A Day Trip to Frederiksborg Slot

For our first full day in Denmark, we decided to take the 45-minute train trip up to Hillerød to visit the beautiful Frederiksborg Slot. It was really easy to get to; we left from Central Station and once we arrived in Hillerød, the Castle area was a short walk from the train station. We opted to take the scenic route around the lake.

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Frederiksborg Castle from across the lake

We really enjoyed our day! The castle houses the Museum of National History; the first exhibit we walked through was a collection of knitted renaissance outfits created by the Netmaskerne knitting guild. The exhibit was cool and I liked seeing different outfit inspirations. The castle interiors were beautiful and visitors stroll through several hundred of years of Danish history; as with most castles, we found ourselves surrounded by ornate interiors, and intricate furnishings. My two favorite rooms were the Audience Chamber and the Chapel.

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The beautiful Audience Chamber

On the third floor, there were exhibits of photography and modern art. The interiors housing the modern collection were still beautiful, but not quite like the better preserved and more ornate rooms on the first and second floors. My favorite part of the modern collection was a room with hand drawn sketches and paintings of Danish Arctic explorers.

The grounds were definitely the highlight. The day was beautiful and we were welcomed by blue, sunny skies. We walked around the lake, saw the gardens, and enjoyed the view of the castle from the benches along the water.

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Enjoying life in the trees

Afterward, we explored Hillerød on a quest for lunch; it was difficult to find vegetarian options. We ended up grabbing some sandwiches at Kaffebar before sitting along the waterfront and enjoying ice cream from Tortes Vaffelhus.

 

Copenhagen, Denmark – “We Are Red, We Are White, We Are Danish Dynamite!”

We went back and forth a few times before finally deciding on our spring destinations. That’s the hardest part of trip planning for me – narrowing down exactly where we want to go. We almost committed to going to South Africa, but learned that my friend Joe was studying abroad for spring semester in Copenhagen, Denmark. We shifted our plans to visit him in Copenhagen, and decided to tack on visits to Stockholm, Sweden, and Vilnius, Lithuania.

Looking for hotels in Copenhagen was an interesting challenge. For one of the days we were there, the city’s hotels seemed to be almost full. Copenhagen is an expensive city to stay in and that is definitely reflected in hotel prices. We opted to stay at the Axel Guldsmeden, which is a Balinese-influenced self-defined eco-hotel. Yes, we travelled all the way to Denmark to stay in Bali. 😉 The hotel was nice, if a bit squeaky with the hardwood floors and wooden furniture. They offer eco-amenities, like shampoos and soaps in dispensers, toothpaste tablets, and reusable plastic water bottles to take along and refill. The location is great, near Copenhagen Central train station and we were able to get to most places on foot easily.

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A little Bali in Denmark’s capital

The hotel even had a bin of organic apples and pears for guests to take, as well as bicycles to rent.

On our arrival (half) day, we visited Christiansborg Slot (Palace) and walked around the area with the Danish Parliament (Folketinget) and the Royal Library Garden.

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Folketinget

From there, we walked over to the National Museum of Denmark. The museum was nice, though a bit random in some places. They had an exhibit on Navajo blankets and textiles, Japanese manga and cosplay culture, and arctic lifestyle/clothing. The museum also had a very darkly-lit room with a bunch of vintage doll houses (side note: we also saw doll houses at Stockholm museum – is this a Scandinavian thing?).

The museum also had exhibits on antiquities (of course!). You can’t have a National Museum without an overview of Danish history, so luckily we found those exhibit types, too. I especially liked looking at the section with Danish culture in the past 100 years – 1950s consumer culture and a 1970s room layout – seems like hippies were everywhere! The post title comes from a pillow on display at the museum.

At Tivolihallen, I had my first taste of quintessential Danish cuisine, smørrebrød (open-faced sandwich) with eggs and tomato. The restaurant staff was very friendly and accommodating. The dish was not yet on the menu, but after learning that we were vegetarian, they offered to make the egg and tomato smørrebrød for us.

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Smørrebrød

On that note, Copenhagen was definitely the hardest city on this trip for finding vegetarian cuisine, but we managed. 🙂

We strolled over to Nyhavn to hop on a canal boat tour, since we reviewed weather forecasts and determined that it would be the nicest day.  On the tour, we saw The Copenhagen Opera House, Christiania and Freetown Christiania (at least the outskirts), Amalienborg Palace, the Black Diamond Library, and, of course, the Little Mermaid statue (which was very small and surrounded by a ton of people).

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Nyhavn canal tour

I would highly recommend the canal tour. We were even able to see the royal yacht, which happened to be in the harbor as we rode by. We also saw Papirøen (Paper Island) from the boat, which inspired a trip a few days later.

After the canal day, we had unremarkable Italian food in Nyhavn before heading back to our hotel.

Throwback Travel: Things to do in an Icelandic Winter (Reykjavík Style)

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The pond in the city center

Sorry for my delay in posting. I’ve had this post in draft for quite a while. I finally decided to go through my photos and try to finish it. 🙂 Above is a photo of Tjörnin, which is the small lake in the city center. While we strolled around the city, we spent some time by the lake, admiring the sparkling lights and the birds along the shore. I wasn’t crazy enough to walk on the frozen parts of the lake, but there were plenty of brave souls who did! Fortunately I didn’t see anyone fall through the ice.

By the way, how pretty is the twilight?!

Onto the things we did to escape the winter cold… 🙂 indoor Reykjavik activities!

Icelandic Phallological Museum

Find it at: Laugavegur 116, 105 Reykjavík, Iceland

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Inappropriate toys at the Philological Museum – after several seconds, this doll opens his robe and flashes you. Joyous.

I might be twisted, but The Icelandic Phallological Museum had been on my “I absolutely must do this!” list for Reykjavik. I had several friends visit and tell me about the absurdity of this museum, so I knew that I had to visit!

The Phallological Museum was right off of Reykjavik’s main strip, Laugavegur, so it wasn’t out-of-the-way. The museum is pretty small (and pricey – I recall it being around 10-15 euros per person); you can get through it pretty quickly unless you really study the museum’s goods. I didn’t necessarily catalog everything, but there were definitely more collective penises… peni?… there than any other place I’ve been (which makes sense, since it advertises itself as the world’s largest display of penises and penile parts). I particularly liked the collection of household decorations and goods that apparently numerous companies not only thought were a good idea to design, but manufacture and sell. A penis shaped landline phone – you bet! And oh, of course lighting fixtures.

If penis shaped household goods aren’t your style, you can also admire large whale penises (which were larger than me), various animal penises stored in mason jars with formaldehyde, and global artwork in suggestive shapes! Something for everyone!

If penile parts of the past aren’t enough, don’t worry! Previous visitors of the museum have helped to adorn the walls with photos of their members around the world, usually in front of sites of interest. If any men were arrested in their endeavor to flash their goods while taking a photo, I would also appreciate those stories in the display. I didn’t see any, but I imagine some of those photos had to be taken quickly, stealthily, and outside of police presence.

Hallgrimskirkja (Church of Iceland)

Find it at: Hallgrímstorg 101, 101 Reykjavík, Iceland

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View from the Hallgrimskirkja viewing platform.

Hallgrímskirkja is a Lutheran Church and the largest Church in Iceland. It is also one of the tallest buildings in the entire country. You can see the church from most vantage points in the city, so it helps as a guide if you manage to get turned around in Reykjavik. The church was nice on the inside, but if you’re used to the highly ornate European churches in other capital cities, this one will be a bit underwhelming. Don’t get me wrong, the interior is nice, but it’s very clean and minimalist. There is also a massive organ, which is nice if you visit while music plays.

My favorite part, though, was the observation tower. You can buy a ticket to take an elevator up to a viewing deck. The views of the city are really cool! You can admire the colorful buildings, the water, mountains, and for us during our winter travels – the snowy landscape. Highly recommended.

Afterward, we strolled down Skólavörðustígur, which was a cute shopping street with a lot of boutiques and food joints; there were a ton of jewelers, clothing shops, art galleries, and mom-and-pop boutiques on this road. It eventually intersects with Laugavegur.

National Museum of Iceland

Find it at: Suðurgata 41, 101 Reykjavík, Iceland

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National artifacts on an airport conveyor belt.

To continue the trend of finding indoor attractions to save us from the cold, we spent an afternoon at the National Museum of Iceland. It’s a bit out-of-the-way if you’re staying downtown. Still, we managed to walk and enjoy the stroll to the other side of Tjörnin, through neighborhoods with colorful houses and twinkling lights.

The museum was really nice and a lot larger than I expected. You could easily spend 2 to 3 hours here. The museum has English signs throughout, which was much appreciated. The museum illustrates the life of Iceland’s first inhabitants and explained the changes in power dynamics throughout the centuries. I thought the museum was generally pretty logically laid out and the signs were easy to follow. I also liked the “airport conveyor” belt exhibit at the end that had more artifacts of modern Icelandic history and pop culture. Don’t worry – of course it had a Bjork album. I would have liked to have seen more about modern Icelandic contributions to larger Western pop culture. Overall, it was a nice place to spend an afternoon. If you’re like me and into museum gift shops, I should add that the gift shop and cafe are nice. 🙂

Overall, Iceland was a great destination in December. I am excited to return in the summer, when we can venture beyond the capital and the Golden Circle. Still, if you’re looking for a winter trip and want to admire the moonscape – I highly recommend Iceland. It’s a short flight from the U.S. East Coast, it’s not crowded, and nothing screams holiday spirit as sipping hot chocolate while walking through the winter scenary and admiring Christmas lights on snow covered, brightly colored houses. Did I also mention there were folks selling roasted almonds? Warm, toasty, sugar-covered almonds! Isn’t that reason enough?

Throwback Travel: Icelandic Winter Day Trips

Into the Blue – Snorkeling in the Silfra Fissure

One of the top things on our Icelandic “To Do” list was the Arctic Adventures excursion called  Into The Blue. We met at the Arctic Adventures office and packed into a van headed to Þingvellir (Thingvellir) national park to snorkel in the Silfra fissure between the North American and Eurasian tectonic plates. Snorkeling in Iceland, you ask? No, it wasn’t in a hot spring or geothermal heated water. The water was glacier run-off, a nice 34 degrees Fahrenheit. We spent the first hour of the tour getting into our sleeping bag, bear-like suit material, topped with a dry suit. I had to have the tour guides hug me five or six times before my suit leaked enough air that I no longer looked like the Pillsbury dough boy and a condom had a baby – I just looked like a condom at that point.

iceland_pingviller.jpgThe snorkeling trip was fun! While the suit protected us from the frigid water, our hands unfortunately were covered with wet suit material gloves. My hands were freezing and felt like they were being stabbed by pins and needles toward the end. Still, I enjoyed the adventure. The water was crystal clear, with long range visibility; it was amazing to be snorkeling, with the snow falling above us.

The Golden Circle

One of our favorites parts of the trip was our day trip around the Golden Circle. We rented a car from the main bus depot and headed out early, with our first stop at Þingvellir national park. The park was gorgeous! We drove to various parking lots and walked around, looking at the landscape. It was chilly, but definitely worth walking outside. The drive had a lot of scenic areas to stop and admire the view.

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We headed to Geysir. It was cool seeing the boiling water coming from the ground and the geothermal field, but the geyser itself was a little underwhelming. It’s possible that we didn’t see one of the larger eruptions, but we definitely had to wait over 8-10 minutes to see the eruptions. Still, I’m glad we saw it! There was also a dining/gift shop area adjacent to the parking area. We warmed up with hot drinks and mushroom soup, so I’d call it a success. 🙂 Our last stop was seeing the Gullfoss waterfall.

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It was definitely odd driving up to the parking lot. From the parking lot, you really don’t see much of the waterfall. We were questioning if we were even in the right spot! We had to walk past the parking lot, and on the wooden walkways for a bit before we finally saw the waterfall coming into view! The waterfall was really cool to see, especially the falls that seemed to domino into smaller falls. I’m sure this area is beautiful in the summer!

Blue Lagoon

The famous Blue Lagoon! We knew we had to visit, after hearing about how it’s one of the top destinations in Iceland. We bought our tickets online ahead of time, since we hear that spots can book quickly.

The Blue Lagoon entrance was really cool – the walkway surrounded by black rock formations topped with moss.

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The facility was really nice inside. The bathing areas were packed! We got bracelets that automatically secured our lockers, so we rest assured that our stuff was safely locked away. The showering areas were also decent – there were two areas, the open showers and the curtained showers for the shy American variety.

The Lagoon itself was awesome! If I could do it over (and maybe someday I will), next time I would bring cheap flip flops. The ground was freezing (of course, what did I expect? Geo-thermal heated concrete would have been nice :)) The Lagoon was undergoing construction, so some parts of it were closed off. Regardless, it was easy to find some less crowded places to escape. There were clay stations off to the side, so you can lather yourself in the famous white clay. I would recommend not picking up or looking at the clay at the bottom of the lagoon. You definitely don’t want to have a mental image of yourself bathing with other people’s hair and skin cells. Ignorance is bliss. 🙂

There were some rest areas inside with chairs and seating areas, but they fill up quickly! There is also a large dining area, so you can enjoy food while overlooking the lagoon itself. I would definitely recommend going, especially if you have time to kill before a flight out of the city. I think next time, I would opt to try a smaller, natural spa, but I’m glad I got to experience this one at least once.

Throwback Travel: Icelandic Winter and Meeting the Natives

When we told our friends that we were planning a winter excursion to an island, this statement likely conjured an image of a warm, tropical Carribean island with throngs of tourists all with the same idea – escaping the winter cold. Not exactly what we were thinking at that time…

What is there to do in Iceland during the winter? Are you crazy?

Iceland had been on my bucket list for ages; I’ve always imagined that someday, I would visit and take a long road trip in a rugged vehicle around the famous Ring Road to see the entire island and all of its natural beauty (I definitely plan to go back to do this!).

I started to do a lot of online research, and undoubtedly there are many more articles about things to do in the Land of the Midnight Sun during the summer months; the winter months even restrict tourists from certain activities and venturing to specific areas. It’s dark! It’s cold. Ice is in the country name! What could we possibly be thinking?

Still, we were determined to spend part of December in a winter wonderland. We wanted to go somewhere that felt like it was winter and perhaps even see Christmas markets. Iceland is also a lot closer than mainland Europe. All these factors helped us finally bite the bullet and book our tickets. We were headed to Reykjavik!

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View of the city from the Hallgrímskirkja

One of the first things we did in Iceland on our first night was visit the Tin Can Factory for its Meet the Natives session. We were able to walk from our AirBnB booking on the main street, Laugavegur. We booked the only reservations that night for the Meet the Natives session. We spent several hours at the Tin Can Factory, learning a bit about the history of Iceland, sampling Icelandic cuisine (which included fresh Icelandic butter and geothermal bread, pumpernickel bread, herbs and spices), and learning a bit about the language. We were even assigned our own Icelandic names!

Toward the end, we learned how to make Icelandic pancakes, and sat down to enjoy our creations. The pancakes with cream, fruit toppings, and homemade whipped cream were amazing. The classroom was dark, because the sun had long set by the time we started class. Here’s what the classroom looked like:

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The Tin Can Factory classroom

We also got to try some Christmas food and the Icelandic Christmas drink Malt go Appelsín.

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Icelandic food sampler

We headed back to our booked apartment, with stomachs stuffed and ready to spend a week exploring Reykjavik and the surrounding areas. So far, Iceland in winter was a winner!

London, UK: The Last Hurrah

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Happy New Year! I’ve been a bit of a slacker; the holiday season makes it easy to lose track.  I’ve been sitting on writing my final London musings, so here they are. 🙂

We started our day by strolling through Hyde Park. It was a grey (gray!), drizzly day, the type you always hear about when someone talks about England, with the added bonus of the occasional thunderstorms and wind. Many people proclaimed throughout the day that we were in the midst of a hurricane! Regardless of the official rainy day nomenclature (I’m not sure if an English hurricane is the same as a U.S. hurricane), we set off to make the most of our time in the city.

The stroll through Hyde Park was nice, with its perfect fall foliage. The leaves covered the ground and the park foot traffic was light, as people were likely avoiding the rain. It’s definitely hard to believe that that much open space is right in the heart of a huge metropolis. We walked by the Princess Diana memorial, using the park as a shortcut to make our way to Harrods.

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Hyde Park

See, I’ve wanted to go to Harrods for a long time – probably after seeing it on some Travel Channel special. I had heard about the glorious food market, which is the primary reason I wanted to go. The food market did not disappoint. I loved strolling past the glass displays of macarons, chocolates, and other house made chocolates. I grabbed some elderflower  loose leaf tea – a flavor I don’t typically see a home. We spent a few minutes admiring the shops, mostly because the room fixtures and ceilings were adorned with fancy decorations, not because I dare buy something from a couture shop. My wallet thanks me!

We walked by Buckingham Palace, which wasn’t as grand as I had imagined. I don’t know – maybe I had never really paid attention on television or in movies when it showed the palace and the changing of the guards? I guess I was expecting an imposing palace, with large grounds and gardens in the front. Don’t get me wrong – if someone offered me the place to live rent-free, I wouldn’t refuse. 😉 But I guess I was expecting something… more magnificent? To me, Buckingham looked like it could be another government building, rather than what my mind conjures up when I think of a royal palace.

We also checked out Westminster Abbey. Initially, the line in front made us worry that the wait would be long, but it moved pretty quickly! The Abbey was a bit pricey (something I noticed about London in general). It was really nice inside, and I enjoyed seeing the numerous interior rooms, and watching the history unfold by seeing the different era styles evolving as we walked through. It was hard to believe that some of the shrines, flooring, and marble there was from the 13th century! There were a lot of different historic periods represented and a lot of recognizable individuals from history buried there – Elizabeth I and Mary Queen of Scots are in chapels opposite to one another; Elizabeth had the grander setup, from what I remember.

Our last stop in London was visiting the Tower of London. We got there with about an hour to explore before the doors closed. It was cool walking along the walls, and enjoying the night time view of the Tower Bridge. We saw the Armory building and some of the weapons/cannons/knights armor (armour ;)) displayed. Our last stop on the grounds was seeing the opulent crown jewels. They were a sight to see, and the building even had a moving sidewalk in one portion to make sure the crowds didn’t monopolize the standing room in front of the displays. It was crazy to think of how valuable those jewels are. It kind of makes me wish that I had somewhere to wear a crown.

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Tower Bridge from the Tower of London

London, UK: The British Museum, Gordon Ramsay, and a Little Cruise on the Thames

The next day, we popped over to Trafalgar Square before checking out the British Museum. Luckily for us, the British Museum was free! We only had approximately and hour and a half before our lunch reservations, so we explored the globe by checking out Chinese ceramics, the Japan and South Korea Gallery, the Americas, and the Ancient Greece and Rome exhibits. I also got to see the famous Rosetta Stone, after fighting through a large group crowding the glass display. I couldn’t help doing some light reading afterward on British Museum treasures – heaps of praise online of how well-displayed and cared for artifacts are in the British Museum (and other Western museums); however, I definitely overheard commentary that the British Museum treasures should be returned to their respective countries (in more colorful language, of course).

For one of the trip highlights, we enjoyed lunch at Gordon Ramsay’s Maze; it was not a disappointment! I realize Ramsay might be a controversial figure, but one thing is certain- that man knows food. The restaurant menu consists of numerous sharing-sized plates; we ended up ordering the burrata, sushi, potatoes and spice aubergine, and button mushroom risotto for lunch from the vegetarian menu. For me, the highlight was the risotto and its perfect, creamy consistency. Seriously, the best risotto of my life. For dessert, we had yuzu curd and whey (with miso shortbread, basil, and pear). Seriously, if you get the opportunity – go! The restaurant was a lot more laid back and casual than I had imagined and the service was more attentive than any other place I’ve ever been. I love Gordon Ramsay even more now!

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After enjoying our time at Maze, we headed back toward the London Eye to take a boat cruise (because I’m obsessed with boat cruises!). It was the perfect way to see more of London on such a drizzly day. We took the 3:45pm tour, and while we didn’t get to see the sunset (I’m not sure if one normally could see it, but with the thick overcast my hopes were dashed early in the day), we did get to slowly watch the sky darken and the city start to light up. Our tour guide, Joshua, was hilarious, telling stories of various buildings and bridges along the river banks, while continuously keeping us on our toes with his humor. He also tested us on our knowledge of London Bridge, joked about stolen British treasures, showed us the “invisible” bridge that just wouldn’t be destroyed, and relayed to us that the only bridge completed on time and under budget was done with the first all-woman construction team. 🙂 He also humored me at the end of the trip by saying “boxer shorts!” in his dreamy English accent.

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Tower Bridge and the HMS Belfast