South east France is one of my favorite destinations in Europe currently, because of the charming villages along the wine route, and it’s close proximity to us. It is also full of delicious food.
To properly visit this region of Alsace, you have to have a car in order to see the vineyards and little villages sprinkled in between. The most famous villages in this region are: Colmar, Eguisheim, Riquewir and Obernai.
The most famous big city in this region is Strasbourg (also known as the European capital because of the EU offices there).
I first visited Alsace in 2019 to see the Christmas market in Strasbourg as a day trip, and I quickly fell in love with the city and culture. The Alsace region was once or maybe twice owned by Germany, constantly shifting between France and Germany depending on who won the war, so the French culture in this region is a mix of French & German.
You can notice the German influence in their half timber houses, but the food and people are very French. French is the main language of communication but if you speak German, you can get by easy.
Recommendations: Yonaguni Spa in Obernai, connected to the Le’ Parc hotel. We stayed here for 3 nights and we can’t recommend it enough. The staff was wonderful, the spa absolutely magical, and the food delicious! It was almost too good to be true. If you can’t stay at the hotel, I recommend visiting the spa as a day visitor and I promise you won’t regret it. The spa hotel is in Obernai, a small town, with so many wonderful restaurants and bakeries. We enjoyed getting pastries from the bakery and sitting in the town square to people watch as we ate our pastries.
We also visited Riquewir and Colmar. In these two cities, we walked around the Main Street & old town admiring the houses. In Riquewir, we stopped at a wine tasting shop and tasted wine for free then bought 2 bottles. The wine in Alsace is very similar to wine in southwest Germany, but the quality and complexity was far better.
In Colmar, the city is much bigger but not as big as Strasbourg. So in this city we opted to do a train tour (it was raining and we honestly just wanted to kill time before our dinner reservation). The train ride around the city giving you some historical context was ok, but nothing to write home about. We however later did a canal boat tour in little venise – a section in the old town, and it was worth every penny. Very calm, relaxing and romantic. We later ate at L’epicurien (a Michelin plate restaurant) and grabbed drinks & flambee at a small restaurant next to the canal. Colmar was very lovely and definitely a must see if you go to Alsace region of France.
We skipped Eguisheim because we were running out of time, but we plan on going back sometime soon. I have heard great things about this little village, so don’t skip it if you can help it.
I first experienced international travel in 2010 when I flew from Nairobi, Kenya to Jonesboro, AR. Yes, ladies & gentlemen, you read that right, I moved from a buzzing metropolitan city to the most quiet little southern/midwest college town in the U.S.
The first culture shock was the quietness of Jonesboro. It was mid summer, so the college town was slightly dead. In case you are wondering what the heck I was thinking when I made this move, I had started college at Arkansas State University in Jonesboro since it was in a state where I had family nearby and was also affordable for my blue collar family back in Kenya. Despite the shock of adjusting to life in Jonesboro, I actually developed to love the school. I made friends quickly and things seemed to be ok. After a year of life in AR though, I decided to move to Washington state & that is where my love for travel began.
I initially started traveling locally in Washington State on my days off from work and this opened another world I had never thought about. As an early 20-something black African woman, I struggled to find friends who enjoyed travel or who wouldn’t mind spending money on travel. Most of my friends seemed legitimately scared of traveling, constantly telling me it wasn’t safe to venture out to places you didn’t know. I will say I cut ties with a lot of friends with this type of mentality because I didn’t understand how people would be afraid of traveling. I now have a small understanding of why.
I can say that I was blissfully ignorant of the fact that black people, and moreso, black women are treated very differently in travel spaces. Since 2012 to 2019, I was accompanied by my husband to almost all my travel destinations, all of them within the continental U.S & Hawaii.
I started doing more solo travel in 2019 when we moved to Europe due to my proximity to other countries. I also have more flexibility compared to my husband, so I tend to travel a lot more, meaning lots of solo day or weekend trips. I enjoy solo travel because you learn so much about yourself & how others perceive you, and also get to experience things that you probably wouldn’t have been able to experience without venturing out solo.
My first solo travel experience as a black African woman was in Venice Italy. I enjoyed Venice a lot and wouldn’t hesitate to recommend it because I think everyone needs to see it at least once in their lifetime, but I also experienced blatant discrimination because of the color of my skin. Some of these experiences involved being yelled at by a service person in the public bathrooms because I was trying to figure out how the pay system at the entrance worked. I approached the woman, who was glaring at me the whole time and politely asked if there was something wrong I was doing. She angrily yelled at me, which took me aback so I stepped away and followed one of the customers & watched how she operated the pay system & did the same. That experience made me really angry. 2nd incident happened at the beach, where I approached a reception area to reserve a beach chair/space. The lady looked up at me as I approached and started shooing me away. I politely asked if she spoke English & when she nodded, I asked if I could reserve a beach chair. She responded, “the free beach is on the other side”. I replied that I would like to reserve a chair & an umbrella here if you have space. She looked at me, apologized and said, “of course you can do that”. This incident was obviously her judging me by how I looked and deciding I couldn’t afford to pay for a chair. It wasn’t as upsetting, just very confusing & frustrating at that moment. I later had a few incidents where people in service denied me an extra ask, like “heating up my pizza at a quick bite bakery, when she had done that for everyone else infront of me.” In those moments, I was just happy to be traveling in Italy so they didn’t sink quite deep until I heard other black women’s experiences in Italy and it hit me hard. My first travel experience to Italy had been to northern Italy – Cinque Terre with my husband, and the experience had been the opposite. We felt like people rolled out the red carpet for us, from the host at out hotel to the all the lovely service people we interacted with. When I ask my white friends who have traveled solo to Venice, what their experiences were, they narrate a totally opposite tale.
Bottom line is, traveling to Italy solo as a black African woman was totally fantastic because the pros outweigh the cons, but the cons can be really disheartening. I felt like majority of service people treat us as less than, or not financially capable of affording to travel there. With all of that being said, I would still go back to Venice if I got the chance to again. I have an open mind, I want to experience other cultures, whether alone or with friends and family, & I hope the world will adjust to seeing people of color in travel spaces.
Curious about traveling in Europe & not having to put your nursing career on hold? then read below on how to successfully get a travel RN position in Germany. The position is in an American hospital/s so you don’t have to worry about starting to learn German or acquiring the equivalent of an RN license in Germany. This post may be helpful to military spouse RNs or even civilian RNs curious about working outside of the continental U.S.
- There are temporary (90 days) & permanent positions (2-3 yrs) & these are through a travel company. So you apply for the position & if you are qualified, you can get relocated (if not in Germany already) or hired as a local hire.
- You have to have a solid knowledge/experience in the field you are applying for. For example, I have been an ICU nurse for 4 years (Neuro, trauma, Cardiac, general medicine & surgery), so I feel competent in any type of ICU setting. I would however probably not get hired for a burn ICU position because I don’t have that knowledge base & they are not willing to train you for new positions.
- Be patient. The process for doing backgrounds & getting approved to start can take more than 6 months, so be patient.
- Perks of the job: You are in Europe! You get to travel & not worry about money like you would if you just booked a vacation. Utilize your time here, travel as much as your little heart desires because you may never get this chance again.
- Cons of the Job: the patient acuity may not be as high because of the population (generally healthy), but you will get to learn new things too that are only specific to U.S hospitals in Germany.
Companies that hire U.S travel nurses to work in Europe: Sterling Medical company & Choctow Staffing solutions (RN positions in women’s health clinics)
*Disclaimer – This post has not been sponsored by any company. No financial compensation is gained by author of the post.
All the best in your research! I hope you found this helpful. I know I could have used this when we initially moved here.
Is it time for your permanent change of station?, in short PCS..have you found out you are moving to Germany?, well I hope sharing our experience can help you in your move here.
My husband & I PCS’d in early august 2019 to Kaiserslautern Germany & there’s a lot I wish I knew before the move, despite my extensive research months prior to the move. In this post I will share the main things that could make your life easier, & if you have questions about a specific thing, please ask in the comments.
1. Accommodation – This was the thing everyone talked about constantly because it is so important in those first days. Book your stay in advance. There are hotels on the base that make your life so much easier because you may not have transportation in the first few days, so being able to get food & complete your daily required PCS tasks is key. If you have a sponsor (which you hopefully do), utilize them by asking if they can advise on best hotel/TLF location (there might be several bases in the same area) to choose from. We stayed at a central location booked for us by our sponsor & that made it easy for my husband to go to his required classes everyday with no issues, & I was able to walk to the grocery store, library, a few restaurants or parks, since we only had one car at that time.
In terms of long-term housing, some people like the on-base houses & some off-base. It varies from person to person. I have heard on base housing is very competitive, so apply ASAP if that is what you want. We live off-base & found our housing after arrival (the military pays for your temporary housing for 3 months), & we are both very happy & content with our location.
For the house hunt, I used Facebook, AHRN.com & bookoo.com to find houses for rent (approved by the military). It took us a few weeks of looking at houses before we settled on what we have now (which I found on facebook). Facebook groups here are key because people share experiences, who to rent from, who to avoid etc.
2. Transportation while in Germany – My husband sold his old 2003 Acura TL before we left fort leonard wood, & then I had my car shipped here by the army (they only ship one car for you, the others will be out of pocket costs). I have a 2013 Prius, so not too big or too small – perfect for German roads which can be very narrow. My prius was shipped 2 weeks before we left, & it arrived a month after our arrival in Germany. My husband rented a car from a rental place near the military base for 2 weeks, then bought a U.S spec car at a dealership on Ramstein (the airforce base). A lot of people buy new cars in Germany because it is expensive to ship out of pocket, so if you have a really old car, or are here for just a year or 2, you may choose to buy a new or used car (there’s a lemon lot on Ramstein airfare base). Our experience was buying a car on base, so can’t speak to buying off base.
Public transport (Taxis, buses & trains) is an option here as well. The train is relatively inexpensive & easy to use, but may be a little daunting at first. Use DB.DE (or get the app) to check the schedule & costs or even book a train. For long distance travel (e.g weekend trips) book a few weeks to a month in advance for cheaper prices. You can also buy tickets right at the train stop with euros.
If you have a big truck or any vehicles considered larger than standard in the U.S, it may be hard to drive in narrow streets, but it’s doable if that is your best option. I have seen big American trucks around, so I know people can still drive them around, but it just looks like a pain, especially backing up or parking in very tiny spots.
Getting your drivers license – Study this & do the test while in the U.S because it is so much easier & faster this way, than when you arrive, all you need to do is go to the licensing office on base with your documents & get a German drivers license.
3. Moving & Shipping house hold goods or other items. Plan on waiting for a month – 2 months on HHG, so if you can get them shipped early, do it. Also leave big appliances like washer & drier in storage because you can rent those from the base. American appliances use 120V while EU appliances are 220V, so you may damage your appliances. We brought our TV & kitchen items & left behind washer & drier. The base gives you transformers so you can plug in your 120V appliances to prevent damage, so make sure you remember that before you plug anything in. The on base hotels have almost everything you need in your house, so you’ll be all set before your HHG arrive.
To ship pets, book through SATO ASAP – fills up quick (I believe delta is the preferred pet transport) & make sure your pet has had a vet visit with updated shots.
Our experience – I traveled through commercial airlines because I had a delay with my travel documents, but this got reimbursed by the military. My husband booked through Patriot express BWI & used the military flight that goes straight to Ramstein airfare base.
I hope this 3 big things have helped in any way that they could to make your move easier. I will be posting more about Germany, so please stick around.
Today is Monday, May 4, 2020 & I am currently on a flight to Frankfurt Germany which is now home for the next 3 years. I had traveled to the U.S (Kansas City to be precise) for FNP clinicals & got stuck there due to the worldwide pandemic. I remember chatting with my husband in late January about the coronavirus situation in China & sort of feeling torn between worry in case it spread to the U.S, & logic (so we thought). The logic as healthcare professionals was that the corona virus is just like a really bad flu & that the flu kills more people each year.
We were definitely thinking very differently by mid February when other countries started seeing cases, & by early March, there was definitely cause for worry in terms of “not knowing what would happen next”.
Shelter in place
In Kansas City ( a city that spreads out between 2 states), the shelter in place order came at around March 17th. No one really went out (in parks or walking outside) even before the order because it had been cold for one but even when it got warmer, there was hardly anyone out yet. I didn’t even change my daily routine because I was barely ever around people (didn’t have time to go got out to restaurants, bars or shopping). I was too busy with school work when I was not in the clinic. The only place that I changed my behavior at was the grocery store. I shopped earlier to avoid crowds & used amazon prime when I could to avoid going out.
I had to go pick my sister up in a different state because their college shut down & closed the dorms.
Once my clinical rotation was over, I signed up with a travel agency to go work in Tacoma WA. This decision was made after Germany closed it’s borders 2 weeks before my travel date back. It was driving me crazy to stay at home doing nothing when I knew I had skills as an ICU nurse to help my fellow nurses in the frontlines. My old travel agency was ecstatic when I responded to their job emails & we signed a contract in a weeks time. I prepared myself by completing assigned paperwork, shots, education modules etc, that were required by the hospital. My sister & I packed our bags & started the journey from Kansas City MO to Tacoma WA.
I chose the northern route through South Dakota, Montana & Idaho (which had very few coronavirus cases) & we took all precautions necessary to stay safe. The drive was beautiful, we felt safe since we hardly came into contact with anyone, & arrived safe & sound in WA after 3 days of driving. A week before my start date at the hospital (I was supposed to be ICU float pool, covering 2 hospitals 30 minutes apart), the hospital reported that they had been having very low census & cancelled my contract. Their argument was that they were not seeing very many patients now & had to cancel all travel nurses. This was such a bummer because I had traveled all the way here, but they were kind enough to compensate me for airbnb, travel & food expenses.
*This blog contains affiliate links that may generate me earnings.
Positive out of all this…
I had driven my sister to my mom’s apartment, where she was supposed to spend the summer (would have flown instead) & got to see my mom as well. I know you’re wondering why the hell we are meeting up with my mom in a pandemic with orders to stay home, but she took all precautions necessary as well before we met up. Her job checks her temperature every day, she had had no symptoms of a respiratory illness, & was barely around anyone else apart from her co-workers. It was sought of a gamble, but financially we couldn’t afford to live apart for the time being (with me not knowing if I would get another job or go back to Germany).
I spent a good 3 weeks with my mom & sister, then got documents to be able to go back to Germany.
Today my mom dropped me at Seatac airport, where armed with my mask & sanitizer, I boarded a flight back home. It is sort of bittersweet, knowing I will be seeing my husband in a few hours, & sort of sad leaving my mom & sister.
Seatac airport is almost empty today but the flight attendant checking me in ecstatically thanks me for traveling today & says excitedly to his co-worker,”it’s almost coming back to normal!”. I look around and wonder what she is talking about because the airport only has a few people traveling. I can’t begin to imagine how deserted it probably has been in the last few weeks. Today is the day the federal shelter in place order expires; so more people are feeling somewhat safer to be out & about. I am sure some are just tired of being cooped up (probably in hotels, relatives homes or hotels). Everyone is wearing a mask (most flights have made it a requirement) & I am happy that people are because it decreases the chance of spreading the virus. At my layover in Denver, even more people are traveling (not as empty as Seatac), but most dinning places are closed. My flight from Denver to Newark is full & I hear someone comment about how “safe” this is, & he politely demands to be moved seats where he is not seated next to someone. On the international flight, there is barely enough people to fill the large aircraft. Germany still has its borders closed to non-residents or citizens, so not many people are traveling to Frankfurt today.
Fingers crossed that I do not encounter any trouble getting into Germany on arrival. I miss my husband terribly & can’t wait to see his face when I arrive. I hope that researchers find a vaccine or treatment for COVID-19 soon, but I don’t see life resuming back to the old normal. I will still be a little paranoid every now & then when someone coughs near me, & traveling in crowded spaces will take some getting used to.
So unfortunately last year when my husband was deployed, I forgot to call and wish him a happy birthday on the actual day. I know what you’re thinking, worst wife ever! I know…but to backtrack a bit, I had spent the month prior gathering items to construct a box of special goodies I could send to the Deployment location for him as a birthday and Christmas gift as well since his birthday is on the 22nd of December. I usually don’t lump them together but because these items were being shipped outside the U.S, it made sense to do it that way. I had also worked a streak of 4 or 5 12-hr shifts and didn’t even know what day it was, to be honest, so when he called me the next day to ask how and why I forgot to wish him a Happy birthday…I was slightly delirious and didn’t even know what day it was.
Anyway, so this year I had to go above and beyond to make it special for him. He did make some demands haha and rightfully so…..so I worked around that “demand” and planned a trip to Kiruna Sweden, otherwise known as Swedish Lapland.
His birthday is on Dec 22, so it was hard for him to get enough time off at his work around this period due to everyone wanting the holidays off. I pushed the trip date to the following week.
First stop: Copenhagen Denmark.
Since we were going to have a layover somewhere anyway, I decided that we should stay in Copenhagen for 2 nights and explore a little/do New Year’s Eve there. I was not expecting it to be as amazing as it was, and Ian was totally blown away by Copenhagen! I made a self-guided walking tour of the city and we spent a day exploring all the spots (11 miles walked on this day).
2nd stop: Arctic gourmet cabins.
Ian still had no idea what type of place this was, and as Johan (cabin owner & chef) picked us up at the airport, I could tell that Ian was mentally trying to put things together. I had to tell him everything once we checked in into the cabin because some of the plans were starting to fall through unfortunately. The first plan was to see and photograph the northern lights at Abisko National Park, but the company cancelled due to bad weather. I will say that after I told Ian that, and him seeing the sun set at 2pm and pitch black at 3pm, he seemed a little disappointed. I slightly felt bad since I had planned this trip and had been waiting for months! We sat in our cabin as Ian started to ask about our dinner plans. I didn’t have any because our now cancelled trip was meant to include dinner/drinks/coffee. Ian quickly yelped and suggested we get a taxi (Arctic gourmet cabins are further away from Kiruna town, where all the shops and restaurants are). I suggested we eat in our cabins since Johan the owner was a renowned chef and that was part of why I had chosen this place in the beginning – for the food. Ian reluctantly said yes but tried to counter with “maybe we should eat Thai” that night since Johan was cooking the next night for us, just to mix things up, I gently pushed him towards choosing Johans place for that night, and so we did.
At dinner, Johan started by talking about what he was going to serve that night, and I could see Ian perking up….. he started realizing that this was not your typical restaurant. Johan is one of the best chefs in Kiruna (and by far some of the best food I have had in my life), and he is also very kind and genuinely cares about the type of experience he is giving his guests. We had a 3 course meal with wine pairings – beats any Michelin star restaurant I have been in so far. During dinner, Johan talks and interacts with the guests, making it seem like having dinner at a friends house. Ian quickly asked Johan if he can cook us meals every night we are there, and he agreed. Even though it’s not free, Ian realized this is a once in a lifetime experience. After the first course, Johan asked us to go outside and see the northern lights…..say what?, we had just cancelled a tour and got refunded our money because of bad weather, and now we could spot a glimpse of the Aurora just outside our nice cosy cabin?. This was starting to become magic. Ian declared that night, that he was totally blown away! It was only day 1 haha. I was so happy things were starting to go as planned and even better!
On the next day, we had dinner and after dinner the Aurora appeared again, so we went outside and watched it move around. This night, the lights were so much more noticeable and we just stood outside for a long time just looking up. This was truly magic!
We stayed a total of 3 nights at Arctic gourmet cabins, had dinner and breakfast there and saw the auroras every single night, with each night becoming even stronger and moving around. During the day, we went snowshoeing from the cabins to the lake, did dog sledding, had an Arctic massage & spent a lot of time bouncing around from the Jacuzzi to the sauna to bed haha.
Final destination: Ice hotel.
This was Ian’s only demand. That he sleep in an ice hotel. I booked one night (our last night) in the seasonal ice rooms and it was quite the experience. We checked in, saw our rooms and the rest of the rooms, which are pure art and insanely detailed, then we went to a Sapmi (indigenous tribe) village & met reindeers. The Sapmi village was very enlightening because I had no idea indigenous people existed in the Nordic countries. We fed reindeer & also rode a reindeer sleigh. The reindeer sleigh ride is nothing like dog sledding. Reindeers are incredibly strong and competitive, so it was very thrilling to see them compete at high speed as you held on for dear life! Our guide was very monotone so we didn’t quite get it when she said they can get competitive with each other haha, unless her plan was to just let us find out for ourselves…then well played. This activity was one of my favorites! We also rode on a snowmobile sleigh to and from the ice hotel.
Highlight of the trip: A 3 hour northern lights appearance! Behind the ice hotel is a frozen lake, so we went there and just looked at the northern lights move about. It was magical!
The night & trip ended with our stay in the ice room for the night. We were so sad to check out the next morning…
I think I nailed the surprise trip for Ian. The one year guilt of forgetting to wish him a happy birthday has worn off now.
I put this list together the night we got to our hotel, shared it with my husband, and we tag teamed to see everything. Copenhagen is the easiest city ever to navigate, and their metro is truly a luxury compared to many other cities we have visited. It was also very easy to buy tickets from the airport for the metro. If you get a pass, you can use the metro & buses for a few days.
Where to stay
Hotel Kong Arthur
Staff are so nice and they have a happy hour with free wine every night in the lobby. This hotel was absolutely gorgeous and very inexpensive.
Where to eat
On our way to the hotel from Nørreport train station, there was a food hall with food stalls inside (if you’re walking it’s hard to miss), but it was closing so we couldn’t buy food here. I however heard from a tourist I met in Copenhagen that the food is really good.
The food at Host.
At Aamans 1921 on New Year’s Eve.
Copenhagen was a joy to visit, even though for just a short while. I loved going into a coffee shop and people watching because everyone was so impeccably dressed.
We will be back in the summer for sure.
*No affiliate links used. All recommendations are based on real experiences.
I had initially booked an organized trip where the company (Nordic visitor)takes care of everything for you apart from flight tickets to Sweden ( price includes 3 days food, activities & accommodation) because I didn’t know anything about Sweden & frankly was a bit stressed out about the initial planning. They however canceled a few days later and offered other days (wouldn’t work for us). I then tried booking through camp Ripan (same deal, everything is taken care of, 2700 USD for 4 days – better deal, activities & accommodation) but they were also booked out for the days we wanted. Finally, I opted to do my own research by writing down all the activities these tour companies were going to offer, and individually booking them. I ended up saving 1000 USD and finding a way…way better accommodation & overall better experience. By booking smaller local companies for activities, prices were better & the experience more personable. Everything was less touristy and we thoroughly enjoyed this experience. We learned a lot about Sweden this way too, talking to people who live there & own small businesses in the areas we visited.
Land in Kiruna
⁃ Check in into your hotel. I recommend Arctic gourmet cabins, where you get the owner/chef cooking meals for you (at an extra price) & honestly this will be some of the best food you’ll have ever eaten. His website claims he is the smallest gourmet restaurant in the world – only 2 tables in the restaurant. You’ll hopefully get to try reindeer, moose and local Swedish fish like Arctic char.
⁃ During winter, the sun sets at 2 or 3 pm, so it will be dark quick. You can either unwind in the cabins/whatever location you choose. Most places have a jacuzzi and sauna. Or book a night tour – like go to Abisko and see/photograph northern lights (what we had planned initially but canceled due to bad weather – we ended up seeing the northern lights from our cabin so that was fantastic)
Morning – Dog sled with Kiruna husky or any other local Kiruna company. Ask Johan for recommendations if you stay at Arctic gourmet cabins, he knows everyone!. Avoid bigger companies( like ice hotel tours) haha…they tend to be packed and less personable. Our last activity was with them and it was so tourist (they were the annoying & rude kind too, don’t be that person)
The night before had been super windy so our trail had been covered up. This meant we’re going to be creating a new trail and it honestly turned out to be quite the task. The dogs are very well trained but occasionally would choose to dive into the fresh snow and play around haha. It was cute to watch but we needed to keep going so at times the leader got quite frustrated. Some dogs would tangle up and it was our responsibility to get out of sleigh (if you weren’t the driver) and untangle them. The hardest task was pushing the sleigh in very deep snow in order to keep it moving, especially if you are a little heavy. My husband did all the work in the beginning and the leader asked him to ride in his sleigh to get a break, so I had an armory sleigh and had to be the driver. I learnt quick what to do and off we went. I had the opposite problem. The sleigh was flying!!! I think it was too light, so I had to constantly brake and prevent my dogs from overtaking the sleigh in front of me. I overturned twice too because it was hard to balance when the dogs picked up speed. After the sledding, we went to an arctic hut and had lunch then coffee. Overall it was a wonderful experience despite all the hiccups. We also saw the northern lights on this night after dinner. They appeared later, at 10pm
⁃ Afternoon : unwind in Jacuzzi/Sauna. During the night, you may want to stay up late to see the northern lights. Choose a location away from city lights. Arctic gourmet cabins were perfect for us since we would just walk outside, sit or stand by the fire and chit chat as we watched the lights. Johan gave us tips on how to photograph them using our DSLR camera.
Borrow snowshoes from your accommodation and snow show around. We were next to a frozen lake or river, so we walked on that as we watched the sunrise/sunset. It was quite the work out, perfect for our afternoon activity – an Arctic massage with hot stones. It included pick up and drop off. We got picked up at noon and the whole activity lasted for about 2 hours. The lady was very sweet, very bubbly for a Swede haha. We had a wonderful experience here, getting a massage as we listened to the fire crackling and the wind whistling outside. After the massage, we had some mint tea & a short tour of the husky kennels. The skies were also beautiful so we enjoyed walking around. In the evening we had some jacuzzi time, dinner, then were outside for 2 hours looking at northern lights.
⁃ Day 4: sleep in, check out. Go to the ice hotel to spend a night in the seasonal ice rooms (original ice hotel) or the year-round ice hotel. We booked a tour on this day so after checking in and getting a locker to put our luggage in, we got some overalls and boots at the desk and went on a Sapmi village/meet the reindeer tour. We learned about the Sapmi, fed reindeer, had a short but very thrilling ride on a reindeer sleigh, then ate reindeer meat with Lingonberry sauce & warm lingonberry juice. This was one of my favorite activities because I learnt so much. The ride to and from the ice hotel were on a sleigh pulled by a snowmobile through the forest and over the frozen lake. We then walked around the ice hotel, looking at all the rooms, taking a million photos of everything!!! Haha and at 8pm, the northern lights appeared so vividly and strong. They started on one side, ran across the entire sky, then started spiraling. It was a sight to behold!. We lasted outside for an hour, but the lights lasted for about 4 hours!!! This was the best show ever. The ice hotel allows guests (not staying there) to tour the rooms from 9a.m to 6 pm, so after 6, you can stroll around in your own pace from room to room. Technically people have already checked in but no one stays in the cold rooms and their personal belongings are stored away, so its nice to just walk around and enjoy the art.
⁃ Day 5: check out, maybe go to Kiruna town and stroll around, or plan an activity of your choice if not flying out until later.
⁃ Book things far out to get better prices and days/times you want.
⁃ The ice hotel experience is one of a kind and you honestly won’t be that cold since they have a sleeping bag and give you a brief of how to stay warm before going to bed. We chose the cheapest rooms and honestly wouldn’t have done it any other way because you see all the other rooms anyway, and once you fall asleep that’s it haha. The room booking also includes breakfast and a free tour of the ice hotel. The ice hotel restaurant was in our opinion not worth the money you spend there for fine dining. Arctic gourmet was so much better.
⁃ If you are a confident driver, rent a car. Even in really bad weather, the roads get plowed but there is still a good amount of snow on the roads. Taxis are expensive in this area.
⁃ Other activities to consider:
⁃ Northern lights tour (usually includes dinner in a teepee), but you can see the northern lights from the ice hotel or Arctic gourmet cabins where we stayed.
⁃ Horseback riding in the wilderness to see moose and reindeer in their natural habitat.
⁃ Ice fishing (you eat the fish you catch)
⁃ Ice sculpting at the ice hotel.
I hope this was helpful. Have a wonderful trip if you decide to visit Swedish Lapland, it’s truly beautiful.
I recently went to London and stayed for 4 days. To be honest I was caught by surprise by how expensive & how big London is. I wished I had prepared a little better but I think I made most out of the 4 days I was there. Here are some tips that will make your life easy!
- Choose a good location hotel & read reviews of the hotel you are booking! I noticed that the hotel booking websites are very attractive but most of the hotels inside London are small, dirty & in very noisy locations. This sounds like most cities I know, but if you manage to find a good hotel in a quiet area & accessible to the tube, you are all set. It doesn’t need to be walking distance to what you want to see, because like i mentioned before, London in HUGE! if you’re there longer than 2 days, it’s most likely that your destinations of interests are far apart.
- Get an oyster card at the airport & top it with at least 80 – 100 pounds (this will be enough for 4 days). Avoid taxis & Uber (unless you don’t have any other choice) because the tube is very fast, efficient & easy to use. Trains are often late in the U.K though so always leave 10-20 mins before your actual time.
- Use google maps or city mapper to navigate the city & to check tube/train/bus times & destinations/numbers.
- If flying from Southwest Germany like me, Luxembourg airport always has good deals & is so much easier & stress-free to fly out of compared to Frankfurt. I drove & packed my car there.
Things to do:
- If you like group activities, I highly recommend a free Strawberry London city tour or food tour on day 1. The tour is “pay what you like”, or tip at the end, but if you did not enjoy it, you are not required to pay. Doing a tour on the first day helps you get your bearings in a new city & the tour guides are extremely helpful in giving you tips on where to eat or things to do in the city.
- The shard restaurant for breakfast & watch the sunrise if it is a good day. You have to book it a few days in advance.
- Changing of the guard & Buckingham Palace. I saw a lot of Londoners say that this wasn’t a must-do for a tourist but I highly disagree! This bit was my favorite thing to watch because I had never looked it up before and didn’t know what it entailed. Having a tour guide made it even more fun because he was giving us history about Buckingham palace & the Cavalry. Very interesting.
- Westminister abbey & big ben area. Walk down from Buckingham palace thru Trafalgar square & towards Westminster abbey.
- Tate Modern – I could have easily spent a whole day in here going from room to room admiring the art!
- River Thames, London Bridge, Tower Bridge & London eye. You can also opt to take a cruise on the river during the day or at night & the see the city from a different view.
- Parks. If you need a day to slow down, go to Parliament hill in Hampstead heath. Hampstead village is on the opposite side & there are coffee shops & restaurants to grab a bite in. We spent half a day here people-watching in the park & later had a late breakfast in Hampstead village.
- Other parks – Kensington gardens & Hyde park. They are right next to each other & are perfect spots inside the city to just relax as you walk around & feed the birds. There are swans, ducks, pigeons, & a multitude of other birds flying about as people feed them.
- In the evening or even late afternoon, go to the west end & watch a show. Shows are much cheaper here, and if you purchase same-day tickets, it can be even cheaper (like 20pounds to see wicked!)
- Walk through markets window shopping and eating very good food. My favorites were Borough Market & Camden Market. If you are in the Thames river/Tate modern area, you can easily walk to Borough Market. I also bought some really good tea here to bring home.
- SHOREDITCH! – This neighborhood is very hip & trendy but also has some of the best curry in London. If I hadn’t been flying back home, I would have bought so many things here. There is a large Indian/Pakistani population that settled here in the 1950’s, so brick lane has a whole assortment of Indian food to choose from & it’s so much cheaper & better here. If I go back to London, I may just spend 4 days here walking down the streets looking at street art, eating, shopping at Boxpark (this areas version of Camden Market) & window shopping. It is also a good area to book a hotel in.
- Outside London: Harry Potter studio (I heard this is great & I will definitely look into it next time since I grew up a Harry Potter fan). Bath, Stonehenge, Windsor Castle, Costwolds. The latter you can book a trip that combines all of them in 12-14 hours or plan your own travel by car or train at your own pace.
There are so many other things I left out, because it is impossible to enjoy everything in London in 4 days, but these are my highlights after my first visit!
Christmas is my favorite time of year but since moving away from home 9 years ago, I have found myself alone on Christmas Day a few times. Some have been by choice and some not. My favorite Christmas Day celebrations have been with friends over the years, and on some I spent at work. I found that spending Christmas with other people’s families makes me quite homesick, so I often decline family invitations. On the other hand, spending Christmas with friends is fun, light, no strings attached sought of time, and I have come to really enjoy this. Ian works on most Christmas days unfortunately but when he isn’t working, it’s nice to just make a meal and stay home together.
This year in Germany, Ian was able to get time off for his birthday (Dec 22) and New Years + new years eve, so he had to work on Christmas. We had several people reach out, inviting us for dinner, but I declined because I did not want to attend without Ian there. I opted instead to go to Strasbourg, France and walk around the streets and explore the city. It’s supposed to be nice and quiet since most things will be closed for Christmas. I am joining a historical walking tour in the evening for 2 hrs, so my plan is to have a nice Christmas breakfast with Ian before he leaves for work, then leave for Strasbourg in the afternoon. It’s only a 2hr drive from my house and the weather will be nice so am excited.
If you’re ever alone on Christmas or Christmas Eve, don’t sit and ponder why you’re alone, get out of the house and explore a new place or join an activity with others who are alone on the same day, whether by choice or not. This year I am just grateful we are not in Missouri, but instead, we are in beautiful Germany, and that I can choose from an array of exciting new places to go visit.
Happy holidays! I hope you had a good one.
update: Since I didn’t post this when I was supposed to (before Christmas day), it’s only right that I update you. Strasbourg France was NOT EMPTY LIKE I THOUGHT it would be!!. I met some nice people from Argentina, Chile & China, and we ended up going to the bar later and trying some Alsatian beer. I made a vlog too.
Heidelberg’s weihnachtsmarkt or Christmas market, has been my first and only Christmas market so far. The last 3 months have been a little crazy for me, trying to balance school & social/home life. The latter includes spending time with my husband, exploring Germany since we just moved here and the big one ( making our house feel like home).
I decided to take a Saturday off from studying and went to Heidelberg’s weihnachtsmarkt. I did some research beforehand and had a friend joining me, so it was easy to navigate and plan on what to do without wasting too much time.
Should you drive or take public transport?
If you live close, public transport can be quicker, cheaper and stress-free. Go to DB.com and get a ticket/ you can also get a ticket at the train station.
If you live farther & haven’t booked your ticket way in advance (at least 30 days out) it may be more convenient, faster and cheaper to drive.
Heidelberg city has a website with all the parking garages there. Map whichever is closest to your destination and go there.
The Christmas markets are spread out on the Main Street in the old town. We took our time and strolled leisurely trying different food, gluhwein and window shopping in all the little shops.
If you want to get away from the crowds like we did, go to the old bridge or the castle and stroll around. You can also get a great view of the old town and even see all the lights on Main Street.
I hope you enjoyed this post and are looking forward to your trip. I have posted a link below to my Heidelberg Christmas market trip.
I hope you all had a wonderful Thanksgiving if you live in the U.S & celebrate it. We were planning on just cooking for two, watching a movie & spending time together on this one, but we got an invite to go over to a friend’s house and nobody says no to a thanksgiving dinner invite.
We didn’t want to go empty-handed so I decided to whip up my favorite appetizer dishes, cranberry-pomegranate bruschetta & Bacon wrapped Brussel sprouts that I have posted the recipe for before.
I will take no credit for this one, because it’s all Pinterest. I, however, made a video of the bruschetta recipe because I love it so much and every year someone asks me about the recipe.
Here’s a quick rundown: You’ll need a food processor but can use a blender too
What you need for the relish:
– 1 cup pomegranate seeds – you can buy a 2 pomegranates & scoop the seeds out or buy the seeds in a cup.
– 1lb or 450g Cranberries – fresh or frozen
– 1/2 tbsp Ginger – fresh/chopped
– 1/2 cup sugar
– 1/2 cup honey
– 2-3tsp siracha sauce / can use a hot sauce you like if you don’t have siracha
– 1 bunch of fresh cilantro/chopped – leave a little aside for garnish
– Zest from 2 orange – separate into two, for relish & some for garnish
What you’ll need for the crostini:
– 1 good french baguette, then slice it up into 1/4 inch thick slices
– Extra virgin olive oil
– Salt & pepper
– Cream cheese
What to do:
– Pulse all the relish ingredients apart from the cilantro & pomegranate seeds
– Make sure the cranberries are chopped coarsely but don’t let them become mushy.
– Then add cilantro & pulse once just to have it mix but still be chunky
– Put the mixture in a storage container & refrigerate it for a minimum of 2 hrs, the longer the better, you can even do this a day ahead.
– Now preheat the oven to 350 degrees Celsius or 175 degrees Fahrenheit & place a baking sheet (lined with foil or parchment paper)
– Drizzle some oil onto the slices of bread & spread evenly, sprinkle some salt & pepper, then put in oven for 15 minutes or until slightly browned on the edges
– While the bread is in the oven, use a fork to light beat the cream cheese so its fluffy & soft
– Lastly, spread the cream cheese onto the slices of bread & evenly spread the relish
– Garnish with cilantro & orange zest. Enjoy