or at least the other part of his life that he was known for before the opening of the museum. Segwaying from the last question, I suppose it all starts with beer. The founder and proprietor of the Glyptotek museum was Carl Jacobsen, famous Danish brewer and son of the founder of the famous Carlsburg brewery in Denmark. Before going to Copenhagen, this was the extent of my knowledge on Carl Jacobsen, but after my time in Denmark I was fortunate enough to learn a lot more about him beyond the beer. While we understood that it was an art museum that we were interested in visiting during our time in Copenhagen from our research before leaving for the trip, it wasn’t until we actually stepped inside that we realized how great of a place it actually is. In fact, despite being two art enthusiasts, we had originally planned on being there for only a couple hours because we wanted to make sure that we had time for other things. However, after realizing what we had really stumbled upon at the Glyptotek museum, we actually found ourselves there for almost double the time, and we wouldn’t have had it any other way! What makes this museum so great is the environment it evokes when walking through it’s many vast exhibits – all encompassing a different theme, but maintaining their own unique intrigue. During our self-guided tour of the museum, not only did we get to see amazing pieces but we also learned about the very unique history of the museum. The best description of its origins can be found on the museum’s very informative website: “Ny Carlsberg Glyptotek was founded by the brewer, Carl Jacobsen (1842-1914), who was one of the great industrial magnates of the 19th century and the greatest art patron Denmark has seen. Carl Jacobsen was a passionate collector. From the profits generated by his brewery Ny Carlsberg, he built a rich collection of art and cultural artifacts. In 1888 Carl Jacobsen gave his art collection to the public and began the building of Glyptoteket to house it. Another exceptional donation followed in 1899, this time of the master brewer’s vast collection of antiquities, which lead to the building of an entire new wing to the new museum. Glyptoteket has been open to the public since 1897 and holds over 10,000 works primarily divided between ancient antiquities and Danish and French sculpture and painting from the 19th century.” This museum is a must see for anyone interested in sculpture, painting, or historical relics. The beautiful ambiance of the museum will elicit feelings of creativity and cultural appreciation, while sipping on your favorite Carlsberg brew served at it’s bistro-like cafe within.
Be a peddler. That is, bike your way around town.
Biking is the best way to get around the city. You do need to know what you are doing though because they are serious about their biking in Copenhagen. If you haven’t been on a bike in awhile, I recommend some basic practice before you come. We rented bikes for 24 hours and saw the city from a whole new perspective. Everywhere that we had been before on our honeymoon was a walking city. Our feet hurt. Although walking is probably my favorite way to get around, biking is a lot more efficient while still being scenic.
What do you think are some of the benefits to renting a bike in Copenhagen? I would say that the best benefit of renting a bike in Copenhagen is feeling as if you are a part of the culture of Copenhagen. When people think of bikes as the primary source of transportation, we mostly think of places such as China or Amsterdam, but bikes in Copenhagen are just as vital to their culture as they are anywhere else, and for good reason too. Scandinavians are a very forward thinking and progressive people, so any reason to lessen their emissions, keep healthy, and have a practical and logical way to approach a thing like transportation is something they do inherently. Plus, with the unique design of the city which includes, many pedestrian streets, piers and docks amidst the regular roads, as well as limited space for parking many vehicles, biking is truly an essential experience in Copenhagen. Plus, with biking you get to enjoy the beautiful weather (especially in the summer), and get around easily. Riding bikes in Copenhagen is really different from here in the U.S.. Due to the fact that biking is the preferred method of transportation in Copenhagen, bikes are treated as cars there in regards to security and theft. We learned that each bike in Copenhagen essentially has a VIN number attached to it, just like cars, making them all registered with the government. As such, theft of a bike in Copenhagen is almost viewed as grand theft auto in the U.S. and taken very seriously, which also means tracking down a stolen bike is something that is a little easier in Copenhagen. We rented our bikes from a very cool bike rental shop in Nyhavn where we got lots of great advice from one of the staff members on bike etiquette in Copenhagen, and were surprised to learn that locking up our bikes for the evening was simply activating a small lever on the bike wheel to lock the back wheel in place. We were told that we did not have to lock the bike up to anything like a pole or bike rack – and the next morning were happy to see our bikes right there, but this is commonplace in Copenhagen. I would highly recommend renting a bike for Copenhagen, even if it is just for a day. The prices were fairly reasonable from the place we rented from and they charged by half-days to days.
Get some Copenhagen Street Food.
Papiroen (paper island in English) is a warehouse filled with food trucks and vendors in shipping containers. I’m sharing this liberated travel moment with a bit of good news and bad news. Of course, let’s start with the bad news. Papiroen is no longer in business. But, don’t despair! There is hope. This is where the good news comes in. They have recently left their leased space for a new space with more opportunities. Reffen hopes to go beyond food and open its doors to creative entrepreneurs. I’m actually kind of bummed we don’t get to visit the new venue.
Michael, what was your favorite food you had at the Copenhagen Street Food vendor? Oh gosh…where to start?! It’s really hard to pick one. We ate really good in Copenhagen. Although what we ate from the Copenhagen Street Food vendors was not particularly Danish, the awesome facility that all the food vendors were housed offered many different types of food. This was a great way to fill up on types foods you may be missing from home, but with it’s own unique twist, which still makes you feel like you are indulging in something special during your travel and not just gorging on something you would find at at a chain restaurant at home. For example, Mexican and Italian foods are some of my favorites, and as expected, Denmark is not full these types of restaurants, but at the Copenhagen Street Food vendors, I was able to get my fix with a special street food style twist in their take on these cuisines. Chorizo sausage, thin, brick oven pizza, and even buffalo-style chicken wings were some of the things I would be more than happy to indulge in again on a return trip to Copenhagen’s Street Food vendors.
Experience, the history and humor of Rosenborg Castle.
When in Europe, I try to visit at least one castle because it is simply something we don’t have here in the states. Rosenborg castle is not the grandest palace I have visited, but it did provide for one of my favorite experiences. We participated in a self-guided tour and I’ve never seen a self-guided tour filled with such interesting information. A secret “telephone,” a prank chair, a porn room…This place had it all.
Michael, I think you felt the same way. I know you haven’t had many opportunities to visit castles, but what did you like about the Rosenborg Castle? I have only visited two other castles before in Ireland about 10 years ago, and I have always remembered them as some of my favorite parts of that trip. So on this trip, I wanted to make sure that I was able to tour castles again, and the Rosenborg Castle did not disappoint at all! For people who haven’t been to castles before, we usually expect them to be looming structures made entirely of stone with cold hallways, an open courtyard in the middle, and towering turrets with the cliche staggered brickwork aligning the top. While some castles are built this way and have a more militaristic appearance and purpose, we also have to remember that many castles were also homes for royalty, and as such required a sense of regalness and elaborate beauty, and this describes Rosenborg Castle perfectly. We really enjoyed the self-guided tour of this castle not only for it’s extravagance, but also for the unique history of it as well. After getting our tickets, we were given a pamphlet which gave us information about each room of the castle as we easily navigated ourselves throughout every room. The pamphlet was great because it gave us a more real sense of what each room was for and how it was used. I feel like many times during these types of tours you learn about facts that although are interesting and historically significant, can sometimes be hard to relate to as a visitor of the museum. However, amidst this information that we learned about the castle and its various inhabitants along the tour, we were also exposed to more relatable and at times humorous anecdotes of this landmark. Some of these included: learning about a “trouser wetting chair” in the lounge which was a seat that would soak the person’s pants as a prank from an attached hose, or learning that the early drop-toilets installed in the castle all drained into the moat surrounding the castle. Amusing bathroom humor aside, the tour is also visually very stunning from the very regal throne room, to the collection of priceless art and artifacts carefully placed on display throughout its halls. Of course during the tour you also get to see the very grand crown jewels in the cellar among decorated weapons and barrels of aged wines. We really enjoyed this castle and it has given us a great memory during our time in Copenhagen.
Take a time machine to Tivoli.
They know how to do an amusement park in Denmark. I’ve been to Six Flags and carnivals, but this was different than anything I had ever experienced before. It was so glamorous and classic. We went in the evening and we found it to be a very romantic place to stroll. It felt very “adult” and from a different time period.
I think you felt this too, how is Tivoli different than amusement parks in the US? Tivoli is different than amusement parks in the U.S. because the focus is set more on the relaxing and enjoyable environment as opposed to the fast trills and extreme rides that amusement parks strive for in the states. Tivoli has a quaint, yet undeniable charm that a Six Flags or even Disney World cannot match. There are rides at Tivoli, games, vendors, and different themed sections much like the amusement parks in the U.S., but Tivoli has found a way to maintain these as a source of amusement without the hectic, overly-loud, and sometimes exhausting result that many parks in the U.S. unintentionally evoke. It’s really hard to know what makes the charm and allure of this landmark so special and different from any other amusement park, but perhaps it again falls on the shoulders of the attitude and simple, yet dignified lifestyle of the Danes. Think of Tivoli embracing the innocence and wonder of a carnival in the 1930’s and 1940’s with its attention to detail and true draw to its patrons, and then combine it with the forward-thinking and progressive, yet relaxed demeanor of Danish culture. For those who are not big ride enthusiasts, there is still much to do and see at this historical park. Although fun, many people in the U.S. would not use the word “pretty place” to describe a theme park in the United States, but I can assuredly say that this would be a great adjective for Tivoli.
Be a pedestrian and walk down the Stroget.
This is the main pedestrian street in Copenhagen. It is filled with shops, food, and people. I want to warn you that it can be your typical shopping street, but in the end, it is just a nice place to go for walk. If you aren’t able to make it out to Billund, Denmark, the home of Legos, you can find several shops to fill that void.
While on the Stroget, we visited a Lego shop. What do you think is so great about legos? Wow! Well, Legos could probably be described as a toy cultural phenomenon. I mean, who hasn’t heard of them or spent endless hours at one point in their lives assembling something they deemed as magnificent out of Legos? Growing up, I would say that Legos remained my staple go-to toy, and I know it’s the same for many others. Toys usually go in and out as phases through generations of kids, but look at Legos; I mean, they have remained consistently popular for years. Practically everyone was playing with Legos when I was growing up 20+ years ago, and today kids, and adults too, are happily spending their time with the famous pegged bricks. I think what’s really great about Legos is their limitless qualities. You can build, design, and create practically anything from them. Certainly, they are the most versatile toy ever, which makes them so applicable to all types of people. Plus, with their more recent collaborations with other culturally significant companies such as Marvel, DC, and Pirates of the Carribean, their reach is stretching even further. The Danes certainly hit a great chord with this contribution to the world.
Experience the bohemian way of life in Christiana.
If you are a bit of a free spirit, this is your place. Back in the 70’s a group of hippies settled here and basically developed their own society. If you know anything about this place, you know that marijuana is “legal.” I’m saying legal with quotation marks if you can’t see. My husband and I are supportive of this, but we were not participants. We actually found that there is much more to this place than weed. They do have their limits though, and you will quickly see that hard drugs are not allowed. Since the area is not completely built up, you can enjoy the natural setting. We also found this to be a great place to see art with meaning. If nothing else, it is a unique spot to grab a beer and get away from commercialism.
Christiana is not necessarily for everyone. Who do you think should visit? Thats hard to tell. It depends because people might visit this unique area of Copenhagen for different reasons. I would have to say that it certainly has a certain type of feel and ambiance that might not be for everyone, however if you are able to get passed the way of life that is commonly accepted in Christiana, you will find a laid back, open minded, and some would describe as a “hippie” culture. Although we found Christiana interesting and unique as we sat at the bar drinking Christiana and Danish drinks on a beautiful summer afternoon appreciating the different culture, it certainly is not for all visitors of Copenhagen. I would say that if you are thinking about visiting Christiana, go in with an open mind, and an appreciation for the accepted philosophy of approaching life simply and free of the complexities of the modern world.
Get closer to God at the Church of Our Savior. Literally.
Who would have thought climbing 400 steps could be so fun? If you are looking for the best view of the city, we recommend ascending the spiral stairs. For some reason, there seems to be a draw to seeing a bird’s eye view of the city.
Why do you think people like to see a view above the city? First let me start off by saying that this church and the climb to the top of its spire to see the view was incredible! The spiral staircase through the tower was as expedition, but totally worth it for the cool insights to the bells within and the great view at the top. If you are one that struggles with heights or narrow passageways, I would say that this may be something to take in stride, but the view at the top truly is remarkable. From the top, you can see the beautifully laid out city of Copenhagen from its seaside bays and piers to its vast sprawl of mixtured new and old architecture arranged in a potpourri of Danish excellence. You can even see across the narrow Øresund waterway to Sweden, reminding you of the relative physical closeness of European countries. At this vantage point you are also able to see a great display of Scandinavian efficiency in the many wind turbines that line the bay in progressive nordic valor. I think that people like to see cities from above in order to as the phrase goes, “take it all in”. It really gives you a chance to see all the special facets of a place and hear the unique hum of the city below in order to compile it all together into the cultural vibe of a city.
Foods to Eat and Drinks to Sip On
Røde pølser- Red Sausage
Carlsburg Beer and other Craft Beers
Sights to See
Rosenborg Castle and Gardens
Views above the city
Experiences to Have
Ride a bike around town
Park yourself in Nyhavn close to sunset
Slow down and enjoy a beer
I’d love to hear about your experiences in Copenhagen. Please visit my website liberatedtraveler.com to leave a comment. I hope you join me next week. Thank you for listening.
Bergen, Norway was the perfect way to end our honeymoon. It was different than any city we had visited, and we shared many memorable moments in the port city. One of our favorite moments took place at a bar and cafe while trying to escape the rain. We enjoyed beer, coffee, waffles, and awesome Norwegian music.
Another cool feature of Bergen is all of the street art. We are huge fans of this art medium, and we enjoyed going on a scavenger hunt to find pieces all over the city.
Norway is home to troll-worthy fjords carved out by the glaciers. Nature has created these waterways surrounded by steep cliffs. This was the part of the trip I was most looking forward to.
There are numerous ways to see the fjords of Norway. We chose to stay in the town of Flam for a night rather than see it all in one day. Seeking a little more adventurous form of transportation, we went with Fjordsafari. They bring a small group of people to explore the Aurlandsfjord and Nærøyfjord on their speedboats.
Staying in an apartment in the fjords was everything I thought it would be. We drank wine and tried to watch the sun set even though daylight seemed to last forever. My husband listened to music and drew as the light grew dimmer and dimmer.
As I was preparing for this podcast, I had this flood of memories. Or, Acqua Alta of memories I guess you could say. I have never fallen in love with a city quite like I have with Venice. It is one of those places that I never want to leave, and I have to believe I’ll come back. Perhaps it is the idea that it is sinking (whether by water or tourism), that makes it seem so precious. We appreciate life because it has a deadline, maybe I feel the same way about Venice. I’m not the only one that has experienced that magic. If you look online for quotations about Venice you will find a plethora of people who were inspired by the city. One of my favorites was said by poet Arthur Symons: “A realist, in Venice, would become a romantic by mere faithfulness to what he saw before him.” So, how can you make sure you experience this Venice?
Let’s start with some basics. Venice suffers from hordes and hordes of tourists being dropped off each day. ABout 55,000 a day to be more specific. I recommend you try to steer clear of them the best you can. I try to achieve this by avoiding the most popular spots during peak hours. I also prefer going in the spring versus the summer. You are probably thinking, Melissa, you are a tourist too. I don’t quite see it like that. These people that I’m referring to show no respect for the place or people around them. They are the kind of people that are there to say they’ve been there. They bring a picnic to the city, and they don’t visit any museums. We want to try to experience the people of Venice, not so much of its visitors.
The last thing you probably need to know before we take off is how the city is set up. Venice is made up of many islands. That means no cars. That means a lot of walking and steps to cross bridges. The city is organized into six neighborhoods called sestieri. They are Cannaregio, Castello, Dorsoduro, San Marco, San Polo, and Santa Croce. I’ve never really been successful following a map in Venice since the calle (streets) are very winding and not very north/south, east/west. I will give you some tips to help you get around in the list.
And, without further ado, I bring you the list. The Venice list is comprised of 17 items to help you make the best of your time in the city shaped like a fish (that’s Venice).
Ride the vaporetto.
This is my favorite way to get acquainted with the city. The vaporetto is basically the public transportation of Venice. Once you get settled into the place you are staying, and you freshen up, visit the biglietteria by the Rialto bridge to take a boat trip down the Grand Canal. Make sure you watch your step getting on, otherwise you may have an unexpected bath. Usually this is the first moment I realize I’m actually in Venice. I’m on the water, feeling the breeze, and seeing the unique architecture. If you get a chance to ride at night, take a look into the lit up windows of the Palazzos and be amazed by the elegance. And don’t forget to look up at the moon if you can see it. Venice under moonlight surpasses all of the cliche expectations. On a side note, I’d like to say your stay in Venice will be magical, but it probably won’t sink in right away. My first impression was actually kind of harsh because of the chaos and exhausting trek dragging my luggage on the cobblestone and climbing up the stairs for the dozen bridges to get to our apartment. The less you carry, the happier you will be. I just wanted to warn you that you may have to give Venice a second chance once you are settled and are a little less jet lagged.
Get lost winding through the canals.
You will get lost. I often find not having a destination provides great opportunities to stumble onto something unexpected. My first time I was in Venice was during the spring. On Palm Sunday, I woke up early, grabbed my camera, and set off for a mini-adventure. I had no plans for where I was going, I just pointed in a direction I hadn’t gone yet. I ended up by a church called Santa Maria Formosa where an acoustic guitar concert guided my ears. The people were walking out with their palms, gathering around to listen. I felt so fortunate to be given this peek into Venice life. Essentially, I want you to know that getting lost in Venice is not a bad thing. Remember, you are on an island. How far off track can you get? If you are trying to reach an endpoint at a certain time, I would recommend leaving early. This will help you enjoy that time getting lost rather than being frustrated about missing an important event.
Figure out how to get around Venice.
Although getting lost can lead to unforgettable memories, learning how to get around is also very rewarding. Take the vaporetto to get to different areas in Venice, but then walk to find your destination. The streets are very curvy and lead to piazzas with other streets branching off. I recommend using the signs on the buildings to help you get around. Two common signs are “Per Rialto” and “Per S Marco.” Before you go, study your map and determine what your sight is near. For example, if I want to go to the Bridge of Sighs, I see that it is near San Marco Square. So, when I leave my apartment I will look for signs that say Per S Marco, then look at my map one more time to see which Calle I should take from there. I find that using this method takes away the frustration and stress of getting to the next place. You can also ask for directions. Mi scuzi is a phrase you should know to say excuse me, and then dove means where is it.
See acqua alta.
Sometimes when we travel, we need to experience the struggles a place is going through. This can help bring awareness and it allows us to gain a better understanding for others’ lives. Venice suffers from flooding called acqua alta. The rising water levels are caused by a combination of elements such as high tides, low pressure, and a type of wind called scirocco. People often attribute this flooding to the city sinking, but this is not the case. The city typically sinks less than a millimeter a year. Acqua alta is a growing problem, and it will continue to plague the city as our climate changes. So, how will you know that acqua alta is happening? Other than the obvious visible signs, you will also hear a siren to warn you. Have a listen. PLAY AUDIO. It can be a bit alarming, but it is just a warning. Certain places in the city suffer greater than others. San Marco Square is one of those places. I have visited Venice twice, and each time we experienced acqua alta. My first introduction to it reminded me of a scene from Titanic. We were walking under the arcades to escape the rain, and as the water rose below our feet, the winds howled, and the torrential downpour washed the city. Besides the sound of the makeshift waterfall, we heard classical music playing in the background. As we followed the sound, we saw a string quartet playing as it appeared the city was sinking. Life goes on during acqua alta, and the Venetians have learned to adapt. If you hear the sirens, go out and see what this phenomenon does, and reflect on changes we need to make on our planet to protect the places we love.
Go for a gondola ride.
It seems very cliche to go on gondola in the canals of Venice, but you should. Gondolas originated in Venice, Italy hundreds of years ago as a way to navigate the narrow canals with just one oarsmen. They are expensive, but well worth the cost. To make the most of your ride, talk to the gondoliers and find one you like. If you want to hear singing or narration, ask about it. I recommend trying to escape the grand canal and take the opportunity to visit the quieter canals. I have gone during the day and at night. Although I enjoyed both rides, I did find the evening experience to be more romantic. When I returned to Venice a second time, I was planning on skipping the gondola ride because it was expensive and I had already done it. My friends talked me into joining, and I am so thankful they did because it was a different kind of experience. That was definitely a time I learned to go with the flow and be open to doing something more than once. I almost missed out on a liberated travel moment because I thought, “I’ve done this already.” If you have an opportunity to go to Venice, go on the gondola.
Meet the people of Venice.
Unfortunately, there are not many native Venetians left. Tourists and the rising cost of living in Venice are the major causes of this. If you can, try to talk with the locals. If you like to go on walking tours, do some research and try to find a guide. Elizabetta was my guide and it was a great opportunity to have a conversation with a local and ask questions about the history and culture of Venice. I also got a sneak peek into current life in Venice. If this is not for you, then make sure you put yourself out there in other ways to meet the Venetians.
Wake up and smell the roses, or fish, at the markets.
I always try to seek out markets when traveling. I enjoy visiting the Rialto market to take a gander at the seafood. Markets can be kind of intimidating if you want to buy something, but give it a try. We just mentioned meeting the locals, and this is another way to talk to them. If you are looking for an al fresco dining option, visit the market to pick up some lunch essentials and then find a spot along the canals to enjoy your fresh bites.
Admire the architecture.
The architectural style is unique to Venice, and it looks quite different than other major Italian cities. It is known as Venetian Gothic. This style has a Byzantine and Moorish influence. One of the beauties of this architecture is the way it is able to bridge the styles of the east with the west. Everywhere you look you will be impressed. If you are looking to learn more about the architecture and history, I recommend taking a guided walk. Besides the architecture, Venice also has some interesting engineering feats. It all started with wood pylons being driven into the ground. Since then, they have also worked on other projects to protect the city such as MOSE which is essentially flood gates. Does that name sound familiar to you? It isn’t a coincidence. There is a lot that can be learned by studying the structures of this city.
Take a class.
I love to learn, and sometimes it is nice to learn something from another person in a natural setting. If you look online, you will find an abundance of options. During my first visit to Venice, I took a photography class. I’ve taken other photography classes, but taking one in the field taught me so much more than any classroom. I’ve also participated in a mask making demonstration. When trying to select a class, pick something that is interesting to you, but also consider what the place is known for.
Explore the Venetian Lagoon.
There is plenty to see in Venice, but the surrounding islands are also worth a visit. There is Giudecca, Lido, Murano, Burano, Torcello, and San Michele. With a simple vaporetto ticket, you can hop islands and see the unique character of each. My favorite island is Burano. The buildings are very colorful so the fishermen would be able to see land if it was foggy. It is a photographer’s dream, and a great place to escape the craziness of Venice. Murano is also well known for its glass. The Lido is where you’ll find the beach scene and a place to lay out. Giudecca is more of the working man’s Venice. Torcello is a quiet island that is a pleasure to stroll. San Michele is the quietest island of them all because it houses a cemetary. If you have enough time, consider venturing to the Venetian lagoon.
Wander around San Marco Piazza in the late evening.
San Marco Square is mad during the day. You can’t skip it, but you can try to visit when it is a little less hectic. My favorite time is the late evening. Visit the basilica, strain your neck to look up at the Campanile, check out the gondola parking lot, and admire the architecture of the Doge’s palace. As darkness starts to blanket the city, the lights come on and the music begins to play. Find a bar and treat yourself to a bellini which was one of Hemingway’s favorite drinks. I think if you visit during this time, you will see the true ambiance of the big piazza.
Step up to a cichetti bar.
Food is good. Food in Italy is divine. This seems to be as true as the sun setting and rising. Cicchetti is the tapas of the Italian world. Savor samples of the freshest dishes by hand selecting your personal desires. Suppress your hunger or make it a meal; cicchetti is an affordable way to sample several local dishes in one place. Since returning home from Venice I have experienced symptoms of withdrawal. I cannot find seafood so fresh where I live, and the produce has limited taste. I know where I will be eating the next time I visit Venice. Perhaps I’ll go on a cicchetti crawl.
Visit the churches.
There are numerous churches I would recommend visiting while in Venice. Some of the most popular churches are the San Marco Basilica, Frari, Salute, and Miracoli. One of my favorite memories happened at San Giorgio Maggiore. We had read that at certain times, we could hear Gregorian chants, so we went to check it out. Compared to the grandness of the church, the door we were supposed to visit felt a little less sufficient. Maybe this was the door Alice went through after chasing the rabbit. We rang the doorbell as if we were ready to be welcomed into someone’s house. I guess it is someone’s house after all, the house of God. A kind monk appeared, and quietly guided us to the room where the mass was being held. We didn’t end up hearing Gregorian chants, but we did meet a monk named Dona Andrew. He asked us to join him for coffee and a lemon pastry. He shared with us that he was from Scotland. When he turned 30, he found himself becoming very selfish. He looked at his possessions and the life he was living, and he knew that he could not stay on this path. That was how he became a monk. There are so many times during travel that the unplanned moments end up becoming your favorite. There are numerous times that these have happened at a church for me, so I recommend finding at least one you’d like to see and take some time to get to know it.
There are an abundance of shopping opportunities in Venice. I avoid the luxury shops like Dior or Prada, but instead I seek out local artists and boutique style shops. My favorite souvenirs to pick up are art prints and posters. They are usually not too pricey, and with a tube, they can be safely stored. One of my favorite shops is Acqua Alta Library, It is a store with piles and piles of books. On the floor you will find footsteps that lead to Casanova according to the owner. It actually leads to a canal. I guess Casanova got away. There are also some great true-to-Venice souvenirs you can pick up such as a mask or Murano glass. If you can get away from the streets where the tourists are dropped off, you will find yourself enjoying your retail therapy.
Stay in an apartment.
I’m actually struggling with this concept right now. Staying in an apartment has provided me with so many fantastic opportunities to be part of the place I’m visiting. During my first trip we stayed in a wonderful apartment in a neighborhood we wanted to be part of. We found a local bar downstairs that we visited each night. It smelled of tulips, and that is a smell that still triggers those memories to this day. I even have a Da Vinici print hanging in my bedroom because there was one in the bedroom I stayed in and I just loved looking up at her. But, here is where my struggle comes. I recently read that someone is putting up posters around Venice claiming that we are ruining Venice. Because of companies like Airbnb, people are buying up real estate causing the cost to rise and landlords to kick out their tenets. People have been leaving Venice for many years now for numerous reasons, but this poster claims that Venice will become an “empty shell” because sites like this are pushing out its residents. I feel conflicted because this has been a core part of my travel, but of course I don’t want to contribute to the desertification of the city. Japan’s government recently cancelled 80% of the Airbnb reservations for this same reason. The hosts will now have to be approved by the government and they can only let out their place for up to 180 days during the year. I wonder if this will be a trend we see. I suppose this provides an opportunity to be reflective and think about how our traveling impacts the places we visit.
Watch a futbol game in the piazza.
Soccer is much more popular in other countries compared to the United States. If you are in Venice during the soccer season, find a bar showing a game. You may need to stock up on some gear such as a blue Italia shirt or some face paint because this is serious. For one of the games that I saw, Italy was going up against Spain, so they placed some screens at the bar entrance, and people spilled out into the piazza. At one point I was standing up front and I turned around to find a sea of faces amongst the blue. This is one of my favorite photos. If you are hoping to find more experiences with the locals, this is a great opportunity to step up next to a fan and cheer on their team.
Try to use some Italian.
Speaking a foreign language is both exciting and intimidating. You will find that they typically speak at least some English, but it is not only polite to try in Italian first, but also part of the fun. Before I leave, I usually pick up some CDs at the library and try to learn some basics. My go to phrases I try to learn are: hello, goodbye, excuse me, I’m sorry, I don’t speak Italian, where is, bathroom, and cheers. I also like to be able to recognize items on a menu and on signs, so I study those terms as well.
Foods to Eat and Drinks to Sip On
Sarde in Saor (Marinated Sardines)
Sights to See
San Marco Piazza and Basilica
San Giorgio Maggiore
Peggy Guggenheim Collection
Venetian Gothic Architecture
As many canals as you can
Experiences to Have
Ride a gondola.
Go for an early morning walk.
Ride the Vaporetto
Take advantage of cicchetti
Visit San Marco Piazza in the late evening.
Take a class.
I’d love to hear about your experiences in Venice. Please visit my website liberatedtraveler.com to leave a comment. I hope you join me next week. Thank you for listening.
Our first stop in Norway was in Oslo. Oslo is a beautiful, clean city. While there, we were able to balance the outdoors with art and history. We visited the Vigeland park which housed more than 200 sculptures showing humans in a variety of capacities. We also made a trip to the National Museum to view The Scream. Our other major destination was the Viking Ship museum. This was probably our favorite stop. The museum is well set up, and a video presentation is impressive and informative. Besides visiting these places, we mostly enjoyed the city by foot.
The biggest shock we experienced in Oslo was the prices. It was nearly impossible to eat out and have a meal for less than $100 for two people. Beer was about $15 for a standard lager. Although we thought Oslo was very beautiful, we were not expecting such high costs.
After leaving Copenhagen, we took a three hour bus ride up to the northern part of Denmark. This bus was not necessarily meant for a long ride, but instead it was a city bus with over 80 stops. It was definitely an interesting way to go.
We decided to stay in a bed and breakfast in Snekkerston because we wanted to cross back over to Sweden to visit Gothenburg. Although the bus ride was interesting, the bed and breakfast was lovely, and a nice, quiet escape from the city.