Categories
Travel

Our favorite discoveries in Stockholm 

Much like Oslo and other major cities in Northern Europe, Stockholm has an understated reputation. Even so, this capital is neither sleepy nor boring.

The city’s pursuit of innovation and new technologies does not prevent it from being in touch with its heritage and age-old traditions.

The cobbled streets and colorful houses in Stockholm’s old town (Gamla Stan), where time almost seems to have stopped, expertly contrast with a rich cultural scene, bold designers, and a booming environment for foodies.

One of the capital’s distinctive features is the ubiquity of water. This “floating city”, which is also called the “Venice of the North”, is built on 14 islands, right between the Baltic Sea (to the east) and lake Mälaren (to the west). In addition to having water wherever you turn, the city is surrounded by nature, including a great number of green spaces, and Djurgården island, which is the world’s first urban park. The capital’s proximity to nature is probably one of the reasons why its 975 000 inhabitants try to make responsible environmental choices, making Stockholm one of the most eco-friendly cities in Europe.

Stockholm is the perfect example of differences not necessarily being contradictory, but rather a strength. These contrasts between old and new, nature and city, are part of the city’s identity and create a relaxed, easygoing atmosphere.

It’s truly worth taking the time to explore the Swedish capital and appreciate its unique charm, for example over a long weekend. From Strasbourg, you can travel to Stockholm by plane, via Frankfurt or Paris.

Here is a selection of our favorite discoveries and must-see spots in Stockholm:

Stockholm’s main sights are relatively close to one another, meaning they can quite easily be reached on foot. Walking along the waterfront from one island to the next allows you to take in all the beautiful panoramas the city has to offer.

For a change in perspective, you can take a little boat trip for the price of a bus ticket. We recommend taking ferry number 80 (which is run by Stockholm’s transportation company, SL) from Nybrokajen (in the city center) to Almänna Gränd (near Gröna Lund theme park), or to Blockhusudden on the far end of Djurgården island, a few stops along.

Gamla Stan: wandering through these cobbled streets and alleys, which are all incredibly well maintained, is like walking into a city from another time. This historic part of town is ideal for a few hours of exploring: enjoying the atmosphere in the narrow side streets, admiring the colorful 17th- and 18th-century houses, and the little hidden squares. Taking a peek in the shop windows of antiques dealers, galleries, cobblers, woodworkers, or jewelers: trades and skills that are carried on in Gamla Stan to this day. Stopping for a “fika” (a typically Swedish coffee break) in a café away from the main tourist haunts, to enjoy a kanelbulle (cinnamon bun). Don’t miss these spots in Gamla Stan: Österlånggatan, Vesterlånggatan, Prästgatan, and Stortorget

Skeppsholmen bridge (Skeppsholmsbron) is one of Stockholm’s most distinctive bridges, adorned with a golden crown on either side, and offering an amazing view of the old town. Once you’ve crossed the bridge, we suggest taking a lovely walk around Skeppsholmen (ships’ islet), which will take around 30 minutes. First stop, the impressive three-master af Chapman (which has been made into a youth hostel), before continuing around Kastellholmen (castle islet) and up to the lookout point, which has a beautiful view of the other side of the bay. The docks at Norra Brobänken (where you’ll find dozens of old boats pampered by their owners) will lead you back to Skeppsholmsbron.

Stockholm City Hall: the outline of City Hall’s tower, with its spire topped with Sweden’s Three Crowns, if one of the most famous views in Stockholm. We spent a long time enjoying the courtyard and archways, as well as the vast terrace, leading almost directly out onto the water. It reminded us of the Doge’s Palace in Venice. When we were there, a bride and groom had chosen this iconic setting for their wedding photos. For a more panoramic view of the tower, Evert Taubes Terrass on Riddarholmen (knights’ islet) is ideal.

Strandvägen: an exclusive avenue along the waterfront, lined with high-end buildings and townhouses. This road is 1,2 km long and runs from Nybroplan to Djurgården.

Djurgården: having once been the king’s hunting grounds, this island was later converted into the world’s first urban park. This massive green lung, stretching over 279 hectares, has several kilometers of peaceful walkways along the water. Djurgården is also home to plenty of restaurants, hotels, and a theme park (Gröna Lund), as well as major museums, such as the Vasa Museum, the Nordic Museum, and Skansen.

• The indoor market Östermalms Saluhall: we happened upon this covered food market while exploring Östermalm (the Eastern borough). What first drew our attention was the building’s impressive red brick architecture. Inside, the monumental wrought-iron structure has retained its 19th-century spirit. The elegantly sculpted wooden stalls and restaurants have generous displays of fresh and appetizing food.

To explore further:

• The Vasa Museum (Djurgården): the warship Vasa is the world’s most well-preserved 17th-century vessel. It is adorned with carved wooden sculptures and is still made up of around 98% of its original parts.

Skansen (à Djurgården) is the oldest open-air museum in the world.

• The Outer Courtyard of the Royal Palace: with over 600 rooms, Stockholm’s Royal Palace is one of Europe’s grandest palaces. It is the official residence of the king of Sweden.

Fotografiska: inside a repurposed 20th-century brick building on the banks of the Baltic Sea, you’ll find Fotografiska Museet, which is one of the largest museums ever dedicated to contemporary photography.

Categories
Day trip

A day trip from Strasbourg: Colmar

Explore Colmar, a day trip less than an hour away from Strasbourg. This beautiful town, whose heritage spans from the Middle Ages to the 19th century, is one of the most prized gems of Alsace.

Colmar is easy to reach from Strasbourg, either by car or by train. More than 40 trains shuttle between the two cities every day, taking around 40 minutes each way. We decide to take the train, as much for the sake of the environment as to avoid having to worry about traffic and parking.

A flock of pigeons standing neatly in a row outside the train station is our welcoming committee upon our arrival in Colmar. Could this be a nod to the town’s old Roman name – Colombarium – the place where doves nest?

The Petite Venise (Little Venice) district and the pedestrian streets in the old town are about a 15-minute walk from the train station, passing by the Cour d’Appel (Court of Appeals) and through the parc du Château d’Eau (with a beautiful old water tower).

We start by exploring Colmar’s main must-see sights

• The picture-postcard neighborhood of la Petite Venise certainly owes its name to the rows of half-timbered houses lining the river Lauch. The buildings remind us of a gingerbread village. If you truly want to imagine yourself in the Venice, you can book a sightseeing tour in a shallow boat.

• Quai de la Poissonnerie: the fishermen of Colmar used to live in these colorful half-timbered houses along the quay.

Maison Pfister: this house, which once belonged to a prominent merchant, is a 16th-century treasure. It’s one of Colmar’s most iconic buildings, and the first example of Renaissance architecture in the city.

• Maison Adolph: the oldest house in town.

St. Martin’s church, which was built between 1235 and 1365, is one of Alsace’s major works of Gothic architecture.

• The Koïfhus (the old customs house) is Colmar’s oldest public building.

• The market halls (marché couvert) date back to 1865. The building, which combines brickwork and cast-iron framework, contains twenty-odd stalls offering fresh and local produce.

The charming and colorful city center is the ideal place to wander around, and it’s very easy to get from sight to sight on foot. Getting lost in the web of side streets in the old town is the perfect way to take in the atmosphere and fully enjoy the spirit of Colmar.

Colmar is also home to several museums, such as the Unterlinden Museum and the Bartholdi Museum:

• The Unterlinden Museum, which was inaugurated in 1853, is located in a former Dominican monastery. The museum collection includes paintings and sculptures dating from the Middle Ages to the 21st century, such as the famous Issenheim altarpiece (le retable d’Issenheim), as well as works by Picasso, Monet, or even Dubuffet.

• The Bartholdi Museum is dedicated to the man behind the Statue of Liberty, Auguste Bartholdi, who was born in Colmar. As an homage to Bartholdi, a scaled-down replica of the famous New York statue has been placed in a roundabout just north of Colmar (about a 10-minute drive from the center of town).

 

Colmar has served as inspiration to artists around the world. For instance, Hayao Miyazaki, the iconic Japanese director behind Studio Ghibli, was inspired by the architecture of the houses of Colmar when he created his animated feature film Howl’s Moving Castle (2004). 

It’s no coincidence that Colmar is one of the most popular tourist destinations in Alsace. Its position at the heart of the world-famous Route des Vins (the wine road) makes it even more attractive, since the picturesque villages of the area, like Kaysersberg and Riquewihr, are less than 15 km away.

Categories
Glimpse of

A glimpse of Strasbourg #3: Cathedral

Strasbourg’s Notre-Dame Cathedral is the main symbol of the city. It always pulls us in with its own kind of magnetism. Stopping by the Cathedral square and place du Château is always a part of the ritual for our walks around town, as if we had a subconscious need to visit a dear old friend.

We often like to sit down for a while in place du Château and gaze at this masterpiece of Gothic art. Almost every time, we spot a statue, low relief, or architectural detail we hadn’t noticed before. When the weather is nice, the sunlight and shadows dancing on the pink sandstone from the Vosges mountains gives the façade a distinctive hue.

Imagining thousands of craftsmen and architects working for 250 years to build this monument of over 100 000 tons of stone, without the techniques and technologies we have access to today, is beyond impressive. This immense work of art is the expression of skills passed down for centuries. The Cathedral has followed the city through countless generations, witnessing numerous wars and conflicts. It’s also inspired tales and legends, like the story of the Devil’s Wind.

Gazing at the Cathedral sometimes brings back childhood memories for Jérôme – when he would sit in class on the top floor of his school, and daydream while he admired the amazing view of the Cathedral. He could never get enough of looking at it, noticing how the stone façade would change colors with the seasons and the weather.

The Cathedral’s location in the very heart of Strasbourg, and its single, intricate stone spire reaching 142 meters, make it one of the city’s tallest, most majestic structures, as well as a landmark visible from several different spots. Its uniqueness gives it an even greater power of attraction for visitors and locals alike. It is truly Strasbourg’s most iconic building: Paris has the Eiffel Tower, and Strasbourg has its Cathedral. It is no coincidence that Notre-Dame de Strasbourg has been the most visited landmark in Alsace ever since it was listed as a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1988, along with the rest of the Grande Île.

And if this Grand Lady holds a special place in our hearts, it is also because we got married there, on a beautiful day in September 2018…

Categories
Travel

A postcard from our trip to Paris 

“The Capital of fashion and culture”, “City of Lights”, “the city of love”… Paris has many nicknames.

The French capital has always been a source of inspiration for artists, whether they are authors, painters, photographers, or directors.  Jean-Pierre Jeunet for instance, spun his urban poetry from the neighborhood of Montmartre and made Paris one of the main characters in his movie Le Fabuleux Destin d’Amélie Poulain, better known to English-speaking audiences as Amélie

In a way, it was this pleasant, kindly, cozy atmosphere we went looking for, or at least tried to reproduce, during our recent trip to Paris.  However, we were also conscious of the fact that the city could bring on a case of “Paris Shokogun” (also known as Paris Syndrome), which is the feeling of disenchantment experienced by certain Japanese tourists when they first visit the city.  To our great pleasure, the city worked its magic (almost perfectly). 

There’s nothing quite like (re)discovering a city on foot to take in its atmosphere. We took the time to explore and walk the streets of the capital, as we love to do in Strasbourg, whenever we go on a Strafari.

Here is the postcard from our trip to Paris, with photos from our favorite spots and neighborhoods :

The covered passages
The Palais-Royal Garden and the Colonnes de Buren
The Louvre, the Tuileries Garden and place de la Concorde
Pont Alexandre III and the Seine
Place Vendôme
The Eiffel Tower
Montmartre and the Sacré Cœur
The Luxembourg Gardens
Musée d’Orsay
Rooftops and department stores
The Marais
Continue your trip with a weekend in Strasbourg…

The covered passages

To get a taste of 19th-century Parisian charm, we recommend exploring the covered passages, which are pedestrian shopping arcades located near the grands boulevards and place de la Bourse. You can easily walk from one passage to the next, starting with Passage Verdeau (1847) with its antiques shops and old boutiques. Next, Passage Jouffroy (1836) stands out thanks to its marble flooring and arched glass roof. Most notably, this passage is home to the Musée Grévin. Passage des Panoramas (1799) is Paris’ very first covered passage. We decide to play a game: imagining our perfect meal by combining in our minds the suggested day’s specials on the different boards in front of the restaurants in the arcade. 

Galerie Colbert (1823), which is more centered on culture, has the distinctive feature of not containing a single shop.  It does however have a beautiful rotunda, crowned with a glass dome. 

The neighboring Galerie Vivienne (1823), which is bathed in light thanks to its glass skylight and has colorful mosaic flooring, is one of Paris’ most iconic passages. Looking for our next read among the leather-bound volumed with gilt lettering in the charming bookshop Librairie Jousseaume makes us feel like we’ve traveled back to the 19th century.

Stéphanie begins to daydream, imagining herself living in a beautiful home above a Parisian passage, where she can watch people stroll by under the glass below. She fully expects a man in a three-piece suit and top hat, accompanied by a woman in a full-skirted walking dress with delicate lace ruffles, to appear at any moment.

The Palais Royal Garden and the Colonnes de Buren

Created by the famous Cardinal de Richelieu in 1633, the Palais Royal was home to the royal families of France until the Palace of Versailles was completed. 

While searching for a bench where we can sit and enjoy our Parisien sandwich (the classic ham and butter, of course) in the garden, we realize there are philosophical quotes written on the back of several benches. We go from one bench to the next, choosing the most suitable one for our meal: “You eat your memories with the spoon of oblivion.” Or rather our vanilla éclair with a recycled spoon…

Once we’ve eaten, we move on to the 260 octagonal black-and-white striped columns or different sized, made by French artist Daniel Buren. The magical atmosphere in the courtyard encourages everyone to make of the columns what they like. Children climb them like mountains, use them as stepping stones over an imaginary river, or transform them into giant slalom poles. Older generations tend to use the columns to take a seat, share a conversation, enjoy the sunshine, or as a background for their selfies.  We must admit, we hadn’t played leapfrog in a very long time. “All grown-ups were once children,” Antoine de Saint-Exupéry once said. The Colonnes de Buren are a perfect illustration of that.

As we’re leaving the esplanade, we spot a young bride and groom with their photographer, looking for the perfect spot to immortalize their special day. The groom, elegantly dressed in black and white, stands stick straight as he poses, almost blending in with the monochrome columns.

The Louvre, the Tuileries Garden and place de la Concorde

The cour Napoléon offers a striking architectural contrast between the historical palace, which is home to one of the world’s most famous museums, and the pyramid (composed of 603 glass rhombuses and 70 glass triangles), which was designed in the 1980s by Chinese American architect Ieoh Ming Pei.

Just a stone’s throw away, the Tuileries Garden is an invitation to take a relaxing stroll along the park’s ornamental pools. It was redesigned by Louis XIV’s landscape architect André Le Nôtre, who created its current jardin à la française look.  The central walkway follows a perspective leading first to place de la Concorde, and then the Arc de Triomphe.  

On the side closest to the Seine, the terrasse du Bord de l’eau is a lovely part of the garden. This tree-lined raised terrace offers a different view of the Louvre palace on one end, and the place de la Concorde on the other. As you move away from the Louvre, the Seine appears to the left, and you can admire the garden below on the right.

Located at the East end of the Champs-Elysées and lined with high-end hotels, place de la Concorde is the largest square in Paris. Its main features are the Luxor Obelisk (which dates back to ancient Egypt) and the two monumental fountains (the Fountain of the Seas and the Fountain of the Rivers).

Pont Alexandre III and the Seine

The Pont Alexandre III, which spans the Seine between the Invalides and the Grand and Petit Palais, was inaugurated during the 1900 World’s Fair. It is recognizable by its massive decorative columns mounted with gilded bronze Pegasi. The bridge was named after Czar Alexander III, who formed the Franco-Russian alliance with French president Sadi Carnot (1891-1893).

From the middle of the bridge, over the head of a statue of a river nymph, we can enjoy the view of the Eiffel Tower, veiled in a halo of autumn haze.  In an instant however, the sun peeks out and the fog lifts. 

Place Vendôme

Place Vendôme is the center for fine jewelry in Paris.  Towering in the middle of the square, the Vendôme column was erected by Napoleon I in commemoration of the battle of Austerlitz. It was cast in bronze from cannons taken from the Russian and Austrian armies.

While Jérôme tries to get some good shots of the column standing out against the blue sky, Stéphanie takes a walk along the jewelers’ shop windows, and falls in love with a pair of gold and blue sapphire earrings. 

The Eiffel Tower 

Built by Gustave Eiffel for the 1889 World’s Fair, the Eiffel Tower is Paris’ most legendary landmark by far.  It’s a veritable icon. In the daytime, all over town, people scan their surroundings hoping to spot its famous outline. At night, the tower is easily spotted thanks to its golden appearance, with a beacon at the top, sweeping its light over the horizon. Most beautiful of all is when it lights up and sparkles against the dark sky for five minutes every hour after nightfall.

We recommend two spots to get a good view of this 324-meter-tall iron lady: the Champ de Mars and Trocadéro, on the other bank of the Seine. 

The corner of rue de l’Université and avenue de la Bourdonnais is another popular spot for Instagrammers. 

When the weather is nice, take the stairs or elevators up to the middle or upper level and enjoy an incomparable view of the city. To make the most of your visit, you can even try the Eiffel tower’s different shops and restaurants. Don’t forget to book your ticket upfront.

If you want to admire the tower from a different angle, we recommend taking the metro. Line 6 runs overground as it crosses the Seine over the Bir-Hakeim bridge, creating an impressive tracking shot effect.

Montmartre and Sacré Cœur 

From the Sacré-Cœur Basilica, towering at the very top of Montmartre (the highest point in Paris), the panoramic view of the city is breathtaking. The basilica, built in the Romano-Byzantine style, is easily recognizable by its immaculate white travertine stone façade, a material which was chosen for its self-cleaning properties upon contact with water.

We stay up there for a long while, admiring the view and trying to point out the different landmarks on the skyline below us. Just as we are about to leave, the sky is set ablaze with a brilliant sunset in hues of pink and orange. Such beauty! It truly makes the effort to climb the dozens of stairs needed to reach the top of the hill, worth it.  That being said, you can also take the funicular railway to the top.

Place du Tertre, just nearby, is a hub for painters and portrait artists. 

Before them, great artists such as André de Toulouse-Lautrec, Juan Miro or even Vincent Van Gogh, lived in Montmartre. The Bateau-Lavoir is one of Paris’ most famous artist residences, where such illustrious names as Pablo Picasso, André Matisse, Amedeo Modigliani, Guillaume Apollinaire and Jean Cocteau had their ateliers.

Montmartre is also known as the cabaret district, with legendary places such as le Lapin-Agile, chez Michou, or the world-famous Moulin Rouge. The cabaret Patachou was the debut stage for the likes of Georges Brassens, Jacques Brel, and Charles Aznavour. 

We walk back down the hill via the steep side-streets and stairways of the bustling Abbesses quarter.

The Luxembourg Gardens

Stretching over 25 hectares, the Luxembourg Gardens are the gardens of the Luxembourg Palace, which is home to the French Senate. The palace was commissioned by Maria de’ Medici and inspired by the Palazzo Pitti in Florence. 

Located at the border between Saint-Germain-des-Prés and the Latin Quarter, it is greatly appreciated by the locals for their daily walks and weekend runs. The gardens offer a range of different activities for all ages and all seasons: a puppet theater, a kiosk renting out little sail boats, a merry-go-round, pony riding, tennis courts, exhibits, a bandstand, an apiary, an orchard…

Musée d’Orsay

The Musée d’Orsay moved into the former railway station Gare d’Orsay in 1986. The building had been designed for the 1900 World’s Fair, making the museum’s architecture a work of art in itself. 

The museum’s collection spans different forms of artistic expression in the Western world from 1848 to 1914: painting, architecture, sculpture, decorative arts, and photography. It is well-known throughout the world for its vast collection of impressionist works (Van Gogh, Manet, Cézanne, Monet, Renoir, Degas, Caillebotte, Pissarro, Sisley, Morisot, Signac…).

On the top floor, before entering the rooms dedicated to impressionist art, visitors eagerly pose and take pictures in front of the monumental clock, with an incredible perspective of the rooftops of Paris and the Sacré-Cœur visible through the glass dial. The scene feels like taking a deep breath before an incredible experience. 

Every time he comes to Paris, Jérôme loves to visit the Musée d’Orsay and really observe the paintings, especially impressionist pieces – with Paul Signac as a firm favorite.  The beauty of these works of art is truly enhanced by the setting of this old railway station.

Being able to take the time to contemplate a painting in its entirety, approaching it to look at certain details and savoring the feeling for a moment before moving on to the next, is a form of meditation to him.

Rooftops and department stores

On boulevard Haussmann, the department stores Galeries Lafayette and Printemps are worth a visit, and not just for shopping lovers:

Galeries Lafayette: don’t miss the massive interior cupola and the panoramic rooftop terrace, which offers a view of the surrounding rooftops and main landmarks of the city. 

• Our favorite: the view from the 7th-floor rooftop terrace of the Printemps department store, crowned by cut stone rotundas at every corner. This place is a gem that will take you back to Paris in its Art Nouveau heyday! The panoramic view of the Opéra Garnier, the Panthéon, the Eiffel Tower, the dome of the Invalides and the rooftops of Paris, is unique. 

Another temple of shopping and French art de vivre, la Samaritaine, reopened this summer after 16 years of renovations. Do not skip a visit to this masterpiece Art Nouveau architecture.

The glass skylight, the Eiffel-style steel structure and the 115-meter-long peacock fresco are truly remarkable.

The Marais

The Marais district makes us feel like we’re in a village in the very heart of Paris. Despite attracting many tourists, it seems to have retained a vibrant local atmosphere. 

The Marais is known for its great diversity, long history, rich architectural and cultural heritage, and its bustling environment. It is home to a harmonious combination of cafés, bars, little shops, art galleries, paved side-streets, and world-famous landmarks. 

Here’s what you shouldn’t miss in the Marais:

• City Hall (Hôtel de Ville) with its Neo-Renaissance style architecture

• The Pompidou Center: this museum contains 6 floors of spaces dedicated entirely to art and culture. Its modern and contemporary art collection is the largest in Europe. 

• The Picasso Museum is dedicated to the life and work of Spanish painter Pablo Picasso.

• Place des Vosges. This green haven surrounded by charming brick buildings is the oldest square in Paris. Such famous historical figures as Victor Hugo, Madame de Sévigné and Colette have lived here.

• The Jewish quarter and rue des Rosiers: a legendary street dotted with independent shops, falafel restaurants, and Jewish bakeries and grocer’s shops. 

• The 16th-century half-timbered houses on rue François Miron (like a piece of Alsace in Paris), and Nicolas Flamel’s house on rue de Montmorency. Built in 1407, it is the oldest house in the city. 

• The antiques shops in Village St Paul-Le Marais. If Stéphanie weren’t a translator, she would almost certainly have become an antiques dealer.

Continue your trip with a weekend in Strasbourg…

Why not extend your stay in France with a trip to Strasbourg? Strasbourg is a dynamic, European city, endowed with a rich cultural heritage (with several UNESCO World Heritage site), and has a great number of assets. The city is located only 1 hour and 50 minutes from Paris by train. By the time you’ve watched a movie or read a few chapters of the book that’s been lying on your bedside table for weeks, you’ve arrived. Discover our complete guide for your first visit to Strasbourg!

Categories
Travel

Our favorite areas in Oslo

Oslo is the capital of Norway, but more importantly, it’s also Stéphanie’s birth town.

As a dynamic, creative, inspired city, Oslo is great to visit any time of year. Facing the fjord and surrounded by forest-clad hills, it’s the ideal destination for nature lovers.

Oslo is a city in motion – it’s undergone massive changes and evolved enormously in the last few years. Entire neighborhoods – such as Bjørvika, around the Opera house – have been created. There are plenty of parks, gardens, and tree-lined avenues, making it a uniquely green city, where nature is easily accessible all over town. 

Oslo isn’t a cold city, neither literally, nor figuratively. On the contrary, it’s welcoming and conducive to interesting architectural, artistic, cultural, and personal discoveries. 

In the summer, the locals flock to the seaside to lounge on the beach, unwind in a floating sauna, or take a dip in the sea. In the winter, the shorter days are better suited for visiting a museum or an exhibit, or finding a nice café, bar, or restaurant where you can enjoy the koselig (pronounced “kooshlee”) atmosphere. The notion of koselig can be defined as a warm, pleasant, cozy feeling. It could be created by soft and comfortable interior that makes you want to wrap yourself up in a blanket, an intimate get-together with friends in the summer, or a lovely hot drink in the winter.

We’ve selected 4 Oslo neighborhoods that we particularly enjoy. The idea is to take in the general atmosphere of an area, rather than point out very specific (more or less touristy) sights.

Bjørvika
Aker Brygge, Tjuvholmen and Akershus Fortress
Grünerløkka and Vulkan
Frogner, the Vigeland park and the Royal Palace
Continue exploring…

Bjørvika

The construction of the Opera house by the Oslo fjord was the first step in transforming the old harbor district of Bjørvika into a vibrant new neighborhood.

Designed by Norwegian architecture company Snøhetta, the Opera, with its white marble roof, seems almost to emerge from the cool waters of the fjord. Don’t miss the atrium inside the building (a harmonious composition of wood, metal, and glass), and particularly the roof of the Opera house, to enjoy the splendid view of the Oslo fjord

Take a stroll along Langkaia dock (to the east, across from the Opera) to observe the unique architecture of the building in detail. The dock will lead you to SALT, an open-air cultural space combining, art, music, street food, architecture, and saunas. 

The Deichman Public Library (to the north, across from the Opera) was conceived as a modern-day multimedia library and as a shared, living space. It contains a vast collection of works organized by genre over 5 floors. The building’s many couches and chairs make it the perfect place to study or relax. Mini movie rooms are set up for private showings, and there are fun activities for kids. There’s even a dedicated space for 3D printing! The café terrace above the library entrance also offers an ideal view of the Opera house. The Deichman Library was recently named the world’s best new public library by the International Federation of Library Associations and Institutions.

Between the Opera and the new Munch Museum, a floating footbridge allows pedestrians to walk to the tip of Sørenga – a new neighborhood that’s been built on the water, where young Oslo-dwellers and families alike meet up to enjoy beautiful summer days. 

A collection of buildings called the Barcode Project and the façade of the Munch Museum make up Oslo’s new skyline. 

The view from Akrobaten footbridge, which spans the railway, perfectly illustrates the barcode effect of the architecture. Thanks to the multitude of cafés, bars, and restaurants located on the ground floor of the buildings, it’s become a very lively area.

Along the waterfront, several saunas, beaches, and pontoons attract those who want to bathe, relax, and enjoy the fjord.

Aker Brygge, Tjuvholmen and Akershus Fortress 

The pedestrian docks at Aker Brygge offer a completely open view of the fjord, Akershus Fortress, and City Hall. The docks are lined with shops and restaurants that are particularly popular with tourists. Aker Brygge is also the point of departure for the little yellow ferries going out to the Bygdøy peninsula, or for fjord cruises.

For future reference: the new National Museum, which will open in 2022, is located by Aker Brygge.

Extend your stroll along the boardwalk at Aker Brygge by continuing out to the Tjuvholmen peninsula, where you will find the Astrup-Fearnley Museum of Modern Art (designed by architect Renzo Piano), a sculpture park (with pieces by artists such as Louise Bourgeois and Anish Kapoor). The clean-cut architecture of the museum and the surrounding buildings give Tjuvholmen its unique character. 

Akershus Fortress was built around a medieval castle inthe 17th century. This massive, steep citadel with paved pathways is home to several museums (The Armed Forces Museum, The Norwegian Resistance Museum, and Akershus medieval castle) and offers a splendid view of Oslo harbor.

Grünerløkka and Vulkan

Exploring Grünerløkka on foot is the best way to soak up the vibe of this bustling neighborhood. “Løkka” (pronounced “luh-ka”), as it’s affectionately called, is dotted with vintage and design shops, secondhand stores, koselig little cafés and restaurants, concert venues and bars, large squares, and lush parks. The area is popular with students, young families, and pensioners alike.

At the edge of Grünerløkka, in the Sagene area, a walk along the Akerselva river will reveal a string of converted brick factory buildings, waterfalls, and green spaces.

The new Vulkan neighborhood is also located by the bank of Akerselva, with Mathallen, a food court and indoor market concept, as its main attraction. Various shops and stalls sell culinary products and dishes from all over the world (Norway, Mexico, Japan, France, Hungary, China, Italy…) that you can then enjoy outside or in the common seating area in the middle of the market.

Our tip: near Mathallen, you can explore the little side streets and alleys around legendary café-bar Blå, where you’ll discover a unique, handmade outdoor chandelier, as well as many street-art pieces.

The old tree houses in Telthusbakken and Damstredet can be reached on foot from Vulkan, where they’re hanging on to the hillside in the St. Hanshaugen (St. John’s Hill) district, near Gamle Aker Kirke (Oslo’s oldest church, built in 1100) and Vår Frelsers Gravlund cemetery (where a great many famous Norwegians are buried, such as playwright Henrik Ibsen and painter Edvard Munch). 

Telthusbakken and Damstredet are both quiet and very instagrammable streets with 19th-century houses. 

Telthusbakken is lined with colorful, wooden houses on one side, and with community gardens on the other. At the top of Telthusbakken, it’s worth stopping a while to enjoy the view of the east side of Oslo. 

The quaint old houses that line both sides of Damstredet all have lush little gardens. The great Norwegian poet Henrik Wergeland lived in the pink house by the top of Damstredet for a few years.

Frogner, the Vigeland park and the Royal Palace  

Frogner is the capital’s calm and affluent embassy neighborhood, nestled between the Royal Palace and the Vigeland park. 

Our tip: explore the different streets in the area (such as Oscars gateFrognerveienGyldenløves gate and Inkognitogata) and admire the beautiful villas and 19th-century apartment buildings, relax in a café, or take a walk in a park.

The Vigeland park is one of Oslo’s most popular spotsfor locals and tourists alike. More than 200 sculptures made by artist Gustav Vigeland between 1920 et 1943 can be found all over this massive park, which was created on farmland in the early 20th century. Most of the sculptures are nudes representing the different ages of life, the most famous of which are the Monolith, the great central fountain, and “Sinnataggen” (Angry Boy). The park also has playgrounds, tennis courts, two museums (the Vigeland Museum and Oslo City Museum), cafés, a stadium, and a public pool. A large number of benches and greens make it the perfect place for a picnic.

The Royal Palace, which was built in the neo-classical style and finished in 1849, has been the main residence of the Norwegian royal family since the country gained its independence in 1905. It’s easily recognizable by its yellow façade and its ornate balcony with six Ionian columns. While the Palace square is one of Oslo’s must-see sights, the Royal Palace is only open to the public in the summer months. It is possible to watch the changing of the guards (every day at 13:30).

A majestic statue of King Karl-Johan of Sweden-Norway (born Jean-Baptiste Bernadotte in the French town of Pau) towers over the Palace square.

The Palace is located at the west end of de Karl Johans Gate (Oslo’s main shopping street), and is surrounded by the large, beautiful park of Slottsparken.

CONTINUE EXPLORING…

Bygdøy is a large peninsula with bucolic and woodland views, elegant villas, marinas, seaside walks and several museums (such as the Fram Museum, dedicated to polar explorers, and the open-air Norwegian Folk Museum, which contains a collection of traditional Norwegian houses, as well as a magnificent stave church).

• The hills around Oslo, particularly Holmenkollen, with its famous ski jump

• The panoramic view of the city from Ekeberg sculpture park

• The old wooden houses of Kampen and Vålerenga

• The façade of the parliament building, Stortinget (Eidsvolls plass) 

Oslo City Hall (a carillon tune is played every first Wednesday of the month at 11 AM). It’s possible to visit the inside of the building

• The inside of Oslo Cathedral

Categories
Glimpse of

A glimpse of Strasbourg #2: Vauban Dam

Due to the restrictive measures put in place to combat the Covid-19 pandemic, the terrace at the top of the Vauban Dam was closed for many months. Seeing it finally open again fills us with hope. How wonderful to be back up there, especially when the weather is so lovely! 

The Vauban Dam was built around 1680 as a part of Strasbourg’s defense strategy, following the designs of the Marquis de Vauban, who served as military engineer under Louis XIV. In the event of an attack, the dam made it possible to raise the level of the river Ill, thereby flooding the southern part of the city and rendering it inaccessible to the enemy. 

To this day, the Vauban Dam still spans the Ill across from the four medieval towers of Ponts Couverts in la Petite France. The platform at the top offers a panoramic, 360°-view of the city – with the Ponts Couverts, la Petite France and Strasbourg Cathedral on one side, and the Strasbourg Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art (MAMCS) on the other. 

On this particular day, we stayed up there for ages, taking in every detail of the city stretching out before us. Taking much-needed time to enjoy the moment. 

After these long months of waiting, the panoramic terrace opening to the public again seemed to signal a new start, and life slowly getting back to normal. Not quite like before, but differently. It gave us a sense of relief, of getting our freedom back, like the past months’ frustration was finally going to fade away. A cautious, careful freedom, but with hope that we will soon be able to put all of this behind us. Making plans for the future seemed possible again. 

Going up to the terrace of the Vauban Dam gave us a new outlook on reality, a different perspective from what we’d been used to in the last year. 

Before going back down to the real world, we looked over to the nearby Strasbourg University Hospital, thinking of the healthcare workers and all the other people who have contributed to the fight against the pandemic. Thank you!

Categories
Glimpse of

A glimpse of Strasbourg #1: quai des Bateliers

The crooked houses between n°22 and n°26 seem to lean against each other, as though they had their own definition of balance.

Between n°23 and n°24, you can see a tiny little garden hidden away in a corner, halfway up the wall. If you don’t take the time to contemplate the organized chaos of the facades, you might miss it. The greenery almost appears to be dancing, winding between lanterns and pots hung higgledy-piggledy around a window. Every now and then, a bird will settle for a few moments on the fine shrubbery. 

Let your eyes wander and take in the details of the sculpted woodwork on the townhouse.

Every now and then, you can hear music streaming out of a window on the second floor next door – a percussionist playing his instruments by the open window. Curious passers-by stop on the street to listen as he plays: the chimes, the xylophone, the cymbals… 

The façades are undergoing renovations soon. Let’s hope this place will retain it’s magic once the work is done.

Categories
Top

Our 15 street art favorites in Strasbourg

Before embarking on a “street art safari” in Strasbourg, we generally begin by agreeing on a search perimeter of a certain number of blocks. Then we comb the streets, looking for a collage, a graffiti piece, a mural, or a painted power box – as if we were looking to spot wild animals on a photo safari in Africa. Whenever we find street art we haven’t seen before, we like to take the time to really examine the piece and figure out what it’s all about, before taking a snapshot of it – as a keepsake.

We love the wildly creative aspect of street art, as well as the accessibility of it, thanks to its presence in public spaces. This form of artistic expression is so much more than just a splash of color or a backdrop for the urban cityscape.

Here are 15 of our favorite street art pieces in Strasbourg

Categories
Travel

Our best discoveries in the Netherlands

Recently we were going through the photos we’d taken during our trip to the Netherlands in 2020, and we realized we wanted to share some of our favorite discoveries from the handful of towns we visited: 

The Hague, Rotterdam, Delft, Gouda, Zandvoort, Amsterdam.

Now that it’s winter break here and we have no new travel plans on the horizon with the current situation, we’ve been reminiscing about our recent trips. 2020 was supposed to bring us to the Silk Road in Uzbekistan, where we would finally explore legendary cities like Samarkand and Bukhara, like we’ve dreamed of doing for many years. We’ve had to give up on that dream, if only for the time being …

Instead, we chose a destination that was much closer, for about a week-long trip: the Netherlands. After the lockdown in France in the spring of 2020, our goal was simply to get some fresh air and get away for a while. We needed a change of scenery, to take the time to be outside, walk around, and enjoy a little freedom (with all the necessary safety measures).

From Strasbourg, you can get to Amsterdam by plane (a direct flight with Air France-KLM takes 1 hr and 25 mins), by train (6 or 7 hrs via Paris) or by car (6.5 hrs). You could try other modes of transport (magic carpet, unicorn, bike, scooter …), but we’re not too sure about the travel times.

Suring our stay, we were based in Gouda (yes, like the cheese!). We explored a new city every day and travelled by train to avoid the regularly gridlocked Dutch highways. The pre-paid travel card  OV-chipkaart (which you can easily top up at the train station ticket office) is very handy here. You can use it on all public transport in the Netherlands, including trains.

The Hague

The Dutch government and parliament are based in The Hague, which is the administrative capital of the Netherlands. It’s not a rare sight in town to spot the Prime Minister pedal by you on his bike …

Our discoveries

• The Parliament district and especially de Hofvijver (the Court Pond) at the foot of the houses of Parliament. The Prime Minister’s Office is located in a small tower directly overlooking the pond. Right next to the Parliament, you’ll find one of the country’s most famous art museums: het Mauritshuis

• Not far from the houses of Parliament – het Lange Voorhout, with its antique market, and the little streets behind the exclusive Hôtel des Indes.

• The pedestrian city center, with its luxury boutiques near Paleis Noordeinde (the royal palace) and more trendy and cool shops near de Grote of Sint-Jacobskerk (the Great or St. James’ Church).

• The Passage: this neo-Renaissance-style shopping gallery is the oldest shopping center in the Netherlands, dating back to 1885.

• The façade and interior of The Sting department store

Rotterdam

One of the Netherlands’ most modern cities – located by the Nieuwe Maas river. The architecture is almost entirely contemporary, because of the massive bombings the city endured during WWII. Rotterdam is particularly dynamic and is constantly reinventing itself.

Our discoveries

• De Kubuswoningen (Cube houses): these purposely wonky-looking, cube-shaped houses, as well as the pencil-shaped building Het Potlood, were designed by architect Piet Blom. 

• Markthal: the largest market hall in Holland. This indoor market serves a double function – both commercial (with market stalls and restaurants) and residential (with apartments on the upper floors). Inside the building, the ceiling and walls are entirely covered with a massive mural depicting fruit, vegetables and grains.

• De Erasmusbrug (Erasmus bridge): this cable-stayed bridge has become one of the city’s icons. It’s almost as tall as Strasbourg Cathedral (the bridge is 139 m and the Cathedral spire is 142 m). We recommend crossing the bridge on foot.

• The Wilhelminapier peninsula. After the bridge, take a right on the peninsula and walk along the waterfront. If the weather permits, have a seat on a bench in the sunshine and watch the boats glide by. 

• For a little treat: enjoy an afternoon tea at Hotel New York (at the very end of the Wilhelminapier). This hotel used to be the main office of the Holland-America Line, which ran cargo and passenger ships between Rotterdam and New York.

Delft

The city where Vermeer lived, and birthplace of the blue and white Royal Delft pottery that carries its name.

Our discoveries

• Het Prinsenhof (the prince’s court): the former residence of William the Silent, Prince of Orange in the 16th century, is a puzzle of ancient buildings, archways and little gardens

• Het Stadhuis: Delft’s Renaissance style city hall in the market square

• De Oostpoort: The Eastern gate (from the early 15th century) with its two Brick Gothic towers and drawbridge

• De Voldersgracht: a canal lined with flowers and picturesque houses.

Gouda 

This town is famous for its cheese, yet underestimated for its charming streets and canals.

Our discoveries

• Het Stadhuis: Gouda’s city hall is known for its characteristic red and white shutters. One of the oldest city halls in the Netherlands

• The cheese market: To buy some very goud-a cheese, head to the cheese market – every Thursday morning from April to August (if the context allows for it). Don’t forget to bring cash! 

• The canals, which are perhaps more unspoiled than in Amsterdam, are lined with quaint houses and shop fronts reminiscent of the 19th century (antiques shops, wine and liquor stores, bookshops …).

• The neighborhood around Sint-Janskerk (St. John’s Church). The church is the longest in the country, and famous for its stained-glass windows.

Zandvoort

One of the few towns in the Netherlands where you can walk along the North Sea on a paved promenade or directly on the sand (and relax on the beach if the weather is nice enough). In the off season, it’s a lot calmer in Zandvoort than in Scheveningen, the seaside town next to The Hague.

Amsterdam

The vibrant capital – a labyrinth of bricks and water.

We’d had the opportunity to experience several of the city’s must-see sights during previous trips (the Rijksmuseum, the Van Gogh Museum, the Albert Cuyp market, the flower market, Dam Square, Anne Frank’s house …). This time however, we made the most of the wonderful weather and went on a very long walk, thereby avoiding waiting in line for different tourist attractions:

• We pretended to get lost for hours in the maze of canals and side streets, taking in the buildings in Jordaan (the neighborhood around Prinsengracht, Keizersgracht, Westerkerk, and Magere Brug)

• Strolled and relaxed in Vondelpark, a massive green lung in the heart of the city

• Went shopping around Spuistraat

• Admired the colorful façades in Damrak

Shopping tip: Many shops and stalls in the Netherlands only accept Dutch debit/credit cards or cash.