Fjords, Bergen, Norway

A Weekend Bergen, Norway

Last Autumn a friend came over to Europe from LA, and we decided to visit Bergen, because Norway is amazing, and tickets were shockingly cheap–an occurrence I’m finding less shocking the more often I look up flights out of London (lucky me!).

Getting There

Getting there was an adventure, because when does travel ever go smoothly?? An evening that began with Megan getting on an express train to the wrong destination and nearly missing the flight, ended with us huddled in the pouring rain at midnight, desperately trying to get one of our phones to turn on in the freezing air, 50 metres from our airbnb and completely lost. The plus side is getting to/from the airport is incredibly easy, regardless of when you arrive. Top tip: Buy a round trip ticket from the machine right next to the bus stop at the airport–it’s cheaper than buying on the bus (which is possible if you’re in a rush/would rather deal with a human).

Bergen, NorwayThe place we rented was the definition of hygge, to steal a Danish word. It was tiny, but so cosy and well decorated I honestly considered becoming a furniture thief/smuggler. After my flight out on Sunday, Megan was able to meet with the woman who lived there. She is studying for her Master of Philosophy at the University of Bergen, and I’m mildly obsessed with her life (and decorative skills). I’d highly recommend her flat, available here (unfortunately no longer available to rent).

We only had around 36 hours there, as we had to leave after work on Friday, and my flight back was at noon on Sunday. While more time would have been nice, and I do want to return to experience everything in nicer weather, Bergen is a small, a gorgeous city surrounded by stunning natural beauty. Everything we wanted to see was within a 5 minute walking radius, and it was easy to fit everything in.

Itinerary

Food

Breakfast

Start with breakfast at Godt Brød, where you need to try the traditional cinnamon rolls and delicious tea/coffee.  Everything there is delicious and perfectly placed for a trip to Mount Floyen after.

Lunch

We stopped for what was meant to be a quick lunch at Kaf Kafe Bryggen. This place is super cute and is a lovely way to spend the afternoon – which we basically did, as our (delicious) soup took over 45 minutes to come! We ended up having to eat the soup in under a minute because our Fjord tour due to begin. Definitely not a place to go when you have a strict schedule, but an incredible cosy place to warm up and relax!

Fishmarket Dinner

Fishmarket, Bergen, Norway

To start, this isn’t a budget option. But, oh my god, if you find yourself in Bergen you have to go. It’s so lovely – set up with the cosy blankets and heaters G and I saw everywhere in Copenhagen last year and just so atmospheric. We had wine, and a meat and cheese platter (HIGHLY recommended, though consider asking them to not include whale), and salmon and mashed potatoes. It was a lot of food, all delicious, and an all-around great way to end the trip.

Things to do:

Mount Fløyen

Mount Fløyen Funicular Mount Fløyen, Bergen, Norway

As the Fløibanen funicular is right outside the cafe, as is the walking path (which I believe takes about 30 minutes if you choose to hike), I’d go right after breakfast. The funicular is about 8 pounds round trip, and as a big funicular fan who was short on time, I opted for a round trip service. Mount Fløyen offers some incredible views of the city and harbour. It’s a great welcome to Bergen, as you can see everything from the top. We were luckily enough to get some blue skies while up there, and after taking in the views, we walked through the woods for a bit, which were well marked and felt quite magical. Try to find the “warning” signs hidden around the forest!

Mount Fløyen, Bergen, NorwayMount Fløyen, Bergen, Norway

Shopping

After the nature walk, take some time to explore the shops in Bryggen, which are filled with some incredible clothes and furniture and decor. I could have easily spent hundreds, thousands of pounds there, and it got to the point where I just had to stop going in, because the window shopping was hurting my heart.

Julehuset, Bergen, Norway
Julehuset, Bergen, Norway

Though all the stores were incredible, my Christmas loving heart has to give a special shout out to Julehuset. We happened upon this Christmas themed heaven by mistake, and it was probably my second favourite part of the trip! Anyone who knows me knows that the holiday season is my absolute favourite time of the year. Thanksgiving, pumpkins, snow, Christmas music and movies. I am that obnoxious person who can’t get enough. Julehuset did not disappoint. It’s huge, four floors, filled with every Christmas decoration you can imagine. I almost bought a wooden truck that had little drawers that made it an advent calendar, and still regret not doing it on a near daily basis. Instead I settled for a few ornaments, and a pull string wooden toy that reminded me of one my grandparents used to have. If you are as obsessed with Christmas as I am, do not miss Julehuset!

Fjord Tour

Fjords, Bergen, Norway Fjords, Bergen, Norway

Also do not miss a Fjord Tour! It was the highlight of our trip. We booked one that lasted for 3 hours and it lived up to our high expectations, even in the pouring rain. In fact, I’d say the rain made it feel even more epic, like more of an adventure. We would alternate between going outside until we were soaked and freezing, going back inside to dry off/try to coax our phones/cameras into turning back on, and then doing it all over again. The little villages we traveled through were incredible, and it felt a bit like we had gone back in time–the slightly eerie, foggy weather didn’t hurt either.

Fjords, Bergen, Norway Fjords, Bergen, Norway

Eventually we came to the end, went right up to a waterfall where they stuck out a bucket and we were all able to drink some waterfall water. I’m a bit neurotic about drinking water, but had decided as soon as I’d heard about this part of the tour that I’d try it, and it was super delicious. Sometimes water just tastes good, and this was some good water.

Bergen, Norway

Norway was unexpectedly wonderful. Having now been to Denmark, Norway, Sweden, Iceland and Finland, I can confidently say I am a huge fan of Scandinavia. I want to go back to Bergen, but also go farther north – I’d love to get to Tromso and have a shot at seeing the Northern lights! But until then, my weekend in Bergen was a wonderful introduction to the country.

Wroclaw, Poland, Christmas Market

Wroclaw Christmas Market

Back in 2016, the year before we went to Finland, my Spanish roommates and I went to Poland in early December. This was part of a larger trip I was taking (bless the Spanish school system and their many holidays) – first into Berlin and Amsterdam with G, then Prague with Vera, and then Vera and I took a train to Poland to meet up with Shaina and the Wroclaw Christmas Market.

Wroclaw Christmas Market

Wroclaw, especially in December, is insanely charming. We stayed in an Airbnb right on the square, so were perfectly positioned for the market. There were hundreds of stalls, surrounded by the cutest, almost gingerbread styled houses, and there was so much to do. Unlike any other market I’ve been to, this one had a little carnival – a mini (but shockingly fast) rollercoaster, talking (and slightly creepy) puppets acting out Christmas scenes. It was all old enough that it didn’t feel modern and gimmicky, more like being at a (tiny) old world fair.

Wroclaw, Poland, Christmas MarketWroclaw, Poland, Christmas MarketWroclaw, Poland, Christmas Market

We took a gorgeous walk through the city after it got dark, stopping at FC café for some cake, and then checking out the university, Cathedral Island and Ostow Tumski, Cathedral of St John the Baptist, Lover’s Bridget, the botanical gardens, and gorgeous views of the Odra river. Everything was stunning all lit up and it was such a scenic, lovely walk.

Be sure to be on the look out for the dwarfs around the city – they each have an individual story, and we loved spotting them – some are quite funny.

Wroclaw, Poland, Dwarfs

There’s so much to see in Market Square as well – Church of Saint Elizabeth, the Town Hall. The city is so picturesque and seems almost caught between two ages – there’s the young university students that have a vibrant energy, but there’s the historical surroundings and easy to find nuns and older, traditionally dressed people in the streets as well.

Wroclaw, Poland, Christmas MarketWroclaw, Poland, Christmas MarketWroclaw, Poland, Christmas Market

For food, we basically only ate perogies and managed to spend about £3 per meal which was a great deal after places like Berlin and Amsterdam. Poland was unexpectedly great – not that I expected it to disappoint, but it surprised me how homey it felt. I’d really like to visit Krakow and Warsaw at some point as well.

https://goo.gl/maps/PxLDYyECwUkrnJpH9

Christmas Market Sibiu, Romania

Christmastime in Europe

If you know me, you know Christmastime is my favourite time of year. I try to go to a Christmas market or two each season – though Christmas was a bit different last year!

This year, as we are running out of locations we haven’t yet been in Europe, and because we are broke, we bought the cheapest flights we could find – and will soon be heading to Sibiu, Romania! It’s meant to be a gorgeous Christmas market in one of the most picturesque areas of Romania. G and I have wanted to visit the country for a while, and £50 flights to one of the supposed best Christmas markets in Europe was impossible to pass up!

As we get ready to head out (trip is still two weeks away), I think it’s time to start a new section on the blog – European Christmas markets!

I’ve already written about Berlin, Prague and Amsterdam – however I’ve yet to write about Sweden, Finland, Norway, or Poland, and that is a travesty.

So to kick off December and celebrate the lead up to what I hope will be a wonderful Christmas season, let’s look back on celebrations of years past!

And honestly, everyone thinks you need to visit Europe in the summer, but I truly think there’s nothing better than a December spent sipping mulled wine and looking at local/handmade crafts. If you get the chance to visit in December don’t pass it up!

Krka, Croatia

Krka, Split & Plitvice, Croatia

It’s been far too long since our epic journey around Croatia for me to write a proper post about it. However, it was one of our best trips we’ve ever taken, so solely so I have it to look back on, a photo diary of our time there!

Plitvice

This gorgeous national park has 16 lakes that are joined by waterfalls. It’s incredibly beautiful – though the photos make it look quite wild – expect lots of people and clear walkways you can’t deviate from. There is (paid) parking nearby, and depending on when you visit entry is anything from $8 – $26.

Plitvice Lakes, Croatia Plitvice Lakes, Croatia Plitvice Lakes, Croatia Plitvice Lakes, Croatia

Krka

I actually preferred Krka, and if you visit between June and September you can swim in the water! Note that parking is tough to figure out. It seems like the two official options are to drive to Skradin and catch the boat or to Lozovac where you can walk about 2 km to the park – note that this way you don’t see Roski Slap, only Skradinski Buk. We couldn’t figure it out, ended up wandering around a completely unrelated town for a bit (but got some ice cream out of it!) and then just drove as close as we could (it seems like probably to Lozovac), were very lucky to find parking, and walked about 30 minutes each way, along with dozens of other people. Entry is about $20. Well worth it!

Krka, Croatia Krka, Croatia Krka, Croatia

Split

Split was fantastic and we spent an entire day playing cards and drinking at what is probably my favourite pub in all the world. I have no idea what it is called, but it was full of locals and old and wonderful. We also went up Marjan Hill and had some pretty epic views of the city.

Split, Croatia View from Marjan Hill, Split, Croatia Marjan Hill, Split, Croatia View from Marjan Hill, Split, Croatia

This was part of a larger trip I took over Semana Santa (Easter) in 2017. I went to Italy (Florence with Rachel, Venice alone), Slovenia, and Zagreb before meeting up with Gareth and driving down the coast of Croatia, into Bosnia to visit Mostar, and finally to Dubrovnik. Easily one of the most epic trips of my life!

National Garden, Athens, Greece

Two Week Intensive French Classes in Montpellier

I was lucky enough to take intensive French classes in Montpellier because after Madagascar, there was a lot of uncertainty – would I actually go back to London? Would I move back to California* like I’ve been dreaming about for a few years now? Look for another position in the field with a more robust health care system? Or even take a few months off just to focus on language?

Then I got offered my current position back at MSI and the decision was made. I’d be moving to London and happily back in with G! I had a few weeks to play around with before my start date, and learning French is something that has been on my list of goals for years. It would be a huge career boost, and despite taking a course at MSI in early 2018, I still felt like I lacked even the most basic building blocks of the language. So I decided to book in for an intensive two week course in the south of France at LSF French school. I decided on this school because of price, location (I’d never been to the South of France, I liked the small size of the city, and the weather was meant to be lovely – though I had terrible luck in that regard), and reputation – it had loads of excellent reviews.

Place de la Comedie, Montpellier

French Classes in montpellier

Promenade du Peyrou, Montpellier, France

Host Family Life

I stayed with a host family which is very out of character – I highly value independence and privacy. I did it because it’s meant to offer the best opportunity to learn French, and while I don’t regret having done it, I wouldn’t again.

Pros:

  • You can practice French in a natural environment with people who have to be patient with you. You’ll learn how people speak colloquially, learn words about everyday living that may not come up in class, and be exposed to the language basically 24/7.
  • You can see how locals live, which is something I think is important when visiting a new place – to get outside of the tourist bubble. I was quite far out and had to take a 25-minute metro ride into the city centre every day, and while this wasn’t ideal it did allow me to live a bit more like a local than tourist.

Cons:

  • Every family is different, and you’re inserted right into someone else’s family. Two weeks is a bit of an awkward amount of time. It’s difficult to get close, but you’re right there there for long enough to feel a bit involved – there was some personal drama with the host mom that happened while I was there that I was a bit caught up in – very awkward when you’re an outsider who doesn’t speak the language.
  • In my experience, the expectation was very much that I would spend as much free time with the family as possible. I spent 90% of my time in the library studying, and I think my host mother felt a tiny bit put out by this. I didn’t sign up for catered food, but started feeling guilty if I didn’t eat with the family every night anyway (with my own food obviously), and even at nearly 30 years old, they very much wanted to know my whereabouts at all times.
  • I think the biggest issue I had was that I came in as a complete beginner. The family didn’t speak English, and I think a few decades ago the model would have worked where I’d have been forced to gesture until I could speak, and then speak and build from what I was learning each day, etc. Instead the host family used Google translate to communicate with me. I did eventually ask them to at least speak the words as well, so I could hear it in French, and it wasn’t terrible both seeing it written out and hearing it out loud. But I didn’t feel comfortable enough to do that right away, and for a while it felt like the only things I was learning were from listening in on their conversations to each other.

These things all might be very expected for a host family, and even desirable for some people. It’s also just one experience – I’d stayed with one other host family when I was in Guatemala for a few weeks in 2010, and in that instance we had breakfast together every day, but there were no expectation to spend free time socializing together. They were very happy to help when needed and would have a chat in Spanish at the end of most nights, but I still felt quite independent. That wasn’t the case here, and I think will be hard to know what kind of situation you’re getting before arrival.

Promenade du Peyrou, Montpellier, France

What Can You Learn in Two Weeks?

A lot, actually! I was lucky that I was in a small class (there were only four of us) and we were all really motivated to learn. We also came in at complete beginner, so were luckily all at nearly the exact same level. I had class from 9 – 12:30 every day and then and extra 90 minutes in the afternoon on Tuesdays and Thursdays. I spent every afternoon in the library studying, and the library was usually quite full. When I came back I joined an A1.2 class in London, was pushed up to the A2.2 class the next week, and that was actually the right level! This is the result of London labelling classes as more advanced than they are (I found the same thing when I tried to do Spanish classes here as well), but also due to my time at LSF – I really did come back quite good. I learned far more in two weeks than I expected. I’ve since forgotten loads, but I know with a bit of dedicated study, my new class at MSI, and hopefully a few more trips to LSF, I’ll get there.

Promenade du Peyrou, Montpellier, France

Looking to take French classes in montpellier?

I have a lot of good things to say about LSF. I think they’ve nailed the model, have excellent, well trained teachers, dedicated students, and I 100% plan to go back to the LSF for French classes in Montpellier in the future. I think language lessons can be extremely hit or miss, and I am really comfortable telling you LSF is a hit. They know what they are doing – they aren’t the cheapest but this is definitely a case of you get what you pay for, and if you’re serious about French this is a place you can go to improve. Also Montpellier is not a bad place to spend some time! It’s got a gorgeous old town, is a small-sized city, perfect for learning a language, generally has fantastic weather, and has great food. What more could you want?

Montpellier, France

*This would have been difficult to do as I don’t have health insurance in America anymore. If I got sick now, it would be nearly impossible to move home with my family to receive care. Another reason America’s HC system needs overhauling and another reason to vote for Elizabeth Warren in the upcoming primaries and election!