How I Book Hotels

There is definitely a strategy to booking hotels and lodging when traveling abroad, specifically in Europe. I am sure that there are tons of tips and tricks, but this is what I do and it has seemed to work out really well. I have only travelled in groups of two and three, once with my sisters and twice with my fiancé. Typically, I prefer to stay in hotels, just for ease, but I have also used Airbnb and enjoyed my experience.

Before using any cite I always look into the best places in the city to stay. Whether that is in the city center or on the outskirts in a more residential area. Then, whichever site I use to book, I check the specific hotel to ensure that it is near a transit stop if this is something that is needed in the city. Having an entrance to metro right outside of your hotel is invaluable as it provides easy access to anywhere you want to go. I think it is important to read reviews on location, and the sites I use offer this.

I always begin with Booking.com. I find it easy to use and I like the available features. I search for the city with my tentative dates and number of guests. Once this populates I use filters to narrow down exactly what I want in terms of location, price, property, and review score. I always select options with free cancellation – this is the true beauty of booking.com. Because of this, I am able to book a residence that looks good while continuing to search. If something better pops up I can cancel my original reservation. I cannot count how many times I have done this. It is nice to have something booked ahead of time but I always want to have the option to change my mind if our dates change, or if a gem appears. Speaking of gems, I can say when it comes to hotels I am definitely not a hostel girl. I want my own room and my own bathroom, which is surprisingly a luxury in many places. The majority of places I have stayed in Europe have been above a review score of an 8 (very good) and under $100! Lodging has proven to be an easy way to save some money while staying somewhere nice.

While filtering on booking.com, I always cross reference with Trip Advisor as they have the most comprehensive reviews I have seen. With this I choose the city and dates as well, then I sort by “traveler ranked.” This will tell me the best hotels according to customer reviews. Trip Advisor is one of the most used sites for hotel reviews which creates a large base to pull information from. I like to check the top ten to see if any have great deals and if so I typically end up booking that. Trip Advisor also compares the rates from several hotel booking sites making it easy to see see where the best deal is. So far I have found Booking.com to be the cheapest or a competitively priced with other sites. Even if it is slightly more expensive I like to have everything in one place so I go with Booking.com over any other.

Booking hotels is actually one of my favorite parts of planning a trip; I find it so exciting to find a really nice hotel for a great place. I have been shocked at how amazing the places I have stayed are for under $100! My trips have been off season (fall and winter) so I don’t think prices are as high (except New Years, which has always needed a bigger budget). If I am going to a smaller city, or if the prices are not right, I will check Airbnb as well to see the available offerings– this is also useful with a larger party.

If anyone needs any help booking hotels let me know – I love it!

What I Did in Stockholm

Stockholm is a city on the water. At least, that’s how the Swedish describe it. Before I went I never would have thought that, but the islands that make up the city of Stockholm paint that picture so beautifully. For my fiancé (Hank) and I, it was a city of convenience that, in time, became so much more. In 2015 we flew to Sweden because it was the cheapest direct flight from Las Vegas; it was our gateway to Europe. We touched down on Sunday, December 27th with the invigorating and indescribable feeling one gets when setting foot in a new land for the first time. We chose Stockholm for the price tag and considered it a place to shake our jetlag before we started our first European journey. As I described in another post, Stockholm has become so much more. On my last journey to Europe we capped our trip here, partially due to the cheap flight, but also because we knew Stockholm was a place we wanted to see again.

Lodging

For both trips we stayed at Motel L, which is a bit off the beaten path. It’s located just outside the city center, but a transit stop right out front makes it an incredibly convenient place to stay. The price was great, which was what got us to initially book. We ended up loving the location because it is slightly suburban and gave us that “living there” feel, while at the same time serving our convenience needs. I would definitely recommend Motel L if you are willing to take transit, which requires only one line change.

not a bad view when you skip transit & walk back to the hotel

Food

The food in Stockholm is often very good, but can be very expensive. Being pricey is pretty much the norm when you travel to the Nordics. Despite this, every meal we ate was hearty and delicious. As mentioned in my last post, breakfast has become my favorite meal when abroad and Stockholm is no exception. There is a term in Swedish called “fika” which is essentially a coffee and pastry break during the day. This is highly regarded and never skipped. As tourists, we were happy to oblige as it provided the perfect break from the cold. For a meal or two each trip we got the quintessential dish of Swedish meatballs. I know there are many recommended places but we stumbled into Ostermalm Saluhall (an open air market of sorts) and settled down for dinner. This is a large dining commons, filled to the brim with food vendors and quickly became somewhere I highly recommend visiting. My true favorite food in Sweden is the candy; man I eat a lot of candy when I am there, bringing enough home to last me for months and months. My favorite candy is called Polly, “a chocolate covered foam drop, distilled with arrack.” I still have some from our last trip!

Things to do

Stockholm is brimming with things to do. Yet, it also has the vibe of a relaxed city. You don’t feel like you are wasting your time if you’re wandering around, even in the dead of winter. This is how we found many of our favorite views, parks, and sites. Wandering through the cobblestone streets of Gamla Stan is an absolute must. But, I encourage wandering out of the main city, into some of the side streets and neighboring islands as the beauty and views are seemingly never ending.

Besides wandering (which is always highly encouraged) I had the opportunity to see and visit several sites. On the top of most lists I’ve read is the Vasa Museum, and for good reason. In the museum is a ship that sank in 1628 and was later pulled back up to the surface and preserved within the museum 333 years later. It is truly an impressive site (plus the café is great!). We also went to the castle and the Nordiska museet, which were worth visiting once. While I am not the biggest fan of modern art I thought the Moderna Museet a worthy visit, as the displays change frequently.

inside the Moderna Museet
the incredible Vasa Museum

As someone who loves to shop, Stockholm offers a surprisingly high variety of retail options. There are several streets that are lined with stores spread throughout the city. Any given street in the old town is lined with an incredible array of shops. But, in the island right by our hotel, I discovered another set of more hip shops that made for a fun few hours.

Stockholm has become one of my favorite cities. It is one of those places I think, “I could live here one day,” even if I know it’s not a realistic possibility. Sweden is an incredibly country and if you spend enough time in Stockholm you are able to witness some of the charm that keeps me coming back.

Breakfast Abroad

On any given weekday you can find me at my desk, eating a breakfast bar and drinking a cup of coffee. I usually skip breakfast on the weekends in lieu of a bigger lunch or I’ll have brunch that is often too much. But, on my trips to Europe breakfast is my favorite meal, and often one of favorite parts of the day. I go to bed looking forward to trying somewhere new or returning to a favorite spot.

a popular Swedish pastry made with oats and chocolate

Eating meals is such an intrinsic part of the travel experience. More often than not, it’s a fundamental introduction to a given countries culture. At home, I would never consider indulging with a pastry or a specialty coffee. Monday through Friday, my meals are mundane and repetitive. They are quick, simple, filling, and they wake me up. Yet, when I’m traveling my breakfast routine couldn’t be more different. Regardless of where I go, I usually can’t resist a chocolate croissant and a cappuccino. But on the other days I will always try what is the cultural standard for breakfast.

the most amazing crepes in Bratislava
my go-to chocolate croissant

Throughout Europe, especially in the Nordic areas, the common breakfast includes a sandwich. At first, this struck me as odd, but I only needed one morning to fully embrace the idea. My ideal breakfast everyday became half of a sandwich, a chocolate croissant and either a cappuccino or an au lait (and sometimes a fresh glass of orange juice). At home I am always aware of my caloric intake, when I’m travelling, I walk so much that I eat everything I can just to keep my energy up. Even if I’m being over indulgent, it’s something I truly appreciate when traveling. Sipping my coffee and enjoying a calm moment in a new city before the rush of the day begins has proven to hold some of my favorite travel memories.

coffee, a sandwich, & a chocolate pastry – my perfect combo
it looked as good as it tasted

Traveling brings so much to my life. With each trip it’s changing and shaping the way I do things. And I find that some things are best reserved for travel. A salami sandwich at 9:00 a.m. hits the spot in Oslo, but the moment I get back to Las Vegas it loses all of it’s appeal. My fiancé and I try and I often try to find European bakeries, simply because we cannot be constantly traveling and this proves the easiest way to satiate, if only for a moment, our European longings.

the lightest, most delicious pancakes

Chicago Series: Part Three

When it comes to food I have always been willing to try new things; I love a good meal. I am not one to plan trips around food, but every trip I take consists of some of the better restaurants in town. I also don’t tend to spend too much money, but that is mainly because I’m cheap not because of the quality of food I enjoy. While in Chicago one night for dinner my fiancé Hank, our friend Sam (who joined us on the trip) and I went to eat at a restaurant we had heard nothing but good things about – Girl & the Goat.

To say it did not disappoint is a great understatement. I mean, this place has 4.5/5 starts on Yelp with over 6,000 reviews! The owner and head chef, Stephanie Izard, is a Top Chef winner and Iron Chef champion. it is clear she more than deserves every award and title that has come her way. From the moment we got there we had incredible service. Our waiter shared his recommendations and gave us time to gaze over the interesting menu choices. We were all a little daring and wanted to try some of the recommended dishes. They are smaller plates so we got seven to split, plus dessert and drinks. They were served one at a time so we could enjoy each before moving on. Here they are in order from first to last.

 

beverages

This felt like the kind of place that you get drinks, so naturally we did. I like my drinks to taste like fruit, not like alcohol so the waiter recommended the best of three (kettle one vodka – pimm’s #1 – cucumber) and it was very good. Hank got the pale ale and Sam had the very old fashioned (j. henry “blind goat” bourbon – rittenhouse rye – demerara – angostura).

onion focaccia bread – caesar dressing – cauliflower giardinier

This was a good starter prepared us for the meal. The bread was warm and all the flavors worked well together.

duck tongues – tuna and black bean poke – crispy wontons – piri piri

This was the dish we were most nervous about, but our waiter assured us it was one of the best and most popular dishes. Duck tongues. Yep, duck tongues. Without a doubt that is something I not only never thought I would eat but I didn’t even know I could eat. On top of all that, it was amazing. We devoured every bite.

tempura soft shell crab – sweet corn elotes – chili crab sauce

I have had crab many times before, but this was different and so well done. The meat was tender and juicy and blended perfectly with the elote. I thoroughly enjoyed this dish and scraped every last bite off the plate.

 

kalbi beef ribs – sweet corn coblettes – grilled okra relish

I have had plenty of ribs, but I cannot understand how they got these to taste so flavorful. The pieces were pretty small, but that didn’t matter, as they packed such a punch. There were six pieces, so we each had two along with the garnish. This was the last dish we ordered by our waiter’s recommendation. The beef served to round out and fully compliment our meal.

 

pan roasted halibut – marcona almond butter – white asparagus – blueberry nuoc cham

This was easily one of the best things I’ve ever eaten. My fiancé typically does not enjoy fish and it was near life changing for him. The three of us couldn’t believe the taste and texture combination, almost like a pastry. We easily could’ve eaten two or three more. Apparently Stephanie Izard describes this as the flavor of PB&J, which you wouldn’t think works, but does in so many ways. This was my favorite thing we had by far.

 

wood grilled broccoli –rogue smokey bleu – spiced crispies

Broccoli is another one of those dishes that does not seem like it could be anything special but we were wrong. It proved to be another great dish to accompany the others. The crisps on top plus how it was cooked made it a real stand out, almost like eating a campfire.

 

goat satay – goat, assorted vegetables

I have had goat once before, and it was not my favorite; not the worst but not the best. This was better than that of course, and really good in comparison with other food I have had but it was not my favorite dish. The vegetables and flavors were really great though.

 

caramel corn & malt balls – vanilla malt gelato – popcorn caramel – chocolate magic shell

I am a dessert person, I love it and cannot resist when there is a stand out option. I love ice cream and pop corn so this was a natural choice. Oh my goodness, it was so good and such a strong way to end our meal. I don’t know what those white pieces are but they were amazing!

 

donut & ice cream

I don’t know what was in this one because our waiter actually brought it out to us on the house, which was a very nice gesture.   Again, I don’t know what more to say than it was so good! Just like everything that came before we devoured every bite.

I am no food critic so I apologize for my lack of descriptions and repetitive writing! But, it is hard to say anything beyond just how good it all was. We walked away agreeing it was the best meal we have ever had. I highly encourage a visit, but a reservation is definitely needed. The entire meal from start to finish, every little detail made it a great night.

Chicago Series: Part Two

This is my second Chicago post and follows up the first post with a few more things I enjoy to do and eat when I visit the city. It is a place booming with activity, so I can guarantee one would never be bored or hungry when visiting.  But these are some suggestions I can offer on how to spend a few days.

Shopping 

The city has incredible shopping and is something I make sure to always sneak in. Michigan Avenue, which is also referred to as the Magnificent Mile, has a combination of luxury (Gucci, Rolex, Chanel, etc.), more fast fashion (Forever 21, Gap, Zara, Topshop, etc.), and department stores (Macys, Neiman Marcus, Nordstrom, etc.). On the other side of the river the shopping continues and starts to blend into restaurants.

Food

Deep Dish Pizza

Even if you don’t like pizza I think getting deep dish is a must. I’ve tried two places, Gino’s East and Lou Manalti’s. I preferred Lou’s, mainly for the ambiance, buttery crust, and overall taste.

Chicago Hot Dog – Portillo’s

As a west-coaster, my hot dogs usually have ketchup and mustard and nothing else. In Chicago ketchup is not an option and I found out quickly that I am completely okay with that. A classic Chicago dog has a pickle spear, onions, tomato wedges, neon green relish, mustard, celery salt, sport peppers (which I pass on) and a poppy seed bun. Man, that was a great hot dog and I think a must-have, specifically at Portillo’s.

Coffee Shops & Bakeries

I found in Chicago there were a large number of fantastic coffee shops and places to dip in when I wanted an extra snack or a pick-me up. One in particular I really enjoyed was Magnolia Bakery. Though this was founded in New York City, I stumbled into the storefront in between wandering and shopping and had the banana pudding. I love banana anything, so I when I saw the sign I knew I had to go inside. In June, for pride, they had a rainbow banana pudding, which I loved! In July I had the chocolate, which was also fantastic.

Baseball Game

 The obvious route, when in Chicago, is to see a Cubs game. Last year they won the World Series and have only seen their popularity skyrocket in the last few years. I know a lot of people enjoy walking around Wrigleyville as well. But, a White Sox game is cheaper, easier to get to, and the stadium offers breathtaking views of a beautiful city.

Go to the Top

There are a lot of incredibly high buildings in Chicago, especially for someone who does not live in a tall, condensed big city. I feel like half of my time walking is spent looking up at the skyscrapers, spectacularly different in their size, age, and design. The tallest building in Chicago, second tallest in the country is the Willis tower, which I think is the more popular. But, for a better price and a shorter line you can go up some 1,030 feet to the top of the Hancock Center for the same feel. It is right by the water and treats you to a breathtaking composition of skyline/shoreline views (not to mention there’s a full bar at the top). It also has The Tilt, a hydraulic section of the window that will drop you to a 45-degree angle from the buildings edge, so that you feel as if you’re floating above the city. When you are up there you get a feel for how TALL it really is and it can bring out a fear of heights you didn’t know you had. Sometimes you see people teetering on one leg in funny poses to avoid getting too close to the glass. It is just neat to see the city from that perspective.

Chicago Series: Part One

Chicago is a city within the U.S. that I have been able to visit four times over the last three years for work. At first, I did not know what to expect, but Chicago quickly became a city I loved. As I have had the opportunity to visit twice in the last month (and returned just a few days ago) I wanted to put up a three-part feature with some of highlights. This first post will feature a number of my favorite things, what I have done and seen.

Millennium and Grant Parks

Millennium Park is a sprawling park filled with things to do and see. This is where you find the famous bean a popular site that always has a crowd. There is an incredible stage where I have walked by and seen musicians practicing, movies on the lawn, a Mariachi festival and an Orchestra. I try and look up what is going on when I’m there, as it seems like there is always something. There is a play-area for kids that look like it would be a source of entertainment for hours. At the peak of the park is Buckingham Fountain that is a good place to end a walk and turn back to walk by the water.

Right behind Millennium Park amphitheater is this little garden that has beautiful wild flowers and a water lined path. I think it is one of the most special and serene places to walk through and a spot I consistently visit. There is something about a park in the city that always lasts in my mind.

Museums

 The Art Institute of Chicago

I have been to Chicago four times and have been to the museum all but once. Aside from a Monet exhibit I saw in high school, I count this as one of the museums that influenced my love of art – impressionism in particular. I never would have thought that a museum in Chicago would house such an impressive collection of pieces from around the globe. The Monet collection is what really captivated me along with Renoir, Van Gogh, and Pissarro. There are also works from Picasso and Dali, as well as the American classics American Gothic and Nighthawks. I recommend paying a visit here to anyone going to Chicago.

Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago

On my most recent trip to Chicago (this week), I went to this museum in addition to the Art Institute. Typically, I am not a huge fan of contemporary art, but I was absolutely blown away by the Takashi Murakami exhibit. The large format art was incredibly unique with a traditional Japanese influence in combination with manga. I could have spent hours looking over each piece as the detail and unprecedented format produced intensely intricate pieces. I did not think this style would appeal to me but here I am a few days later still thinking about that exhibit and the art that moved me.

Wandering – Walking and Biking

 When on a trip it is rare for me to have less than 20,000 steps on any given day, as exploring is my favorite thing to do. It allows you to meander into so many places you may have never seen. Chicago is a great place to amble through and has led me to many beautiful sites. One of my favorite paths is up Michigan Avenue to the water, around the lake, ending at the Lincoln Park Zoo, then back down N Dearborn street (a quite, tree lined avenue with quaint brick row homes). Walking and renting bikes to ride along the lakes is another wonderfully peaceful release from the city. One thing I love about Chicago is how you can walk out of the bustling city and into the sandy shores of the lake in mere minutes.

Three Travel Tips

If you Google travel tips thousands upon thousands of links present themselves. When it comes down to it, most people have similar essentials. Personally, I love to see what people recommend you bring, even if I’ve seen it before. Here are three travel tips/essentials/must-haves that I never travel without.

Travel Credit Card

My first recommendation to someone who is traveling abroad is to get a travel credit card. Most credit cards charge a fee for foreign transactions, usually around 3% for every purchase. While it is always necessary to have cash on hand, it is important not to have too much. I prefer to use my card for things like restaurants, hotels, trains, and flights. There are tons of people that are obsessed with points and use them with extreme precision, but I will leave that to the experts! I really like it because it gets rid of the fee and has a simple point structure through my Bank of America account. The universality of the card, coupled with the physical money you don’t have to worry about keeping track of, saves endless headache. Finally, there is not yearly charge for the card. It exists much like any normal credit card, it just works outside of the states, not just in.

For the Plane – A scarf, jacket, wool socks (down comforter, personal heater, Sherpa blanket…)

The point is, planes are usually FREEZING – I write this on a flight from Las Vegas to Chicago and I can barely feel my toes. It is on my mind even when my home base is Vegas where thinking about feeling cold in the summer is ludicrous. While flying, especially for a long distance, I want to be comfortable, warm, and entertained. One of my favorite travel accessories for a long flight is a big scarf, those that basically double as a blanket are ideal. It serves many purposes, and can act as a pillow if need be or even an extra towel if the situation is dire. I am not someone who wears flip-flops on a plane, instead I wear a cozy pair of wool socks (or bring them in my bag). On this current trip I didn’t follow my own advice and paid the consequences. My standard outfit consists of sweatpants, leggings, or comfortable jeans (how someone can wear shorts on a plane is beyond me). Then I wear a light long-sleeved shirt and bring a sweater. The key is to layer! If I am traveling somewhere in winter I wear my heaviest coat and boots on the plane to save the space in my suitcase.

arriving back in the U.S. in my typical travel gear

Global Entry / TSA Pre-Check

I got TSA Pre-check a few years back and it turned into some of the best money I have ever spent. For $85 for five years, you go through an expedited security line. It is often much shorter and you are not required to take off your shoes or take laptops out of your bag. It makes the whole process swift and painless. As someone who flies on average once every two weeks this is essential for me, but even for people who fly just a few times a year I think it is worth it. The only regret I have is that I did not get Global Entry as this goes one step further and includes an expedited process at U.S. customs. For only $100 you get both Global Entry and TSA Pre-check. I was not aware of it at the time so I just did the one. The convenience and time saved make both of these a great value.

Getting a Cold While Traveling

Preparedness is a traveller’s best friend. I am constantly thinking about what would happen if my bag doesn’t make it, if my wallet is stolen, if I forget something from back from home; all common anxieties of a prepared traveller. One thing that has slipped my mind over the years: getting sick. On my last trip to Europe, six days in, that happened. I’m not talking about a serious illness where you need to seek medical attention, just a bad cold. Honestly, it was my fault. Hank and I were in Budapest at the time and it was cold. A cold augmented by being close to the water you felt ever-present moisture in the air. But, it was New Years Eve and we wanted to stay out until the clock struck 12 – so we did. We also happened to get about 40,000 steps while walking over 15 miles through the city. The combination of being outside for so long, the cold weather, staying out late and waking up early, proved very costly.

New Years Day I woke up not feeling great but as the day went on, it progressively got worse. The worse it got, the easier we took it. I ate some traditional goulash soup, and we had a relatively early night. I think this is one of the biggest things we had to realize: Even though you are on this amazing trip and want to explore, taking care of yourself is still your top priority. Over-doing it will only make things worse, prolonging your sickness and ruining more of your trip. As with any cold, rest, staying warm, and drinking plenty of fluids is absolutely essential. That night we were hoping it would pass but when I woke up in one of those horrible cold sweats we knew it we had to take it seriously. I took some fever-reducing/aches and pains meds (which we had luckily packed), drank a ton of water and went back to sleep.

Bratislava was the next stop along our journey, so after sleeping as much as I could we set off. On the way to train station my throat caught fire the moment we stepped in the cold, wet air, turning a short walk into a nightmare. I slept at the station waiting for the train, I slept on the train, and I slept in Bratislava – sleep was the theme of the day. Accessing the metro from Bratislava Central Station proved difficult and resulted in more walking in the bitter cold. Eventually we made it and found that we were in luck. We had booked what we thought was a nice hotel for a great price. It turned out to be one of the nicer hotels I’ve ever stayed at. I did not want to miss a moment of the already fleeting time we had in Bratislava, but we knew it was for the best that I stay in bed. Hank ventured out to get us some food and me some tea and we watched Stranger Things while we ate our supermarket dinner.

Whether it was the bed, the tea, or the ‘80s inspired horror I’ll never know, but I awoke feeling refreshed and ready to explore. Hank forced us to take it easy, and I drank my weight in hot tea. We nipped inside to many cafes and had a simple day around the old town before heading to Vienna that night. Throughout the next few days I only drank water or lemon tea with honey and went through at least two boxes of tissues. Ultimately, what made me feel better was the age-old combination of rest and relaxation. You cannot fight something despite wanting to do more. And the length of our trip found us, some two weeks later, looking back on this moment in shock, as we couldn’t believe it was part of the same adventure.

These pictures are document the cycle of my sickness, up until my night in Bratislava. Looking back, I find these hilarious as you can really see it catch up to me! I apologize for how I look (especially in the last one!), but I figure you have to see it all to understand what it was like.

New Years Eve in clearly chilly Budapest
the morning of New Years Day as the cold began to settle
later in the day I progressively got worse and goulash soup was the answer
the next day, asleep in the train station
not looking my best in Bratislava, but resting in bed

Second Chances

I think it is possible to go to the wrong place at the wrong time, or for the stars not to align the way you want. That was what happened during Hank and my first trip to Oslo. It’s not that we didn’t enjoy being there, we were more than happy just to be abroad. But it was not one of our favorite places nor somewhere we expected to return. However, with the technique we use, we kind of just go where the plane takes us on the cheapest flight, and in the case of our next trip that place was Oslo.

Our first time to Oslo was the third leg of our journey, after Stockholm and Bergen. We took the train (which was a trip highlight) from Bergen to Oslo. Once in Oslo we made our way to a drab hotel and took off walking. Maybe it was because it was right after New Years, or maybe the cold drives out the people, regardless, even the main thoroughfare’s, rife with shops and restaurants, were inexplicably empty. Further (and not wholly unexpected), the food was expensive. Really expensive. In hindsight, we didn’t stray too far from the main tourist area, which could explain the prices, but we didn’t realize that at the time. We saw some cool sights, but nothing really drew us in to want more and we left Oslo for Amsterdam a few days later excited to move on to our next city.

Gol Stave Church at the open air museum – empty on this freezing day
The Royal Palace
empty and cold summarized our first trip to Oslo

Fate finds its way into everything, and our next trip to Europe was no exception. The cheapest flight options found us, once again, in Oslo. We figured at least we could fight off of jet lag and maybe see something we hadn’t seen before. A hotel makes a big impression, and the difference between this and the last was staggering. Off the heavily footed tourist trails and into a residential community we wandered, a choice we would not soon regret as we found ourselves gazing upon a beautiful sunset right over the water. Oslo being so far north causes a seemingly endless sunset. In and out of buildings we wove, always returning to this stunning sight. This new part of the city, combined with the setting sun, made it feel so much different than before. The next day we continued this trend, wandering through another new area and stumbling on a great, surprisingly affordable meal. It’s funny, sometimes, how traveling works, and on a previous journey we found a love for Edvard Munch. This revelation came after our last trip to Oslo, and, while going over city highlights; we quickly made the Munch Museum our focal point. The day was different and we followed it the same, popping into another museum, having a several cups of coffee, and enjoying the time we had.

the sunset that cast Oslo in a new light
in between buildings the view remained
a perfect meal in a new part of town
souvenirs from the Munch Museum

A city is so much more than just the two days you spend there. As a tourist it is easy to just hit the main points but when you do that you miss so much else. There is always more to see, wherever you go, often it is just a matter of giving it a second chance and finding the beauty you missed before.

My Third European Trip

Just this past winter I toured Europe for the third time. Once again, I travelled with my fiancée, Hank, for our longest trip, 21 days abroad. At this length one begins to bypass the feeling of a vacation and transverse into starting a new life somewhere. It’s so long that you have a moment of appreciation, knowing that a large amount of time has past, yet you have just as many days ahead. We each paid $515.21 round-trip on Norwegian Air. Like our first trip, we got the upgraded tickets to get the benefits of checked bags, seat choice, meals, and drinks. Our tickets were purchased on September 24th, 2016 for our trip spanning December 27th, 2016 to January 16th, 2017. Like it tends to happen, we needed an excuse to take another journey, and once again cheap flights proved to be the perfect reason.

A trend we follow is buying tickets with no particular destination in mind. They were cheap, the time worked out well, and we spent the previous year daydreaming of our last winter trip. This year I was slightly busier with school so we did not plan where we wanted to go until mid-November. Hank did most of the destination specific work. He mapped a few routes and, after some deliberation, we settled on the path that we took. Having such a long time in Europe meant we could extend our stays in certain destinations and visit more stops along the way. We really enjoy planning trips this way, knowing your beginning and your ending but having endless possibilities in the middle.

How we choose the “middle” of the trip is much simpler than it sounds. There are certain places we really want to go, we link them with trains or other routes of transportation, and add in stops that pique our interests. Prague and Bratislava have stood out in our hearts for some time, as they hold a familial history for both of us. We then connect the cities and add the logical stops along the way. This particular trip took us on plane, train, bus, metro, and only a taxi or two.

Here is the path that we took and one I would highly encourage for any travelers. We left Las Vegas on December 27th and after a long direct flight we landed in Oslo, Norway on the 28th. Just a few days later we left Oslo on the 30th and flew to Budapest, Hungary where we would celebrate the start of a new year. We left Budapest on the 2nd of January and took a train to Bratislava, Slovakia where we stayed only one day leaving on the 3rd. An hour-long bus ride brought us to Vienna, Austria and we were here until the 5th. A train brought us to Prague, Czech Republic on the 5th and we stayed here enjoying every second until the 8th. Then, another train ride took us to Dresden, Germany until the 10th when we left for Berlin, Germany. Berlin was a longer stop through the night of the 13th when we flew to Stockholm for our last part of the journey (and one of our favorite cities). We left Stockholm, Sweden on the 16th for a flight back to the US.

red = plane, purple = train, teal = bus