Whale, Reindeer and Meatballs…OH MY!!

During my two weeks in Scandinavia I had one goal in mind….I was determined to try as many Scandinavian dishes as I could! When I travel, I make it a point to try the local cuisine because it’s authentic and it helps give me a sense of how food changes when it gets to America.

Example…In Greece I didn’t hear one person scream “Opa!” when serving my saganaki. In Italy, I was never served olive oil and parmesan cheese for my bread. Maybe somewhere this happens, but I ate A LOT and it never saw it!

All I knew about Swedish food was from IKEA in the form of their meatballs (no judging). If I’m being truthful…I’ve never even tried a Swedish meatball from IKEA (gasp)!! I also heard rumblings that there was going to be a lot of fish, whale and reindeer meat. I don’t eat fish and I’m not sure about you, but whale and reindeer meat isn’t part of my normal diet.

All in all, I was absolutely DETERMINED to hunt down these foods and try them once and for all!!

First up…Whale! I found this at the famous fish market in Bergen, Norway. My sister and I walked up and down the market until we were sure we found the best tent! After a little help from the crew, we chowed down on a small portion of whale and potato salad (sorry PETA). I expected whale to taste like fish, but it actually tasted more like gyros…kinda.

A short distance away from the fish market, we were lucky to come across the hot dog stand that was on our list – Trekroneren Hot Dog Stand. This isn’t your ordinary hot dog stand though…this one serves REINDEER hot dogs!! I confidently walked up to the stand, paid my 55 NOK and nervously ate my first bite. I thought it would have a gamey taste, but it actually tasted like a normal hot dog. I was a little bit unimpressed, but happy that I had now crossed two items off my list!

Last on the list…meatballs! We found these all over Sweden, but decided on a small restaurant close to our hotel in Stockholm. Swedish meatballs are traditionally served with potatoes and lingonberry jam and that’s just how mine were served! They were tasty and I promise that the next time I go to IKEA, I will order some and officially compare the two!

 

 

What are some of your favorite Scandinavian dishes?? Do you have any other recommendations for future travelers??

Tivoli Gardens – A whimsical experience under $20!

I recently went on a two week vacation with my sister to Scandinavia (Denmark, Norway and Sweden) and couldn’t be more excited to share my adventures with you! If this area isn’t already on your list, get your credit card ready because you’re going to want to book a flight ASAP!

The first stop on our trip was Copenhagen, Denmark and one of the places I was most excited to visit was Tivoli Gardens! Prior to our trip I did a lot of research and Tivoli had such mixed reviews that I started to second guess my original excitement. Would two young adults really have that much fun at an amusement park?? Was it going to be filled with screaming kids and unorganized parents (Yikes)?? Was the food going to consist of popcorn and cotton candy like at Six Flags in the States??

Luckily, I was able to convince myself and my sister to make not only one trip…but TWO trips to Tivoli in the two days that we were in Denmark. Yes folks, that’s right…Tivoli was so magical and whimsical that we just HAD to go back! The best news, none of my above fears were even true! Tivoli is so much more than an amusement park and the only screaming I heard came from the 100yr old roller coaster. As far as the food, it was fantastic! We managed to find a wine bar (Bodega), a newer Italian restaurant (Mazzolis) and a Brew House (Faergekoen Bryghus).

For an $18 admission ticket, we spent a few hours each day strolling around the colorful gardens and getting lost in all the winding paths. We “ohhh’d” and “ahhhh’d” over everything cause it was SO GOSH DARN CUTE!!

“Look at that toy soldier…SO CUTE!!

“Look at that Scandinavian shop…SO CUTE!!

“Look at that Hans Christian Anderson ride…SO CUTE!!

It was enchantment overload for sure that anyone of all ages will truly love! It’s also very easy to get to as it’s right across from the main train station in Copenhagen (exit train station toward Bernstorrffsgade street).

For more pics on Tivoli, visit my Whimsical Denmark Pinterest Board!

Have you ever been to Tivoli?? Be sure to share your thoughts in the comments field!

Camelback Mountain – Hike or Rock Climb? YOU decide!

I travel to Arizona, for work, a few times a year and every time I go out there I tell myself, “This will be the time I climb Camelback!” Of course, something always comes up and I’m not able to actually do it, but I always return with the same goal.

I’m happy to announce that on May 11th I finally did it!! I made it to the top of Camelback Mountain!! ((cue the applause))

I have to be honest though…I was a little surprised by the actual course. Everyone calls Camelback a “Hike.” To me, a “Hike” is a steady path up a hill. It might be high and it might be long, but you’re still walking on a path.

Camelback is a “Rock Climb” and if I can be very specific for anyone who’s looking to do this, it’s a “Rock Climb with lizards who try/want to eat you.”

See for yourself….

Despite all the rocks and the scary lizards, I finally made it to the top! The views are amazing and worth all the effort to get up there. You can find directions to the start of the hike/rock climb from the City of Phoenix website. I chose to do Echo Canyon, but there is another hike called Cholla Trail that you also might enjoy.

Tip: Go slow, bring plenty of water and wear good shoes. I wore my regular gym shoes and found myself slipping on some of the rocks.

What do you think? Was Camelback a Hike or Rock Climb??

Opa!! Greece in Pictures!

This weekend is Greek Fest in Chicago….Lincoln Park Greek Fest to be exact. My friends asked me to go, but I’m busy packing for my Scandinavia trip! I leave tonight and couldn’t be more excited.

Greece was one of the most beautiful places I have ever traveled to! Never in my life have I see such bright blue and turquoise water. I spent a week in Athens, Santorini, Oia and Mykonos with one of my closest friends and we had a blast! We sailed around the gorgeous island of Santorini, laid on the white sandy beaches in Mykonos and raced around Athens to find the famous Poet Sandal Maker.

Although I’m missing Greek Fest this year, it was great to go back in my photo albums and pull up some of my favorite photos of the trip!

Enjoy the pics below and enjoy Greek Fest for all my fellow Chicagoans!

How to survive a family trip to Alaska!

By now, you all know that my sister and I take “Sisters Trips” every year. We’ve traveled to New York, Italy, Prague, Toronto and many other exciting destinations! 2014 will mark our 6th year and we’re going to Sweden, Denmark and Norway. Scandinavian posts coming soon!

In 2013 we tried something new. Something we haven’t done since we were children…we went on a family vacation. Here is how the conversation started:

 

Dad: “Your mom and I want to go to Alaska. Do you girls want to come with?”

Us: “Sure, sounds fun!”

Dad: “Well, it’s just that I didn’t know if it was cool to hang out with your parents on a vacation.”

Us: “Dad…we are old…you’re cool again. Plus, if you get annoying then we’ll just go to the bar.”

Dad: “ok, I’ll probably meet you there.”

 

So it began…the first family vacation in over 20 years! We made sure to bring along our Aunt for good measure. In September 2013 we all boarded a plane and headed to Seattle to greet our Princess Cruise ship...which would be our home for one whole week.

Here are some tips on how we survived:

1. Prepped, prepped…and prepped our family for airport changes.

On average, I fly two weeks out of the month. I am TSA/Global Entry approved. I only pack a Carry-On. I am an efficient traveler. I avoid all older people in line and race around anyone traveling with multiple kids. My mom, dad and aunt on the other hand had not flown since pre-911. Seriously.

So, my advice is that you prep anyone in your group that will slow you down. This will require you to answer MANY questions…over…and over…and over again. Questions like “Can I wear a belt through the metal detector?” “What if I have snacks in my purse?” “Do I have to take my shoes off?” “Are we sitting together on the plane?” “Will we have time to use the bathroom?” But if you are patient and answer them early then it will make your travel experience a LOT better!

2. Found the person in the group that can fix bad moods….and made them HAPPY!!!

This person is my dad. He’s the glue of the family and can turn any frown upside down. This is why it’s important that HE’s not in a bad mood. Enter…fun excursions. Pub and Bike Brew Tour…Check. Adventure park & Zip-lining…Check. Taking funny family photos…Check!

 

3. Brought extra alcohol…because we knew we’d need it! 

When you go on a cruise, everyone is allowed to bring 1 bottle of wine/champagne on board for free. Everything else, you have to pay for. There are always a few bars on the ship and ours even had a wine bar that did regular tastings. We just found that after a long day we wanted to relax on our balcony with our own favorite bottle. We brought Castoro wine that we got from our Paso Robles, California trip.

4. Found fun things on the boat…and actually have FUN!

Our boat was amazing and had a little something for everyone. We went to a wine tasting, comedy show and even made a few stops at the casino. One of my favorite moments was watching “Mama Mia” on the top deck! My mom, aunt, sister and I had seen the Broadway play a few years ago so it was nice to bond and watch the movie together. We even got a little dancing in!

 

Hopefully these tips will help you on your next family vacation!

What tips do you have to survive family travel??

You will NOT believe what Lady Gaga and I have in common!!

A few years ago my sister, a close childhood friend and I attended Chicago’s Windy City Wine Fest near Buckingham Fountain in Grant Park. We fell in love with Cass Winery and made plans to one day do a Girls Weekend and visit the vineyard in Paso Robles, California.

In June 2013, the three of us headed to Paso for a fun filled weekend of wine tasting and sightseeing! We had a few areas of interest on our list, but the one I was most excited about was Hearst Castle!

Hearst Castle was THE place to be in the 1920s and many celebrities and political figures would often visit. Imagine Charlie Chaplin, Greta Garbo, Clark Gable, Bob Hope, Franklin Roosevelt and Winston Churchill playing tennis, swimming in the beautiful pools, watching movies in the theater or walking through the world’s largest private zoo! We saw all of these on our Grand Rooms tour for only $25!!

Fast forward to 2014 and another celebrity has entered this enchanted castle….Lady Gaga! She filmed her new bizarre and perplexing video “G.U.Y” at Hearst Castle. It was fun to watch the video and remember all the spots that I had been…but then I thought “How could they let her swim in that pool!?!?! Clark Gable swam in that pool!! ”

See below for her latest video. I’ve also added some time marks since I’m sure you don’t want to sit through 11 minutes of this!

1:50 mark – Main castle entrance

2:20 mark – First views of Neptune’s pool

4:50 mark – First views of the Roman pool

7:20 mark – Beautiful shot and overview of Hearst Castle

 

It was such a beautifully foggy day at Hearst Castle when we went. The ride up to the Castle was surprisingly long and winding. You really got a good sense of the exclusivity and privacy these celebrities and political figures felt. When you see Neptune’s Pool and the Roman Pool, you truly go back in time!

What I really need is an Eiskaffee!!

These last few weeks have been so busy with a packed schedule and work travel that I stopped myself a few days ago and thought, “What I really need is an Eiskaffee!!”

Never heard of it?? It was new to me too until I went to Vienna, Austria two years ago. My sister and I were walking down one of the most famous streets in Vienna, Graben Street, when right in front of us was this cute, little, unassuming cafe called Julius Meinl. We noticed the waitresses carefully delivering delicious drinks to anxious customers and knew we had to immediately find out what they were.

We found out the delicious drink was called a Eiskaffee – “Expresso poured over vanilla ice-cream with whipped cream.” There was also another drink that my sister decided to try called the Melange – “Expresso, equal parts steamed milk and foam, dusting of meinl eruropean cocoa.”

So next time you’re in Vienna, try and make a stop in Julius Meinl for a flavor-packed coffee! Luckily for me, there are a few Julius Meinl’s located in Chicago so whenever work gets crazy again, I’m heading straight there!