Stockholm: check

Stockholm has been both engaging and relaxing over the past few days. My favorite day here was still the first full day, but the past few days were enjoyable as well! I spent one entire day (Tuesday) in Gamla Stan, the old part of the city, where the royal palace and Nobel museum are located. I walked there across a bridge and had a lazy lunch in a sunny square. After some exploring I went through the Nobel museum, which I have to say, was underwhelming compared to the museums I was treated to the previous day. There was some live street music to enjoy afterward to end the day. Wednesday was spent in Södermalm. I basically spent my entire day eating – first, smørrebrød at a cafe for lunch, and then coffee and chocolates (rosehip, tea, salted caramel, lingonberry). And I am zero percent guilty about any of it (one of the days this week I walked over 12 miles!).
Today I opted for a day similar to those I have on my non-traveling weekends. I started the day with a yoga class. It was a standard flow yoga class, taught in English. It was a little more “woo woo” than I’m used to (and I’m used to pretty crunchy granola yoga), but still what my body needed due to all of the walking I’ve been doing. Another lazy lunch followed by light shopping (remember the single backpack as my luggage), exploring a pastry counter at the food hall in Östermalm, and a glass of wine on the terrace at the Swedish Royal Opera House, which boats a beautiful view. I ended my day of light shopping with a rather heavy bagful of chocolates – when in Sweden…right?
The Swedes really like their sweets (and the fika, a term for a break for coffee and sweets – but there’s more of a cultural overtone to this,  I’d liken it to the Spanish sobremesa). In fact, so much so that the government made an announcement/suggestion a few years ago that Swedes only enjoy sweets on Saturdays (not a law, just a recommendation for dental/health purposes).
Sweden has been fun and my host was lovely! Next stop, Copenhagen!


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I’ve finished my first full day in Sweden!  I am really enjoying Stockholm so far.  The weather has been perfect, 70s, and I got to kick off my time here with 2 things I was super excited about. Yesterday I spent my morning at Junibacken, a museum dedicated to beloved Swedish children’s books (like Pippi Longstocking). I rode the Story Train, a moving ride that moved past dioramas depicting scenes from stories along with narration, and ended at a model of Pippi’s home,  Villa Villekula! Of course I shamelessly went in to explore (along with all of the other children…). Follow this with lunch and the most colorful,  extravagant ice cream I’ve ever eaten?  With pleasure.  I spent too much money at the bookstore and the next few hours walking around in the Djurgárden, a beautiful park near the water. Then off to the ABBA museum to continue my foray back into my childhood. The museum was awesome – I mean, I like museums in general, but this one truly was an awesome museum. Interactive, bright, full of music, flashy, the whole thing!  I really enjoyed learning more about them and some light history of Swedish pop (did you know Sweden is number 3 in the world for pop music exports -as in artists and songwriters- behind the US and the UK?).
Hopefully I continue to enjoy my time here – if the weather is any indicator, it seems like I will!

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Suomenlinna Island

Today I headed to Suomenlinna island for the day!  Words really don’t do it justice,  so the pictures I upload at the end of my trip will be much more telling than anything I could say about it. Finland is so green at this time of year,  and because everything on Suomenlinna is made of mostly stone (the old naval buildings and the fortress at least), I definitely felt like I was on Middle Earth. Helsinki is a pretty small city,  so I think tomorrow being my last day here works out well. Next time I write,  it will be from Stockholm!

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Hyvää juhannusta

Today is midsummer’s eve in Finland, and so many Finns are away for the weekend at their country homes. My host showed me around this morning, and we stopped at the beach and Seurasaari, a countryside-like town. Helsinki is a pretty small town, but the architecture is beautiful. There are lots of old building exteriors that have been renovated inside to house things like restaurants and shops (similar to DC, actually!). In the afternoon I visited a couple of old churches and had some tea (many shops and museums are closed for the holiday), and tomorrow I might head to Suomenlinna, an island with a fortress that was named a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It’s supposed to be beautiful! This evening I am headed to a midsummer bonfire in a nearby park, an old Finnish tradition to welcome summer. Some also have maypoles, and many choose to enjoy saunas during this holiday. Though many shops will open again tomorrow and Sunday,  there are a few that have signs saying that they will be closed throughout the summer because the owners are away at their country homes.

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“Can I put some more löyly?”

I have arrived! I reached Helsinki at about 7:30 this morning,  after about 3 hours of sleep. I very slowly made it to my Airbnb, where my host kindly greeted me with options to have coffee and porridge. Needless to say, I was soon eating after a shower. My host, Rose, told me that there was a nice park behind the building, so I took my journal and set up camp there for about an hour. I bought some groceries and took myself out to lunch at a Nepalese restaurant (of which there are many), and did what every sensible traveler does – got myself properly lost (calm down, it was intentional) and found my way back so that I could get a bearing for Helsinki. I ended my day at Löyly, a new sauna that has both smoke and stone saunas, as well as stairs leading into the water (the word löyly refers to the steam that rises off of hot stones in thr sauna when you pour it onto them – remember, the Finns invented saunas! Geniuses). As in the ocean. As in the Baltic Sea. Normally I would’ve been too chicken to do this, but when with Finns…
And let. Me. Tell. You. Until you have felt the contrasts between sweating out of more pores than you thought existed, seeing the steam rise off of your body when you step outside into the cold and rainy weather, and feeling the pain of icy cold water (I actually cried aloud) – I tell you, you haven’t lived, my friend! A standard visit at Löyly is 2 hours, but I could have stayed all day. The Finns, they really know how to sauna. While there, I was chatting with a Finnish man and his American daughter, both of whom gave me some lovely suggestions of things to do, to go along with some other suggestions I’d gotten from another local. Tomorrow…we’ll see!

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Next up: Scandinavia

It’s that time of year again – where I grab my passport, camera, and head out into the world to see what foods I can eat, people I can watch, and sights I can see. This year, I’ll be spending 17 days going to Finland (Helsinki), Stockholm (Sweden), Copenhagen (Denmark), and Oslo (Norway). It’s always been a bucket list item to go to Norway, and for some reason I decided that I don’t like money all that much anyway, so hey, why not add some more of the most expensive countries in the world? That being said, I much prefer spending my money on experiences than things (I say this while typing on a very old computer that dies when not plugged in).

There are a few things that will make this trip particularly different than my Amsterdam trip:

  • Local hosts. I am not staying at a hotel this time, but rather, using Airbnb to stay with locals in each country (with the exception of a layover I have in Iceland). I hope that this will add to the experience and that my hosts will have some nice suggestions of what to do.
  • No daily itinerary. That’s right. Believe what you just read. I, Planner of All The Things, Organizer Extraordinaire, Lover of Type A-ness, do not have an itinerary. There are a few things that I would like to do in each city (who could miss the Pippi Longstocking or ABBA museums?), but other than that, I’m going to just…go with the flow? Here’s to trying out this new life thing where I don’t plan every detail of every day and see what life brings to me. You can be certain that it will be uncomfortable for me at times.
  • Lengthy trip. At this point, 2 days before I leave, I’m feeling just a little silly about my second ever solo trip being 3 times the length of the first one. There really isn’t much more to say about it – oh, well! The flights have been booked!
  • Just 1 backpack. Is all I’m taking with me. As in, a carry-on (and not a backpacker’s backpack – a school-sized backpack). 1 backpack, 4 outfits, 1 camera, no hairspray. I’m going to travel, not lug stuff around Europe. Honestly, my biggest concern (as usual) is how many books I’ll be able to bring with me.

So bring on the pastries, potatoes, and fish, Scandinavia! I’m ready for you (I think).

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Amsterdam, Netherlands


I was particularly excited for this trip because it was the first time I have ever taken a trip completely independently, from booking to planning to actually going. It was a huge step and, though I am still reflecting from the trip, it was a great way to end the school year and kick off the summer with some quality alone time.

Day 1

It was a long flight from BWI to Iceland, but we finally arrived at the Keflavik airport, only to find that the Amsterdam flight was delayed! I took the extra hour to get a much-needed coffee, nutella croissant (Ah! The true sign of Europe) and Icelandic yogurt before the flight. The flight to Amsterdam was only about two hours, but combine jet lag with a child kicking your seat and it feels like forever. After the flight, I picked up my suitcase and got an iAmsterdam card, which gave me unlimited access to public transport for 72 hours, as well as some freebies and discounts to attractions around the city. I took a taxi to my hotel, where I checked in to a lovely and spacious (by European standards) room. After a quick shower (with the most delicious-smelling shampoo from Mauritius) and a granola bar, I was off again. I hopped on the tram (since I was not staying in the city center), and took it all the way to Centraal Station because, hey, why not? Next up, a free 1-hour canal cruise courtesy of that snazzy card I referenced earlier. I normally tend to shy away from the typical touristy things, but this girl is not turning down free activities! The cruise was mediocre, but it was still nice to see the canals and houseboats. I learned a bit about the architecture and its history in Amsterdam. It was a bit chilly, but in a brisk, motivating sort of way. So, feeling motivated, I walked on a main road for the next 2-3 hours, following the tram track so I’d have the option to hop back on it if I wanted. I scoped out a few of the things I have on my agenda this week and got my bearings. I also went exploring in a grocery store (one of my favorite travel traditions) and came out with toothpaste (nothing exotic, I’d just forgotten) and stroopwafels, the crunchy Dutch waffle cracker. This is my tasty treat for the week. I also peeped in on a lovely souvenir shop, just to see what I would be dealing with. In all of my years of traveling, I can confidently say that Amsterdam has the highest quality of souvenirs. I also saw a couple of Indonesian restaurants, and made a mental note, since this particular cuisine was highly recommended to me by multiple people. I made it all the way to the Rijksmuseum and the museum square and enjoyed a brie and tomato baguette and hot chocolate for dinner. Sitting on the edge of a fountain, I did some serious people-watching before getting on the tram so that I could go back to the hotel by dark.

Loneliness: 0

Frustration: 0

Thus far, Amsterdam is treating me well and the Dutch are lovely. Tomorrow, I’ll wake up looking forward to a leisurely morning spent in the Anne Frank Huis and the Tulip Museum. This will be followed by a relaxing afternoon in the Bloemenmarkt. Now, back to my stroopwafels…

Day 2

What an exhausting day! It was a packed day, starting with a hotel breakfast of beans, eggs, tomatoes, Dutch pancakes with chocolate syrup, coffee, feta cheese, fruit, olives and brie on baguette. Then a quick stop in my room to grab my belongings and I was off! I made it to the Anne Frank Huis and proceeded to stand in line for 3 hours. Luckily, there were two lovely English girls and a mother-daughter duo from Ohio behind me, and we ended up chatting for a couple of hours (because conversation is inevitable in lines that long). The Anne Frank Huis was wonderful. It has been one of my bucket list items for years to see the Secret Annex, and it was as real and powerful as I’d imagined. Obviously I couldn’t leave without goodies, so armed with souvenirs, I headed to a café I’d had my eye on while in line. It turns out it was one of the oldest cafes in Amsterdam! I treated myself to a light lunch of tomato soup and a cheese and tomato “toastie” (it’s a good thing I’m working on my tomato tolerance – they are everywhere here!). I wanted to save room for a nice gouter (French for an afternoon snack) later. Then it was off to the Tulip Museum (free admission with that iAmsterdam card!). Did you know that the word “turban” is derived from the word tulband, which means tulip? There was lots of information about the tulip’s popularization in Turkey – how ironic! Turkey is what brought both me and the tulip to the Netherlands, so hats off to you, former Constantinople!

Then it was off to Dam Square and the Scheltema bookstore – a five story bookstore. Yes, to answer your question – I was in heaven. Leaving cold, rainy, brisk weather to step into a warm, cozy bookstore was just where I needed to spend a long time before exiting with – of course – books. With directions from someone at the bookstore, I headed to the Bloemenmarkt, the outdoor flower market. Rain or shine, the tulip sales will prevail! Upon browsing each stall carefully, I chose the USA-certified bulbs to bring back and was off on a mission again – this time in need of a warm beverage and snack. A cup of hot chocolate and a Belgian waffle with ice cream and chocolate sauce were soon in my possession (the Belgian waffles I had in Amsterdam were not like the ones in the United States – they are crunchier and chewier, with a sugary coating).

Freshly fueled, I headed off in search of a souvenir shop I saw yesterday and loved. I got a few more souvenirs and stopped at an Indonesian restaurant I had also seen the day before. It was a tapas-style restaurant, and I ate at the bar. The waiter was very kind and brought me a lunch portion of assorted tapas with vegetarian dishes. It was tasty, but Indonesian food would not, as it turns out, make my list of top 5 favorite ethnic cuisines.

The Dutch are incredibly kind and I’m continuing to enjoy myself thoroughly! I got back to the hotel at 9:15 and it still wasn’t dark outside!

Loneliness: 0

Frustration: 0

I’m looking forward to a visit to the AMI Headquarters tomorrow, as well as the Van Gogh Museum and the Rijksmuseum. No stroopwafels today – that gouter and filling dinner did me in!

Note: There is a lovely type of blue-printed porcelain in Holland called Delft blue. This pattern on porcelain is on various things (dishes, clocks, teapots, etc.) and is a pattern that was introduced to the Dutch by the Chinese.

Day 3

I woke up a little later today and had breakfast before heading out around 9:30 for the AMI headquarters. I got there a little bit early and wandered. When I rang the doorbell, a woman named Nina (who works on fundraising for the AMI headquarters expansion, and helps with office administration) answered the door. She and I had a coffee and chatted about my experience in Amsterdam and with the Montessori world. She gave me a tour, even showing me the elevator that Maria Montessori used since she was so old when she lived in Amsterdam. I also got to see Maria’s study and desk!* We then headed to the library and Nina told me about the expansion of the headquarters. I spent some more time in the area before hopping on the tram again to go to the Rijksmuseum. It was enormous! It reminded me of the Biltmore Estate. There was a fashion magazine exhibit called “New for Now.” I truly did get lost a few times. By the time I found my way out, I was famished and enjoyed a veggie dog (with the works – cheese, lettuce, tomato, onion, etc.) on the fountain. It was an absolutely beautiful day outside! I then wandered over to the Rijksmusem Garden that Nina had mentioned to me earlier that day. After relaxing and enjoying the sun, I wandered through an open grassy area, past the Concert/Opera House, then back around to the Van Gogh Museum. I love Van Gogh and impressionism, as well as art movements around and based on impressionism, so it was a lovely visit. After that, I headed back to the Rijksmuseum Garden to bask on a bench in the alternately cooling and heating of the soft sun and gentle breeze. After enjoying the beautiful weather some more, I headed off to a falafel and French fry street restaurant I’d seen a few days earlier (notice a trend with my food choices here?). If there’s anything Anthony Bourdain, Andrew Zimmern and years of travel and eating taught me, it’s this – always air on the side of street food. I had a huge falafel sandwich and some fries with curry sauce, mayonnaise and onions. No room for dessert today! After a short walk around the block, I got back on the tram and headed for the hotel around 6:40 to have some time to read and drink a cup of tea.

Tomorrow will be a relaxing day as I explore the Jordaan area (another recommendation from Nina) and Vondelpark to picnic, people-watch and journal.

*Did you know that many of the sandpaper letters are based on Maria Montessori’s handwriting? Cursive was so much more beautiful back then!

Day 4

My final day in Amsterdam was spent wandering. After a late start, I explored the Jordaan area and Dam Square. I had Indonesian food again for lunch (Kintijl de tijger): potato, pickled cucumber, tofu, cabbage, fish/shrimp dumplings in peanut soy sauce – this meal was much more enjoyable than the first Indonesian meal I enjoyed!

I then headed toward Vondelpark and stopped in the Magnum ice cream shop. They had a create-your-own-Magnum ice cream bar. Mine was meringue, caramelized hazelnuts and freeze-dried raspberries with a classic chocolate shell and a white chocolate drizzle. I finally understood what I always thought was over-the-top, excessively sensual Magnum commercials – it really is that good! I ate my ice cream in Vondelpark and am writing this as I enjoy some sun in the park.

I strolled over to Museumplein and had a brie sandwich for dinner, then took some pictures and hopped on the tram to go back to the hotel to prepare for my departure tomorrow!

Noteworthy words/mentions:

-kaas – cheese

-takk – bye

-stroopwafel – syrup waffle that can be placed on top of a cup of tea or coffee so that the syrup inside melts and the eater is treated to a delectable snack

-when crossing the street in Amsterdam – beware of the bicyclists!

-one Dutch food is hering (herring), which is eaten by holding the tail, holding the fish up, and starting at the head

Thanks for a lovely stay, Amsterdam! What a great city to explore all by myself.

“When she was a child,
my love carried a road map in her hand
the way other girls carried handkerchiefs.”
― Roman PayneThe Wanderess

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