End of May Contest: Where’s Andrew? Updated

It’s time for a first contest.  Where’s Andrew?  Answer all 6 photos correctly and win a special Rainbow Order prize!  City, Country, and specific location if you can, otherwise, take your best guess.  Just comment on this post, message on facebook, or e-mail us! Winner will be announced on May 31st! Update: Unfortunately we did not have any winner this month, however, that means we still have in our possession a really cool rainbow themed prize.  Try again next month and click on the gallery below to see the answers to “Where’s Andrew?”

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Waiting Time

I have always hated waited for things.  it’s not that I’m impatient, I just don’t understand why you have to hurry up and get to the airport, only to wait hours to board the plane.  Or why do you have to check out of your hotel so early when your flight doesn’t leave until 3 or 4 in the afternoon?  Well, after travelling a ton, I have found ways to make the most out of what I am going to call “Waiting Time.”

Getting to the Airport or train station early 

This is the worst.  My goal in life is to show up to the airport, wait in security, and arrive at the gate and be the last one to board the plane, never once needing to sit at the gate or stand in line to board.  I don’t need to walk up and down the airport buying magazines, gum, and snacks for no reason.  I don’t need to eat a meal at the airport.  I don’t need to get a massage at the airport.  I want to spend as little time as possible in the airport.  Am I alone? Everyone always says something like, “I’ll just feel a whole lot better if we get there early so we can relax,” but I have yet to discover how to relax in a busy airport with no place to sit and with a heavy rollie suitcase towing behind.  This is an unfortunate side effect of air travel, but I think I have some tips to minimize your time at the airport:

1.  Travel by Train whenever possible.  The benefits to the environment, your own health, and stress levels are too numerous to count.  You can get anywhere in Europe, even Moscow, within 24 hours by train.  And what’s more, you only need to show up minutes before it’s ready to leave.  The Man in Seat 61

2.  Don’t assume the worst.  For some reason, when people think about getting to the airport on time, they think, “What if there’s traffic at 5:30am on a Saturday?” or “What if the train gets stuck in the middle of the tracks?” or “What if the cab driver gets lost?”  Think about the frequency with which these things occur when you’re on your way to anywhere else.  If your answer is never or hardly ever, don’t leave an extra hour earlier than you normally would.  Google map it or City Mapper it.  If it says it’s going to take 1 hour to get there, allow yourself an hour.  City Mapper

3.  Catch up on your correspondence.  How often do you sit down and write a post card anymore?  Do this at the airport, because chances are, you aren’t going to take my first two pieces of advice and you’ll still end up waiting 2 hours to board, so you might as well be productive.

Downtime between Check-out and departure

Just like waiting at an airport, the other cause of unnessary waiting time is the time period between the time you must vacate your hotel and the time that your flight or your train leaves.  Why is it always that checkout seems to be at 11am, but your flight or train doesn’t leave until 3pm?  That leaves kind of an awkward amount of time to be hauling your baggage around with you.  Here is our £1 travel tip:

Use Lockers!  In almost every European city there is some type of art museum near the train station.  In these art museums are luggage lockers that cost £1 or 1 Euro to rent and leave your stuff indefinitely.  Go there first, drop off your stuff, either look around the museum or go have lunch.  Convenient lockers:

1) Rene Magritte Museum: This is only a few minutes walk from Brussels Midi, so if you have a long connection on the Eurostar or if for some reason you’ve decided to have a trip in Belgium, this is a very convenient option. 2 Euros for a large locker.

2)  Scottish National Gallery: This is a whopping 6 minute walk from not only Waverley Station, Edinburgh, but also from amazing restaurants and shops.  £2 for large lockers £1 for small.

3) Gare du Nord:  It is quite frustrating that a city with all of its museums is lacking in luggage lockers near Gare du Nord.  The good news is that you can shell out 7.50 Euros for one in the station and then go on your way.

4) British Library: Minutes from St. Pancras/ National Gallery: Free cloakroom access, 17 min by tube

Please note, policies on large luggage change all of the time, so please call ahead to confirm.  Some museums such as the British Museum and Musee D’Orsay have size limits on the luggage which is why I did not include them here.

Ideas for the Bank Holiday Weekends

Clockwise from top right:

Belsize Park to Hampstead Heath.  Exit at the Belsize Park station on the Northern Line and find a snack, lunch, or dinner before heading to the Heath.  The best way to get to Heath from here is to walk past the Royal Free Hospital and then turn right in front of the Hampstead Heath Overground station, following that road all of the way up until you reach Parliament Hill.  From there, you can explore the entire Heath.  I like to go to Kenwood House and sunbathe if the weather is nice and then finish off the walk with a trip to the Spaniard’s Inn. Kenwood house

Greenwich.  I’m always surprised with how much fun I have in Greenwich, even if I don’t make it up to the observatory.  The food market is open on weekend so you can grab a cheap meal and eat in the park across the street.  Anyone can peek in and see the Painted Hall for free and you can walk along the Thames.  Greenwich by night is also fun, as you can start at The Cutty Sark Pub and then make your way into the town for live music. http://www.cuttysarkse10.co.uk/

Tate Modern.  It’s not just as simple as going to the Tate Modern. Every time I head down there, something always happens:  There’s a festival going on out front or the RSPB has their scopes pointed at the falcons that live in the tower of the Tate or we decide to stop into the Globe and see if we can get tickets to a showing at a later date.  Not to mention, the Tate always has a new installation in the main entryway, so even if you’ve been a lot, you’re bound to see something new. tate.org.uk

Malby Market.  I can’t believe we haven’t written about Maltby before, and what’s more, I can’t believe we haven’t been there in almost a year!  Our first year in London involved Maltby almost every weekend.  This is a must see for anyone who loves good food and drinks.  Little stalls under the railroad tracks house everything from a gourmet deli, to a distillery, to a french patisserie.  There are also a handful of vendors of flowers, olives, and much loved street food under tents in the alley.  Maltby Street 

London Walks.  London walks is our go-to guiding company when we have guests in town, when we have some time to spare on a weekend, or when we just want to learn something new.  We have been on a number of walks including:  Hampstead Village pubs, Dickens and Shakespeare London, Hidden London, and The City by Night.  The City by Night has by far been our favorite.  Just take a look at their leaflet online, show up with £9.  No booking necessary and I don’t think they ever turn people away!  www.walks.com

Highgate.  After reading Her Fearful Symmetry by Audrey Niffenegger last year, I had to see Highgate Cemetery.  We ended up walking there all the way from our house, through the Heath.  There are two sides: the Eat and West.  The East is open to the public with a payment of £12 and the West is by tour only.  You can make a booking for a weekday or show up on the hour on the weekends. http://highgatecemetery.org/

Summer in Sweden

After spending five of the best vacation days ever in Sweden, we’re finally ready to reflect on our experiences.  Our trip was full of sun, good food, and water.  Here’s how we spent two days in Stockholm.

Let me start by saying that we spent 300 Kroner, which is $54 (that’s £32) on a slice of pizza and a cookie in Stockholm.  I am not exaggerating.  This is what we spent at a small café in the touristy area of Gamla Stan: The old town that every guidebook will tell you to visit.  Don’t go here.  I’m serious.  You’ll think you should go here, but don’t.  You can have a much better time experiencing Stockholm for its natural beauty and local flavor.  That said, Stockholm is expensive, period.  But it doesn’t have to be that expensive.  See our suggestions below for a fabulous and moderately priced trip to Stockholm.

Day One Afternoon

For our first afternoon in Stockholm, we headed straight to Sodermalm.   It’s where people live and work and it’s full of great shops (record, book, and vintage clothes of good quality).  We walked around for a little bit and found ourselves at Mosebacke Terrass for a glass of wine and a pint of beer with a great international crowd.  This helped us wind down after our voyage and gave us a good perspective of Stockholm.  Afterward, we wished we would have stopped by the grocery store to buy lox, bread, cheese and wine, and walked up the hill to Vita Bergen, a beautiful park overlooking the city.  We did make it to the beautiful park after we ate at the Pelican, a historical restaurant that was overpriced and not that great.

Day 2 Morning

For our first morning in Stockholm, we ate breakfast at our hotel and went straight to Djurgården on the ferry.  We rented a canoe and paddled toward the nature side of the canal as far as we could in a half hour, allowing the time to get back for the hour rental fee.   The water was calm and the trip was beautiful.  It didn’t seem the rental shop was over-concerned with safety or skill.  After our canoe trip, we walked across the bridge to Ostermalm Saluhall for lunch.  We ate a delicious meal at one of the cafes in there and gawked at all of the food.

Day 2 Afternoon

We love to try to take public transport while in new cities, so we went back to Djurgården via public transport.  When we disembarked at the Vasamuseet station we began to circumnavigate the island, heading toward the mini island of Beckholmen.  Just check out this cute little place, and perhaps make reservations at Oaxmen for the outdoor patio for later in the evening.  We continued the walk around Djurgården to come across the Italian Embassy and then to the Prins Eugens Waldemarsudde.  This is a beautiful estate which is worth paying the entrance fee to visit.  Imagine what it would be like to live here on the best piece of property in Stockholm!  Learn a little about the art in a country not much known for its art.

After this house, you might be ready for a coffee and cake.  Slice up the center of the island, following the signs to Rosendals Slott.  You will reach the coolest area of the island:  a mini farm with vegetables and fruits and in the center, a café in a greenhouse where you can purchase teas, coffee, and desserts.  I had the best cookie of my life here!  It looked like it was going to be dry and crumbly, but it was actually moist and chewy.  I am still thinking about it.

Day 2 Evening

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Langholmen Swimming

Head next to  your hotel for a shower and rest or if you’re feeling like you want to do more, take public transport to HORNSTULL and walk to the tiny island of Langholmen.  Walk through the center of  the island to the northern shore, past the prison and through the school to a sandy cove where you can sunbathe and swim.  You’re on your own for dinner tonight, we struggled to find a restaurant that wasn’t overpriced and touristy.  You could always do another picnic, or you could have bought more food from the Saluhall earlier in the day to eat this evening.  There are many great restaurants in Stockholm, so do some research before you go, eat there, and then let us know.

 Now…Travelling outside of Stockholm…

We caught the train to Orebro just in time and arrived in this beautiful city of Fanthyttan where our friend’s relatives live.  I am not even joking, this was one of the best days of my life.  You might be wondering, “What is a perfect day?”  Well, here you go!  Start with a great Swedish breakfast…

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walk for hours in the forest…

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…visit a Quarry…

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..bathe in the lake, literally…

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…go fishing…

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… sing traditional Swedish drinking songs with Schnapps, even if you don’t speak Swedish…

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…take a midnight canoe trip up the lake to observe a beaver dam…

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…and fall asleep with your mind empty and your heart full, under the full moon.  We love our new Swedish friends and are so grateful to them for giving us one of the best days ever!

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The World’s Best Souvenirs

It is sort of disappointing that you can buy anything via the internet nowadays.  Our friends just told us this story about how they bought special biscuits in France, hauled them for 15 days around the world, only to find out upon returning to New York that they were available at the new shop near their home.

As difficult as it is, I think we’ve found some souvenirs that are fun, practical, useable, and special that you can’t just pick up at the corner store:

Used Books.  I think it’s great to buy used books as a souvenir for so many reasons; One of the best is that you’ll find something that you would never find at your local used book shop.  We found this guide to being Polish in Krakow, and thought it would be the perfect thing to read at the bar and on the plane ride home.   Also, if you read in the language of the country you’re visiting, seize the opportunity to grab some books in that language.

Magazines.  It’s the cheapest souvenir you can buy, but also really fun.  I never go through Gare du Nord without picking up at least two magazines in French so I can practice my French until the next time I return.  Magazines are actually not that border-crossing, even larger magazines like Vogue and Cosmo have different editions for different countries, so it can be really fun to get the different versions.  I buy Martha when I go to the US, because you can’t get her here.

Posters.  Posters are one of those things that you can buy online, but it is difficult and expensive to ship because of the odd packaging.  Also, you can’t buy particular posters online, such as ones advertising a particular art exhibit or event you attend while on vacation.  What better way to commemorate your trip then by hanging a framed poster on the wall?  If you’re wall space is all taken up, get postcards instead!

Beer and wine.  Yes you can also buy this locally and online, but we have found that London is very expensive for alcohol, so we will stock up when we go to Belgium or France.  I’m not joking, we will just go to the grocery store in the train station and stuff our suitcases because it’s half the price and the variety of local beers and wines is plentiful.  You also can’t beat going straight to the source by visiting some wineries or breweries and buying there.  (Note: this option is only cost effective when you’re travelling by train or car)

Local treats.  This is actually a bit more challenging to do. When we were in Edinburgh, we ended up at a local organic cafe type place with a shop attached to it.  Our friend bought a beautiful chocolate bar with dried raspberries on top.  I had never seen this brand before.  Upon examining the packaging, it was in fact made in Scotland.  No, it’s not worth lugging chocolates or biscuits around with you most of the time, but when you find something like this that’s not available at home (yet), get it!

Mustards, Chutneys, Teas.  Same as above, just be careful.  I know you can get Edmond Faillot Mustard here, but I haven’t seem them in the cute little bottles.  Plus it’s fun to go to the factory and taste all of the different kinds.  So basically, when your souvenir shopping is an experience, it can be fun to buy, even if it’s available at home.

Functional decor.  I love Danish stuff!  I loved every single little item in every home in all of Denmark!  I loved the home goods shops and could spend hours in there.  We ended up with the two items pictured, plus three other items and spent more than we ever have on “things” while travelling.  But it was worth every cent.  Danish design is a very big part of the experience of being in Denmark, so we thought we’d copy  join the Danes in creating a cosy living room with our purchases.

Tokens.  These Swedish napkins have Swedish drinking songs on them.  Although they look like they’re from Ikea, I have confirmed they are not.  As we were sitting at a long dinner table under the full moon, still light out at 9pm, and drinking Aquavit and singing these songs, I slipped a paper napkin into my pocket to take home with me to put in the scrap book.  For you it might be a ticket stub, a program, a box of matches, or coaster.  Sometimes these freebies are the most fun to look back on!

Left My Heart in Edinburgh

20150502_071720Andrew and I decided it would be fun to take the Caledonian Sleeper train to Edinburgh.  Basically, you get on the train at bedtime in Euston, London and arrive in Edinburgh at 7:30am.  This was a bad idea for the following reasons:

1.  The average journey time from London to Edinburgh is four hours.  Why force it to take 8 hours?  We’re still trying to figure that out.

2.  “It is like trying to fall asleep on the Titanic…as it is sinking.”

3.  A giant, loud Scottish man enters your berth at 6:30am to bring you instant coffee and says “YOU’RE WELCOME” louder than any human has ever said those words.

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The plus side is that you arrive really early in Edinburgh on an empty stomach before any food places are open, so you have time to climb King Arthur’s Seat, a lovely 45 minute climb to a very high peak in the middle of town in Hollyrood Park.  We didn’t quite make it to the top, but this is our own version of King Arthur’s Seat.

I would recommend doing this on a full stomach with plenty of water and proper shoes.  The views are gorgeous to the Firth of Forth and to the Edinburgh Castle.  We felt at home instantly!

9:30am – We make it to Leo’s Beanery on Howe Street in Stockbridge.  What a great place!  Smoked Salmon on a bagel or a veggie breakfast, complete with 20150502_130639vegetarian haggis, great coffee and friendly wait staff.  This is a local spot, off the beaten tourist path.  Highly recommended!

Seeing old friends is the best part about travelling, so we were happy to be introduced to Cuckoo’s Bakery by my Scottish friend, Sarah.  They have won the Scottish Bakery of the year award. A perfect place to catch up.

Despite our efforts to avoid tourist areas at all costs, it is worth it to explore a town with those who know it well.  Following our cupcake, we were able to climb a mound called Calton Hill, which is home to some interesting things, none of which I remember, because Sarah and I were reminiscing the whole time.

20150503_141044A surprising treat was going to two of the Scottish National Galleries.  Over the past few years here, we have learned quite a bit about British Art.  We even challenged ourselves to name 20 British artists, and we could do it!  We started at the Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art which was home to some great pieces by Hockney, Freud, Bacon, Nicholsons, and currently a Lichtenstein exhibit.  The Scottish National Gallery houses lots of the Dutch painters, French impressionists, Italian Renaissance works, and much more.  It is much cosier and manageable than the National Gallery in London, and we never had to battle crowds to see a particular painting.

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Shout out to our B&B: The Dene Guest House!  What an ideal place to stay:  Free breakfast, clean rooms, great temperature and staff.  We would stay there again!  A major plus was that it was around the corner from the Royal Botanical Gardens.  It was a drizzly day and we weren’t sure what to do, but we went out with our umbrellas and paid the 5 pounds to get into the greenhouses.  This is a nice, warm place to go on a cold day.  Also, the surrounding grounds are lovely as well.  They’ve got sculptures by Andy Goldsworthy, Barbara Hepworth, and plants from all over the world.  A major plus: it’s not under any type of flight path like Kew Gardens in London.

Our friephoto (1)nd Andrew told us about a great walkway near our guest house called the Leith Water Walk.  We decided to walk along it one day and it was pleasant and not at all scary like some of these canal walks in cities can be.  We took it into the heart of Stockbridge, a neighborhood that we loved.  We ended up there many times to eat and drink.

Finally, it is worth mentioning the bar scene in Edinburgh.  Eight years ago when I went to see my friends here, we were hitting the pubs and even nightclubs. Now, in our thirties, it is nice to be able to go sit at a civilised place and be able to hear each other talk.  This under ground gin bar, simply named “Edinburgh Gin Distillery” is an unmarked establishment that has sort of the speakeasy vibe, but not in the annoying way.  edinburgh-gin-distilleryAll of the drinks were fancy, but simple, and the music was quiet and mostly Paul Simon.  Yes!

Overall:  Edinburgh is a great place to visit and reminds us a lot of PDX.  It was sad to leave there, but there’s a lot more of Scotland to explore.