Stories of this Canadian girl's adventures exploring Europe...join me!

Saturday, March 31, 2018

copenhagen...experiencing a hygge kind of life

Spending a few days in Copenhagen, I was struck by an intense feeling of comfort, something akin to a sense of home. I'm not Scandinavian, and my roots do not trace back to this part of the world, as far as I know, at all. But I was intrigued by how Danish people live; where was their focus, what do they value, how do they spend their time? So, I looked into the culture of the Danes, and that is when I came across the word 'hygge' for the very first time.

The most common words used to describe 'hygge' are cosiness, kinship, togetherness, conviviality, simplicity, contentedness...but from what I've read and experienced, I would hesitate to limit the idea to a few words. Hygge is a lifestyle, a way of thinking...which increases calm and enhances sociability in order to recognise the many blessings that surround us in people, nature, food and comforts.

Hygge is candlelight. Hygge is standing at the window for a moment and welcoming the morning sun. Hygge is a set table surrounded by love and laughter. Hygge is getting back to basics. Hygge is about being kind to ourselves and each other.

Fellowship...being together

"Attention is the rarest and purest form of generosity." - Simone Weil

Copenhagen's Nyhavn district, translating into 'new harbour' even though the canal was dug in 1670, is full of opportunities to walk, eat and just be together. Not just tourists walk among the heritage sailing vessels and old schooners, or sit in the outdoor cafés sipping the beloved Danish coffee.

The idea of kinship and being sociable means being open to each other. You don't need to be superficially friendly to everyone and their dog, but be generous with time and energy, if you can spare it. The concept of hygge is to spend quality time with others, whether taking a walk or sharing a meal or a coffee...starting with family. Life is complicated, which we all know, but giving others time goes a long way to building relationship and thereby community.

At the end of Nyhavn, across a foot bridge is Paper Island, which is currently undergoing a complete renovation. It was a converted paper storage facility housing over 200 street food stalls, with so much easy-going energy that all you could do was enjoy laying out on a lawn chair or sitting on long beer tables, munching on delicious, simple food and loving life. But trust the Danes to have a great plan for this special will surely become a community of good times again soon.

Papiroen - Paper Island
Copenhagen's answer to New York's cool meatpacking district (was there a question?) is Kodbyen, literally 'meat town' in Danish. Here the vibe is a bit different than Nyhavn...more grit and fewer selfies. There are less tourists and more locals, imbibing together in spacious, converted industrial halls. cool, just make sure you go when it's open ;)
Breweries, organic restaurants, art galleries, performance art and event spaces make this place feel a bit more old SOHO to me, than meatpacking, but hey what do I know. There's a huge bull on one of the meat, it is.

Nature...being active

"Just living is not enough," said the butterfly, "one must have sunshine, freedom, 
and a little flower to love." - Hans Christian Anderson

A major component of hygge is to be active, no matter what the weather, and as much as you are physically able, to get outside during all seasons, inhaling fresh air and earning the rewards that will come later in the form of food and firelight and glögg.

Hiking, biking, kayaking, and just plain old playing are favourite activities of the Scandanavian people. Signe Johansen, author of, "How to Hygge" writes that it's not about looking good but about feeling great all year round. They don't let snow or rain or cold get in the way of a some good clean natural fun. Of course, as a Canadian girl from the Rockies, I know, as do the Danes, that you have to be smart, heed the elements and be prepared.

all-time best name for a club
What struck me about the concept of hygge is that it really isn't about show. It's not about buying the best sportswear, or workout equipment, or trying to look like Helena Christensen or Nina Agdal. It's about being healthy in mind and body, enjoying the many gifts nature gives us, and just getting outside and doing something.

Bringing nature into your home, in the form of plants and flowers goes along with that. Keep things simple, you don't have to break the bank, but soaking up the energy that plant life gives is rejuvenating and well, life-giving.

Come on, you can't tell me that seeing a bouquet of flowers like this, which you've treated yourself to in lieu of taking a few Starbucks runs, wouldn't help start your days with an extra boost of goodness.

Food...being hospitable

"Cooking is caring for others." - Olafur Eliasson

The Scandanavians are known for world-class cuisine, a love of pastries, and excellent home-cooked meals. Eating together and cooking for each other is a treasured and beloved routine, but from everything I've seen, it's not showy or boasty or touted. It's just done...and always has been.

In Copenhagen, coffee is more of a verb than a noun. I heard about a small café, called Mormors, that from the moment I walked in I never wanted to leave. I went each day I was in Copenhagen and each time I tried something new.

Aside from great coffee (of course) and delicious homemade treats and sandwiches, its whimsy had me hooked. Dolls hang from the ceiling (okay, sure, it's a little creepy), photos of the Queen (the Danish one of course) or Prince Charles or a clown fill what limited space there is on the walls.

Vintage tin boxes hold fresh cookies and muffins, ceramic margarine pots nestle barbie dolls from the 50's, and every sort of knick knack you can imagine line shelves and counters. It is fun fun.

But, Copenhagen can also 'do' finer dining. On this particular evening, I hopped aboard the night ferry to Oslo and enjoyed what my mood and wallet allowed...a bit of caprese, bruschetta and wine.

Simplicity...being thankful

"Beautiful is that which is practical, useful, informed by its purpose, and 
expressive of the soul of its user or creator." - Ellen Kay

Walking and getting lost in Mälmo (Sweden), Oslo (Norway) and also in Copenhagen on this trip, I was struck by how most of the small stores and boutiques looked and sounded local. All of us know and own Scandanavian furniture in some form, but the fashion and design industry, including lighting and architecture, are shaped by the underlining principle of simplicity and function.

Again, hygge is not about show or pricetag, but about getting back to the basics, lighting a fire or a candle, and not cluttering our minds or homes with unneccesary 'stuff'...making room for creativity, energy and a little light.

"In acceptance of the limitations that life imposes on us and in knowing that we can choose our attitude in any given circumstance and make the best of our situation, 
we throw open the window to hygge." - Louisa Thomsen Brits

This really is a special part of the world, and not for nothing do the Scandanavian countries top the 'best places to live', 'best quality of life', and 'happiest countries' lists year after year. If you get a chance go and visit, or better yet, incorporate hygge into your daily routine and bring a bit of Scandanavia to you. That's what I'm going to do! Skal!

If you go:

- consider a tour (as short or long as you want) with Authentic Scandanavia. They were really pleasant to plan with, helpful with recommendations and options, and my 5-day tour was perfect for what I wanted to do and what I could afford

- pop into's a wonderful treat (Bredgade 45, Copenhagen)

- read Signe Johansen's "How to Hygge"...better yet read it if you can't go and bring hygge to you!

Wednesday, February 28, 2018

camogli...the most gorgeous italian fishing village you've never heard of

Nestled on the edge of the Italian Riviera is the small fishing village of Camogli. Overshadowed by its more popular neighbours of Portofino and further south, Cinque Terra, Camogli is where Italians outnumber tourists, where an espresso dopio costs only 2€, and the array of colour amidst rock and waves astound.

Not for nothing is this area of northern Italy called the 'Golfo Paradiso'. Just 45 minutes south of Genoa, by train or car, Camogli is the perfect inexpensive day trip or a destination to relax, rejuvenate and hike from for a week or two or more.

In its heyday Camogli was home to hundreds of tall ships, and with over 500 registered ship captains it was a thriving seaport.

Castello della Dragona

Perched on the edge of the black pebbled beach is Castello della Dragona, a fascinating setting to let your imagination run wild with images of Napoleon's ships at anchor in the cove, warring factions of Italy's five maritime superpowers during the Middle Ages, and

centuries of fishing boats streaming out at dawn in search of their daily catch.

The fishing method still used in Canogli is called Tonnarella - a 17th century system of netting fish while not killing them directly, so that all the fish caught which can't be sold that day are released. Nets, made of coconut fibres, are lowered and raised three times a day.

The backdrop of the town is definitely colour. Russet, pink and mustard-coloured buildings guide you along the small fishing harbour, and through the town's main street and high up into the hills.

With a sprinkling of love in the air it was "amore a prima vista" for me.

Laundry, consisting of cute Italian clothes (do they have any other kind?) and bed sheets, covers the delicately painted faux facades around every corner...and I couldn't get enough of it!

On my next visit (and there will be one!) I will make sure to hike from Camogli, along the cove's coast to San Rocco church which is perched high above the town. If you keep going along the waterline or through the national park to the hidden gem of San Fruttuoso you will find its Benedictine Monastery and magical cove, which is only accessible by foot or ferry.

Then, I might just keep on wandering to Portofino...all apparently doable in a great day of walking. If you're interested in doing this too check out the trail site at Portofino Trek, which I will be doing the next time I visit!

But at the end of the day, traveling and these words continue to inspire me...
Stay curious, keep learning, love deeply...and most of all, be kind.

When you go:

Train schedule -
Portofino trek information -

Just 45 minutes by train/car from Genoa, it's an easy and inexpensive day trip.

Monday, January 29, 2018

the charm of the easy daytrip from london!

One might imagine that entering a town that is brushed an overwhelmingly uniform shade of taupe would lack in something, but let me tell you that Stow-on-the-Wold has an abundance of colour oozing out of its rich history and character.

Sweet, curious cottages are the first thing I notice. They hang out on seemingly every corner. An imposing market cross stands at attention in the middle of the square - erected in the middle ages as a constant reminder for the sheep traders to remain fair and honest in their dealings.

Pubs abound, like they do England, everywhere. But, Stow-on-the-Wold is also internationally reknowed for its antiques...therefore you'll find no shortage of galeries and shops here.

Charming, charismatic, and in an 'Outlander'-type way (although I know that the TV series is filmed in Scotland) are inadequate words I would use to describe this town and its surrounding romantic hills.

Sitting atop the highest 'wold' in the Cotswolds, Stow-on-the-Wold's medieval church spire can be seen from miles away. This area, deeply affected and infected by the remnants of Henry VIII and the Tudor reign, the bloodshed of the first English Civil War, and Britain's obsession for the best wool to be had, makes a visit here feel like stepping back in time.

During the civil war, Stow remained fiercely loyal to the crown, which is evidenced by plaques to the fallen and buildings still proudly bearing royal names, such as the King's Arms in the market square; a 500-year-old former coaching inn. Coming here by train is the perfect day trip from London, but on my next visit I will definitely stay the night in a quaint and cozy inn, like the King's Arms, for a quick and easy break from the city.

Stow-on-the-Wold, one of many incredibly cute and picturesque market towns of the southern midlands, located in the northern Cotswolds, held for centuries the largest livestock market in Britain.

Long, narrow lanes, called "chures", run upwards to the market square from the large holding pens below, where the sheep were driven through and counted as they came to the square to be sold on market days.  Upwards of 20,000 sheep were sold on good days!

The middle ages was an incredibly prosperous time for Stow due to the high demand across the country for the special, long-haired, woolly Cotswold sheep, still a precious breed today.

The entire Cotswolds region is a maze of lovely walking trails through the high and lowlands...

among fields of sheep and horses, which connect towns with low-lying stone walls and tree-lined paths.

Just a mile from Stow is the former sheep estate called Maugersbury, which once upon a time supplied the vast amount of animals for Stow's successful market days.

Now a hamlet, it is home to the cutest stone cottages nestled among what look to be high-end, grey-stoned villas.

The architecture style of the area became known as Cotswold Vernacular, stemming from the original building method, which was wood with wattle and daub, until wood became scarce and the area's limestone was put into use. This resulted in everything from homes and foundations, to roof tiles and fences covered in coursed rubble walls.

Some of the original methods can still be found in Stow, including Tudor House on Sheep Street, dating back to the 1500's.

The town also boasts "England's Oldest Inn" according to the Guinness Book of Records. The Royalist Inn, along with The Porch House, on Digbeth Street dates all the way back to 947 AD. Isn't this the perfect place to have a pint?

The Cotswolds are England's largest Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB) stretching from Stratford Upon Avon down to Bath. Personally, I can't wait to get back so that I can spend much more time hitting the region's meandering footpaths and combing through the treasures of its stone-walled villages.

Trust me, if you're looking for a different kind of High Street - a quieter, more peaceful one - then the Cotswolds are a perfect break from London.

If you go:

From London's Paddington Station trains run every hour to Moreton-on-March (a 1.5 hour journey). From Moreton's train station take a 20-minute bus ride to Stow-on-the-Wold.

Travel by train at 'super, non-peak' hours to get the best deal on tickets ( which are very easy to book ahead online.

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