Monday, July 31, 2017

Holy Fjord!

Kjosfossen Waterfall
Flåm Railway Route, Norway

Outskirts of Flåm
Flåm, Norway

Express ferry to Leikanger
Sognefjord, Norway

View from Airbnb
Sogndal, Norway 

It's the start of another week, and the time had come for me to board my first train for the Norway in a Nutshell train package. This is my adventure for the next three days. From Oslo, I boarded a train that scaled the different bodies of water as we headed westward. Then, the Flåm Railway brought me and the other 500 tourists from 600+ meters about sea level to just 2 meters in about an hour. (A meter is three inches longer than a yard.) The views were jaw-droppingly insane and gorgeous. There was all weather types on this trip too, minus hail. In any form, the mountains and valleys were stunning, but nothing prepared me for what I would see next. My first Fjord. Flåm was an eerily perfect tourist bubble, but the surrounding fjords were the real star. The sun broke through the clouds and just amplified the beauty of everything. At the point, the day only got even more amazing. A ferry transported me through the Sognefjord (don't ask how many pictures I took) to Sogndal. The view from my Airbnb is to die for, similarly to the unbelievably steep hike to reach it.

Sunday, July 30, 2017

Cultural in Oslo

Folksmuseum - grass-roofed homes
Oslo, Norway

Folksmuseum - 12th century church
Bygdøy, Oslo, Norway

Rudolf - Reindeer Pizza
Tøyen, Oslo, Norway

Being that Norwegians take their time off so seriously, I too embraced the idea of a more relaxed Sunday. Marianne and I gallivanted around the city from the Munch Museum ("The Scream" wasn't on exhibit, but fascinating artwork nonetheless!) to the Folksmuseum (open air museum that showed how buildings and life in Norway have been through the centuries) and then the National Opera House. The weather held up nicely, and it was nice to experience some traditional aspects of Norwegian culture on this day. But the most intriguing part of the day had to be having pizza with reindeer and moose as toppings. Every part of the day was excellent, and I wish I had more time to continue enjoying this city!

Saturday, July 29, 2017

Out on the Town

View from Ekeberg Park
Oslo, Norway

Fort Akershus
Oslo, Norway

Botanical Gardens
Oslo, Norway 

Today was amazing. My hosts, Anniken, Marianne, and Nick have made my stay in Oslo absolutely so unbelievably wonderful. We started off with a walk through the woods and a sculpture park with a rocking view of the city. We continued into the city via tram and made our way to a historical fort in Oslo's center. From there, I ventured on my own through East Oslo on a self-guided walking tour. The creativity and variety of the city is so fascinating. My highlight from the tour is most certainly the botanical gardens, which even had a roomba lawnmower! For dinner, I met Marianne and Nick back at their apartment, and then we waited for the party to start. It was a great evening of many conversations at their place before we went out. For one round of drinks, Oslo was (financially) manageable and low-key, my kind of a night out. Very grateful and happy with this day and evening. 

Friday, July 28, 2017

Owesome Oslo

National Opera House - the one opera where you can walk on the roof, which has one of the best vantage points of the city. 
Oslo, Norway

Vigeland Park
Oslo, Norway

Typical Norwegian houses
Oslo, Norway

After resting up a bit, it was time to take on Oslo. The best weather was predicted for Friday, so I had to carpe diem. I blasted away my previous Fitbit record and walked 17+ miles around Oslo's city center - it helps to have the extra daylight. My day included a walking tour of the historic center, the Vigeland Sculpture Park, self-guided tour of West Oslo (the more affluent side of town), the Royal Palace Grounds, the National Opera House, and a number of churches and tiny streets. I love the atmosphere of Scandinavia - where you literally have the right to roam on any inch of country land (for more info, Google "Allemannsretten"). Oslo took me back to my happy place from my previous trip (Sweden in 2015). It was awesome to watch the Osloites slow the day town and focus on enjoying the sunshine. It felt like everyone was sunbathing or picnicking in the parks. And the parks were are so, so green and spectacular, and more communal. The Vigeland Park sculptures were classy as well as intriguing with all the naked men, women, and children in pieces of art about the cycle of life - it took the artist 40 years to complete the project. Talk about leaving your mark. Oslo is awesome and so cool to wander! I'm excited to see more in the upcoming days and how this city of land and sea shines. 

Thursday, July 27, 2017

North to Norway

Walkway along Main River
Frankfurt am Main, Germany

Vapiano Restaurant (home of my favorite Carbonara)
Düsseldorf, Germany

Good night and Auf Wiedersehen!
Düsseldorf, Germany

Transportation was today's main activity. From Frankfurt am Main to Oslo, Norway, this day included lots of walking, a tram, a bus, a train, a monorail, a plane, and the last airport bus of the night. Total travel time: 13 hours. To save some money, you could say I took the scenic route.
The day was still quite eventful with strolls through Frankfurt and Düsseldorf while carrying my luggage, and a long flight delay. This gave me some time to catch up on my current Netflix series. I'm delighted to see that Netflix has made its way over to Europe! All is well and I'm glad to be in Norway, the country of greatest intrigue on my itinerary. I'm excited to see the stunning views and nature, but I'm also curious to see if I'll have anything left for the retirement fund when I'm done.

Damp in Darmstadt

Art Nouveau Thermal Baths (Jugendstil Bad)
Darmstadt, Germany

Frankfurt am Main Skyline

I apologize for my delay in posting about yesterday. Traveling and reunions do get exhausting and I had to opt for some extra rest this time. 

When you've been to a city several times already, it can be challenging to come up with new things to do/see. Liss organized a beautiful trip to the sauna and thermal baths in Darmstadt for a group of five, all of us teachers. For the first time at least a year I spent more than fifteen minutes in a swimming pool. It was exhilarating to relax and shut the world out by sticking my ears underwater - something I always loved during my swimming years. One pool even had meditation music playing underwater. Delightful! In the evening, we took a stroll along the Main River, a brilliant way to conclude a calming day. 

Tuesday, July 25, 2017

Rain and Chill

Rainy in Bornheim
Frankfurt am Main, Germany

Free postcards - found outside of nearly bathroom in cafés and clubs in Germany. I enjoy the creative jokes and phrases on these cards. 
Frankfurt am Main, Germany

If I wrote that it rained cats and dogs today, that would be an understatement. You might expect the rain to lead to a disappointing day, but oh contraire! By slowing down my pace a bit, I've been reminded of so many little things that I enjoy about Germany, such as the cafés, and the ability to walk everywhere. I met with my International House friends (from TCNJ) - Wiebke, Liss, Svenja, and Mike, and the day was totally chill as we went from hanging out at home to a traditional café and back again. It was a much needed day of rest and also rejuvenating to simply enjoy every moment with such wonderful friends. Despite the rain, they were the sunshine in my day. 
On another note, I started this trip a month ago on June 25, and let me say that this trip has been such a blessed adventure already! Carpe diem. 

Monday, July 24, 2017

From NRW to FFM

Frankfurt am Main, Germany

Park in Bornheim
Frankfurt am Main, Germany

Eritrean dinner
Frankfurt am Main, Germany

The day began early in order to catch a morning bus from Düsseldorf to Frankfurt am Main. Farewells with my German friends and family are never easy; I can only count my blessings that I have the opportunity to reunite with them. That was definitely the case today with Barbara and Claude as well. 

I arrived to Frankfurt with ease, just in time for Wiebke's birthday. We spent the afternoon catching up, sipping tea, and soaking up the sunshine with an afternoon stroll around Bornheim. In the evening, Wiebke chose to celebrate her birthday with African food (Eritrean) for dinner. Although I was concerned about eating with my hands, the food, company, and evening could not have been more awesome. We even concluded the evening with ice cream and cake. Alles Gute, Wiebke!

Sunday, July 23, 2017


Drachenfels Tram
Königswinter, Germany

View from Drachenfels over the Rhine
Königswinter, Germany

Drachenburg Castle
Königswinter, Germany

Germany has been so excited to have me back that this was the third consecutive sunny day! Barbara and Claude took me to Drachenfels (Dragon Cliffs). We took the funicular tram up to the top and took in all the views before exploring the castle ruins and below the remaining and refurbished castle. The day was totally splendid, and we concluded the day trip with a stroll through the town of Königswinter at the edge of the Rhine river.

Saturday, July 22, 2017

Summer Fun, German style

American products sold at Aldi (I've never seen a combined tube of mustard and ketchup or heard of Texas BBQ flavor, so not sure where the inspiration came from...)
Krefeld, Germany

Rhine Side (Street Art) Gallery
Krefeld (Uerdingen), Germany 

Although the weather forecast didn't look that promising, the day was absolutely gorgeous. I brunched and caught up with my friend, Wiebke, who I went to school with and fenced with during my exchange year. It was so nice to meet in person after the long while. After brunch, we had discussed that no trip to Germany is complete without a visit to the supermarket, Aldi. To our surprise, we found a range of American products that were on sale. There were some bizarre adaptations of the stereotypical products from the US. (Check out the photos to see what I mean.) 

In the afternoon, I went by bike with Barbara and Claude to the Rhine Side Gallery, a street art exhibition on the other side of town. The ride was wonderful through the farmlands, and the art was diverse, playful, and creative. It was such a wonderful way to enjoy the afternoon in Krefeld with my German host parents.

Friday, July 21, 2017

Chilling in Krefeld

Krefeld City Center
Krefeld, Germany

Pfand recycling machines - in Germany, you pay a recycling fee for all bottles or cans. You receive that money back once you return them to a machine similar to the ones shown here. 
Krefeld, Germany

After several weeks of being constantly on the go, it was time to pump the brakes and chillax. This weekend I'm visiting my host family from my high school exchange to Germany. Today I've been pleasantly reminded of so many Germans habits and foods that differ from life in the US. It has been a treat to just sit in the garden, enjoy the perfect weather, converse with my German host family as well as revive my German from struggle bus to fluent. How lovely is it to be zu Hause (home) in Europe once again. :-)
Schönes Wochenende!

Thursday, July 20, 2017

Chao, Lisboa!

Street Art
Barrio Alto, Lisbon, Portugal

Lunch outside
Lisbon, Portugal

I'm going to miss these vibrant, nonlinear streets
Lisbon, Portugal

Well, Lisbon, it's been way too much fun. I started my week in Portugal on a high note and the wonderful experiences were non-stop and plentiful. I had the morning to enjoy my final hours of the city. The explorations included finding some new streets in the Barrio Alto neighborhood, passing some familiar street art areas, and swinging by the main plazas. I added lunch to my plans when I received an e-mail about my flight being delayed. It was a lovely way to reminisce and think about all the good from this week. Despite the flight delays, I'm ever so happy to say I'm back in my second home: Germany. There are many people here I'm very excited to see again in person. After my last visit in 2015 and starting as a Spanish teacher, hopefully I'll be able to dust off my German rather schnell (quickly). 

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Can Lisbon be anymore wonderful?

Classic Lisbon Tram
Lisbon, Portugal

Veal Steak
Lisbon, Portugal 

Pastéis de Belém (Nata) - egg custard pastry, a national specialty
Belém, Lisbon, Portugal 

Centro de Comerçio 
Lisbon, Portugal

I traversed Lisbon three times today. First I took the classic Tram 28 through the most picturesque parts of the city. What a brilliant way to start the day, especially since the Tram wasn't packed yet. Then, I met my colleague from NJ who arrived to Portugal today. Cat, her family, and I enjoyed a two-hour lunch of supreme Portuguese food and hospitality. I'm starting to warm up to the concept of eating fish and even tried the typical Portuguese sardines. It was incredible, and I could not be more grateful for our reunion on the day that marks one month since summer vacation began - Obrigado! To conclude the afternoon I went from the eastern side of Lisbon to the westerly Belém. I sauntered around the main sights and ultimately settled in the pastry shop that is the birthplace of the national egg custard pastry: Pastéis de Belém (or Nata in other parts of Portugal). If Lisbon is heaven on a tile, this treat is heaven on a plate. Dinner was vegetarian and also wonderful. Then, we came across a breakfast bar with all types of cereal under the sun. And to finish off the night, I wandered past a public concert of classical music. All I can say is that Lisbon has blown me away as a city. The people, places, and everything in between has been a special experience. Portugal has earned a special place in my list of favorite countries. 

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

In Love with Lisbon

Typical tiles
Lisbon, Portugal

Part of Lisbon's panorama
Lisbon, Portugal

Alfama neighborhood
Lisbon, Portugal

Fado performance
Lisbon, Portugal

So, I'm just going to stay in Lisbon for the rest of my trip. This place is heaven on a tile. All the sidewalks are polished stone/granite, so it's crucial to mind your step, especially when trekking up or down an incline (which is often). Today, I made a few new travel friends - and I only encountered wonderful people. The Lisbonese and tourists are all lovely. I encountered these people and stunning sights on a city walking tour, self-guided exploration of Alfama, and admiration of the local art and top of the hill views. This evening, I concluded my day with a Fado performance that drifted me into the waves of the seafaring lyrics in Portuguese. Today was one for the memory book!

Monday, July 17, 2017

Cute Coimbra

Coimbra University Clock Tower
School of Law
Coimbra, Portugal

View from river
Coimbra, Portugal

City Center
Coimbra, Portugal

Coimbra was not actually in my original plans for Portugal. On my flight to Porto, I met a British expat and his wife who live in Coimbra. They spoke so highly of it and offered to show me around that I could not refuse their kindness. Coimbra was a beautiful way to split up the long train ride to Lisbon. The day was just absolutely delightful. We saw the university campus, took in the views of the rooftops, rolling hills, and river from the top of the hill, and then strolled the main shopping street - along with a nice history lesson at the main sights. Like Porto, there was the whimsical feeling I enjoyed from the unique buildings and tiles. It was magnificent. My hosts had to leave a bit earlier than my train to Lisbon, so I enjoyed meandering the city a bit more, which meant more hills. It was sooo cool anywhere my eyes traveled! (Plus, I'm forever in awe of how drivers here maneuver the narrow, windy, hilly roads without colliding into anything, such as pedestrians.) In closing, Coimbra was a perfect addition to my time in Portugal. And today was an example of what the best of travel can offer: spontaneous experiences and new friendship. 

Sunday, July 16, 2017

Porto Forever

Ribeira Street
Porto, Portugal

River cruise view of Porto
Porto, Portugal

About to take a wine cave tour
Gaia, Porto, Portugal

Port wine and chocolate tasting
Gaia, Porto, Portugal

If you want to enjoy a perfect Sunday, come to Porto! I saw this city by land, water, and sky. Every corner was a pleasant surprise with some sort of gem to discover. From the colorful buildings, the tiles (oh my the tiles!), and the variety of views, wines, and people, there is always something new to observe! The 6 Bridges tour started the sunny day off well and the Port wine tastings were the cherry on top. The street wanderings and Clerigos Tower filled in all the other possible vantage points. There is plenty to see and admire in this colorful, vibrant city. I can't wait to come back.