My best friend from Wellesley, MS, moved to Norway about a year ago. Her hubby is Norwegian, and they’ve lived in a couple of places in Norway in their first year of marriage. I went up to visit them at their house in Oslo April armed with a backpack full of essential (and hard to find in Norway) English goodies:
Unfortunately–as suspected by many–I’m not the most responsible solo traveler. After arriving too late to check into my Friday night flight (and a few tears later), I finally jetted up North on Saturday morning to hang with MS, JA, and Oggie the Doggy.
We spent Saturday driving through the countryside, taking a walk, and hanging out in their cozy house.
Sunday kicked off with Norwegian breakfast (my favourite!!), a walk through town, and waffles and Brunost (a sweet brown cheese) on the porch. It was sunny and beautiful, and MS and I sat outside, watched the clouds roll through the valley, and even got the change to FaceTime with our newly engaged friend EW.
These are the kind of weekends that make me feel so lucky to be living in London and only a plane ride away from people I love.
Madeira was an impulse buy for a weekend trip, a 3 hour flight to a speck of an island off the coast of Morocco. The landing itself was an event with the plane making a 180 degree hairpin turn before touching down on a runway perched on massive stilts in the sea. The island is surrounded by cliffs—its beauty is wild, of towering volcanic mountains and little towns in the valleys below.
We stayed in a hamlet called Jardim Do Mar, set on a large plateau at the base of the cliffs, with concrete breakers to protect against the Atlantic swell. It’s got cobbled streets to narrow for cars set with flower patterns of white amongst black rocks, and a couple of restaurants serving dishes from the sea. Our favourite spot was Joe’s bar, which serves up fried seafood, 1.5 euro beers, and a laid back island vibe—the first night we had no cash, and the owner asked us to come back and pay the next day. We found that kind of hospitality everywhere. People were very friendly, and no one was in a rush for anything. Our evenings at Jardim Do Mar were mainly spent walking by the sea or in Joe’s little garden drinking wine.
With only one full day on the island, we spent Saturday driving around the island, up its winding mountain roads and through its many tunnels. We had sunshine on the coast and saw snow up on the second highest peak—it’s an island of several climates. We drove north across the spine of mountains that defines the island, over winding roads hugging drops deep into the valleys. It was incredibly lush, with sweeping vistas that made you forget it was an island.
We stopped for a quick hike in the UNESCO protected Laurisilva forest, with trees that date back 800 years in a Jurassic Park landscape, before pressing on to the north coast.
The island is one of water, with babbling streams and levada irrigation channels that crisscross the island. After a cheeky stop at the Veu de Noiva, a waterfall that flows directly into the sea, we headed on to Quinta de Furao, an upscale hotel and restaurant with a beautiful view out to the sea.
We had a delightful lunch with dry Madeiran wine, stopped for a tropical fruit dessert at a fruit stand on the side of the road (passion fruit and a weird, delightful green fruit) and then drove up to Pico Ruivo with the hopes of breaking the cloud layer to see its famed views. We drove higher and higher, and the visibility got worse and worse. We saw cars pass us coming the other way with little snowmen on their hoods, and we quickly realised why it was so busy—there was no view above the clouds, but there was snow up top, in what must be a reasonably rare occurrence on a tropical island.
We drove back down to the sunshine and warmth, stopping at a crowded platform that rests over the highest cliff in Europe, a 1,000 foot drop down into the sea.
The highlight of the trip was a dinner we had in Prazeres, the town that sits above Jardim Do Mar, at at Restaurante Manjerico. It only takes bookings ahead of time, and AM facebook messaged them in the hopes they’d be open. They were, and we were welcomed by the sweatshirt wearing proprietor who runs the place with his wife. We sat in a big room downstairs, chatting with him about Brexit and the Portugese diaspora in the UK. The meal was to die for, with a cheese and scallop platter to start with, and more food than we could possibly eat for the main course. It was potatoes, rice, marinated roasts, and vegetables—Portugese comfort food at its finest. A boisterous group of locals soon joined, with a feast for kings. We hadn’t asked the price before sitting down and were quite worried when the bill came. With wine and all, it came to 33 Euros—pretty unbelievable.
Before we knew it we were having our last walk down by the water and boarding a flight home with a couple bottle.
RM had a week of training in Budapest, and so we decided to make a weekend of it with another couple. It was a quick trip—just a couple days—but it reminded us why we loved the city so much, with great cheap food, lively nightlife, and a hipster design scene. Budapest is a sprawling old imperial city, with imposing architecture and the beautiful Danube cutting through the middle, separating the grandness of the Buda side with its palace from the denser Pest across the river.
Much of the weekend was spent visiting some of the places we loved from the last time we were there. We were surprised to see Paloma, a pretty courtyard filled with independent artists’ shops, still thriving, with mainly the same stores that had been there two years before. Our favourite was still a little family run booth that sells pewter and stone jewellery. Fiser, where we bought AM a handbag a long time ago, was still up and running, making bags of all shapes, styles and colours to order.
Saturday night was one of our livelier ones in a while, kicking off with dinner and Hungarian wine (we do love Hungarian wine!) at Macesz Huszar, a classy Jewish style restaurant in the old Jewish quarter. From there, to Szimpla Kert, one of Budapest’s several ruin bars, a sprawling series of rooms in a ruined old building. There’s dancing on the main floor and a few other bars scattered around, with a crowd of young Budapestians mixed in with a big dose of tourists. We had a few beers and met up with some other Newtons before heading to Club Tesla, a huge club with a mainly Hungarian crowd.
One of the best parts of Budapest is just walking the city and taking it in. The seat of parliament is a stunning, huge Gothic Revival building set on the river with a large plaza out front. Two Soldiers march in lockstep out front in a circle around a towering flagpole. Crossing the river takes you over the famed chain link bridge, flanked by enormous bronze lions, to the imperial palace set on a hill above the city. When we needed a coffee to start our day we stopped in Auguszt Curkraszda, a bakery with delightful, rich cakes set as in an old imperial style cafe. To end the trip we took a long stroll up to the tall statue of a lady on the highest part of a hill that dominates the city—it was a long hike up trails still slicked with ice, but well worth the view.
RM’s work hosts a ski trip every year which is something the whole company looks forward too.We missed it last year and were determined not to this year, even if RM didn’t know how to ski and AM hadn’t snowboarded for 14 years. And so we boarded the flight to Geneva after work on Friday with 100 other coworkers and friends and made our way to La Clusaz in the French Alps.
The town was a beautiful little ski village set in a deep valley surrounded by towering mountains. Ski lifts crisscross the mountains, and a multitude of chalet bars scatter themselves across the slopes. Though the snow turned icy by the end of the weekend, the weather was beautiful, with clear skies and a winter chill in the air. The company rented two hotels, one of which had an open bar (risky at best), lukewarm hot tub, sauna, and pool.
By day, we skied and snowboarded all over the mountains. RM had a lesson to begin the weekend, with the primary instruction being “go down that hill” and “don’t go straight down.” We stuck to blues and greens, though RM found that greens were the right speed. Soon we lost count of the number of falls, some more spectacular than others. By the end of the weekend, greens were no problem. While AM did some steep, crowded blues, RM often hiked down to get to events at the bars on the slopes. The annual scavenger hunt, in fancy dress (what British event doesn’t have costumes?), was fun, with our team dressed in Super Mario attire. As some pretty weak skiers, we mainly stuck to the easy slopes.
Nights were filled with dinner, British drinking games (oddly less active than American ones), and all-you-can drink cocktails. We learned the joys of French Alpine cooking, including raclette, where a wedge of hard cheese is put next to a heating element to melt. Some favourite drinking games include “Mr. President,” where everyone puts their finger to their ear and says “get down Mr. President”—the last one to do so is tackled—and another involving numbers and repetition. We never managed to make it that late, which was probably a good thing.
We finished the trip with one last ride up the mountains, some runs down the nicer greens, and a beer atop the mountain.
Our more-than-just-a-friend-more-like-family friend MS came to visit and we used it as an excuse to take a trip to Seven Sisters Country Park and see the beautiful white cliffs. The cliffs are the longest stretch of chalk cliffs around the channel, but are quickly eroding into the sea. Cash especially loved the trip because we let him run around on the beach–a rare treat for a city slicker pup.
On the way home we stopped in Brighton which was mostly strange. The main attractions are a boardwalk which RM and MS convinced me looks the same as every boardwalk ever (how am I to know? I’ve never seen one!). A couple of blocks away was the the King’s summer palace–an Indian inspired building built for King George and designed by John Nash in the early 19th century.
The next stop is the Bahia palace. It is there that we learn that there are two Marrakeches–the chaos and smell and endless noise of the medina, and the blissful tranquility of the many walled Riad’s and gardens. The Bahia palace, built for a king, is nothing from the outside–simply another alley off a street in the medina. The inside, however, is courtyard after courtyard of gardens and beautiful carvings and geometric tile designs. The colours are the ones we will soon see in other places–brilliant blue, green, black, and yellow, all in tile that could only have been laid by master artisans. It’s all about the detail–most walls are plain, but the ceilings are works of art and the moulding is carved with beautiful Arabic script.
The Saadian tombs are the same–big red nondescript walls punctuated by tombs with the most intricate artwork. The style is nothing short of breathtaking.
We wound our way back through the souk, and did some scarf shopping on the way. Some intense haggling with a shopkeeper got a beautiful scarf for the price of 250 dirhams, or half of where we started the bargaining, though we later learned from our host that we should have paid 180.We finished the evening with a very romantic three course meal at our Riad before calling it a day.