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

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

 

Athens, Greece

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The Hephaisteion, the Agora of Athens

After landing in Athens and getting ripped off by a Greek cab driver, we unpacked quickly, left the hotel, and hopped on the metro to check out the sights. We were fortunate (it was completely unplanned) to be in the city for European Heritage Days from September 24 to 26. This meant that all of the popular sights in the city, such as the Agora, Acropolis, and select museums were completely free!

For our first day, we grabbed lunch right next to the Agora. Greek food was a welcome sight after all of the Adriatic cuisine. We checked out the Ancient Agora and the surrounding grounds, which included the Ancient Agora Museum, the Stoa of Attalos, and the Hephaisteion. The Agora Museum was small and I wondered why they didn’t maintain some of the architectural features of the building. Walking in, I was slightly disappointed that the inside looked like it could have been in any modern building. The top floor was pretty awesome, though, with sculptures and views of the grounds and Acropolis in the distance. I don’t know too much about archeological treasures, but I enjoyed looking at the museum exhibits.

Afterward, we wandered over to the Acropolis area. It was a nice breezy day, and the area was packed. I don’t think I have anything creative to say about the Acropolis that hasn’t been said by someone else already. There was a lot of construction and preservation work going on in the area.

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The Acropolis
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Athens from the Acropolis

On our second day, I wanted to check out the City Sightseeing open-top bus tour. I know a lot of people dismiss these sorts of tours as too tourist-y, but I’m a tourist so I’m not above these things. 🙂 I had a really good experience riding these buses in the past, so I figured it wouldn’t hurt to try it out.

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From the City Sightseeing bus

Overall, it’s not something I would recommend for Athens. The sights are pretty central in the area, and I found that most of the highlights were within walkable distance from each other. These sightseeing buses are much better for cities where the attractions are sprawled far from one another. There were also detours, due to a local marathon, which nobody notified us of, so there were a lot of skipped stops for the first half of the day. Still, it allowed us to hop-on and hop-off to different sights, including the Archeological Museum and the Temple of Zeus, and drive by the old Olympic Stadium.

One thing that stuck out to me in Athens was how sprawling the entire city is, and how much graffiti there is. There are definitely beautiful, well maintained areas, but the amount of graffiti even in the tourist center was surprising to me. It made it feel like a city that people actually lived in.

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Graffiti glory

On our final day, we checked out the Acropolis Museum, which I liked but I found laid out really confusingly. The interior was beautiful and I especially liked the displays where they showed what the sculptures looked like right after they were created. There is always the vision of these pristine, white stone sculptures, but a lot of them were actually extremely colorful and ornate.

We walked over to the Botanical Gardens, which was a little disappointing. I could see this being a welcome getaway from the hustle and bustle, while still remaining in the city, but I wish the grounds were better maintained. We saw a pond that was so crammed with turtles, that they were fighting for areas to rest out of the water. There were also deceased turtles floating in the pond. I really wanted to like the Botanical Gardens, but it struck me more as a park than a place to learn about different plants and see a lot of variety.

We left late morning the next day. The Athens airport was tiny, all of the shops and cafes were outside of the secure area, and what’s up with the lack of restaurants? We made the mistake of thinking we could get to the airport early and grab a leisurely breakfast before our flight. Not the brightest idea, since there were virtually no options. There were some nice stores to purchase Greek goods, though – so we grabbed some sesame honey bars, olive oils, and baklava for the road.

I am looking forward to traveling back to Greece someday and spending time outside of Athens, especially since we didn’t have time to spend on any of the numerous islands. I enjoyed the food in Athens, and it was great to see all of the sights I’ve read about my entire life. I think we spent the right amount of time in the city, and I don’t think we really missed much else. Also, we were sure to stay extra vigilant in the city. I read a lot of horror stories about pickpocketing and general theft in Athens, so we were sure to take extra care, especially during rush hour on the metro. I also found the restaurant owners extremely pushy in the city center, so keep your head down and keep walking!

Tirana, Albania

Traveling within the Balkans is a very interesting, and sometimes stressful, experience. For the majority of our trip, we enjoyed traveling by rental car. It was awesome and highly recommended, because it allowed us to set our own pace, dictate where to go, and enjoy the scenic road travel.

One of our hurdles was figuring out how to travel from Podgorica to Tirana. Due to, as we were told, the lack of reciprocal insurance agreements and possibly high amount of car theft in Albania, it was impossible to travel with our rental car from Podgorica to Tirana.

When we were researching various solutions, we did not come across information about reliable train links between the two cities (we saw on forums that the train was slow, but had a hard time coming across any information about the train – I don’t even know if the train exists). We thought that perhaps a regional bus would be the best method of travel, however we were warned that the bus stops were not consistent, and sometimes you would be dropped off in locations outside of the city or would be expected to transfer between buses. A stressful situation for someone who wants to outline exact travel plans before departure.

We finally settled on traveling between the countries by taxi service, something that had not initially occurred to us. A little over 3 hours in a comfortable car, with no crowds, no mystery bus stops, and a schedule we dictate? Sign me up! The going rate was only around 90 euros, and we made sure to tip our driver well since he had to travel roundtrip.

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As soon as we crossed over into Albania, three cows immediately walked into the street and we had to circle around them. What a welcome wagon. 🙂 The drive included fields with mountain views behind, fortress atop hills, and a lot of bicyclists. We also drove through a few towns along the way, able to catch small glimpses of everyday life.

We ended up staying at the Plaza Hotel, which was absolutely gorgeous and arguably one of the best hotels that I’ve stayed in. It opened this year and was pristine. The staff was hospitable, the room was clear and modern, and best of all? All guests had access to the spa. The location and price were also great, and we were able to walk across the street to the Albanian National Historical Museum and Skanderbeg Square.

The National Historical Museum did not allow photos, so I have nothing cool to show. The museum was pretty nice. A lot of the early archeological exhibits had English signage, but it become increasingly rare further into the chronology. I would have loved to read more about the Albanian Communist era, but by then the English signs were practically non-existent. Guess I’ll have to find a book on the topic instead.

albania_nationalmuseum.jpgSkanderbeg Square was undergoing a lot of construction to make way for a large pedestrian area. I’m sure it will be nice when it’s completed. 🙂

We spent less than 24 hours in Tirana, but are excited to go back to Albania and see more, especially the coastal areas. Tirana was a good departure point for our next stop: Athens, Greece!