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Lucy Travels

​Land of gnomes! And trolls!
Since my flight back to Melbourne is at the end of this month, I’m trying to see as much of Europe as I can before I go. As a very generous Christmas present, Dad offered to send Claire and I on a trip of our choosing. January in a place like Spain or Portugal sounded a bit uninspiring, with the normally sun-drenched vistas blanketed in grey and the locals huddled indoors when the temperature dropped below 70. Instead, I thought we should go to a place that does winter right: Scandinavia!

The one Scandinavian country I hadn’t been to yet was Norway (well, with the exception of Iceland, but that’s for another day). We booked a 4-day trip and landed in Oslo yesterday. To make the most of our time, we hopped on a 5:50 am flight — of course, this meant waking up at 3:30 to get there on time, so we were slightly delirious all morning. Descending into Oslo was even more disorienting,  as it was so foggy we couldn’t see the ground until we touched down on the tarmac.

Having only eaten free cheese sandwiches and tea cakes on our KLM flights, we were starving. After checking into our hotel right across from the central station, we went across the street to the Ostbanhallen, part of the train station converted into a food and beer hall. We had some amazing veggie burgers and Claire splurged on a Pepsi (served in a wine glass), which was 450 kr, or $6! That was just a taste of the prices in Norway. 

Nordic countries are famous for design, so I was keen to check out DoGA, an architecture and design museum recommended by TripAdvisor. After walking past a frozen river and a statue of a naked man wrestling a reindeer to get there (I love this place), we found out it wasn’t a museum at all. Part of the fun of travelling with friends is the ability to be flexible, so instead we went for a wander around the artistic and historic sides of town. We found ourselves in what Claire described as “all of hipster Melbourne condensed into one block,” a little corner full of graffiti and street art. (Some of it is not safe for my family-friendly blog, like the floating statue we thought was a swan but turned out to be something else entirely. Yet another reason to love this place!)

 We then pushed ourselves up the hill to a couple of streets known for their traditional Norwegian houses. On the way we passed a cemetery that looked like a film set. It was empty aside from the snow, and the only sound that broke the hush was the cawing of dozens of black crows. It was eerie. I loved it.

The houses weren’t much to see in the fading grey afternoon, but the glowing orange lights in all the windows made it all feel quite cozy. The trendy word these days is hygge (HOO-guh), a word meaning ” quality of cosiness and comfortable conviviality that engenders a feeling of contentment or well-being.” Although it’s Danish in origin I can see it all over Oslo — to keep away the winter blues, everything is plush and soft with candles burning in every house, shop and restaurant.

Our little wander turned into a 10 mile walk all over the city. The centre of Oslo is tightly-knit and easy to explore, and there was something beautiful to see around every corner. After the best cinnamon roll of my life I was ready to conquer the uphill climb to the Royal Palace. The snow and twinkling lights gave the city a magical quality. In a sudden fit of childish delight we decided to rent skates and go ice skating in the park — but the magic was shattered when we saw it would cost 400 kr ($50 US) to do it. (Norway is ungodly  expensive, one reason we were even more excited about the free hotel breakfast that In writing this from.)

We were shattered ourselves from our long day, and the 3pm sunset did nothing to help our energy levels. We fought to stay awake til a reasonable 8pm. Now it’s time to tackle day 2 in Oslo!


After the Christmas market Saturday afternoon, we needed time to digest and get ready to go out on the town that night. To fortify ourselves Emm and Fionn made a batch of Feuerzangenbowle, which translates as “fire-tongs punch.” We watched a video which detailed how to make the traditional German Christmas drink, which included a serious warning that we must use fire-proof equipment; otherwise, “It will explode.”

The recipe includes red wine, oranges and lemons, cinnamon, cloves, and the finishing touch: a huge lump of sugar soaked in Austrian rum and set on fire. The final product was hot and sweet with a citrus-caramel flavor. I loved it! Warm on the inside and outside, Emma and I went into Berlin to experience the nightlife. Our original plan fell through when we found out the place was completely full, so we ended up just having a quiet night in the hip neighborhood of Mitte.
I had to leave late Sunday afternoon, so we were determined to pack as much as we could into my last day.Emma and I ate some more of her amazing homemade bread and then we headed out. We walked to a park that has one of the last standing sections of the Berlin Wall, along with a memorial to people who had died trying to cross it. It was sobering to see dates of death that had happened after I was born, it was all so recent. Across the street was a free museum which had a viewing platform on top — from there you could look into the reconstructed no-man’s-land across the street for a  better understanding of what it was like during the Cold War.
For some levity went to a couple of flea markets to poke around. The first was a smaller local one, and Emma walked away with a phenomenal fur hat. The second market had hundreds of stalls sprawled over the muddy Mauerpark, including food trucks and live bands. I managed to get a vegetarian version of a traditional Bratwurst platter — the tofu was the only change, and I got to try several different German mustards.
Although it was sunny at the market it was barely above freezing, and we started to get cold. We warmed our frozen hands and feet in a cafe nearby and decided to find some indoor entertainment. I had seen a sign for a Hieronymus Bosch exhibit — this was the painter famous for bizarre scenes of heaven and hell full of monsters and impossible creatures. And many, many butts. Butts everywhere, really. He’s my kind of guy. I was expecting a traditional gallery, but in true Berlin fashion it was a musical projection housed in the Old Mint building. Emma and I pulled over a couple of cushy beanbag chairs and laid back to let the surreal scenes wash over us.
The warmth and coziness was lulling us to sleep, so we shook off our tiredness to take in the last couple hours of Berlin. We walked around the upscale Prenzlauer Berg and down the famous Friedrichstrasse. Everything was under construction so it wasn’t as pretty to look at, but it was still lovely to be in Berlin without the crowds and harsh summer sun. It started to get dark and it was time for me to bid auf Wiedersehen, so I grabbed my bags from the apartment and quickly hugged everyone before rushing to the airport.
The city was blanketed in fog so I wasn’t surprised when my flight was delayed, but thankfully I made my connection and was able to sleep in my own bed in Edinburgh that night. My next trip will be back home for Christmas!

​I know, I know, another trip! I knew that if I moved to Europe and didn’t take advantage of it, I’d kick myself. So last night I arrived in Berlin. 
My friend Emma picked me up at the airport, and she and her boyfriend Fionn graciously agreed to put me up for the weekend. I feel so lucky to be in the orbit of so many cool people, and these two are no exception. Emma designs corsets and costumes for burlesque dancers and films, while Fionn is a musician — the two have even just recorded an album here in Berlin.

Emma whisked me through the airport and onto a bus and onto the subway and suddenly we were home! They live in a slowly-gentrifying neighborhood called Wedding, which is full of Turkish grocery stores and coffee shops. We started our evening with a €1 glass of mulled wine from the shop next door, then went out for a beer at the bar where Fionn works. It was a very classically German sort of place and we were the only tourists in sight. Fionn’s coworkers behind the bar plied us with treats leftover from a party the bar had hosted — we had a slice of poppy seed cake and on the walk home we carried a bag of bread rolls.

The rolls were unnecessary for breakfast, which Emma presented with aplomb. Homemade Austrian rye bread (with a recipe handed down by an old housemate), butter, cheese, tomatoes, and… egg coffee. The last one was my fault, I’d read about it online a couple days earlier and Fionn was keen to try it out. The egg acts as a French press, filtering the coffee and removing the bitterness as it boils in the pot. I think I was the only one who liked the smooth result.

The eating wasn’t finished yet. In fact, it was just beginning. We walked to Emma’s old cafe for cupcakes and coffee, then we walked along the river into the centre of Berlin. I had been here once before three years ago and didn’t like it. I think part of the reason was that the city was empty and blazing hot in July. The other part was my high expectations. Before going everyone told me how Berlin us the most amazing city in Europe. “I’m so jealous,” everyone said. “You’re going to love it!”

I was primed to fall in love with Berlin then but instead it fell flat. Emma was bound and determined to change my mind this time. Walking along the Spree again was familiar, but it was much nicer with fewer people and the soft glow of the winter sun. Even Museum Island had only a handful of tourists, so we were able to get some nice photos.

We walked further to Kraftwerk, an old Cold War power plant that’s been converted into an events space. It cost €5 to get inside for the über-cool Holy Shit Shopping market (yes, that’s really the name). It was worth the money just to see the inside of the building. It was incredible!

We had more food, this time spatzle with cheese and some pelmani, Russian dumplings with sour cream. Both were delicious but I’m glad we shared them.

The next stop on Emma’s list was the French Dome, an enormous church whose spire you could climb for a sunset view of the city. I was thankful this spiral staircase was quite civilized and sturdy (and indoors out of the cold). We were rewarded for our efforts with a stunning view of Berlin in the fading sunlight.

Back down the stairs, Emma steered me into the Christmas Market next door for more delights: candied cashews, raclette (melted cheese on potatoes) and Kaiserschmarren (pancakes with applesauce and cinnamon-sugar). Freezing and full of carbs we went back to the flat to rest up before our night on the town!

(The photos aren’t uploading right now, I’ll put them up later!)

I was up all night watching the election. But this isn’t a political blog, it’s about travel. So let’s finish up my Italian weekend.

I’m writing this from the (cold) comfort of my new apartment in Edinburgh, where I returned late Monday night. My flight got in just before midnight, so it was nearly 1am by the time I got into bed. It was a tense flight — mostly due to the girl across the aisle from me. I thought I was a nervous flier, but she was bouncing her legs and gripping her thighs the entire two and a half hours. At every bump she would turn round to see if the flight attendants looked worried (they never did). All this hair-pulling was in addition to the four mini bottles of wine she ordered, which seemed to do nothing but encourage nervous giggling and turn her face the mottled colors of spaghetti bolognese.

The rest of our Bologna trip was fantastic. Ellie had a train to catch in the afternoon so we packed as much as we could into the earlier part of the day. After our usual hotel breakfast, where I managed to get more coffee on the buffet table than in my tiny European cup, we walked to the train station to get Ellie’s tickets. It’s always an education in itself to see how other countries handle their transportation systems, and I was pleased to see that the messy, low-tech Italian-only ticket booths of my last trip 6 years ago had been replaced by efficient, English-speaking computers. Ellie had her tickets paid for and in her hand in less than 2 minutes. The future is a wonderful thing sometimes.
Next, we knew we had to conquer something that had been literally looming over us the whole trip: climbing the tower. Though the city used to be positively lousy with towers, Bologna now boasts two major ones. The taller tower, Asinelli, is open for tourists to climb the wooden steps all the way to the top. The shorter Garisenda tower leans spectacularly … and has done so since Dante’s time. You’d think they’d fix that. Anyway, Europe loves tall things to climb, and they’re always full of tight little stairs that seem to go on forever. I’ve tackled several of these, like the Duomo in Florence, the tower in Bruges, and the Wallace Monument in Stirling. Even the underground catacombs in Paris require a dizzying climb back to street level via a winding stone staircase. These places always make me feel more than a bit claustrophobic, and Ellie confided in me just before entering the tower that she “doesn’t exactly have a fear of heights, but… “
So we were both determined to overcome our fears. We paid the 3 euros to enter and pushed ourselves up the rickety wooden stairs all the way to the top. At 318 feet, the tower is taller than the Statue of Liberty (and I’m sure the stairs are nicer in Lady Liberty). Every so often Ellie and I would gladly pause to press our back against the wall, letting descending tourists pass by. They each gasped a grateful “grazie” regardless of their home country. We would in turn breathlessly answer “prego” — which we language nerds were excited to finally use correctly. This catch-all word means everything from “you’re welcome” to “no worries” to “go ahead.” It was almost as exciting as the climb.
The view from the top was spectacular, particularly because the blue sky and bright sunshine made the red bricks and tiles of the city glow. You could see for miles, and I was excited to make out the long arcade of porticoes leading to San Luca from the first day of our trip. We didn’t stay up there long, though, due to the wind and the little voice in my head saying, “What if one of those earthquakes hit RIGHT NOW?” We skedaddled back down the tower and emerged blinking in the sunlit piazza. We had several other things to check off our list so we got to walking.
Next was the Archiginnasio, or old university of Bologna. Built in the 16th century, it was the main campus of the university for over two hundred years. You can still see the Anatomical Theatre with its marble slab shining in the middle of the room. The students would sit in benches circling the room, while a priest stood watch in a box flanked by statues of skinless men to make sure nothing un-Christian was happening during the dissections. Yes, really.
Somehow that grim sight hadn’t diminished our appetites. The vast majority of my holiday planning had gone into food, so we went to my next destination to try a local favorite, piadine. Similar to a panini, they are huge pressed flatbread sandwiches — I got mine with giant chucks of parmesan squeezed in the middle of some token vegetables. It was amazing. Even more amazing was our last gelato of the trip, at La Sorbetteria Castiglione. I didn’t think it was possible, but their pistachio and hazelnut gelato was actually better than the first. I couldn’t believe my luck.
On the way back to the hotel to grab a taxi for Ellie, we finally walked into the gigantic cathedral that dominates the Piazza Maggiore. The ceiling was high enough that I could imagine clouds clinging to the columns, and it featured a tiny pinhole of sunlight in one corner. This shone onto an incredible solar calendar running the length of the floor, which highlighted the educational rather than ecclesiastical nature of Bologna.
I said goodbye to Ellie and waved her off onto the next part of her adventures in Italy, Australia and beyond. With a few hours to waste before my own flight that evening, I wandered the streets and enjoyed a final meal of tortelloni.
Ciao, Italy, you’ve been a lovely host.

​After a long, restorative sleep and a stop at the hotel’s breakfast buffet, we began our second day in Bologna. On the first Sunday of every month all the museums and galleries throw open their doors for free. Despite the long-awaited appearance of the sun, we had to take advantage of this deal! 
MAMBo, the modern art museum, was nice if a bit underwhelming. The communist art was interesting and gave another dimension to Bologna’s reputation as La Rossa — The Red One. A huge portion of the museum was dedicated to an artist whose entire oeuvre seemed to be still lives of vases. It was less than thrilling. Thankfully the weather allowed us to explore the gorgeous garden outside.

I had done plenty of research before coming to Bologna — mostly on the food, since Bologna is also known as La Grassa, or The Fat One. Around the corner from the museum was one of the best-rates gelato shops in the city, and it was swarming with customers and journalists. Apparently today they were donating their profits to charity, and most of the gelato scoopers were volunteers. A few pros were sprinkled in the mix, and they laughed and helped correct lopsided cones. It was a fun atmosphere and the pistachio gelato was the best I’ve ever tasted! Of course we still had to get lunch, so we walked to another recommendation for huge paninis made with aged parmesan and crunchy flatbread.

We waddled back to the center of Bologna to walk off the afternoon’s gluttony in the Medieval Museum. The collection was an interesting mix of bronze crabs, medieval sheet music and marble saints. It was certainly worth the price of admission (free!), particularly because it’s housed in a beautiful and well-maintained palazzo.

On a Sunday the city almost has a carnival atmosphere. The main roads surrounding the Piazza Maggiore are closed to vehicles and both families and tourists amble along the wide avenues, stopping for the occasional street performer. We followed the flow of the crowds, poked our heads in the Cathedral of San Pietro and soaked up the sunshine. As the sun moved behind the buildings and the blue sky began to darken, we came back to the hotel to rest and research a good place for dinner.

​I’ve been living in Edinburgh for over a month now. It’s just as gorgeous as I remember, but I’ve never had to look for work there before.  Unlike Australia, Scotland experiences a sharp dip in international students in the winter months. Very, very sharp. So here I am, time rich and money poor, taking advantage of it by visiting the Continent. 
My friend Ellie is moving back to Australia (temporarily!), but she’s making a grand tour of Italy on her way and she graciously allowed me to tag along for a bit. To me the beauty of Europe is not just in the art or architecture, but in the ridiculously cheap short-haul flights. For less than $50 we flew the two hours from Edinburgh to Bologna on Ryanair. Ryanair is exactly as advertised, cheap and cheerful with absolutely no frills. I was in a holiday mood and bought a couple of charity scratch cards from the extremely enthusiastic flight attendant — no winners, but at least my 4€ went to a good cause.

After our cheesy dinner last night I didn’t have much of an appetite at breakfast, so I had a quick coffee before Ellie and I headed out into the city. We walked the three miles to the Santuario Madonna di San Luca, an enormous cathedral perched in the hills surrounding Bologna. The last mile or so was completely under cover… literally. The Santuario boasts the world’s longest portico, which ironically has 666 arches. We became more and more thankful for the portico as the atmospheric mist hanging over the hill turned to rain. Bologna is full of these covered arcades, and this made us realize that the rain will probably accompany us for the rest of our trip.

The cathedral is lovely but unremarkable, so we didn’t stay long. Walking down the path was much faster than walking up, and soon we were back in the heart of the city. We dashed through the downpour from portico to portico in search of some much-needed lunch. As a reward for our trek, we decided to go to Pasta Fresca Naldi. I had found it on TripAdvisor and it turned it to be a hidden gem. It’s a miniscule cafe with most of the space given over to a large kitchen for pasta-making. There’s a counter to place your order and two small benches with ancient stools that seem to enjoy swiveling whether you do or not. While we waited for our order (and swiveled) we watched the nonnas in starched white caps and aprons cutting the fresh tagliatelle. The pasta was incredible! I had perfect little tortellini pillows filled with pumpkin and cooked in lashings of sage butter, and Ellie enjoyed the classic ragu.

After a quick rest at the hotel, we went to the Two Towers to meet our new friend Aurelio. He was working at the restaurant where we’d had dinner the night before, and he invited us to get a coffee the next afternoon. He arrived right at 3pm Italian standard time, which is to say 3:15pm. He took us to a pastry shop that reminded me of Brunetti’s back in Melbourne where we had mignon (small pastries) and coffee. My cafe con panna was mostly just whipped cream but I considered that a plus. He left us at the Sette Chiese, the Seven Churches — well, there used to be 7, now there’s only 4, and they’re all connected to one another. They were all suitably dark and Gothic and proved to be good shelter from the drizzle.

We ran through the rain to the next shelter, the Osteria dell’Orsa, for dinner and dessert. More pasta and tiramisu, which were both delicious and cheap. Our plans to go out for a big Saturday night in Bologna took a back seat to the desire to sleep, so we went back to the hotel for a quiet night in. That means we’ll be well-rested for sightseeing tomorrow!