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

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

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.