Happy Holidays from Quebec City!

In the holiday spirit, I wanted to go somewhere cold and snowy; no tropical islands for this girl this year! I’ve wanted to visit Quebec City for a very long time, so I finally decided 2017 was the year to go.

I know most people visit who visit Quebec City in the winter decide to go to the February Carnival, but I wanted to see the Christmas decorations (and avoid crowds and the creepy mascot Bonhomme :)). I read that December is the low-season for Quebec, so that only encouraged me to visit more.

Quebec did not disappointed. We started booking airfare and accommodations a couple of months in advance. I saw photos online of the beautiful Fairmont hotel (and had heard of its famous sister property in Banff). I was discouraged because I simply could not justify spending $250/night on a hotel room, no matter how beautiful or great the location.

I researched the area’s hotels online and then decided to start researching Priceline and Hotwire bids. With Hotwire, the Fairmont Château Frontenac listing was pretty evident (it was the only hotel in that particular vicinity with its star rating). We were very lucky to score and get the hotel for over half price – making the price comparable to other hotels. I was thrilled!

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The Fairmont Christmas trees. How gorgeous is this lobby!

The hotel was fantastic. We were assigned a city view room overlooking the city and the St. Lawrence river. I highly recommend saying here if you ever have the opportunity.

Once we checked in and got settled in our room, it was already dark. Still, we wanted to take advantage of our first night in Quebec. The city was very chilly; we were greeted by single digit temperatures. I was sure to bundle up with multiple layers and gloves. We visited the German Christmas market and walked around Quartier Petit Champlain. Most of the shops had already closed, so it was a peaceful walk under the lights and through the snow.

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A peaceful Quartier Petit Champlain on a winter night

That’s it for the first night. I can’t wait to blog about the fantastic food and sights we saw in Quebec. Until next time!

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Copenhagen Day Four: National Gallery, Rosenborg Castle, and Tivoli Gardens (Part II)

Our fourth day in Denmark was quite busy! I already posted about our first half at Torvehallerne and the city’s botanical gardens. 🙂 The second half we spent at the National Gallery of Denmark (Statens Museum for Kunst), Rosenborg Castle, and Tivoli Gardens.

We continued our day with a visit to the National Gallery of Denmark. I enjoyed the more historical art pieces, especially the exhibits on Nordic Art, European Art (1300-1800) and, in particular, this section on artwork that were basic objects but made to look 3D, like they jumped off the page.

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Since you noticed that my favorite sections were the non-abstract art, I probably don’t have to mention that I’m not typically a fan of modern art. I think that side of my brain must not be firing all cylinders or something; a lot of it leaves me baffled. At SMK, the most oddball section was definitely the exhibit on Wilhelm Freddie. The short films were so bizarre that I had to sit through them twice. If you’re interested, here is one of the films:

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I’m not really an art expert, so I can’t say anything particular insightful. There was a cool “tiny house” RV that we were allowed to go into and some robot-looking statues made from old TVs.

After our visit to SMK, we went to visit Rosenborg Castle. It was a nice castle, but I wouldn’t say it was anything spectacular. The castle had some nice artwork and furnishing, but it was a bit drab and very dark inside. Frederiksborg Castle was definitely leagues above Rosenborg. Still, Rosenborg was pretty on the outside, it was in a central location, and easy to get to.

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Rosenborg Castle

We ended our day at Tivoli Gardens, which was near our hotel. We passed it on previous days while out and about, so I was excited to visit. It was adorable! We didn’t ride anything, since it was pretty chilly and I’m sure I would have acquired frostbite. 😉 But the grounds were cute and fun to explore. The landscaping was nice, and there were a lot of flowers and fountains. There were also some pretty cool pavilions and mini-restaurants, with live music and theater shows. The staff was passing out new samples of Pepsi Ginger, too and some new flavor of Doritos. As a fan of ginger, I was excited for the Pepsi, but after trying it – I think I’ll pass. 😦

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Love the yellow and green on this pavilion.

We saw an interesting mime show. I’m not exactly sure what the plot was, but it involved a bear, a man selling off his daughter, and two women dancing with a pig caracas in the woods. I’m must not be observant, because I have no idea what the plot was. 🙂 It did make for some fun photos, though!

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The mime show: a pig in the woods!

Copenhagen Day Four: Torvehallerne and Gardens (Part I)

Our fourth day in Denmark was quite busy! I’ll have to break it into two separate chunks – the first focusing on the initial half of our day at Torvehallerne and the city’s botanical gardens. 🙂

We started off the morning at Torvehallerne, a market with numerous high-end food stands – which patrons can enjoy either on the premises or as regular grocery shopping to bring home! Torvehallerne had a very modern, clean, and bright vibe (and why wouldn’t it? It’s surrounded by glass)! Bonus for us? Since we visited during the late morning on a weekday, the market was practically empty. Don’t you love this herb stand?

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Herb stand at Torvehallerne

We toured around the stands, drooling over the options, before settling on the spicy fried egg Bánh mì. Yum! You’ll enjoy this if you love eggs and a lot of cilantro. Finding vegetarian fare wasn’t exactly easy in Copenhagen, so we were happy to stumble across this.

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Spicy fried egg Bánh mì, yum!

From Torvehallerne, we walked over to the University of Copenhagen’s Botanical Gardens. The gardens were free to enter. The campus had nice outdoor gardens and ponds, along with beautiful historic glass greenhouses. I was surprised at the sheer variety of plants growing outdoors; they were labeled with their native habitats and there were plants from pretty much every continent happily growing outdoors. I’m jealous of the staff’s green thumbs, because I can barely keep an aloe plant alive. 🙂

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Botanical Garden glasshouse and the famous Palm House. 🙂

The narrow stairs in the Palm House are a little scary, especially considering the humidity in the room. I couldn’t take very many good photos, because the lens on my camera kept fogging up. We especially enjoyed the moss displays. I kept hunting around the gardens trying to find all of the poisonous plants, which all have signs outlining the hazards!

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?

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