Christmas market weekend in Basel, Switzerland

It’s Christmas market time! Last year, we visited Berlin and had a blast at the Christmas markets all over town. This year, we decided on the Basel area in Switzerland in combination with a day tour to Colmar in the French Alsace area. We had a great weekend!

As always, there’s a map at the bottom of the page with the sights and directions.

Christmas market at Barfüsserplatz, Basel

How to get there

The EuroAirport Basel Mulhouse Freiburg is conveniently located right where three countries meet: Switzerland, France and Germany. We hopped on a quick and cheap flight from Copenhagen with Easyjet. On arrival, we took the Swiss exit and the airport bus to Basel. There is also a separate exit to the French/German areas since those countries are part of the European Union which Switzerland is not.

A major advantage in Basel is that a card for the public transport network is included in the hotel stay. This also included the bus trip to and from the airport. No one checked our tickets but it would be alright to show the hotel reservation if so needed. We got our real Basel card when we checked in and used the trams and buses in Basel a couple of times during our weekend.

Where to stay

We wanted to stay close to the railway station in Basel since we were taking a day trip to France. The airport bus stops at the central station and there are several hotels around the bus and tram square next to it. We chose Hotel Euler at the furthest end of the square from the railway station and were mostly happy with our choice. The location and breakfast was great but the rooms could have been more soundproofed. We heard every noice from the hallway, including the piano player who played nightly in the lounge. The rooms were nicely decorated and very clean, so overall a good choice.

The train station is located a few tram stops from the old city of Basel. Since we got the Basel card for free from the hotel, it was easy to either take the tram or walk to the old parts of Basel.

Christmas markets in Basel

Basel has several Christmas markets and we went to two of them, both located in the old town: Barfüsserplatz  and Münsterplatz. They are close to each other, an easy tram ride (just a few stops) or even a walk away from the train station.

The Christmas markets had similar vendors, all lined up in the squares and alleys in their cute booths. Lights and Santas everywhere, and of course lots of glühwein. You get a souvenir porcelain cup by paying a deposit of a few Swiss marks. If you don’t want to keep it after your visit to the markets, just return it before leaving and you get your money back. A refill of glühwein was 5 Swiss franks in most booths.

What to eat at the Basel Christmas markets

For dinner, we had the Swiss specialty raqlette which consists of boiled potatoes, mushrooms and pickles covered in melted cheese. The cheese is melted from a huge block of Swiss cheese and the dish is made to order. It’s a comforting dish perfect for the winter evenings. You can also have cheese fondue at some of the market stalls.

We also had an alpine hot dog one day for lunch. It was basically a hot dog in bread covered with cheese and sauerkraut. Tasty!

The food in the markets stalls is not cheap. The price was usually around 10-15 Swiss franks, which is about the same in euros. You won’t get a big portion either. Switzerland is definitely more expensive than the neighboring countries.

Sightseeing in Basel

Apart from the Christmas markets, the Basel old town is great to just wander around in. City of Basel: Five walking tours around Basel provides easy to follow walks with signs on buildings and street corners.

The streets have pretty buildings and you can also walk along the river and take the boat across if you feel like it. The beautiful red city hall is a must to see and don’t forget to go inside the gates to the courtyard with its statues (we didn’t go inside the actual building since it was closed). The Münster cathedral is right next to the Münsterplatz Christmas market. A bit further away is the Spalen tower which is one of the old city gates.

There are also museums of course but we were happy taking a self guided walk following the Basel city signs and then warming up with glühwein at the Christmas markets. There are chocolate shops and cafés scattered throughout the areas as well. If you wander off too far, just take the tram back to where you started. Do remember that Sundays are rest days in Switzerland so most stores will be closed.

Visiting the forest tower and the deer park near Copenhagen, Denmark

Are you staying in Copenhagen and looking to get away from the city? Although Copenhagen is a great city to bike and walk around in with beautiful parks, we recently spent a day in two locations not too far from Copenhagen where you will get more than your fair share of nature! They are two very different locations: a forest tower and a deer park!

(For exact locations, there’s a map at the bottom of the page)

The forest tower at Camp adventure near Rønnede

As you drive south from Copenhagen past the town of Køge, you will soon be able to spot a very peculiar tower rising above the tree tops. The Camp Adventure introduced their 45 meter high forest tower in 2019, and it is a magnificent structure made of wood and steel. The camp also has a climbing park which you walk through on your way to the tower. The view from the top is amazing and you can see very far on a clear day (luckily Denmark is a very flat country).

Our visit took about 2 hours, and the walk to and from the tower maybe 20 minutes each. We took our time walking through the beech and oak forest and spent a lot of time on the top floor of the tower admiring the view and taking lots of photos. The walk there is easy and there are no stairs going up, only a gentle circular slope that goes up, up, up! The tower is located on the Gisselfeld grounds and the woods are really nice to walk through.

What you will probably not experience is solitude! This is a very popular place that even has made Time magazine’s list of the world’s greatest places to visit in 2019. We certainly weren’t alone on the sunny Saturday we went, so buy your tickets online and maybe go on a weekday.

  • Where is it? Close to Rönnede, to the south of Copenhagen, about an hour’s drive
  • What does it cost? Entry to the forest tower is 150 DKK onsite, 125 DKK if you buy in advance online. Parking is 50 DKK.
  • Where can I find more info? Camp Adventure
  • Can I eat there? Yes, in the main reception area before you start the walk towards the forest tower. We saw a food truck and a coffee stand but didn’t try them. There was also a coffee stand at the tower site.
  • Is it accessible? Yes, the wooded walkway was elevated and in very good shape. It is a 3,2 kilometer round walk including the tower. The walkway up the tower has an elevation of 7,5 % according to the website.

The deer park near Klampenborg

A short drive north, or a short train ride, from Copenhagen is Klampenborg where the beautiful deer park Dyrehaven starts and goes north. It is a huge area with lots of fields, forests, lakes and of course deers! There are around 2000 deers in the park and you would be very unlucky not to see lots of them.

We started our visit a bit north from Klampenborg at the Hjortekær Port where there was plenty of free parking. From the entrance gate to the park, there is a very straight pathway (no cars allowed!) where you see the the Hermitage Hunting Lodge at the end of the road. It’s more like a castle really, very pretty!

As we walked slowly along the pathway, we saw a couple of deer stags in the distance across the fields. Actually, they walked right across the golf course that runs next to the path. There weren’t that many golfers though, more photographers and deers! Anyway, a few minutes later, we walked up a small hill and then saw a huge field full of deers! They were grazing and relaxing, although the stags keep a very close eye on anyone who tries to get close to the herds. The deers keep their distance and so should you for the sake of the animals (and your own safety of course).

As the sun set over the fields, we made our way back to the car the same way we came. You can also choose other circular paths, or walk across the park from north/south and take the train from the stations of Sandsborg and Klampenborg.

We visited in early October, but I can imagine the park would be great on a summer day for picnics and sunbathing!

  • Where is it? Close to Copenhagen, between north of Klampenborg
  • What does it cost? Nothing!
  • Where can I find more info? Visit Copenhagen
  • Can I eat there? Well, not where we were but there seems to be restaurants nearby, for example in Raadvad village.
  • Is it accessible? Yes, the pathway is made of asfalt and in very good shape. The deers should be easy to spot from the pathways so you won’t have to go into the fields if you don’t want to.

Bonus tip if you get hungry: Stacy’s diner in Køge.

Part of our lunch at Stacy’s diner – come hungry!

The town of Køge is conveniently located between the forest tower site and Copenhagen. It is a very cute town which we drove through on our way to the marina area and the Stacy’s diner that we had our sight set on. What a place! It is a 1950-style diner with great burgers and milkshakes with an amazing ambience. They actually have half an American school bus attached to the building for you to sit in. Be aware that the portions are huge so come hungry and order sides to share. Of course they have beer and wine as well, this is Denmark after all!

More info (website in Danish): Stacy’s diner
The town of Køge (website in English)

Four days in and around Kotor bay, Montenegro

This summer, we spent a bit more than a week exploring northern Montenegro, the Dubrovnik area in Croatia and also some of Bosnia-Hercegovina. Here is where we stayed, what we did and where we ate our delicious meals in Montenegro.

Morning coffee on the balcony overlooking the bay of Kotor

How to get to Kotor, Montenegro

We started and ended our trip in Dubrovnik airport where we picked up our rental car. I highly recommend getting a car for the Kotor bay area, but get a small one. The roads around the bay are narrow, in fact so narrow that there was barely room for two cars to meet. Be prepared to go slow and take care on the curvy road around the bay and in the small towns.

The road goes along the coastline of Kotor bay

We usually rely on offline Google maps when we go on road trips. The map itself worked well in Montenegro and it was very easy to find the way to Kotor. However, the drives took longer than the estimated driving times because of the narrow road and the traffic situation. You will also need to add time for waiting in line at the borders – first for leaving Croatia and then entering Montenegro. For us it took about a hour in total but that was on a weekday in the mid-morning. I hear that the wait can be much longer at weekends and also at other times during the day.

You will also need a green card which you get from your rental car company when you tell them (and most likely pay a fee) you’re taking the car outside of Croatia. Beware that there is also a ferry fee for taking the car on any ferries, including the short rides on road ferries in Montenegro.

Waiting at the border to Montenegro…

So, remember to get a small car, bring the green card, factor in the border checkpoints and most of all, don’t forget your patience on the road and you’ll be fine. And you will want to take it slow because the drive is a beautiful one! The view from the road overlooking the Kotor bay is amazing and there are viewpoints along the way. So take your time and savor the experience.

Kotor bay

Kotor bay is very pretty and kind of peculiar since it looks very much like the Norse fjords. The bay is surrounded by steep mountains and there are small towns scattered along the coastline. You will also see lots of mussel and oyster farms on the drive south towards Kotor. You will also quickly discover that Kotor bay is not a beach place. There are a few small ones, like in Perast and outside Muo, but otherwise you enter the nice, clean water from the concrete decks next to the road. If you want the beach experience, Budva is an easy drive away.

Kotor old town

Kotor is located in the very south of the Kotor bay. The old town is kind of like a smaller Dubrovnik with stone buildings, surrounded by city walls towards the ocean and the mountains with the fort San Giovanni very visible. In front of the main gate is the marina, where there are lots of sightseeing boats, giant luxurious yachts and also cruise ships in various sizes. The cruise ships are fun to watch enter and leave the narrow bay, but time your visits to the old town to when there are not several thousand day visitors from a large ship.

You do not want (or even can) take your car inside the old town. There are parking spaces outside the wall if you choose to stay in a hotel inside.

More on Kotor town below, with restaurants and sights.

Where to stay around Kotor

Since we had a car and wanted to explore the bay as well as Kotor town, we decided to stay in Muo for easy access. Muo is a residential area right across the bay from Kotor old town. It takes about 10-15 minutes to walk to the main city gate from Muo and there are restaurants, a bakery and a grocery store along the way.

We rented a great studio apartment via AirBnB with an amazing view of the bay and Kotor old town from the balcony. This is where we stayed (no ad, just because we liked it)! The apartment had private parking, otherwise you will park your car on the street (once again, get a small car!). Muo was very quiet by night which suited us perfectly. We walked into town for dinner most nights.

Eating out in Kotor

We were in Kotor for four nights and ate at different restaurants every night. Some of the restaurants were very popular so I recommend looking around during the day and then making a reservation for dinner.

  • Konoba Scala Santa – our favorite restaurant in Kotor! The restaurant is located in a small square with a cute cat family keeping you company while you dine in great food. This seems to be one of the more popular restaurants in Kotor and we had to make a reservation to get a table. I had a very filling shrimp and truffle gnocchi dish and my husband said his steak was among the best he’s had. Decently priced Montenegrin wine (€18 seemed to be the standard price).
  • Konoba Trpeza – a fish restaurant with cozy ambiance and seats outside close to one of the squares. A bit more pricy than the restaurants nearby but good food and excellent service. I had the bussara mussels.
  • Przun – a restaurant on yet another square. Nice meal with good atmosphere. The food was good, the drinks could have been better.
  • BBQ Tanjga – a bbq restaurant located outside the city walls, to the south, across the road from the supermarket. It’s a popular, small place with seating in the garden. You order at the counter and expect a line, especially at dinner time. We had takeaway: a mixed plate of meat (chicken, sausages, skewers) with sauces, salad and fries. The food was definitely cheaper than other restaurants (even when eating in, same prices) and ok. It wasn’t the best meal we’ve ever had but it wasn’t bad either.

What to do in Kotor old town

  • Get lost in the narrow alleys of the old town while you’re looking at all the pretty buildings, flowers and squares. Enjoy the street music, the cats and the people!
  • Enjoy the cats. They are everywhere and they love to be fed. Most of them will probably be sleeping in the shade or just hanging around on the city walls. There is also a small cat museum where you can look at printed cat stuff and pet the resident cats. Kotor loves cats!
  • Walk up to the fort on the mountainside. The stairs are steep but it’s worth the effort! I would not recommend going up there in the middle of the day since the heat will probably exhaust you by then, so choose between early morning and closer to sunset. However, you don’t want it to be pitch black when you go up or down as the stairs are in bad shape in some places. We went at the end of the day and enjoyed the sunset over the bay. On the way up, you will pass a church where there is water and other drinks for sale.
  • Stroll through the market outside the city walls, next to the marina.
  • Have a drink at one of the restaurants in one of the many squares. Just looking at the people passing through is fun.

Want to explore the area? Stay tuned!

A snapshot tour of Sri Lanka

A few years ago, we were looking for a holiday destination for a ten day January getaway. We looked eastwards (from Europe) and wanted both warm sunny weather, nature and historical sights. There are so many amazing places to visit but we decided upon southern Sri Lanka. And what a great trip we had! Ten days were enough to experience different aspects of the Sri Lankan culture as well as relax on the beach.

Getting there and around

From southern Sweden, we discovered that the easiest way to get to Sri Lanka was to fly Emirates with a layover in Dubai. (That worked well on the way out, but on the way back to Europe our flight from Sri Lanka was delayed and we missed our connecting flight. This wasn’t a disaster since we were able to take an extra day off and suddenly found ourselves on a whirlwind visit of Dubai including visiting the Burj Khalifa. But that’s another story.) The international airport of Sri Lanka is outside the capital Colombo. 

For this trip, we used different means of transportation: private taxis, train and local busses. Everything worked well and we felt safe. The train was crowded but we only used it for daytime travel. We arranged the long-distance transfers with private taxis on arrival, which was easy through the airport counter or our hotel.

Trains getting close in Sri Lanka

Itinerary

With ten days to explore Sri Lanka, we decided to stay in the southern parts of the country. Here is our itinerary:

  • Beach time in Mirissa 
  • Glamping and leopard spotting in Yala national park
  • Relaxing at the beach in Unawatuna
  • Historic sights in Galle
  • Temples and elephants in Kandy
  • City time in Colombo

No Ella you might ask? Well, we have been to southern India and have experienced the beautiful hills and tea plantations. So due to time restrictions, we decided to skip the hill country in Sri Lanka for this visit, but I would love to go back and take the train through the tea plantations some other time.

Mirissa

We had prebooked a private transfer from the airport outside Colombo to the southern seaside resort of Mirissa. The drive was mainly on the pay highway where the traffic was light. We arrived in Mirissa a couple of hours later and found our B&B on the main road in this small fishing village. Since it was the start of our holiday and we came from the cold in Sweden, we spent the next couple of days just relaxing on the beach. Foodwise, we had some great fish on the beachside restaurants as well as the curry plate very common around Sri Lanka and roti.

The beach in Mirissa

If you’re into whale watching, there were ample opportunities to go on a boat tour. We were warned though that the sea can be rough and that most people experience seasickness so be prepared with pills if you go. Mirissa also seemed to be a popular place for surfing. But we were lazy so stayed on the beach during the day. One night, we went to a spa where I had an traditional oil head massage. It was very relaxing and probably good for the hair but plan on having very greasy hair for the next few days…

Glamping safari in Yala national park

When we were thoroughly relaxed and ready for some action, we took the bus to the Yala national park, or actually to the city of Tissamaharama where we were picked up and taken to our campsite very close to the park entrance. We spent 24 hours at the campsite and had a great time at the site which consisted of a few tents and a few buildings such as a restaurant. There was also an observation deck overlooking the national park greenery, perfect for a beer. It felt safe with guards on the lookout for elephants approaching the area at night.

We were taken on two jeep safaris in the park, one on in the afternoon and one at sunrise. We managed to see a leopard as well as elephants and other animals. The safari experience was nice but not as amazing animal-wise as in the national parks of for example South Africa and Kenya.

The meals and accommodation at the glamping campsite was great. Lots of curries and local beer! The transfers worked like a charm as well and we took the bus to Galle after the safari.

This is where we stayed in Yala: Pardus seek (TripAdvisor link as I can’t find a website, we booked through e-mail)

Historical sights in Galle

Galle is the provincial capital of south Sri Lanka and has a long history of port activity. The city is on the UNESCO world heritage list and has many sites, including the harbor and the fortress which was built by the Dutch in 1663. We stayed in a cute hotel close to the sea and enjoyed walking around the streets of the old town and the fort’s ramparts. There is something around every corner with lighthouses, markets and luxury seaside colonial bars and hotels.

Back to the beach in Unawatuna

After our stay in Galle, we were supposed to go up north along the coast. However, the hotel had made an error so we had to have a change of plans. We had passed the small seaside village of Unawatuna on the way from Mirissa and liked the look of it so we decided to go there.

Usually, we book hotels in advance but this time, we arrived at the beach and saw one directly above it that we liked the sight of and just went inside to see if they had any available rooms. It turned out to be a very lucky shot where our room had a fourposter bed, an exquisite front row view of the ocean and AC as well. And so we were back on the beach which was excellent. We ate our meals barefoot in the sand in one of the restaurants and enjoyed every minute of it. The breakfast was in-room service so we ate on the balcony overlooking the ocean, simply perfect.

The southwestern coast of Sri Lanka was hit hard by the tsunami in 2004. When we were in Unawatuna, there was an exhibition with photos showing the damage the wave made. There are also tsunami signs pointing to higher ground and alarms in place now. 

Train to Kandy

After a couple of nice days in Unawatuna, we were ready to take the train to Kandy. The train left from Galle and took about xx hours. Kandy is the second largest city on Sri Lanka and is also on the UNESCO world heritage list. The most famous sight is the Temple of the Tooth, which contains a golden box with a tooth of Buddha inside (you won’t see the tooth). The temple areas are busy with elephants, flowers and bells everywhere. You want to wear clothes that cover your legs and shoulders. 

Kandy lake is an artificial lake that the last king of Kandy created in 1807. The lake is close to the center of town and has lovely pathways to walk along.

To Colombo through Pinnewala Elephant Orphanage

To get back to Colombo, we decided to hire a driver for the day so that we would be able to stop at some places. First, we went to a spice plantation where we were given a tour of the different plants and then the oil-making plant. We bought some vanilla. 

Then, we stopped at the Pinnewala elephant orphanage, which is government run. The nicest part of our visit there was to see the elephants walk down to the river and bathe. We had a drink at one of the restaurants overlooking the river and watched the elephants frolic in the water. I always prefer to see animals free and in their natural habitat, but this seemed to be a well-managed place and the elephants seemed pretty happy and well-fed. Read up and make up your own mind if you want to go. If you want to get a special souvenir while you’re there, you can buy stuff made from elephant dung. 

We arrived early afternoon in Colombo. Our flight was scheduled to depart after midnight so we left our luggage at the bus station and then went into the city. We had tea at an English tea house, a nice walk along the coast, enjoyed the sunset, bought some souvenirs and then went to a great crab restaurant: the Ministry of Crab. It was located in a nice area called the Old Dutch hospital. The most famous dishes are whole lagoon crabs from Sri Lanka in various sizes and flavorings. I had the garlic chili crab and loved it. Do make reservations, this is a popular place which is on the 50 best restaurants in Asia list.

And then it was time to leave Sri Lanka!

So – what to eat and drink?

You will find the Sri Lankan curry plate everywhere. It’s a dish that consists of several small bowl with vegetables, a protein like fish or chicken, rice and a roti bread. Fruit juices and coconuts are abundant of course and filled pancakes for breakfast. In the coastal areas we had fresh fish or seafood for dinner every night. For drinks we had lots of beer (the local kind is called Lion) and ginger beer. And in Colombo, there were tea shops that served many kinds of tea and snacks.

In conclusion…

In my opinion, Sri Lanka is a perfect destination for a two week holiday. The nature is varied, the sights historical, the food fresh and tasty, the climate supernice and the beaches amazing – what more could you ask for? We call if a kind of “India light” because the island has a lot of similarities to southern India (Kerala) but is more laidback. We very much enjoyed our visit and would love to go back!


Exploring northern Sardinia and Corsica from Alghero

I would definitely recommend renting a car for at least a few days when you’re on holiday in Sardinia. There is so much to see outside of the beach town areas. You might be surprised though of how big of an island Sardinia is. Driving across the island from for example Alghero to the capital of Cagliari on the south coast would take at least half a day. We mostly stayed on the northwest part of the island and explored the surrounding areas. However, if you feel like visiting France, the island of Corsica is a day trip away! 

If you are looking for information about Alghero and the nearby area >>>
A sunny summer week in Alghero, Sardinia (Italy)

La Pelosa beach and Stintino

In the very northwest corner of Sardinia is the very pretty beach of La pelosa. It has turquoise water and beautiful white sand. However, it’s crowded so choose your time for a visit wisely. I’ve heard that it’s absolutely packed on weekends in high season. We were there on a Monday afternoon in late June and it was pretty crowded then as well. The beach itself is pretty small and only takes a few minutes to walk across. There are cafés and beach bars. 

La Pelosa beach in June

The Sardinian authorities are very protective of their sandy beaches. When visiting La Pelosa, you are not allowed to put your towel down directly on the sand. Then you risk a hefty fine! We didn’t know and within five minutes of us arriving to the beach, the beach police came up to us and told us to very quickly remove our towels, otherwise the fine would be 100 euros for each towel. We went up to the beach bar and bought beach mats made of bast for 4-5 euros each. The mats are also sold by individual vendors on the beach road. So, don’t ignore the signs of the mandatory beach mats! You can also rent chairs and umbrellas although they are expensive (25-30 euros for the set). 

Don’t forget your beach mat, it really is mandatory!

After a few delightful hours on the beach, we drove down to the small fishing village of Stintino. We had dinner by the harbor and then wandered in the village for a while. 

Stintino harbor

Bosa and the coastal road to get there 

Bosa is a very cute town about an hour south of Alghero. It has a river, historical houses and a fort. We went to the Tuesday market and then had lunch in one of the quiet, pretty streets. The walk along the river was very nice as we saw the colorful houses further up on the hill from a distance. Across the river from the main town is a row of houses that used to be the tannery area. Apparently, they were placed across the river because of the industry smell. 

For lunch, we had the special sandwich of Sardinian bistoccu bread. It was kind of like a large crispy toast with different toppings, very tasty.

Old tannery houses in Bosa
Bosa from a distance

The road to Bosa from Alghero is absolutely beautiful and should not be missed on any trip to Sardinia! It runs along the sea with pretty views of the cliffs and nearby areas on basically every turn. There are view points and parking places along the way so take your time! 

The coastal road from Alghero to Bosa

Nuraghe settlement of Santu Antine

An hour inland from Alghero and Bosa is the nuraghe settlement of Santu Antine. It is the main settlement of the nuraghe valley, which is where many of the nuraghe round stone towers with surrounding villages were located. The nuraghe buildings are common across Sardinia and were developed during the Nuragic age about 1900-730 BC. The towers vary in height.

Inside the multistory tower, you can enter the cool walkways as well

In Santu Antine, you pay a fee of 6 euros to visit and go inside the multistory nuraghe building. You can walk up the different stairways and into the tower rooms. It’s a very comfortable temperature inside the stone walls. I think they have guided tours as well. From the top of the tower you can see the surrounding valley and other smaller towers. 

We were joined by a friendly dog who seems to live on the premises

A museum five minutes away by car is also included. It contains some information material and also some objects found while excavating the nuraghe ruins. I think the museum is still being developed so most of the explanations were in Italian although we were given a sheet with a short description in English. 

More information about Nuraghe Santu Antine (in Italian)

Corsica (France)

The French island of Corsica is only a 50 min ferry ride from the harbor in Santa Teresa di Gallura in northern Sardinia. It does take more than two hours to drive there from Alghero so be prepared for a long day. You can take your car across but you won’t need it in Bonifacio where most streets are pedestrian only.

On the way from Alghero, you can have a quick detour to the Elephant rock which is a burial place by the road that looks like an elephant. It’s near Castelsardo and well signposted from the road.

The elephant rock near Castelsardo

The ferries to Corsica are equipped with a solar deck where you can enjoy the view of the islands and the strait. We had a very comfortable ride to the harbor in Bonifacio. Once there, the marina had lots of expensive looking yachts and nice looking restaurants along the water.

Once you go up the stone steps to the upper town (haute ville), you will enter the old fortification with narrow streets and cute alleys. There are excellent view points as well along the walls and the cliffs. The cemetery is located right by the cliff edge and consists of small mausoleums above ground, well worth a visit for the great views at least. Corsica is definitely an island I would like to spend more time on, although it was (at least in Bonifacio) considerably more expensive than Alghero/Sardinia.

More information about taking the ferry to Corsica from Sardinia

On Corsica, don’t miss the speciality beer Pietra ambrée which is made with chestnuts. As in Sardinia, the myrtle berry is very popular and you can find for example ice cream and liqueurs made with it. Otherwise, practice your French and have some nice French wine!

A sunny summer week in Alghero, Sardinia (Italy)

We spent a great holiday week in June 2019 on Sardinia where we explored the northern parts of the island, as well as the neighbor island of Corsica, from our base in Alghero. Here is our itinerary along with sightseeing and restaurant recommendations.

This first part below is about Alghero and the nearby area. For excursions on northern Sardinia and to Corsica >> see here.

Sunset from the Alghero city walls

Where is Sardinia? Where should I stay?

Sardinia is part of Italy and the second largest island in the Mediterranean. The capital of Cagliari is in the south. We stayed in the smaller town of Alghero which is located in the northwestern part of the island. Alghero has a pretty old town surrounded by walls, a marina, a long city beach and lots of accommodation choices. Close by are even more beaches and nature reserves. The airport is only about 20 minutes away.

Alghero is popular with tourists and we enjoyed our stay here. The old town is cute and everything you need for a holiday like a beach walk, weekly market, grocery stores, car and bike rentals are here as well.

When should I go?

We went to Sardinia in the end of June. For most of our week, the temperatures were about 30 C. The ocean had a comfortable, refreshing temperature of about 22-24 C. Even though the high season for Sardinia is July and August, there were plenty of people on the beaches and in restaurants, but it didn’t feel crowded. Later on in summer, you get warmer sea temperatures of course but you also get the crowds and the heat. A heatwave passed through Europe in our final days there and the temperature rose to about 37-38 C which made it hard to walk around the sights.

What is there to do in and around Alghero?

First of all, the beaches with their clear blue or turquoise water are beautiful on Sardinia and there are several choices around Alghero. The city beach was OK and mostly clean from seaweeds. However, a short walk away (15 min) is the beach of Maria Pia. It is backed by a pine forest and very nice. There are small bars for refreshments and a light lunch at both beaches. If you don’t want to pay the standard 12 euros for two chairs and an umbrella, there are free sections of the beaches as well where you can lay your towel. The beaches are well-maintained and seemed safe enough with lots of families around. They are mostly shallow and without high waves, at least in summer.

We learned that the name Alghero came from the latin word “algae” (seaweed) which is apparently very common in large amounts especially in winter due to the winds. That explains why the beaches were cleaned frequently and most of the seaweed raked away.

The Maria Pia beach late in the afternoon

Alghero old town is a must to stroll through. Walk along the promenade alongside the beach and the marina. The old town is entered through gates in the old stone walls. It is mostly pedestrian and there are lots of cute lanes and piazzas. Don’t forget to walk on top of the walls in sunset, it’s beautiful to see the sun set over the ocean and the cliffs beyond. There are also catapults and cannons on display. If you look closely, you can see the small brass signs with Italian and English explanations for the various part of the old fort.

View of the old town of Alghero from the beach promenade
Inside Alghero old town

If you like heights, visit the cathedral Santa Maria where you can climb the steep stairs up the bell tower. For a few euros, you get the entrance and a hard hat so that you won’t hit your head on the way up or down. Don’t worry though, the climb up the narrow stairway was totally fine as long as you make way for other people coming up or down. From the bell tower, the view of Alghero and the surrounding area is beautiful!

The view from the bell tower of the Alghero old town and the marina. You can also see the city beach and the Maria Pia beach further away.

Of course, there are also plenty of restaurants as well as ice cream parlors and coral shops inside the old town. For restaurant recommendations in Alghero old town, see below.

The Neptun grotto (cave) is a very interesting sight not far from Alghero. You can take a bus there and then walk down a lot of steps but we went by boat. The boats leave from the harbor right next to the city wall regularly and go straight to the cave entrance in about 30-40 minutes for 15 euros. You then join the line to enter the cave, pay the fee of 14 euros and then go on a sort of guided tour. The tour has you following a long line of people into different areas of the massive and very impressing cave while the guide uses the audio system to tell facts about the cave in Italian and English. There is no wandering around on your own, but you get to see the most interesting parts of this natural phenomena. There is a salt lake, a very large stalagmite and also stone formations that look like organ pipes. The cave was discovered by fisherman in the 18th century and is a very impressing and great excursion! And also, if it’s very hot outside, the temperature inside the cave is much more comfortable! After the tour which takes about 45 min, the boat awaits you for the return trip to Alghero harbor.

Every Wednesday morning, the market comes to Alghero! Compared to some other towns we visited, the market in Alghero had many stands with everything from clothes to local cheese. Walk around, sample the food and bargain. Fun morning!

If you’re lucky, there is also a market along the waterfront on some evenings. We were there for the midsummer celebration and enjoyed a market for two or three nights.

If you need to stretch your legs after all that ice cream and great food, I recommend renting a bike for the day. We biked along the ocean towards the Bombarde beach which is located about 9 km from Alghero. Most of the time, it was a pretty easy ride on a dedicated bike lane. On the way from Alghero, we passed through the town of Fertilia which borders a nature reserve and has an old roman bridge and a view point. Once at the turnoff to the beach, be prepared to go downhill – and a steep hill at that. Check your brakes beforehand and go slow. And don’t think about having to go back up that hill… The Bombarde beach is totally worth the effort! We had a nice lunch at one of the beach bars and relaxed for a while. On the way back (after conquering that enormous hillside back to the main road), we stopped at Maria Pia beach to cool off.

The Bombarde beach

Where to eat in Alghero?

We chose different restaurants for lunch and dinner everyday and most of them were good. From what I could see, most of the restaurants in the old town and around had basically the same dishes. We had a bit more fancy dinner one night on the city walls overlooking the ocean and they had a different menu. The drinks were usually the same price everywhere (around 3 euros for the local beer Ichnusa, about the same or 4 euros for a glass of local wine). For dessert, we usually had ice cream at one particular place that was very close to our hotel and with supernice staff.

Lunches

  • Go to the foccacerias! You get a filling lunch for good value! If you’re lucky, you get a sandwich made of the typical Sardinian thin bread! There were plenty of sandwich places both in the old town and around. The sandwiches were usually about 5 euros.

Dinners

  • Like I said above, most of the restaurants/pizzerias in the old town had the same kind of menu. I had lots of shellfish and mussels for dinner and thought it was great most nights. I actually can’t remember the names of the different restaurants as they were sort of the same… The pricing was usually the same as well as long as you’re not right by the water.
  • Restaurant Lido – beachside restaurant with meter long pizza. All was good and tasty, then a massive Italian family reunion started and it was impossible to hear each other across the table, so maybe check before you go inside (or outside I guess) . But the food was good!
  • Mirador – restaurante fortezza del sole – this was among the pricier dinners we had but the location was excellent on the city walls. We were happy with our food, especially the desserts which were creative as well as tasty. The wine list was extensive.

Ice cream

  • Gelateria Mont Blanc – They sure love their gelato in Italy! We found our favorite place near the beach and tried most of the flavors. The staff was great and there were tables right by the water. They are combined with a pizzeria/restaurant which had tasty food as well! Remember to try the traditional Sardinian flavors such as almond, nougat, figs and honey. The gelateria is located about a 20 min walk from the old town.

Want to explore northern Sardinia and maybe go to Corsica in France?

One spring week on Malta

When we were going somewhere for a week in late May 2018 to celebrate my husband’s birthday, he only had two requests (yes, I’m the travel planner): he wanted to go somewhere he hadn’t visited before and a bit of sunshine and warm weather was preferable. So I zoomed in on southern Europe and since we’ve been to Italy, Spain and France quite a lot, we ended up going to Malta! Although it had never really been on my travel radar, we had a great week with lots of sights, sunshine and seafood. It really was the perfect destination for a week in pre-summer.

Malta is an island nation and consists of three islands: the main island of Malta (where the capital of Valletta is situated), the smaller and greener island of Gozo and the tiny island of Comino in between. We spent our holiday on Gozo and in Valletta, but since Malta is so small it is easy to get around by car. We also visited Comino on a day trip.

Gozo

The one and only airport on Malta is located close to Valletta. We had arranged for a rental car beforehand and since we were going to start our holiday on the island of Gozo, we went straight to the ferry harbor in Cirkewwa in the northwest corner of Malta. The main roads on Malta are mostly in good shape but sometimes narrow so we were definitely happy to have a small car.

The drive to the harbor was easy and we were on the ferry without any difficulties. You don’t pay for the ferry to Gozo but for the return ticket (two-way) going back to Malta. The ferries to Gozo leave regularly and take about 30 minutes, just enough to leave the car and admire the view of the islands from the deck.

From the port on Gozo, we drove straight on to the small fishing village of Xlendi where we had reservations at the Hotel San Andrea. Xlendi is situated by a bay with few restaurants, a small beach and cliffs with ladders into the sea. We had a room on the 4th floor with balcony overlooking the quiet cove and the cliffs and loved the view! The hotel itself was fairly basic but had a great location.

Our days on Gozo were spent exploring the island by foot on the cliffs or by car. Even though everything on the island was within a 30 minute drive, there was a lot to see and discover. Gozo is greener than the main island of Malta and has steep cliffs into the sea.

Among other things, we visited the Ġgantija tempels in Xagħra, which is a UNESCO world heritage site from around 3600 bc. Along the coast at Marsalforn, there are salt flats run by local families and amazing sandstone formations. Gozo’s most famous sight used to be the Azure window (remember the Khaleesi wedding in Game of Thrones?) but it unfortunately collapsed into the sea after a storm a few years ago. The area is definitely worth a visit though since you can swim in a shallow lagun and then take a boat tour along the coast below the cliffs and into caves.

The main town on Gozo is called Ir-Rabat (or Victoria) and has a well preserved fort to discover. Don’t miss the roof terrace of the restaurant Ta’ Rikardu inside the fort – the food was great and the view amazing!

At night, we walked on the promenad along the cove and ate at one of the fish restaurants. We usually chose wines from Gozo as well that went well along the fish and seafood. All in all, we had great days on Gozo. Since we were there before the main holiday season, it wasn’t crowded but the weather was great. The water was a bit cold but fine for shorter dips.

Comino

On the way back to the island of Malta, we parked our car at the port on Gozo and took a smaller boat to the island of Comino. Comino is a tiny island mostly uninhabited and is famous for its blue lagoon. It really was a pretty sight with turquoise water and white sand. The island had great views from cliffs as well.

However, it was really crowded and I can only imagine how it must be in high season. There are boat tours from Valletta and they seem really popular. We stayed on Comino for a few hours and then took the boat back to Gozo. And then it was time to take the ferry to Malta.

Malta

We were on Malta to celebrate my husband’s birthday and therefore had booked ourselves into the very fancy Grand Hotel Excelsior right outside the city walls and the old town of Valletta. It was a great choice of hotel with free indoor parking and we were even upgraded to a larger room with our own sun terrass overlooking the sea. The hotel has a pool and even a tiny man-made beach.

Valletta was the European culture capital of 2018 and we could tell that work had been done to make the city prettier. We spent our time in the old part of the city and enjoyed walking on the squares and in the narrow streets. There are many historic sites from different centuries, everything from the golden, garish St John’s Co-Cathedral to museums and guided tours that focus on Malta’s importance for the allied troops during the second world war. We visited the Lascaris War Rooms where the invasion of Sicily was planned, and had an excellent tour much due to the very knowledgable guide.

One day we drove north on Malta and had a peek at Popeye’s village, which is where the Popeye movie was shot in 1980. It is now a small amusement park. For us, it was enough to see it from a distance with its pretty houses. We went to the Golden bay beach, and also to Mdina, the so called quiet town in the middle of the island. It was very nice to walk around in the old city center surrounded by walls and have a drink at the Fontanella tea garden with an exceptional view.

A visit to the small fishing village of Marsaxlokk near Valletta is a must! We arrived late in the afternoon and had a nice walk along the quay. The traditional fishing boats of Malta are colorful and have eyes painted on them. We had a great fish dinner at one of the many restaurants with tables right by the water.

And food wise, we had so many nice meals on Malta. Lots of fish and seafood of course, but also rabbit. It was mainly rustic home cooked food with the seasonal ingredients in focus, and we had local wines and beers with it. For soft drinks, the Maltese love “Kinnie” which is bitter but refreshing.

In conclusion…

We were very positively surprised by Malta! Although we didn’t rush, we saw and experienced a lot of things on our one week trip. The drives were easy (once you’re used to driving on the left side of the road), the distances short and English is one of the main languages.

Weatherwise, we were there at the end of May and had temperatures from about 24 C to more than 30 C. The sea was cool but manageable for short dips. In high season, you get the warm sea but it is probably much harder to walk and drive around in the heat and the crowds.

Japan – part 3: Hakone ryokan

One of the things we really wanted to do in Japan was to spend a night at a traditional guesthouse (ryokan): eat the multi course dinners, bathe in hot springs and sleep on futons on a tatami floor. We decided to go to the Hakone area since it was an easy train ride from Tokyo and in the right direction for our trip through Japan.

Hakone is a mountainous area a couple of hours from Tokyo. The train ride to Odawara was easy, and there we connected to the Hakone transport system with our Hakone free pass. There is the so called “Hakone round course” where you are able to go around the area in a day using different means of transportation: busses, trains, ropeways and a boat. It sounds like a lot of transport changes but it was very easy. What I like about this area is that it is very easy to get around without a car since the transport options are included with the train pass.

Unfortunately, the beautiful weather we had most of the time in Tokyo vanished when we got to Hakone. The Yugiriso ryokan that we stayed at was located in Hakone-mashi very close to the lake Ashi where you are supposed to see Mount Fuji on the other side. We walked along the shoreline but we couldn’t see a thing, it was so foggy! And then it started to rain and it didn’t stop…

We were glad we stayed in a nice ryokan and enjoyed their indoor facilities such as the indoor and outdoor hot springs.

Our oom at the Yugiriso ryokan had the traditional tatami flooring and futon beds, which the staff made up for us in the evening and put away in the morning. There was also a small table where the elaborate meals were served. We stayed there for two nights and were given different dishes, most of them delicious, with lots of seafood, fish and vegetables.

After the very tasty dinner, we visited the hot springs again. They are gender separated as is traditional in Japan, and are shared with the other residents. I suppose there are ryokans where you can have your own hot spring but we were happy with our choice. It wasn’t very crowded at all so at times, we had the hot springs to ourselves. Since they were outside, we could talk softly to each other through the wooden wall that separated them. If anyone else was there, I think you are supposed to be quiet and contemplate nature. We slept like babies afterwards on the futons.

The next morning, breakfast was served in our room in the same concept as dinner, which means many small dishes in different bowls. The lady serving us was very polite. The breakfast dishes also consisted of mainly fish and vegetables. Green tea as well, of course. I enjoyed most of the dishes very much but the fermented baby eals (they looked like it anyway, probably some kind of fish) was a bit much.

Then we were off on the Hakone round course which included several means of transportation: train, cablecar, ropeway and boat! Even though the weather was absolutely horrible – very windy, foggy and rainy – we had a great day. The round course transportation worked out fine although we were lucky to catch the last boat across the lake before they cancelled them due to the fog. The boats were actually pirate themed for some reason.

The most challenging part was high up in Owakudani where it was so windy that it was actually hard to walk in the wind and the rain. The ropeway up there and down again wasn’t that bad though. Luckily, there was a big gift shop there where they sell the famous black eggs which are given their color by being cooked in sulfur ponds. There are trails to walk along to the sulfur ponds but we didn’t due to the weather, and I think they are closed some of the time because of sulfurous fumes as well.

We returned to the ryokan in the afternoon and went straight for the hot springs to warm up. We then had the same excellent dinner experience with different dishes and then even more hot springs. It was very relaxing to be at a ryokan and we were happy to have booked a two nights stay.

So, if you’re wondering whether it’s worth the price to stay at a ryokan, for us it definitely was! We chose one of the mid-priced ones which included meals in our own room (some have communal meals) and shared hot springs. It was very different from the rest of our experiences in crowded Japan and very well worth our time and money. We were a bit disappointed with the weather and lack of view but used the hot springs more than we probably would have otherwise. And had the weather been clear, I’m sure the view of the lake and mount Fuji would have been amazing.

Next stop: Kyoto!

A cool weekend at the Ice hotel in Jukkasjärvi, Sweden

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In the middle of March 2019, we went to the Ice hotel in the very north of Sweden for a long weekend. It was a birthday trip for my husband and we were both so excited to see the ice hotel and spend a night surrounded by snow and ice! The weekend turned out great with lots of sun, snow, activities and northern lights!

The hotel is located in Jukkasjärvi which is a small village by the Torne river not far from the town of Kiruna and the airport. We arrived at the hotel by lunch on Friday and were very well taken care of by the great staff who showed us around the hotel compound. The sun was shining and the snow was glistening, we were so lucky with the weather! Since we live in the very south of Sweden (Malmö), we have barely seen any snow this winter so just walking around in the snow felt great.

The ice hotel

The hotel consists of several parts, most famous being the ice building which is built for every season and then melts down completely in spring. Inside, there are ice rooms and art suites, and we were to stay in one of the suites. The difference between the rooms and suites is that different artists decorate the suites every year in themes while the rooms all have the same decor. The suites are very different in style but all have a double or triple bed in them. The ice building and all ice structures around the hotel are made from ice taken from the frozen Torne river the previous year, and we saw the trucks in action. The ice blocks are stored for next season in a large warehouse.

Since the ice building is open to the public during the day, we left our luggage at the heated building which is close to the ice building. Since we were staying in an art suite, we had our own changing booth where we could store luggage and charge phones. If you’re staying in an ice room, you get a locker and access to the communal changing rooms with shower and sauna (which we didn’t use this time). If you don’t have warm clothes, don’t worry – you can use the ice hotel’s gear free of charge, everything from very warm overalls to boots and hats.

We went on a guided tour of the hotel and learned that they will be celebrating their 30th anniversary next year. Apparently it all started (or the icy part at least) when some crazy tourists saw an igloo on the frozen river and asked to spend the night there. A few reindeer hides and sleeping bags later and there you have it – success! This year the hotel has 55 frozen rooms as well as lots of heated rooms and cabins (which we stayed in for two nights as well). No matter how cold it it outside, the ice rooms have a temperature of about -5 C. In summer, you can visit the 365 part of the hotel which is open year-round and has permanent ice suites and the ice bar.

Dinner at the Old farmstead

After an initial exploration of the surrounding area – which in our case meant a very nice walk on the frozen river along the snowmobile tracks – we went to dinner in one of the restaurants, Hembygdsgården (the Old farmstead). It is located a 10 minute walk from the hotel in an old farm building in an outdoor museum setting (open in summer). We had a great dinner of fish with rainbow trout from Norrbotten, the province to the east of Lappland, and souvas, smoked reindeer with potatoes and lingonberries. Souvas is a traditional Sami dish and we had it several times in different variations during our trip. For dessert, cloudberries and vanilla ice cream, the perfect match with some sweet white wine.

Spending the night in an art suite made of snow and ice

After our walk back to the hotel, it was almost time to get ready to spend the night in the ice room. However, we had to stop by the ice bar and drink a Vargtass (lingonberry juice and vodka) in ice glasses as a nightcap. Then we went to our changing booth, got into our night gear (merino wool set and hat) and picked up our giant double sleeping bag along with some boots. We walked into the icy part and straight to our suite where the bed was waiting with mattresses, reindeer hides and pillows surrounded by the ice and snow. It was nice to get into the cozy sleeping bag and once we were there, we slept quite well.

The next morning, we were awoken by a cheery staff member with some hot lingonberry juice, and then it was time to take a quick walk back to the heated part of the hotel. We received our diploma for surviving the night in and then it was great to have hot coffee and a nice buffet for breakfast.

Feeding reindeers at the Nutti Sámi Siida

It was another beautiful sunny day in Jukkasjärvi so we spent almost all of it outside. After breakfast, we walked to the Sámi openair museum of Nutti Sámi Siida, located next to the pretty church in Jukkasjärvi and very close to the Old farmstead above so about a 10 minute walk from the hotel. It’s very easy to get around Jukkasjärvi since it consists of one main road. The Sámi museum opened at 10 am with a guided tour around the buildings. When buying the entry fee, don’t forget to buy bags of lichen (lav in Swedish) to feed the reindeers with.

After the guide had told us about the Sámi way of life during the different seasons, she gave us some instructions about visiting the reindeers and then we went inside to meet them. So cute! There were about eight or ten reindeers in the pasture, all male of different ages. They love being fed lichen and will get close to you, but they were very sweet and not at all aggressive. We stayed there for quite some time, great experience! Lichen is what they dig up from under the snow in the wild to eat in winter.

We had lunch at the Sámi museum as well, inside the wooden cot (kåta in Swedish) next to the gift shop. It was a very nice fish stew with the fish char made on the open fire. They also have coffee which is boiled in a pot on the fire (kokkaffe), and coffee cheese, which is a traditional accompaniment to the coffee in northern Sweden. It’s grilled and kind of like halloumi but not salty.

Cross country skiing

In the afternoon, we decided to go cross country skiing. The ice hotel has equipment in all sizes for hire and we spent a couple of hours on the trails around Jukkasjärvi. You can also hire snow shoes to walk around in the snow with but we had a lot of fun on the skis. The front desk can provide you with a map of the skiing trails, which are also snowmobile trails.

Snowmobile safari in search of the northern lights

Since we wanted to experience as much as possible, we had booked some activities beforehand. On Saturday night, we were picked up at the hotel by Kiruna Guidetur for a snowmobile safari in search of the northern lights, or aurora borealis. We were driven to some snowmobile garage and given overalls and boots – much needed since it was getting colder that night. Then we were given safety instructions and helmets and then hopped on our snowmobile which we shared and took turns driving and were off into the dark.

Our group consisted of about two guides and about 12 people in total. We drove in the woods and on the frozen river and lakes for a while and then stopped for a quick glance at a very weak aurora. Further on, we stopped at a wooden hut where the guides made a great dinner of souvas (smoked reindeer meat), cloudberries and coffee. The guides went outside regularly to check if there was any aurora, and suddenly there was! It was an amazing sight and experience to stand on the frozen river and see the northern lights dance across the sky in green and pink. We were very lucky to have such a great sighting!

When the aurora diminished after an hour or so, it was getting very cold (-20 C) and late so we drove back on the snowmobiles and were then dropped of at the hotel at around 11 pm. We had a warm drink in the lounge area before bed, which this time was in a heated cabin.

Dogsledding in the sun

The next morning, we had an early start with breakfast and then off to our next adventure: dog sledding! We once again used the Kiruna guidetur guides and were taken to a kennel nearby for safety instructions. There were dogs everywhere, in their cages and behind sleds, and a lot of barking since the dogs just wanted to get going.

We had our own sled with five dogs and took turns driving, which actually is more like cheering on the dogs to keep pulling since they follow the guide sled and the leader dogs. It was only a few degrees below zero and sunny, so the dogs needed to cool off in the snow every now and then. They apparently prefer colder weather with their thick fur.

We had an excellent time riding to a cabin in the woods where we were served mushroom soup and had plenty of time to play with the dogs, although they were on their leashes. They are so energetic and love to work, and very cuddly and friendly as well. On the way back, it was even hotter so we had to help the dogs to get up some steep hills by kicking the sled forward. All in all, a lovely day out and it was a lot of fun to drive the sled and interact with the dogs.

Once back at the hotel, we spent the afternoon walking the trails and the river and had coffee at the Sámi place. We also went inside the ice buildings to see the ice suites again – as guests of the hotel you can go there as many times as you like.

Five course ice menu for dinner

The Ice hotel has a main restaurant where we had dinner on Sunday evening. We had the five course ice menu with accompanying wines. Four of the dishes were served on ice blocks, which are made from the water of the frozen river. The meal was excellent! It consisted mainly of speciality foods from the Lapland area, for example reindeer fillet, Arctic bramble (åkerbär) and roe from Kalix. The wines went well with the courses. We enjoyed every bite!

Snowy morning and leaving

The next morning, we woke up to snow and clouds. We packed up and left our luggage at storage, and then went for a long walk in the snow. We brought a thermos with hot tea and some snacks and had a fika in the snow before it was time to go home after a great weekend at the Ice hotel and in Jukkasjärvi!

If you ever get the chance, just go! It’s pricey for sure, but well worth it especially if you are as lucky with the weather as we were. In my opinion, March is the perfect season to go there since the days are longer than in mid-winter and the snow is still there. The ice building of the hotel is open until mid-April but you can also visit in summer for a different experience. We were very happy with both the hotel staff and facilities and the tour company Kiruna guidetur we used!

For more information

If you have any questions – let me know!

Japan – part 2.1: Even more Tokyo

Shibuya

Shibuya is a very vibrant district with the famous crosswalk in the middle. Compared to the relatively quiet Asakusa district, we had to get used to the massive neon lights and multi-story houses. Outside the metro station, the statue of the dog Hachiko (watch the movie if you want a good cry!) is always surrounded by picture takers and street performers. People everywhere, so much fun!

We had dinner at Genki sushi in Shibuya where you sit at a counter, order items from a personal screen and then the food is delivered to you on the conveyor belt. I loved the sushi. It wasn’t fancy or expensive but still everything was so tasty and fresh. My husband who is allergic to shellfish and doesn’t like raw fish still enjoyed his sushi made with chicken and cooked salmon. We had so much food that night and it was all so good!

After a matcha tea, we were off to experience the famous crosswalk by night. There are cafes such as Starbucks overlooking the square so if you’re lucky or willing to wait, you can get a table by the window. You can also see the crosswalk quite well from inside the train station, walk towards the department store.

Meiji Shrine

The next day we went to the Shinjuku area and the Tokyo Metropolitan Government Buildings Observatories in the morning. These are two twin towers with free observation decks with an amazing view over Tokyo. Go on a clear day like we did. There is also a restaurant as well as a gift shop up there in each observatory.

View from one of the observatories. The blue spots are where people put out plastic sheets in the park to mark their spot for picnics in the sakura season

Then we went to the Yoyogi park and the Meiji shrine. The shrine area is located in a forest and it was absolutely beautiful. Very serene even though there were, as everywhere, lots of visitors. Japanese families enjoyed their time in the sun and took wedding and family photos which was fun to watch. The entry to the shrine is through a 12 meter high wooden torii gate.

In the afternoon we went to the Takeshita area which was absolutely crazy. This pedestrian street is a favorite teen hangout and was so crowded. We had so much fun when we took snapshots purikura-style (add the filters you wish, hilarious) and visited a cat café with Oriental cats. There are also several crêpe cafes on the street and they had massive tasty servings. Great afternoon!

The cat café with beautiful friendly cats (and yes, they could escape to safer grounds whenever they wanted)

Back in Shibuya, we went for dinner at the Ichiran ramen restaurant. You stand in line, order the food from a machine, get paper tickets and then take your seat at a wooden booth. There are curtains before you with the kitchen staff moving around behind them. You fill out a form with extras and then you are given the most wonderful bowl of ramen noodles. Slurp away! It was so good, almost hard to believe. Needless to say, it wasn’t our last bowl of ramen in Japan.

More shrines and the castle park

The next day, it was our final day in Tokyo and we started off by going to the Chiyoda district by train. We went to the Yasukuni shrine that had pretty parks and a zen garden with a lake. Somehow I dropped my phone and credit card wallet into the pond but everything survived the fall and the water… Lucky me… The Kitanomaru park was close by and we enjoyed watching the rowing boats on the lake in the park.

Our next area to visit was Yanaka which is an old-fashioned street with lots of cat things due to some comic book character. We had some fun cat-shaped filled cakes and looked at a lot of cat stuff. We also went to the cemetery nearby which is famous for its cherry trees. Since we were right in the sakura season, it was wonderful to watch all the flowers, and the cemetery had lots of pretty statues as well.

After a busy day, we actually returned to the Metropolitan building to see the Tokyo skyline by night. And then we had sushi, lots of it again. It’s very easy to order even though we don’t speak Japanese since there are photos of every dish with the price next to it.

And that was it for our days in Tokyo. Although we visited some of the neighborhoods, Tokyo is a gigantic city. You need to be able to maneuver the public transport system to get around. We relied on trains, and since there are several train companies, the pre-charged metro card came in handy. And yes, the rumors are true – avoid the before and after work hours since the trains are crazy busy. There are carriages for women only which are slightly less crowded.

Next, we were going to something completely different: a traditional ryokan in Hakone!

Japan – part 3: Ryokan in Hakone