My hyggelig experience of one of the happiest cities on Earth

“Hygge (pronounced hue-guh not hoo-gah) is a Danish word used when acknowledging a feeling or moment, whether alone or with friends, at home or out, ordinary or extraordinary as cosy, charming or special.” – from hyggehouse.com

Prior to visiting Denmark for the first time, I revelled in The Little Book of Hygge by Weik Wiking. This man claims to have the best job in the world, and I think I agree. He works at the Happiness Research Institute, literally researching what makes people happy. The book begins with wonderful anecdotes of cosy warmth and friendship, and continues with psychology, science and chocolate recipes. It gripped me, and I felt obliged to mark pages to revisit to bring some more happiness and minimalism into my complicated life.

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A visit to Copenhagen ensued, being the capital city of the country that invented the concept. I was desperate to feel ‘hygge‘ but didn’t know where to start, and it was annoyingly hard to find online in my researching in late spring – after all, hygge seems to have been borne from the cold and darkness that Danish people suffer during the winter months.

During my time in Copenhagen I, of course, had some touristy tasks to complete alongside my mission. I walked to the top of Rundetårn, the Round Tower observatory in downtown Copenhagen.  I walked down the famous Nyhavn street full of 17th Century houses, home once to Hans Christian Andersen and also to many of Denmark’s artists. It was crowded and touristy, but it was wonderful to see the boats going down the canal and flowing into the Øresund – the strait of water between Denmark and Sweden. I visited Christiansborg Palace and visited the Hard Rock Cafe (I’ve now visisted almost 50% of HRCs in Europe!).

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But what I really wanted to do was learn about this happiness theory.

So, hygge. Warmth and cosiness. Indulgence and wellbeing. Candlelight and blankets. Well, I visited Denmark in May. It was pretty warm (despite the cloudiness) so I wasn’t really in the mood to try and seek out cosy things. My jacket was ditched and ice creams were on my mind. However, I had some ideas thanks to my researching and Instagramming (thanks to everyone who had suggestions!). So here is my guide to hygge in Copenhagen.

Snacking and bakeries 

Denmark is well known for its pastries. I had done my research well and found a few shops that sold tasty wienerbrød (no idea how to pronounce that by the way) and my very first stop in Copenhagen was Sankt Peders Bageri in the old Latin town. It was a super tiny place with an awkwardly low level couch placed right near the door, so if the shop is heaving, people are practically falling over you. I tried not to be phased – after all, several people online stated it was THE place for pastries. The display, though small, was gorgeous. Shiny freshly baked sweet pastries covered the counter and the window display, and the back walls were bricked with amazing-smelling loaves of twisted bread. I abandoned all desire for my “wiener-bread” and opted for a Onsdagssneglen – partly down to the weird name, and partly down to the fact they only sell this particular pastry on Wednesdays, which seemed too coincidental considering that was the day I was there (the name literally means ‘snail Wednesday’). No, it isn’t made of snail, it just looks like a giant shell, and giant is definitely the right word. The size of my hand span (but I wasn’t willing to hold it entirely in my palm as it was sticky AF). It is made with cinnamon – however not too much. I actually hate cinnamon, but this was yummy. It was sweeter and more sugary than your usual tart cinnamon taste. I polished it off in super speed as I hadn’t eaten all morning, wiping my fingers on my jeans, desperately wishing I’d brought some hand gel with me. The stickiness quickly covered my phone and camera – I didn’t care. It had been worth it.

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I later found out Sct. Peders was founded in 1652. This bakery was cute – small, friendly, delightful, and cosy. It was warm outside, over 16oC, and yet I had found cosiness. I shared my sofa with three other people – two Americans, and one who’s accent I couldn’t confidently place. Swedish, perhaps. They were deep in chat, and as an introvert I’m not the kind of person to interrupt a small group to make friends. But I listened to their conversation half-heartedly whilst eating my Onsdagssneglen and drinking my coffee, peoplewatching the tourists who were coming in and placing orders for food. The three, relaxed and deep in chat, were discussing their studies and a music festival, blissfully passing time and enjoying the cosiness of company. I had plans though and couldn’t join their time-passing joy, so I wiped my hands one last time on a napkin and left.


Gardens and sunshine 

In further search of cosiness and friendship, I made my way across Copenhagen to the Botanical Gardens. It had some good reviews online that it was a pretty place to visit. Forgive me for thinking ‘oh my Instagram feed could do with some green’ – I was on a mission. Unfortunately, I got lost. I somehow got turned around and couldn’t for the life of me grasp enough signal for Google Maps to pull me out of my pickle, and instead I stumbled upon the King’s Garden ‘Kongens Have‘. It was a beautiful park, perfectly manicured tree-lined paths with a pretty pavilion right in the middle. In the distance Rosenborg Castle loomed over some more pretty grounds, looking dark in the misty heat as the sun beat down behind it. I wasn’t sure if you could go inside – I’m sure you could. It wasn’t my plan though – the weather was warm and I wanted to be outside. The pavilion was pretty. Two young men walked hand in hand in the middle, through the arches and trellises, determined to accidentally photobomb any portrait photo or selfie I tried to take. A small group of friends sat at one of the entrances, playing gentle music and laughing. The whole park was swarmed with groups of friends, but they were so spread out that it appeared vaguely empty. Even the wannabe 5-a-side footballers managed to keep their game so quiet and serene that it seemed lazy.

There wasn’t hustle and bustle, nor people angry marching, desperately needing to get somewhere, despite the fact this seemed like a big thoroughfare for one side to the other. It was hardly cosy or warming, but had a charming and peaceful vibe to the point I was shocked there wasn’t a group of older ladies doing yoga quietly in the corner.

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Bookshops 

For hygge dining atmosphere, I took a peek inside Paludan Bogcafe. It is an absolute booklovers paradise, as hardbacks line most of the walls. Of course this makes it awkward if you genuinely want to select a book and you end up leaning over someone’s meal to grab your favourite novel, but all the same the quiet and calm atmosphere, full of families catching up and students studying, made for a happy and warm feeling in your belly. I didn’t have a chance to eat here, though I saw raving reviews online, but it’s worth a visit even just for a coffee – or even just to peek your head around the door and check out the ceiling-high stacks of books.


Canals 

Whilst in Copenhagen, I didn’t take a boat tour. I just didn’t have time. But I admit I was envious of those who managed to take a small, two-person canal tour around the Christianshavn network of canals. As I was on my way out of the city, aiming towards the station so I could get to the airport, I wandered through the Christianshavn neighbourhood. Whilst not the prettiest part of the city and not as traditional, there was a real hygge feel as I watched people drift down the canals in boats and perch on coffeeshop doorsteps drinking some kind of iced caffeinated brew.


Food galore 

Continuing my search for hygge in sunshine, I crossed the Inderhavnsbroen bridge across Copenhagen’s inner harbour and went off mooching for the food market. Copenhagen people are big on their food. Or visitors to Copenhagen are big on their food. Either or, most touristy stuff is dominated by food.

Even the Round Tower I mentioned earlier had one of Copenhagen’s infamous hotdog trucks at its base, Den Økologiske Pølsemand (døp). Digressing slightly (I HAVE to talk about these hotdogs), I have to recommend that if you’re in this amazing city, go to the døp stand and order a roasted hot dog. Now the first thing to mention is that they only use organic ingredients, meaning you can feel like less of a fatty and also feel better about the environment. The ‘dog’ itself is super tasty, proper meat from proper farming, super rich and chunky and it tastes like Christmas. My favourite part of this meal (and it was sizeable) was the fresh and fried onions. The fresh onions are great for keeping the hotdog moist and sticky, and the crispy, bitty fried onions add an amazing crunch and rich texture to the otherwise soft and delectable meat and dough situation that’s in your hands.

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Back to the Copenhagen Street Food market. Another supposed must-do, and it’s a nice walk across a busy bridge (though watch out for the bikes!) to get there, the market is a mainly indoor food hall of “sustainable street food”, full of trucks, vans and stalls selling anything from ostrich burgers to Brazilian grill, Moroccan flatbread to sushi, burritos to South Korean BBQ street food, French cuisine to falafel. I had to look back over their website to remind myself what was there (such a blur!) and my mouth was watering just thinking about all the food options in one place. All of these food vans are inside one relatively-dark warehouse, and, except for people placing their orders to vendors, everyone else is outside. Benches and benches and benches go on forever, including pseudo ‘VIP’ areas made out of shipping freights (though from what I could see anyone can enter them). Me? I chose to dangle my legs over the promenade. Did I mention it’s right on the water? I sat with my pancakes and strawberry Daiquiri, sipping gleefully and watching passing boats and ships. It was so busy. Some people had even brought their own deck chairs to sit along the front as the benches were all so rammed. It was noisy and fun, far from serene or peaceful. But there was a huge feeling of community, togetherness and definitely indulgence. If I’m not mistaken, I could find hygge here.

To add one more market – for chocolates and and cheese and gin and olive oil and flowers, Torvehallerne market a few minutes from Nørreport station is a perfect place for gifts, or personal indulgence. Personally, I had no room left in my luggage, and also would not have been able to buy any jars or bottles as I had no checked bags. But it was a lovely marketplace with independent sellers, though fairly expensive.

Coffee

Being such a coffee lover, it’s amazing I’ve not mentioned it more. Despite being warm, nothing gets in the way of me and my cappuccinos. I had several places on my list to try – my favourite however, due to the taste and view, was Original Coffee. There are several of these dotted around Copenhagen. The one I went to was in a shop, Illum, which was actually the first one where it all started.

Original Coffee locally roast their coffee beans and all of their food is again organic (can you see a pattern? Organic is the norm here). In the cafe I went into, it was several flights of escalators up to the very top floor. I was eager for a view. Unfortunately the view doesn’t extend particularly far as you have equal-height buildings to the left and right, but what you do have is a beautiful peoplewatching station as these individuals went about their daily business down on the street below, whether it was on their way to a meeting somewhere or buying lunch, or shopping with girlfriends. The coffee shop itself is big on minimalism. Walls are stark white, furniture is a gorgeous distressed wood but very simple. The only colours are black and brown.

Once I accepted my frothy coffee from the barista, I headed out onto the balcony – which I was pleased to see curved around two sides of the Illum rooftop so you had a fabulous view of the streets below on different sides. There’s a great view over Storkespringvandet – the Stork Fountain – below, and also of Christiansborg Palace over the river further down Højbro street.

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So there you have it. My search for hygge in one of the happiest places on Earth. It would probably be easier to find in winter, with firelit bars and pubs welcoming weary tourists into their food and drink and family. However I managed just as well in the warmth to find cosiness and belonging and community. It seems Copenhagens really have the pleasure and indulgence thing pegged. From pastries to delicious smørrebrød, beer to cheesecake (there are whole shops dedicated to cheesecake – imagine!). Even though I’m sure the city was run with tourists whilst I was there, there just wasn’t the typical touristy feel as with every other European city I’ve visited. Something about Copenhagen gave me a warm, fuzzy feeling in my stomach, and I’m already planning my Christmas journey back.

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Small towns of Middle America

As we travelled down I-70 in a rented Dodge Challenger, I had to wonder how many non-Americans have driven the entirety of this road, right from one side of Kansas through the other. East to West. (and yes I’m aware it goes on a long ways further than Kansas!). Towns passed us by – Salina, Russell, Homer, Oakley. Each were smaller than the previous and I felt as though I was heading into the Wild, Wild West.

Every town on our 9 hour drive, I saw something I needed to stop for and take a photo. At Wray it was a cliff edge, a sheer drop hanging over the town. After a small climb up, I marvelled as I looked down upon perfect three story mansions (I’m English ok? Every US house looks like a mansion). After driving past a tiny town called Detroit, we came upon Abilene, where The Yank insisted on stopping off at the Eisenhower Presidential Library and Museum. I saw the house where Dwight D. Eisenhower, 34th President of the United States, grew up as a child. In St. Francis, there was a sign for a historical landmark on the side of the road. We sped past it not realising it was there, but I suggested we turn back. Here I learnt about a massacre of the Cheyenne and other Indians at Sand Creek, Colorado. There were survivors, who fled to the Cherry Creek Valley – this exact location which we stood upon. Almost 3,000 Indians gathered here in 1864.

Taken from www.kansastravel.org: “Cherry Creek Encampment near St. Francis is where the Plains War between the Indians and Whites began; a war that lasted twelve years and culminated at the Battle of the Little Big Horn in Montana in 1876.”

We didn’t stay long. A guestbook inside an old metal mailbox was waiting to be signed – I scribbled our names awkwardly, not wanting to balance the book on the box in case it toppled, and jumped back in the car. An amazing sense of wellbeing and gratitude overcame me as I realised how few names there were in the guestbook – though someone probably looked after the area and frequently would change the books over I’d imagine – but also how few there were from outside of America. Everyone signed their name alongside their home state. I proudly wrote “England” with a smiley face. This is how far I had travelled to visit this little site. In this little town.

We took another road trip later on in the week. This time travelling South on Highway 71, through Woodrow and an amazing little town called Last Chance (dammit, why the hell was there no sign?! I needed a sign selfie with Last Chance!). Through Limon, then West towards Calhan where we stopped off at the incredible Paint Mines Interpretive Park. A blog post will appear on this later, don’t you worry. Continuing West for a bit longer, we slowed as we approached the town of Calhan that looked like a street out of A Million Ways to Die in the West. I almost expected a woman to step out from one of the houses wearing a saloon dress. And we weren’t even in the West. Tucked away from the main road, between Cheyenne Street and Boulder Street, I spotted a gun shop. Visiting gun shops in America is on my bucket list of American activities. I later discovered it, Liberty Shooting Sports, on Facebook but was disappointed to see the page not in use. As we approached I chuckled at the outside decor: a sign hanging on the fence outside labelled Men’s Room with what looked like a drain at the bottom amongst the grass, and a sign hanging on the shop door itself

GUNS ARE
WELCOME
ON PREMISES
PLEASE KEEP ALL WEAPONS
HOLSTERED UNLESS
NEED ARISES,
IN SUCH CASE,
JUDICIOUS MARKSMANSHIP
IS APPRECIATED

I was thrilled at such a find – an incredibly rural gun shop, likely owned by what my idea of a Redneck or Hillbilly is. What we did find inside was a very nice man with a VERY overexcitable Labrador. I instantly had to get on the floor and roll him around, he was clearly very happy to have visitors (the dog, though I bet the owner was too). The shop was quite bare of guns, though full of niknaks and random collectables, and I marvelled at the few rifles and shotguns hung on the walls, and the display of knives. I bade farewell to the beautiful black lab and we carried on.

As we nearly reached our destination, I wondered how many tourists there were in America who would never experience the real earthy, rural, enriching America I was seeing. I cannot even provide a comparison, because I’ve never seen anything OTHER than rural America. Ok, I once had a trip into Denver to see the Rockies play, alongside a trip to the very packed city centre Cheesecake Factory. (FYI – I didn’t have a clue what was going on during that game).

The rest of my experience of America has been seeing small town Colorado. I’ve eaten in more than two tiny diners run by Mexicans. I’ve stayed the night in a roadside motel that had barely any hot water (and successfully didn’t find myself in the middle of a horror film). I’ve been fishing (and caught nothing) in a lake that you’d have never guessed was there as it was so far out of the way. I’ve legally fired pistols, shotguns and even an AK-47 on vast, empty prairie. I’ve stalked a huge buffalo, solo in a large farmer’s field, wondering if the farmer was going to come out and shoot me. I’ve seen up close and personal a rattlesnake, and then later on almost saw a different rattlesnake get in a fight with a rabbit. I’ve sat in a truckstop diner and marvelled at a small boy, who was literally the spitting image of the Milkybar Kid, round glasses and cowboy hat and neckerchief and all, come in to fetch a load of pack lunches for the farm he works at when school is out for summer.

Is this what American life is like? It’s so vastly different to my own. We don’t have prairie. We don’t have vast fields that you can see for hundreds of miles around – too many trees get in the way. We don’t eat dumplings and sausage gravy as a breakfast option. Do you know how difficult it is to find a cappuccino in small town America? Waiting staff either can’t understand me when I say it or laugh at me for thinking they’d have anything fancier than drip coffee.

My worst American experience so far? Being taken to a cattle drive. A cow auction. At first I was excited to go. I saw all of these cows outside in pens, some rolling in mud, and thought we’d get to wander around them, watching farmers make their bids to purchase the cows and take them off to their cattle trucks. Big nope. Cows are individually pushed into a tiny ring and swatted with metal flags to force them to run in circles, over and over, so farmers sitting around the mini arena can see the ‘meat’. The cows pant and snort and fume, looking terrified and stumbling in an agitated way. The auctioneer speaks so fast you cannot understand a word he says, and suddenly within seconds it is over. The cow is forced through a metal gate which slams shut with a loud CRASH, as the cow scurries away petrified, they bring in another cow. And this goes on and on. I’ve a pretty strong stomach but this haunted me. You know what my fridge is full of now? Organic meat. Meat that I trust has come from cows managed properly and fairly and nicely. Happy cows. (y’know, until they get slaughtered… but one step at a time). I had to put on a brave face to impress my father-in-law, who sat in his seat chuckling at how quickly the auctioneer spoke, pleased he could now fully understand after so many years attending these drives. I was afraid to show weakness, and I passed the test. Despite wanting to rush down, jump into the shit-filled pit and hug that white cow that stopped and looked at me for what felt like an eternity (despite being whipped, it just kept looking straight at me), staring and burning into my soul with the kind of desperate look that my Labrador has when it’s Fireworks Night and he’s scared. This is small town America. This is Middle America. This is the America that voted in Trump, that wants it’s working industry back. That wants to keep the coal burning rather than using wind turbines and solar. That spends its days driving and driving and driving so many miles because you live so far away from anything. A hard working backbone of the country that doesn’t know much of life outside of the prairie, because why the hell would anyone want to go anywhere else – here we be growing our own crops, farming our own meat and poultry, shooting and fishing and hunting, and being raw and real. Why would you want to leave?

This is a world I don’t know and will never understand. But I sure as hell will be back. Just maybe no cattle drives this time. 

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Tiny little dirt tracks leading off to nowhere

 

 

Our ride

 

 

Gunshop paradise

 

 

“Guns are welcome”

 

 

Childhood home of Dwight Eisenhower, 34th President of the United States

 

 

Eisenhower’s home

 

 

Eisenhower statue

 

 

Cherry Creek Encampment – Cheyenne and Indians survivor camp

 

 

Out of both times I’ve visited America, I’m now 2 out of 2 for getting photos of the Nebraska sign, despite never spending more than an hour in Nebraska

 

 

Beautiful sunflower Chevy

 

 

Dodge truck ready to go to work

 

 

Near the end of the road trip, having left Manitou Springs and heading up Pikes Peak

 

 

Gorgeous Mustang in Brush, CO

 

 

Views from the top of Wray

 

 

Cramming Oslo into one weekend!

I did a solo trip to Oslo a couple of years ago and wanted to share my travel diary with you from my weekend. Obviously a few things will have changed since my time there in this innovative city, but I hope this will give you a good insight at how you can make the most of a weekend trip.

Oslo was my first ever solo trip. Nerves really started getting the better of me as I landed at Oslo Rygge airport (now closed) and realised I have to navigate my way to central Oslo alone. However, it was relatively easy to purchase a return coach ticket for less than €10 and the journey took about an hour.

The scenery was beautiful on the drive. Just so much greenery, trees and woodland everywhere! I’d already decided the trip would be disappointing if I didn’t spot a moose.

I had an AirBnB room booked and since it was now after 2pm, I headed straight there. Had a chat with the host who offered me some good tips for exploring Oslo, and then headed out.

First job – find stuff. I walked to Karl Johans Gate, the most touristy street, and ducked into a few Norwegian-looking shops (didn’t buy anything – though almost bought a bikini that, using my poor conversion skills, I thought was £6, but actually was £60 – whoops). It’s a very long street, but I was a bit disappointed with the stock and the atmosphere. It had an empty feeling, as if somewhere bigger and better had opened up and so the crowds had flocked elsewhere. I decided shopping and street culture and street food wasn’t Oslo’s bag. So I pushed on.

Whilst wandering around I saw the impressive buildings of the National Theater, the huge university building and the Royal Palace from afar. As I headed lower down the street, I found where the crowds were – there was a beautiful park, and fountains full of people wading through with their jeans rolled up to their knees, chasing their children while mum takes photos.

At an information centre just off the main strip, I bought myself an Oslo Pass. For £30 I would get travel included for train, Metro, tram and boat, and free entry to all of the museums I wanted to go to. Seemed like a bargain and would save me having to worry about purchasing metro and tram tickets (I always seem to get things like that wrong…).

The weather was beautiful, hot and sunny. All websites reckoned this would be the only day of sunshine – the rest held rain and storms. So, wanting to make the most of the beaut weather, I headed straight to the Radhusplassen pier to catch a boat trip. Once I had purchased my ticket, I had half an hour to kill before the next cruise. Scanning my map, I realised the Nobel Peace Centre was two minutes away (free entry, thanks Oslo Pass).

Not expecting much, I headed inside, but ended up being super impressed with what I learnt. There was an exhibit focused on modern topics, such as social media and how it affects people psychologically, and how it affected freedom of speech. Another exhibit upstairs showed the awful effects of chemical warfare during different wars. The photos shown were incredibly moving. I was actually a bit gutted at having to walk through so quickly, but I managed to stop and check the exhibits that were important to me.

Next, the boat trip. Two hours of going around the local fjords and viewing beautiful, remote islands on a cruise couriered by a hilarious young Norwegian woman. It was bliss in the sunshine. We swept by some tiny islands, deserted except for the occasional group of swimwear-clad people diving into the cool water from the cliffs.

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One larger island passed by us, full of spectacularly beautiful mansions (though the courier described them as ‘summer houses’). I learnt that the owner of one of these houses, annoyed at having to walk down his short flight of stairs to get to his personal boat jetty, illegally carved into the cliff face and installed an elevator going right up into his house. He had to pay the government fines for it, but he could clearly afford to do so! Absolutely living the dream.

Disembarking the boat after 2 hours, the sky was darkening and nearby I could hear cheering and shouting. It was World Cup season and an outdoor bar had opened up nearby with big screens. I brought a beer and stopped to watch – not even that interested in the Argentina and Belgium game, but more to soak in the vibrant atmosphere – until my stomach started rumbling and I knew I had to find some food.

I was told to steer clear of Karl Johans Gate – far too expensive. But I didn’t know where else to go just yet. I wanted somewhere quiet where I could chill out and read my book. Off onto a side street (I admit I did stumble down it following tattoo studio signage), I discovered a cute little American diner-themed burger joint. It’s the sort of place my mum would have run away from, as it was empty except for two people sitting outside smoking, not eating. Her theory is that if a place is empty, it’s for a reason. I shrugged and went in anyway, enjoying my secret win of rebelling.

I was glad I trusted my instincts. The diner was edgy and I loved the American decor. There was a jut into the back wall near the ceiling where there was a room set up like a 1950s rock and roll den. I couldn’t see a menu, just three different food options in chalk above the open kitchen. All in Norwegian, the hippie-looking barman/chef explained them to me. I wrinkled my nose at the vegetarian option – he must have understand my meaning, because he brought my burger out to me red and bloody. It was delicious. I would never have thought to put coleslaw in a burger before, but was it amazing. £15 burger. Worth every penny. Particularly as the only food I’d eaten all day was a hot dog. (although I’m not complaining, the ‘dog’ was spiralled in bacon).

Exhausted on only four hours sleep from the night previous, I happily gave up for the night about 8pm and walked back to the apartment, stopping to collect some breakfast for the next morning of pastries, berries and apple juice.

A storm developed overnight, I woke frequently to hear the battering rain against my room’s tiny window and flashes of lightning broke through the thin curtains. Finally it died down and I slept…

Until 10:30! Buggar! Considering I only managed one museum and a boat trip yesterday, I had a lot planned for the day and I’d already lost half of my morning. As I headed outside I expected rain but was thrilled to see sunshine again and decided I should do the most outdoorsy plans I had.

To start with, the Sunday market. I stabbed in Bla Grunerlokka into Google Maps…and it led me to the infamous Sunday Market of Oslo. Except it was about eight stalls, and half of them were only selling food. No trinkets or souvenirs for me. It was disappointing but on the way there I did come across The Pop Museum. Despite my research, I had no idea it was in this area. So I popped it…and was pleased to find everything was in Norwegian, as it meant I could just look at the photos.

The walls were lined with retro guitars and humongous brass instruments. Cool music pumped out in each exhibit and I had a blast in the dress up room. I managed to find a Marty McFly jacket and snapped a selfie in the mirror.

Akershus Fortress and Castle was on my list next. It’s at quite a height and showed me some beautiful views of the water and islands, as well as the mountains behind Oslo. The castle was, well, a castle. It was old and impressive, and I would definitely recommend doing it as is an important part of Norway’s heritage.

My weather app suggested rain in a couple of hours, so I ditched my idea of visiting the Armed Forces Museum and headed straight to Bygdoy Island, or ‘Museum Island’. It involved another boat trip and I planned on checking out the beaches whilst there alongside the museums. The boat trip was quick to the island.

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The Norwegian Folk Museum was surprisingly interesting, and I learnt a bit about Samis and Reindeer Nomads. I saw some traditional folk dancing and petted some horses and other farmyard animals. It felt nice to go to an open-air museum as opposed to a stuffy indoor one.

Next, the Viking Museum. ! It had three huuuuge viking ships, and I was amazed at the brilliant condition they were still in after being dug up from the sea!

The Kon Tiki Museum was next, just a ten minute walk away. Again it was small, and I was shocked to learn that Kon Tiki actually built boats out of, well basically wicker, and sailed huge oceans on them. I stared miraculously at one of the rebuilds wondering ‘well that won’t go anywhere’, thinking of my old bathroom wicker bin. But I suppose it did otherwise they wouldn’t have made a museum out of it.

Whilst browsing the gift shop, a bus pulled up outside. Without thinking, I made a run for it and jumped on, only asking it’s destination once it had started moving. Phew, it was going to Huk Beach.

When I jumped off, a young girl was selling strawberries at the stop. I bought some, only realising after that they cost me £4.70. I’m terrible at this currency converter thing. It makes it worse that, to convert Krona to Sterling, you only need divide by 10.

I found a beach (hmmpff, actually the first beach I found was a nudist beach, it’s a sore point, I’d rather not revisit that memory..) and sat and ate strawberries, kicked at the sand and enjoyed the sunshine. The sun started dropping and I made a move.

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A visit to the Polar Fram Museum (again, another big boat that sailed around the Arctic), and back on the cruise for Oslo Central.

It was 17:30 and light was fading. I jumped on the boat and headed back to base.

bygdoy

A quick Google showed me that my main interest of the trip, to get up in the mountains, specifically via the Holmenkollen Ski Museum, opened until 20:00. I jumped on the Metro for the first time and took the half hour uphill journey towards the mountains.

Being at the top of the ski slope, I think I was actually pretty much at the top of the city. The scenery was beautiful and you could see for miles everywhere. I enjoyed a Latte at the top, taking loads of photos, wondering if next time I visit I should stay in one of the local hotels up here in the mountains. I was thrilled to be able to see, from the top, the city of Oslo and some of the fjords in the distance. And the ski slope is incredibly impressive in itself – I’m not afraid of heights but even I got goosebumps looking down the slope – the sheer steepness is enough to give many shivers and I gained incredible respect for the skiiers who take this on. Supposedly they’ve now opened the slope up as part of an obstacle course, laying the slope with a net and tasking competitors to climb up as quickly as possible.

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Food was on my mind, and I had read about a small restaurant along the beautiful Aker Brygge quayside that had some traditional Norwegian food. I wasn’t disappointed when I found it and quickly ordered the fillet of whale, with mushroom stew and lingonbery sauce. It £35 for that, a Coke and a tip, but absolutely worth it for the experience. It tasted very similar to steak, so wasn’t outrageously different, but I was glad I tried it. The other option was reindeer, but that was even more expensive! I think it previously had moose on the menu too. The restaurant was Rorbua and I absolutely recommend visiting here if you can. Best to come in summer and sit on their deck to people watch and take in the glorious views of the yachts and fjord.

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It was about 10pm, and I wanted a drink with a nice, night-time view.

Silly me. It stays light until gone midnight here. My ideal night was to head up to a super high-up bar and have a cocktail whilst taking in the lights of Oslo. I found a 21st floor bar in the Radisson Blu hotel, but it was still light! Still, I enjoyed a bourbon and ginger ale cocktail overlooking the tall buildings, the ‘Corporate Oslo’. Shortly after, I found a rock bar, had a cider, then realised it was midnight, I was slightly drunk and I had a long day ahead of me.

I headed to the apartment and slept.

My final morning here, I got up quickly and headed out, again pleased it was sunny but aware storms were forecasted for later.

Renald recommended the Vigeland Sculpture Park I had dismissed, thinking it might be boring. But, with nice weather, I thought it’d be worth a shout. I’m so glad I visited as it was beautiful! Loads of weird naked statues, and some amazing grounds. I people-watched for a bit and saw some Asian ladies doing tai-chi, and a jazz busker.

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Popping in for lunch and a coffee in the shop, it suddenly started absolutely hammering down with rain outside. I made a judgement call and made a run for the station – and actually thieved a tray from the cafe to use as cover. I had no umbrella! To this day I still feel like a criminal.

I headed back out to do some more sightseeing but the rain was so heavy, so I took shelter in the Hard Rock Cafe (yessss think this is the 12th European one I’ve visited? Only 27 to go..) for a coffee and read my book until it died down. I had time for one last stop – the Opera House. It’s incredible – it has a massive glass wall with a huge slanted white marble roof you can walk all over. Many photos of the building and selfies in the glass later, and it was time to go.

I packed, handed the keys back to Renald and said my goodbyes.

The journey back to the airport was uneventful, except for a terrifically annoying toddler that wouldn’t stop singing. A few hours later and I touched ground in Stansted.

It was an amazing trip – I crammed in so much in the space of just over 48 hours. Would I go again? Maybe. I think I’ve done everything I wanted to do in Oslo. If I went back to Norway, I’d stay in the mountains surrounding Oslo or I’d go to Bergen in the winter, for the spectacular views of the snowy mountains. My boss also suggested Lofoten which is meant to be incredible. Hopefully this would increase my chances of seeing the Northern Lights too.

Okay, I didn’t spot a moose on my trip. But then I didn’t go enough into the mountains to see one. It was still amazing, and definitely not disappointing.

I highly recommend Oslo as a travel destination. If not mid-winter, then mid-summer. If you can, stay in a summer house on the islands and you’ll have the whole fjord as your swimming pool!

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5 ridiculously good places to get coffee in Western Europe

Sharing with you my love for travel with the added bonus of where to find a topnotch coffee experience.

Elephant House, Edinburgh

Starting with my most recent trip, I’m delighted to add this charming coffee shop to my top 5. I discovered this place, as I’m sure most tourists have done, after reading list after list saying ‘visit the Elephant House, the birthplace of Harry Potter’.

Well as it turns out, this wasn’t the birthplace of Harry Potter. Portugal was technically actually the place J.K. Rowling started writing about Harry’s antics, however the Elephant House was still a frequent haunt of Rowling’s when she lived in Scotland.

Located on the George IV Bridge in Old Town, this cafe presents some decent coffee, herbal teas as well as a fantastic selection of food. It has a decent breakfast (their smoked salmon on scrambled eggs is to die for) and a good option of sandwiches and pies for lunch (the pies! Oh the pies! Topped with mash and gravy, so luscious). Sharing with you a photo of my pie:

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The decor inside isn’t really my kind of decor – it’s pretty dated with rustic orange wallpaper and very old tables and chairs. But it had an Indian vibe with elephants absolutely everywhere. It would have been nice if it had been a bit more Indian themed to be honest, with drapes and some comfy suede sofas. But then again they don’t serve Indian food so perhaps that would have been confusing. *furrows brow* One shocking element to this coffee shop – the toilets are actively ENCOURAGED to be strewn with graffiti! Seriously – go to the toilets and see how many Harry Potter quotes you can count written by cafe visitors.

Elephant promise their coffee is roasted locally in small batches ensuring unrivalled freshness. It definitely did taste good. Price wise, the coffee is I’d say an average price – about £2.55 for a small cappuccino, £3 for a large, and you’re looking at between £5 and £8 for sandwiches/pies. Totally worth it, especially if you manage to grab a seat at the back, with a gorgeous window view of the Castle up the hill.

Top tip: If you’re in a hurry, ask for some of their salted caramel brownies to take away. Seriously the best brownies I’ve ever tasted and a delight to munch on later when you’re peckish after climbing Arthur’s Seat or gone up and down the Royal Mile.

The Happy Pig, Amsterdam

Ok, so perhaps the reason this cafe lands on this list isn’t entirely down to the coffee. They have pancakes. I mean, seriously good, crepe-like, smothered-in-Nutella-and-filled-with-strawberries-and-whipped-cream pancakes. Their savoury options seemed incredibly popular too and I wish I’d have had longer to come back another day and try more. From our 20 minutes sitting in there, favourite options amongst visitors seemed to be the ham & onion and bacon & cheese.

The coffee was brilliant. It was handed to me in a tiny paper cup (I wouldn’t have minded a cup double the size, mind) and was delicious. Perfect in strength (not too strong, not too weak) with very frothy milk (but not the kind of froth that melts away after 10 seconds).

The pancakes aren’t cheap – you’re looking at spending €25 on two lots of pancakes and two drinks. For something that was essentially our breakfast, that’s a pretty hefty amount and we probably could have had a small fry up for half the price. However, for the tastiness of the crepes and coffee and the delightful atmosphere, I’d say it’s definitely worth it.

Top tip: Get here early in the day. It’s an incredibly petite shop with four cramped tables, and it always seems busy. If this sounds like your kind of hell then just stop by for a takeaway and walk further down the canal to a bench. But if you can, sit inside and soak up the busy atmosphere. The owner is super friendly and made us chuckle while we ate.

Vivaldi, Ypres

For anyone who hasn’t visited Ypres, I’d say now hike it up your to-do list. Now. Do it now. Ypres is a quaint little town in the West Flanders province of Belgium and filled with haunting World War I history. It is this town that the Germans invaded en route to France during the war, prompting a British, French and allied forces counter-attack. Three ensuing battles caused half a million casualties, and Ypres was demolished.

The town was rebuilt after the war, and one of the most important additions is the Menin Gate Memorial, an impressive arch housing the names of over 50,000 heroes who fell during the battles and have no known grave. What is incredibly spiritual about this arch is that every single evening at 8pm the local fire brigade play the Last Post and crowds gather around the gate to remember.

Prior to attending the Last Post service one chilly February evening, we stopped for coffee down Grote Markt and came across Vivaldi. It was almost empty, and felt far more like a restaurant than a coffee shop, but regardless they welcomed our group in, despite our casual dress. Brilliant service and I was thrilled to see it was a dog friendly place – never fails to put a smile on my face. We cosied on the comfy seats with coffees and hot chocolates, warming up before our final trip of the day. The coffee was good, not the best I’ve had, but the experience was brilliant. Ypres didn’t feel like a lively town, and there was almost a melancholy that descends upon it, especially as it gets darker. Understandably so, especially since so many visit this place as a ‘pilgrimage’ to remember the forgotten.

Micro Roastery, Canterbury

Totally off the beaten track, I only discovered this tiny little coffee shop because we ended up parking so far out of the city (although on hindsight it’s probably less than a 3 minute walk from all of the major shops – but it seemed totally off the beaten track!). As usual, a pretty little shopfront caught my eye. And when I say little, that’s probably an understatement. The entrance to the cafe probably would’ve struggled to fit more than four people in, but there is seating out the back.

The design of this cafe is epic. Hessian and woven coffee bags line the walls and an incredibly fancy and intimidating looking coffee machine sits right up front. A glass case of beautiful looking cake (display cake I like to call it – cake no one has yet had a slice of) juts out, daring someone to take the first piece.

A large cappuccino is £2,70. Not bad at all when compared to larger chains. The coffee is melt-in-the-mouth wonderful perfectly holding up a decent amount of creamy milk.

We didn’t sit in, instead opting to takeaway and keep wandering the streets of Canterbury, but I couldn’t resist walking past on the way back and grabbing another one. That’s when you know coffee is good.

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Cuillier, Abbesses, Paris 

We stumbled across this coffee shop en route to the Sacré-Coeur basilica. Having jumped off Abbesses Metro stop and panicking slightly about which direction to take (honestly, was the whole world getting off that tube stop at the same time?!), we abruptly crossed the straight to get away from the crowds and figured we’d wander around before whipping out Google Maps. This coffee shop almost shouted out to me – the decor was incredibly modern yet minimalistic and just shouted out ‘Instagram-photo’. And that’s an impressive feat to stand out because this area is littered with cafes.

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The queue was almost out the door when we entered, but fortunately went quickly. The cashier bar is simple and bland, with a prudent selection of brownies and cookies. What amazed me was the options of all the different types of coffee. I spied beans from Brazil, Ethiopia and Guatemala, to serve even the most seasoned coffee connoisseur.

Though there’s a relatively quiet and calm ambience inside, there are always streams of tourists walking by on their way up to Sacré-Coeur. This cafe is absolutely perfect for people-watching, what with it’s huge glass windows. Even if it’s just while waiting in the line to be served.

 

There you have it! Five brilliant places that sell yummy coffee and cake, perfect for recharging so you can carry on with your day! Do you have any places you can recommend I try? :o) 

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