All posts by DestinationDuo

We are a couple who love to travel the world!

Update: Japan

(This is an update from a 2012 post. Look out for future posts, where we’ll give more detailed information on our trip to Japan!)

Hey there everyone,

I’m getting ready to leave for Japan in the next few hours and am getting so nervous for my flight…I LOATHE take-offs, especially when I’m stuck in a middle seat, as so happened on this particular flight.
Regardless of my fear of flying, I’m really looking forward to this trip. I haven’t been to Asia yet and I can only expect that it is drastically different from anything I’ve experienced before.

(As of this writing, I’ve now traveled to four countries in Asia. It has become my favorite continent, hands down! It’s just so different, so amazing, and so interesting. It was everything that I expected, in the sense that it was so different than anything else I’d experienced before. It was a true culture shock in the best possible way! The flight over to Japan itself was not bad. We flew Delta, and had a great movie selection, good food, and I slept most of the way.)

DSC04813DSC04814

I’m most excited to go to Harajuku and see the crazy and wild fashions. I normally am not a big fan of “kawaii”, or “cute” culture (like Hello Kitty), but I think once I’m in Tokyo and it’s everywhere around us, I might catch on to it. I’m also very excited to travel to Hakone, which is famous for its hot springs and location near Mt. Fuji. Alex and I are staying in a ryokan, which is a traditional Japanese inn. Our room has a private hot spring bath and we will be sleeping on futons. I am nervous about the food, however. At the ryokan, we are served a traditional Japanese dinner along with breakfast in the morning. I don’t like not being in control of my meals, so I’m nervous that I won’t like the food and will starve overnight. And what happens if I’m served octopus or eel? I MIGHT try some, but I don’t know that I can eat either as my main protein and keep it down. We’ll see.

(Harajuku was fun. We went there on our first day. It gave us great insight into Japanese pop culture. We did see some crazy fashions, but not as many as I expected. My favorite part of Harajuku was seeing all of the the crepe stands! Yum! And yes, I DID in fact, become obsessed with “kawaii”. I can’t describe why, but I “get it” now! I’ll eventually have to do a post on kawaii culture.

DSC04856 DSC04867

Visiting our ryokan was awesome. At the time, I felt like we were roughing it, and we were a bit miserable sleeping on hard floors in a cold room. Also, the hot spring bath was WAY too hot! But looking back, it was one of my favorite experiences over there. Being uncomfortable really serves for some amazing memories! And the food? Yes, it was a bit of an issue! The ryokan served totally traditional food, which is nothing like Westernized “Japanese” food, and we didn’t recognize half of the ingredients. No one spoke English there (and we didn’t expect them to), so we weren’t able to get translations of what everything was! I’m pretty sure we did, in fact, eat eel at some point. We ate the dinner, my favorite thing being the first course of shabu shabu (beef cooked in a broth). I will admit that we skipped breakfast the next morning, though.) 

DSC05517 DSC05525

Planning this trip has been incredibly time consuming and somewhat difficult compared to other trips. First, many US credit cards and phones don’t work in Japan in particular, so I had to contact both companies to make sure they worked and then to set up my international plan.
The easiest part of planning this trip was deciding on hotels and locations. First, deciding on a neighborhood in Tokyo seems intimidating, but it was relatively easy for us. Because Tokyo runs on an extensive subway system, we looked at what neighborhoods we would be frequenting the most, and then decided on the largest nearby station. In our case, we decided to stay in Shinjuku, which is apparently the largest station in Tokyo, and is therefore the best starting point to connect to any part of the city.

(Japan is an incredibly well organized country, and planning everything in advance really paid off. For the most part, everything went smoothly and we had no issues. At one point, we did have a problem accessing our debit card. The machines couldn’t read it for some reason. Eventually we found a “partner” with our bank that accepts our card, but it did take about three hours out of our day. 

As far as hotels, we were incredibly happy with our choices. We stayed at Hilton and Starwood hotels, which are always pretty nice. Shinjuku was a great area to stay in. The station itself is very busy, but the area near the hotel wasn’t, so we didn’t feel overwhelmed. For us, it was the best location both for comfort and convenience.)

DSC04837 DSC04886
Deciding what towns to visit while we are there was pretty easy as well…I cannot stay in one city longer than a week because I just get bored, so we decided to visit Tokyo, Hakone, and Kyoto on this trip. All three cities are accessible by the JR System, which is set up specifically for foreigners to travel throughout the country.
The JR system is a bit of a nightmare, and has been the worst part of the planning process. If you are a foreigner traveling to Japan, you can purchase a JR pass which allows you pretty much unlimited public transportation throughout the country. This is great to use if you will be traveling to more than one city because the price of a round trip ticket to and from Tokyo is the same cost as a 7 day pass. They cost around 350USD pp for 7 days. The thing with the JR Pass is that you MUST purchase an exchange order in the US…they do not sell them in Japan. I don’t know why this is, except maybe to weed out the number of people that are able to use it. Only “temporary visitors” to Japan are eligible for this ticket, and you must turn in the exchange order for a JR pass at a major Tokyo station. It is just an incredibly complex process that can be a little bit confusing, not to mention time consuming.

(The JR system is definitely complicated, and we got a bit confused when picking up our passes at the station. But once we did, the pass was explained to us and it was easy to use. The trains run ON TIME, which for us was awesome. I planned this trip down to the minute, and it made our plans really reliable.)

DSC05549

Speaking of trains, I have heard nearly everywhere that there is limited space for luggage on trains, which is why Japan has an incredibly efficient and reliable system of luggage delivery service that is called “Takkyubin”. Basically, you can have your bags delivered to anywhere in the country (i.e. to your hotel or to the airport) for a small fee. Many travelers use this, and it basically involves sending your luggage the night before. It will then arrive the following day for you to pick up.

(I think people exaggerated a bit about limited luggage space. Alex and I brought one big bag to share between the two of us for this reason. I learned to pack lightly, and will continue to do so in the future, but the trains were not usually full. When they were, baggage space wasn’t an issue. There are luggage spaces in the back of the train for large luggage. That being said, we did use the Takkyubin service. We shipped our bag from Tokyo to Kyoto so that we didn’t have to bring our luggage to Hakone, which is on the way. Our bag arrived at our hotel, and was waiting for us when we arrived. It arrived in one piece, and I wouldn’t hesitate to use the service again. It was really affordable and convenient to not have a large bag to lug around.)

DSC05764

The language barrier may be a bit of an issue while we’re over there, because a lot of people do not speak English. This is why it’s essential to learn basic phrases such as Hello, Thank you, Please, etc. I don’t like to learn phrases that are questions such as “Where is the bathroom?” because what happens when they respond in Japanese? They can always point, but if the bathroom is not within eyesight, you’re SOL. You don’t speak Japanese and knowing basic questions becomes useless and you won’t have gained any new information from asking that question. So I think that the one essential question to know is “Do you speak English?”
Japan also uses a different alphabet from English…in fact, they have three different alphabet systems. The easiest to learn is Hiragana. It is basically simplified Japanese. You can see it fairly often over there, so it can be helpful to learn as much of it as possible. I taught myself half of the alphabet so far, and will try to learn more on the flight over, in addition to carrying a little note card with me that has the characters and their English sounds. I feel like this is an important thing to learn. While you won’t be able to understand everything you read, it can be incredibly helpful when ready subway names or menu items, etc. For example, すし is pronounced “su-shi”. There you go, you have your first word, sushi! Or こかこーら is “Ko-Ka-Co-La”, or Coca-Cola! You already know some Japanese now.

(It was great to know how to say “Do you speak English?” A lot of people did in Tokyo, but not so much in Kyoto. Despite the minor language barrier, people really tried! Even when they didn’t speak English, they said they did and made an attempt to talk to us. I thought this was so awesome, and really reflective of the overall character of the people I met. 

Knowing Hiragana was only somewhat helpful. It was more fun, than anything. Most signs were in both Japanese and English, so it wasn’t necessary to learn. Also, many things were not written in Hiragana, so some things were impossible to read without the English translation anyway.)

DSC04812
Alright, well I’m off to finish packing, get some work done, and start ourselves off on a great trip!

(We had an amazing time in Japan. This was Alex’s favorite trip to date, and we can’t wait to go back one day!)

–Jordan–

Advertisements

Counting Countries

“How many countries have you been to?”
This is a question that often comes up among acquaintances and friends when discussing travel. People wonder, “What constitutes having actually BEEN to a country”? Is it a matter of time? Participating in certain experiences? Do airports count?
This issue came to my attention during a recent trip to Southeast Asia, when I had two different layovers in the Taipei, Taiwan airport.
IMG_1523
I guess I’ve “been” to Taiwan. I’ve spent two afternoons there, I spoke to people, I learned a bit about the culture, I saw what the weather was like, and I feel like I got a good idea of what to expect overall if I had left the airport. But I don’t count it as a “visited” country. For me personally, airports don’t count unless you go through customs or step onto the ground. It’s more of a technicality issue for me. It’s like riding a boat to the shore, never stepping on the beach, and then claiming you’ve visited that place. It doesn’t make sense. You’ve seen it, sure, but technically visited? No.
So what else “counts” as having visited a country? Time isn’t an issue to me. Just because you haven’t lived somewhere or have a job that allows extensive time off doesn’t mean that your experience isn’t valuable. I can’t stand when people try to say that someone else’s experience wasn’t “enough”. I think that if you step foot in another country, and have a meal or visit a landmark, or what have you, it absolutely should count! No one can ever experience every single aspect of a culture…so whether you experience one thing or twenty, it’s still a legitimate experience.
Another issue is, “What even counts as a country”? This seems like an obvious one at first, but it’s more complicated than one might think. For example, there are so many territories, islands, nations, etc. that are not considered a “sovereign state”. One example of this is the United Kingdom. I’ve been to England, Scotland, and Wales, however it “counts” as having been to only one country. Personally, I think that’s ridiculous because they are each so different from one other, they have different cultures, histories, etc., but it is what it is I guess. This also goes with counting former countries. For example: visiting Moscow in the USSR. Do you say you’ve been to Russia, the USSR, or both? Again, this is personal preference, but I’d only count it as it existed when you were there. I think it’s cool to have been to the USSR, knowing that it doesn’t exist anymore! But these issues make everything messy and do make you question whether or not counting countries even matters.
I think on a personal level it does. If you have a set goal in mind, counting is important. For travel blogging, counting countries gives your readers an idea of where you’ve been, since it’s the subject matter anyway. And even for your own personal fulfillment, counting countries is fine. But the actual number of countries you’ve visited is an arbitrary thing. What matters is each experience you have when you travel…quality, not quantity. Quantity is great, and realistically the more you travel, the more you learn. This is true with anything. But rather than just going to a country for the sake of checking another one off the list, go somewhere to learn something new about the world and yourself. That’s immeasurable.

Here are some photos I took while in Taiwan’s Airport:

Flying into Taiwan

IMG_1513

Taipei Skytrain
IMG_1865

Hello Kitty Statue
IMG_1867

Sanrio Store

IMG_1868

Hello Kitty Gate C3- Operated by EVA Airways

IMG_1869

Gate C3 Seating AreaIMG_1872

IMG_1874

Mumuhug- TV Character in Taiwan. These guys were all over the airport!

IMG_1878

Taiwanese Dolls- The airport had a lot of art displays

IMG_1879

Model train display

IMG_1880

Hut display

IMG_1882

Taipei Airport at night

IMG_1519

 

How about you? How do you “count” a country? I’d love to hear your thoughts!

Tivoli Gardens

While visiting Copenhagen, I came upon Tivoli Gardens, which is an old amusement park. It’s a very well known amusement park, and is located in the middle of the city. We didn’t know anything about it beforehand, and decided to visit on a whim.

DSC03855

It’s actually a very small amusement park, but it’s in the middle of the city so I can’t complain about the size too much. Right inside the park we found a pantomime theatre, but didn’t get to see any shows:

DSC03860

We also came upon a beautiful palace, which is actually a hotel inside the park! It’s called Hotel Nimb. Hotel Nimb has a few restaurants which you can eat at.

DSC03864

I have to post, on a side note, that the bathrooms here are ADORABLE. I know, that’s weird to say. But the bathrooms near the entrance were themed like a “chicken coop”, with painted floors and stalls that were made to look like outhouses. Very cute.

DSC03903

RIDES

The Mine: This is a boat ride/log flume…similar to Disney’s Pirates of the Carribbean in function.

DSC03867 DSC03868

Rutschbanen: Really cool ride. While it isn’t a very tall or fast coaster, it’s awesome because it’s very old and the speed has to be controlled by a guy who sits on the ride and pulls a giant hand brake. What a job! I don’t know about you, but I think it would be awesome to be paid to ride roller coasters all day.

DSC03871 DSC03892

The Flying Trunk: Similar to Snow White’s Journey at Disney World. You basically sit in a slow moving treasure trunk, which takes you past famous Hans Christian Andersen stories…The Ugly Duckling, The Snow Queen, Princess and The Pea, etc.

DSC03874 DSC03875 DSC03876 DSC03877 DSC03878

Dæmomon: Red looping coaster. This was their most “intense” and largest coaster. This picture is a view from the lake

DSC03883DSC03890Chinese themed “town” underneath the ride

Vertigo: I did not go on this one, and quite frankly you must have a death wish if you do. This is a constantly looping plane ride. It doesn’t look very intimidating in photos, but the speed and the roar of those planes swooshing above just made me nauseous. Seriously, the thing goes 60 mph. Don’t get me wrong, I love looping and fast rides, but this was too much for me. And I have a feeling it might have been too much for the riders who were all tinted a shade of green at the end.

DSC03885 DSC03886

Food

For lunch, we ate at a Danish restaurant called Paafuglen. Beautiful restaurant with indoor/outdoor seating. They do have menus in both English and Danish, although the service was almost nonexistent on the day we were there. This was my first experience with Danish food, and everything we ordered came as “small plates”. I ordered two salads, including a potato/beet salad. My favorite foods of course, were the bread and pickles!!

DSC03882

I hope you enjoyed my short introduction of Tivoli Gardens. We were only there for a few hours, but it was worth stopping in to see the park at least once. This would be a great park for people with children, because there are a ton of kid-friendly rides. They say that Disney was inspired by Tivoli Gardens, and I can see where that might be true. Don’t come to the park expecting thrill rides, because truthfully there aren’t many. But it’s a beautiful place to visit, nonetheless! By the way, don’t forget to stay long enough to see Tivoli at night. The entire park lights up at night, and everything is just really beautiful to see:

DSC03905 DSC03907 DSC03913

(Copenhagen) Denmark in a Day

Ok, this post is a little misleading…I can’t tell you how to visit Denmark in only one day, and quite frankly, I don’t know that you would want to cram everything this beautiful country has to offer into a single day trip. That being said, there are those rare opportunities to travel through a country, but when you are also limited on time. This happened for me, when I went to visit my friend in Sweden. I flew in and out through Copenhagen, and took the opportunity to explore many of the “must-sees” of the city in only one day. We also spent a second day at Tivoli Gardens, but that will be saved for another post!

My friend and I came into Copenhagen, Denmark on a short train ride from Sweden. We arrived at the gorgeous Central Station:DSC03748 DSC03753

Our hotel was only three blocks away from the station, so we dropped off our bags and went on our way for the day. We walked past Central Station again and made our way past nearby Tivoli Gardens. For those of you who don’t know (including myself at the time), Tivoli is a very famous and popular amusement park and “pleasure garden”. That’s what wikipedia chooses to call it, at least. I would just call it beautiful landscaping, but tomato-tomahto I guess. The entrance is marked by a huge gate:

DSC03755

We made our way to City Hall Square, which marks the entrance of Strøget, the largest pedestrian-only shopping area in Europe. City Hall Square is literally what it claims to be, and is usually the host to many events and celebrations throughout the year. On the day we visited, it was Turkish Heritage Day and the square was filled with Turkish music, food, dancing, etc…it was fabulous!

DSC03757 DSC03762

We made our way to Strøget, where neither of us had money to do much shopping. We had a lot of fun just strolling through, however.

DSC03763

DSC03774

It was here that I noticed that most of the people around me were speaking Russian! I heard some Danish, some English, but the overwhelming number of people around us were speaking Russian…I’m not sure why that is, but it was very noticable. In fact, I later realized that we were the only tourists in our small hotel who did not speak Russian! Anyway, back to Strøget, while we didn’t do a lot of shopping, we did have a chance to stop at many of the cafes in the area:

DSC03766Cool Food StandDSC03769Drinking Tuborg (A Danish Beer)

DSC03895Danish Bakery Food

DSC03897It’s an Italian Ice named after me! Actually, it’s the Danish word for “Strawberries”

We took a detour away from Strøget to browse the city area some more…ok, I lied, we got lost trying to find the metro station; Nonetheless, we came upon some really neat old buildings on our way. I’d highly recommend getting lost in this city if you have an hour or so:



DSC03772St. Peter’s- Medieval Church

DSC03777Rundetårn- 17th Century Observatory

DSC03782Copenhagen University Buildings

DSC03781National Cathedral of Denmark

DSC03794

Copenhagen University

In case you haven’t noticed yet, Copenhagen has fascinating architecture. I honestly wanted to take a picture of every building we saw. It doesn’t fit any particular “style”, but that’s what makes it so interesting. There is everything from medieval to modern and it’s all blended together.

Eventually we found our way to the Metro and headed out to see the famous “Little Mermaid” statue in Østerbro. In Denmark, she’s called “Den Lille Havfrue”, which is what you will see on all of the tourist trinkets and souvenirs. She is a pretty lengthy walk to get to, but the scenery around is well worth the trip. As we got off at the metro stop Østerport Station, we made our way past the Kastellet, which is a star shaped fortress. From the outside, we thought we were walking past a really beautiful park:

DSC03805 DSC03808 DSC03810 DSC03811

Once we got around to the front, we realized that this was a fort:

DSC03816

Immediately to the right of the fortress is picturesque St. Alban’s church:

DSC03815 DSC03824

And immediately along the footpath next to the church is Gefion Fountain:

DSC03825

FINALLY, we made it to “Den Lille Havfrue”…Disney and H.C. Andersen lovers rejoice! This is a statue that sits on top of a rock overlooking the harbor. It is also an iconic symbol of Copenhagen. People complain that the statue is somewhat disappointing because it is smaller than they expected. And this is certainly no statue of liberty. But who ever said it was? I actually really enjoyed visiting this statue because not only is it sitting right on the shore, but you can walk right up to it. No ropes, no fences…it sits there as part of the scenery as if it wasn’t a huge tourist attraction:

DSC03840To give you some perspective on size…

At this point in the afternoon, we were totally spent from the heat (yes, Denmark gets really humid!) and the shin splints we’d acquired from all of the excessive walking we had done this week. From the metro station, we took ourselves straight back to Central Station and passed out as soon as we reached our hotel.

DSC03841Cooling off with a refreshing Coca-Cola

DSC03847Walking back to the metro

DSC03851Waiting for the metro to come

**I should mention, by the way, that the metro system is very easy to navigate. While the stops are in Danish, the metro itself is a very organized system and the maps are easy to read. It’s color coded like the London Underground, and has larger “connection” stops between the different lines. Japanese tourists who don’t know the alphabet were still able to find their way around, so you have no excuse to feel helpless here. The one “complaint” that I do have about the metro, however, is that the stops are very scattered. This means that you will most likely have to walk quite a ways to get to your destination. For us, the farthest we had to walk from one stop was about a mile each way.

Day Trip to Malmö

Malmö is right across the Øresund Bridge from Denmark and is only a short train trip from Lund. It’s also the third largest city in the country. Since I was in Sweden visiting a friend of mine, we spent the day with one of her classmates who lives in town. Malmö stands out as a coastal town with interesting architecture. You will find both old world buildings and very modern architecture. One of the standout structures is the Turning Torso, which is the tallest building in Scandinavia. While it’s beautiful, it certainly stands out as a sore thumb compared to the rest of the city and is impossible to miss. The views from the top must be spectacular.

We trekked the entire city on foot once we arrived at the train station. Malmö is right on the Baltic Sea, unlike Lund, which is inland. Leaving Malmo Station, you immediately come upon various harbors.

Beginning our walking tour, we first came upon Stortorget, which is the big square. You know you are here because of the large statue and beautiful city hall, which is hard to miss. I noticed it and snapped a picture before our friend Kaisa told us what it was.

We continued on down the street, quickly coming upon Lilla Torg, or Little Street. There are a ton of opportunities for restaurants and shopping around here, and we really just walked around and explored what the area had to offer. We stopped for lunch at one of the main cafés, and peeked into a few stores.

Many of the buildings in Lilla Torg are very old and charming.  It brings you right back in time!

After lunch and a little shopping, we walked down the street through a pretty cemetery.

The cemetery led to Slottsparken, which is the Castle Park. The park has a beautiful canal where people can rent pedal boats.

Further along the trail in Slottsparken are gardens and the windmill.

There is also a small fish market. I’m not quite sure if this was on the edge of the park or outside of it, but it is on the way to the neighborhood with the Turning Torso. It’s called the Fiskehoddorna.

We walked further down the paths and made our way to the edge of the Baltic Sea, and across from the Øresund Bridge. This part of town was full of modern style apartment buildings, houseboats, and yachts.

We stopped here for a bit of ice cream and a dip in the Baltic. It was actually a very busy area with a lot of cafés and people lounging about on the steps leading to the sea. Many were chatting, some were tanning, and a few braves ones were swimming. You can see the  Øresund bridge leading to Denmark in the first photo:

I figured I couldn’t travel all this way without putting my feet in the water, so we walked down to the diving platforms. The water was as cold as expected, even though it was a hot June day. There is no way I would have gone swimming in there!

For dinner, we drove to another part of the city (which I unfortunately don’t remember the name of) and ate dinner at a Tapas bar, and finished the evening with some drinks and music at a popular wine bar. On the way home we walked by St. Johannes church, and rode back to Lund on the late-night train.

Downtown Lund

I would describe Lund as a large town. It definitely doesn’t have a “city” feel, but it’s a busy and bustling town with many shops and restaurants. As far as transportation, we walked everywhere. I really enjoyed not being in a car because it allowed us to really explore the streets and experience this adorable town. I have to say that I felt incredibly comfortable and safe walking around Lund by myself, which I did on a few different occasions. Both JJ and I also were pleased to find that most people speak English in Sweden and are really nice.

Lund has a few “main” squares, where you can find a market that sells fresh produce, and a shopping district that has H&M, a shopping mall, and the visitor’s center. JJ and I went to the visitor’s center on a number of occasions. They have free computers for you to use, and also sell traditional Swedish souvenirs.

Lund Cathedral is one of the major landmarks in town. It’s near the shopping area and is a really pretty church. I can’t tell you much about it’s history or anything since we didn’t go inside, but it kept us from getting lost on a number of occasions by serving as a marker to get our bearings straight.

Lund University is right in town, and is a pretty large campus. JJ and I walked from one end to the other so that we could meet up with a friend, and it seems like it took about 30 minutes or so. The library is gorgeous, and is reminiscent of an Ivy League campus.

We spent one of the days walking aimlessly around town. We discovered City Park, which is really green and beautiful. It’s a decent sized park and is frequented by a lot of families. A lot of people are just walking around or relaxing on benches to enjoy the scenery.

Inside the park, we found what I thought was a synagogue. It turns out that it is an observatory. There aren’t any signs (at least in English) that say what exactly it is, 0ther than one that says it is private property.

Overall, this is a beautiful town and I would highly recommend exploring it all on foot. This is easily manageable. If for some reason you have mobility issues or need to get somewhere quickly, there is a public bus system that is incredibly easy to navigate. You can buy a bus pass at the Pressbyrån convenience store.  Either way, I became very familiar with central Lund by day 4, and felt “at home” and comfortable with the area very quickly. I hope I get a chance to go back one day!

Swedish Food!

Let me start off by saying how highly underrated Swedish food is. Swedish people indulge in some of the most delicious cuisine I’ve had overseas. Despite these indulgent foods, they also manage to say so thin! I’m sure it has something to do with all of that walking, but I would gladly walk five miles a day to eat this type of scrumptious food on a daily basis.

Breakfast- Bakeries are the norm for a Swedish breakfast. There are many bakeries to choose from throughout the country and there is a reason for it. You will definitely find a pastry to your liking, as there are dozens to choose from! I really enjoyed going to Mormors Bageri in Lund. Since it was summer, we were able to enjoy our food out on the patio. I had a cheese danish with chocolate icing and a chocolate milk to drink. The most popular and traditional pastry item is the cinnamon roll, or kanelbullar. But don’t expect them to look or taste like American cinnamon rolls. In fact, I didn’t even realize what they were until I asked. These rolls don’t have icing on them and they are topped with what looks like salt, but is in fact sugar.

Fika- This essentially means “coffee break”. People in Sweden take “fika” very seriously, and it is really a social gathering more than anything. It is common to do this daily, and we certainly did! I felt like I had at least three cups of coffee per day while I was here! Unfortunately, I didn’t get any photos, but we enjoyed fika at the Espresso House in Lund, which is a local cafe.

Lunch- We had a variety of foods for lunch over there, mostly quick sandwiches from cafes. But I did enjoy MAX Burger, which is Sweden’s version of McDonald’s. You’ll find one in any major city in Sweden, and will get a decent quality fast food burger. We went to one in Malmö, which had very contemporary decor. Fast food is a little different in Europe in the sense that there aren’t many drive-thrus. When you eat fast food, you eat inside the restaurant, take your time, and enjoy the experience. I ordered the Cheeseburger meal with fries and a coke.

Dinner- I can’t decide what I like more, Swedish Breakfast or Swedish Dinner. On the one hand I love pastries, but on the other, I really love a great Swedish dinner. I’m a meat and potatoes kind of girl, so when I travel overseas I tend to eat at McDonald’s a lot. But Swedish food was heaven for my traditional tastes.

Of course I had to have the Swedish Meatballs, or Köttbullar, as they are called over there. I ordered them through room service at the Grand Hotel in Lund. As you will learn, I have an obsession with room service. When I’m on vacation, I love to stay in for dinner one night and order “authentic” food. That way, if I don’t like it I don’t have to feel bad about leaving my plate full. It also gives me a bit of a break from the chaos of going out to dinner every night. Anyway, these meatballs were so good! They are also quite filling. Most dinners come with potatoes of some sort, and mashed potatoes were a perfect accompaniment with the meatballs. The meal also came with a parmasean-stuffed tomato, and bread and butter on the side. It was simple, but yet, it was perfect. So I enjoyed my meal in bed, while watching the Bachelorette: Sweden. The perfect evening in!

Another great meal that I had in Sweden was a salmon dish. It was fresh and marinated in the most delicious, buttery sauce. Many of the foods I tried here were in really great sauces. It gives basic proteins a lot of variety and just makes them that much better. This salmon came with boiled potatoes. JJ ordered a shrimp and cantaloupe salad, which is at the bottom of the photo. I didn’t taste it myself, but that looked really good as well. Seafood here is great, since you are so close to the sea, and I would highly recommend eating as much of it as you can here. This particular cafe was in a square in Malmö called Lilla Torg.

Lund, Sweden: Hotels and Train Stations

My good friend JJ moved to Lund last summer and I had the opportunity to go with her in June and visit. This was my first trip to Sweden, and we  flew into Copenhagen, Denmark, which is only a short train ride away from Lund.

It was really easy to get there by public transportation. The train station is actually in the airport and can take you directly into Sweden, stopping at Lund Central Station. As you can see below, most people either walk or take their bike throughout the town. The station also has a Pressbyrån, which is a convenience store that can be found on nearly every corner in Sweden. They sell magazines, newspapers, and of course, hot dogs. We stopped in here for sodas constantly.

For half of my trip, we stayed at a hostel, which was actually a converted sleeper train. It was really neat, actually! The hostel was literally a walk across the bridge from the train station, so it was an incredibly convenient place to stay.

The interior of the train has a dining cart, a central area for wifi use, shared bathrooms (you do have to pay for shower water), and TINY rooms with a bunk for two that are approximately 6 feet long by 3 feet wide. This was a really cool train and everyone was great, but I wouldn’t recommend staying here for long periods of time if you are claustrophobic. Unfortunately, I got really claustrophobic by Day 3, and stayed elsewhere for the rest of the trip, but the experience was definitely once in a lifetime and I would highly recommend trying it out, especially if you’re on a budget or just want a unique experience.

I stayed at the Grand Hotel in Lund for the last part of my stay. I loved this hotel. It’s about a two blocks away from the train station and is the biggest and most luxurious hotel in town. I actually stayed here by myself and was given a room on the top floor of the hotel. This meant that I had to take the elevator and then go up an extra flight of stairs with my luggage. I loved my little room and it was updated, but there is no air conditioning. This is fairly common in Europe, but being on the top floor with a lot of incoming light left me well overheated.  Nonetheless, room service was nice enough to open my windows for me and let some breeze inside the room.

 

Trip to Las Vegas, 2011

February 11, 2011

Since Alex and I live in Arizona, we have a few large cities within a day’s drive for when we want to have a weekend getaway. Since this is our first real vacation since moving in December, we decided to go to Las Vegas since Alex had never been there before. On Friday after work, we packed up the car with a large suitcase, a dog carrier, a cage, and our two Pekingese puppies. We found out through the internet that there is a PetStay program in Las Vegas that allows you to bring up to two dogs that weigh less than 50lbs. each. Participating hotels have a designated dog walking area (Astroturf) and supply your dogs with food bowls and organic dog treats in the room. They also supply you with a crate for your dog if you need one. Anyway, we decided to stay at Bally’s since it was in the heart of the Strip and fit into our budget. The dog-friendly rooms at Bally’s were in the North Tower, the rooms are very large, and it is very quiet because it is located on the back of the Strip.

We didn’t leave Arizona until 6PM, so we arrived in Las Vegas at 10PM . I would highly recommend driving into Las Vegas at night. Coming through the desert, we were surrounded by complete darkness. Once we got about 50 miles away from Las Vegas we could see the skyglow.  Finally, we drove up over a mountain and came across a huge grid of bright lights that are just amazing to see at night. This is mostly because Las Vegas is in the middle of nowhere and the city itself is the only source of light nearby.  Even though we got to the Strip by 10, we did not get to our hotel until almost 11. Unfortunately, Alex missed our turn onto the strip and then missed the next turn onto it. To his credit, 10PM is like rush hour in Vegas and with all of the bright lights and traffic, it can be distracting and quite difficult to get into another lane at the last minute. When we did turn onto the Strip, traffic was at a complete standstill. First, a Chippendales bus had broken down, and that had blocked a lane of traffic. Second, there was another lane of traffic closed further down because a girl in a hot pink Escalade had been pulled over and arrested. There were multiple police officers present, and the girl who was handcuffed was just standing in the middle of the street for whatever reason while the cops chatted and drank Red Bull. I felt bad for her because she had two friends with her who were not being arrested but were laughing at and taunting her while they sat on the back edge of the SUV. All of the cars nearby were bottlenecking to take pictures and be nosy, so this further hindered our progress to the hotel. The other interesting thing that we noticed about Vegas at night is that traffic lights are irrelevant at this hour. Since cars were back-to-back, there really was no way to avoid getting stuck in an intersection during a red light. There were a few times when we found ourselves in this position, but we were far from the only ones sitting there. Although maybe this was a special circumstance and that’s not normal, I don’t know.

We finally arrived at the hotel, walked a quarter mile to our room, and then decided to do some exploration once the dogs were settled in for the night. We walked down to the Hollywood themed Planet Hollywood Hotel, which turned out to be Alex’s favorite. What Alex and I really liked about this place was that everything was centrally located and there are a number of hot places to shop, eat, and be entertained including KOI restaurant, Sugar Factory, and Pink’s hot dogs (famous in LA). There were two levels in the “middle” of the hotel, with the casino and Miracle Mile shops on the bottom floor, and Holly Madison’s PEEPSHOW on the second. In the casino, there is a section called the “Pleasure Pit” where the dealers are girls in lingerie, and “go-go dancers” dance around poles while you play. This section of the casino was not secluded as I assumed it would be, but was right in the center of the casino floor and impossible to miss. We walked through the casino and stopped at Earl of Sandwich to get a midnight snack after we were turned away at P.F. Changs, who had just closed. Other than buffets, there are not many sit-down restaurants open past midnight, so it was nice that there is a sandwich shop open at that hour. They specialize in hot sandwiches that are pretty simple but also pretty darn good, and we enjoyed our Ham & Swiss and Hawaiian BBQ sandwiches. After getting food, we stopped at the daiquiri bar conveniently located adjacent to the Earl of Sandwich and the casino. In Las Vegas, drinking alcohol on the Strip is perfectly legal and you can literally go anywhere with your beverage, so it made sense when we saw a ton of people who were drinking alcohol from giant containers that were up to 3 feet tall! Some even had straps attached to their drink to hang around their neck (you know you have a problem when…)! Anyway, at the daiquiri bar they had every size from a 16 oz. glass to one shaped like a life-sized electric guitar. We ordered the ½ yard strawberry daiquiri to split between the two of us, and continued on to Paris Hotel.

The Paris Hotel is a lot different from Planet Hollywood. Where PH is more young and trendy, Paris is much quieter and serene. The casino is huge and is set up to make you feel like you are taking a romantic stroll through the streets of Paris. The daytime lighting threw us off a bit since it was 1AM, but it was very pretty and gives you a sense of renewed energy. We slowly made our way through the casino (which also has the Eiffel Tower ride and restaurant), and then walked through an alley of Parisian shops and cafés that connect across into Bally’s. It’s a huge advantage when hotels have walkways that connect to each other, especially since it’s 40 degrees outside in February. Once we got back to Bally’s, we stopped briefly to play some digital roulette. What I like about digital roulette is that there is a real roulette table and dealer, but you make your bets on personal touch screens that encircle the table. It makes it much easier to keep track of your winnings, place your bets, and is a little bit more private, which I liked. Our room was an elevator ride away, so after breaking even 30 minutes later–or more aptly put, Alex gained what I had lost– we called it a night and went upstairs.

February 12, 2011

This morning, Alex and I slept in until 10:30AM since the dogs both had us up all night with their barking. Apparently, Howie, our 1 year old Pekingese does not like people walking through the hotel hallways. After we got ready, we walked over to Caesar’s Palace for lunch and to do some shopping. There are numerous walkways that go over the Strip, so it’s pretty convenient and fast to get to all of the different hotels. We arrived at Caesars through the casino entrance and immediately started looking for the Cleopatra slots. I did very well the last few times I’ve played Cleopatra, so I wanted to find it again this time. We did not stay long once we found the machines because this time they were just not very lucky. As we walked through the casino (which was surprisingly basic), we came across Mesa Grill, which is owned by famous Iron Chef Bobby Flay. We weren’t in the mood for Southwestern cuisine but took some pictures in front of the restaurant since we are both very big Throwdown fans. Across from Mesa grill is Pure nightclub (one of THE hottest nightclubs in Vegas, more on that later) and the Pussycat Dolls gaming pit. The Pussycat Dolls perform inside a lounge at Pure, so this is why there is a PCD pit next to it. This was almost too similar to the Pleasure Pit at Planet Hollywood, or vice versa I guess. The girls were dressed in “sexy cop” uniforms and similar to PH, there are pole dancers on top of the tables. There is also a PCD gift kiosk in this section to get any souvenir items.

Inside the Rome-themed Forum Shops, you can find any and all luxury designer stores. The forum shops also had a sky-painted ceiling but didn’t feel quite as bright as the Paris hotel. The ceiling was painted baby blue with clouds to make you feel like it was lunchtime, but the lighting on the buildings made you feel like it was dusk. For lunch, we ended up going to Planet Hollywood because there was no wait and would be fast. Our next stop for the day was the Venetian hotel to check out their shops and make dinner reservations. The Venetian is just a stunningly beautiful hotel and has so many things to do if you stay there. The only thing is that it seems much more appropriate for couples who want a romantic getaway than for families. One of the attractions there for families is Madame Tussauds. It is located on the outside of the building, which attracts a lot of tourists. We did not go there this time, but I went there with a friend two years ago and really enjoyed it. You can get your picture with any number of celebrity wax figures, and even participate in “interactive displays” such as “eloping” with George Clooney in a dress and veil or putting on a Playboy bunny outfit and posing with Hugh Hefner.

Across the replica bridge of the famous Ponte di Rialto is the entrance to the Grand Canal shops. When we first walked in, we saw TAO nightclub (also a major hotspot) and wax figures of the Blue Man Group. We walked past the three figures through a huge crowd of people who were taking pictures of them. I can’t even tell you how realistic their eyes were. In fact, they could have been real, but I was too creeped out to stay and find out. The shops surround a canal where you can take a romantic gondola ride. The stores are similar to Caesars Palace and the theme is again similar the other hotels where you feel like you are walking through a city (in this case, Venice). One of the features in the canal shops is the presence of living statues. They are people who are painted completely white and do not move unless they are switching positions. A lot of people enjoy this free attraction, but personally it creeps me out. And I don’t understand why the Venetian has a weird obsession with wax figures other than to scare away any children that might want to stay there. We went around the back side of the living statue so he wouldn’t jump out at us and made our way upstairs to Bouchon, a French restaurant. We normally would call to make dinner reservations, but there were two French restaurants in the hotel and wanted to see them both in person before we made a decision on where to go. Bouchon is placed up in an obscure area of the hotel. We had to get permission from the guards at the hotel to go up the guest elevator to the 10th floor and across a walkway that leads to the restaurant. Bouchon is well-known for its Brunch menu but we heard their dinners are excellent as well. But since it was only 3PM and dinner reservations were for 9:30, we took the Monorail to the MGM Grand to do some more hotel exploring. We really liked the monorail system for people who are staying in a hotel that has a station. If you get a full day pass (for $12.00/pp) you can go anywhere on the strip in mere minutes, which saves a lot of time when you have a lot to do. We arrived at the MGM Grand and headed over to the Lion’s Habitat, where they house lions in a giant glass enclosure. It was really cool because there is a clear tunnel that you can enter through and look up at the lions inside of their habitat. When we went in, both lions (females) were asleep directly on top of the tunnel, so we got to see them VERY close-up. It’s also free to see the lions and they are located inside the casino, so you can watch them while you are trying to win some money.

M&Ms World was our next stop. It is right down the sidewalk from the MGM Grand and is also free to visit. You can find any M&Ms brand product from pillows to M&M dispensers. The store is three stories, so that should give you an idea of how many products they offer. The second floor has an M&M wall with every color and type of M&M. It’s a self serve bar, so you can take as much as you want for $13/lb. If you want to do something even more personalized, the third floor lets you personalize your M&Ms to say anything you want (within reason, of course). We left with a small bag of dark chocolate and pretzel M&Ms. Nearby and across the street is the Monte Carlo hotel. We went here to visit the Minus5 ice lounge. This is a bar that is 23 degrees Fahrenheit at all times and is carved completely out of ice. The walls, the seating, the bar, and even the glasses are all made out of ice. Entry is $15, and that includes a jacket and gloves. For more money, you have the option to get a fur coat, a souvenir fur hat, and a free cocktail at the bar. We placed our electronics inside the lockers as required, and suited up: Alex in a black fur coat and me in a white one. We entered a holding room from the outside that was the size and temperature of a walk-in freezer. Here we were outfitted with gloves and then entered through the airtight doors into the Ice Lounge. It actually felt refreshingly nice inside and was cozy- about the size of a two bedroom apartment. You might think that 23 degrees is unreasonably cold, but there is no wind and is actually not bad at all. We walked up to the bar and ordered our ice-themed drinks. Our cocktails were served in glasses made entirely of ice, and we were told to hold them with two hands at all times. We sat down on an ice bench covered with deer skin and enjoyed our drinks on an ice coffee table while their in-house photographer took pictures of everyone. All in all, it was a lot of fun, and something that we are both glad we got to experience. Maybe someday we will get to visit the ICEHOTEL in Sweden and spend a night!

Once we warmed up after leaving Minus5, we walked through the New York-New York Hotel, which feels like the streets of Brooklyn. They even have pizza cafes and a Jewish deli!  This hotel also has a roller coaster that starts inside the hotel and loops around the outside of the building. Near the roller coaster entrance is an arcade area for families with children. This hotel is in a section of the Strip that is the most “child-friendly” in my opinion. There are so many things for kids to see and do, and the hotel themes are fun (and a little cheesy). I personally like to visit these hotels because when I used to visit Vegas as a child, this section of the Strip was the only part my parents allowed me to be on, and still brings me a sense of nostalgia. Excalibur is next door to the New York New York via an outdoor walkway. This hotel is themed like a medieval castle and has a dinner and jousting show similar to Medieval Times. There are also little shops, a Spongebob 4D ride, and an arcade. Like most hotels in Vegas, the shops lead to an indoor walkway that is attached to the Luxor.

The Luxor is one of my favorite hotels. It is Egyptian themed, is one of the more reasonably priced hotels, and is actually the only hotel I’ve ever stayed at in Vegas up until this trip. The hotel is a giant pyramid, with a lower casino level and a restaurant and entertainment level that looks up into all of the rooms that are placed along the sides of the pyramid. It’s a great hotel because you can see nearly everything from your room, and there really is no way to get lost in the hotel. The theme itself is also really neat. Luxor has club LAX, which I had a chance to go to 2 years ago for Kim Kardashian’s birthday party. It’s actually a pretty large club, two stories, has plenty of VIP seating, and has a dance floor in the center.

Even though it seems like we spent a lot of time out of the hotel (which we did), we did not go more than 5 hours at a time without visiting the dogs in the room and taking them out for a walk. We got A LOT done in a very little amount of time. We took a cab back to the hotel (faster than the monorail would have been) and got ready for our night out. The dogs were watching Sex and the City: The Movie when we left the hotel a little bit before 8PM. We took another cab to Treasure Island (The pirate themed hotel) so that we could see the free Siren Show at 8:30. On the way, our driver took a back way and we ended up pulling onto the Strip directly in front of the Mirage Hotel’s volcano eruption. In the front of the hotel at night, a volcano erupts on the hour, every hour with huge bursts of fire and smoke. It was really cool to see up close, and was even better because we got to watch the whole thing since traffic wasn’t really moving. We pulled into Treasure Island and decided to play some penny slots near the doors to Sirens Cove since we were early. We sat down at the Press Your Luck slots and were surprised to be the only ones there! I guess nobody knew what Press Your Luck was because so many people walked by, stopped to look at what it was, and then left without stopping. The Monopoly slots on the other side of our machines, however, were completely full. Well thank goodness I’m well-versed in pop culture because those slots won us $100 in 15 minutes! And they’re penny slots! The Siren show was about to start, so we took a break from the game and walked outside. Treasure Island has a large lagoon with a boardwalk that allows its guests to watch the show from. The show begins with a giant pirate ship sitting in the lagoon, when a group of sirens in lingerie come out singing a song that is supposed to enchant pirates to come onto their ship. The lead siren, Cinnamon, who I swear on my life was Kathleen Turner (yikes), seduces a pirate that looks like Johnny Depp to come onto the ship. And she does this for no other reason than to tie him up while they sing and dance some more. Trust me, it was the only way to keep him from jumping ship. The coolest part of the show, however, was when “Johnny Depp’s” pirate ship came to rescue him. It actually sailed through the lagoon, exchanged fire with the sirens ship, and then sunk after being hit! It was pretty cool to see everyone jumping off of the masts of the ship as it was sinking. After the ship was gone, the pirates swam up to the sirens’ ship, got seduced by them, and then the show ended with them all dancing together on the ship. It was a little cheesy, but it was free to watch and the explosions and sound effects were pretty cool.

We went back to the Press Your Luck slots because we had some time to spare before our 9:30 reservations at Bouchon. We were still the only ones there, but continued to win just as big as before we left! At 9:15, we decided that we could no longer play or else we’d be late, so we pushed that “max bet” button one more time (a few times over) and collected our winnings. When you cash out, you get a ticket instead of money, so we used this ticket as an excuse to go back later that night to play one more time before collecting our money. Luckily the Venetian is right across the street, so we arrived exactly at 9:30 for our reservations. Bouchon is a very nice French restaurant with a wine list longer than the food menu. Not worrying about having to pay for dinner (since we had just won a few hundred dollars), we indulged on their soup a l’oignon, a nice juicy steak, and yummy chicken. I also ordered a glass of the Pinot Gris. The French onion soup was to die for, the bread and warm pistachios were incredibly good, and the entrees were fabulous. We got a little too full, however, and both had to stop eating much earlier than we anticipated. I felt bad sending back 2/3 of my steak, but I really didn’t want to push it. We left the Venetian and walked over to Caesars Palace to go to Pure nightclub. I was able to get us on the guest list for Lauren Conrad’s birthday party, so we had to get there before midnight when she had planned to show up. We entered Caesars through the Forum shops, which were closed at that hour but still free to walk around in. They have moving elevators that spiral up three levels, which is really fun to go on. We actually got lost in there while trying to find our way into the actual hotel, and even asked the security guard for help. He was in a pissy mood and literally pointed to the store to his left and said, “Keep walking straight ahead”. I’m not kidding! Turns out, the layout of the shops is like the yellow brick road in the Wizard of Oz. It starts in the center, and you have to circle around as the spiral gets larger and eventually leads to a pathway that connects to more shops and eventually the hotel! This is BY FAR the most confusing hotel to get around in. Even the map did not help us!

Once we got to Pure, we got in the guestlist line and were let in pretty quickly. I was really excited because this would be the first nightclub Alex has ever been to, and what better way than to start at the hottest nightclub in Vegas?  So we got inside the club, ordered a drink each, and made our way through the club to explore. There are two levels at Pure, one which is a giant room with a central dance floor and a few VIP sections, along with the Pussycat Dolls Lounge. The terrace, which is essentially 100% VIP seating is smaller but more exclusive, and I’m sure is better in the spring and summer. We went upstairs, but it was very chilly and we didn’t know anyone, so we went back downstairs after walking around a bit. When we got back downstairs, we found a table with some girls to hang out with. Soon enough, Lauren Conrad showed up completely unannounced and just took pictures of herself and talked with friends. About ten minutes after she got there, they brought out a giant birthday cake and sang Happy Birthday while she blew out the candles. Almost instantaneously, the cake was taken away without even being cut, and then Lauren wasn’t seen afterward!! That was it!! And can I just tell you, February 12th is not even her birthday!! It was two weeks ago! I can’t even tell you how disappointing it was. When I was at LAX, Kim Kardashian was announced, talked to everyone, danced around, and stayed for hours. I know that their personalities are different, but come on; Lauren wasn’t even there for more than 15 minutes. I suggest that if you want to see or meet a celebrity, go to Hollywood. Unfortunately, neither of us really LOVED Pure. The music was nice and all, but at the risk of sounding jaded, it was my first time going to a nightclub without being in the VIP section. There’s really nothing to do but stand there and dance, which gets tiring and hurts after a bit when you are in heels. I like to sit and talk, and dance when I feel like it. But Alex thought it was still a good experience, so maybe another time we will try it again. We soon left and went back to Treasure Island to have a more laid-back evening.

Surprisingly, when we arrived at Treasure Island, our machines were taken! Taken! As in, the entire row of machines was completely full! I guess people do know what Press Your Luck is after all. Either that or they saw someone win big on it while we went to dinner! We waited patiently for someone to leave, and after one person did, I sat down and tried to play. Nothing. The machine had gone cold and we decided to cash out and head back to our hotel. By the time we left, my feet were hurting so badly that I didn’t want to walk back to Bally’s, so we took a cab. Once we got to our hotel we decided to play some more slots and went to the Price is Right machines. This is BY FAR the most fun machine we have ever played on! We played plinko, cliffhanger, and punch a bunch as bonus games. I even got a showcase showdown bonus! I won close to $500 and Alex won close to $300 when we each started with $20; however, we got greedy and thought we could win even more money, and unfortunately lost most of what we won by placing maximum bets. But I have to say it was so much fun and we stayed for two hours! We even played Deal or No Deal and Goldfish, which is a stupid game that everyone seems to love. Trust me, nobody ever wins and when they do, it does not seem to pay off as much as they spent before the bonus. But after playing enough and before we actually lost money, we went back to the room and got a good night’s sleep before heading out in the morning.