‘Hygge’ and the Allure of Scandinavia – 6 cities you’ll want to visit

Today I have my dear friend Richelle Z. sharing about her love and knowledge of Scandinavia.  Richelle is from the Midwest (she was my R.A. in college!), but is now living and working in the UK.  She has traveled extensively throughout Europe and Asia.  Thanks so much, Richelle!____________________________________________________________

The idea of ‘hygge’ has been everywhere these days (Google it- the results will surprise you!). You can read books about this Danish art of living, raise your children in accordance with this philosophy, cook meals that represent this way of life, and even transform yourself into a happier person by following these principles. While I can’t profess to being an expert in the art of hygge (pronounced ‘hoo-ga’), I must admit that there is something alluring about Denmark, and, Scandinavia as a whole, and this new-found interest in ‘hygge’ has made me think more and more about the unique aspects of Scandinavia that truly set it apart.

After six trips to the region (and an awful lot of time spent in Scandi cafes in London!), this is what ‘hygge’ means to me and why I believe the entire region of Scandinavia has something to offer all ages.

Reykjavik: Other-worldly landscapes and awe-inspiring natural beauty

Reykjavik was my first brush with Scandinavia. My sister and I had ten hours in between a flight to London to explore the city. Of course, it wasn’t nearly enough time, but it did give us a small sense of what Iceland has to offer.

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Oslo: Austere architecture amidst tranquil natural surroundings (photos 4757, 4391)

Oslo is one of my favorite cities. There was a formality about it that really resonated with me, but it was also very quirky and hip at the same time. I loved the bright buildings and the connection that one felt with the sea and nature. Norway also has a proud history of discovery and exploration, and this was surely felt in Oslo with the many statues of Roald Amundsen, the famous Arctic explorer.

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I like this photo that was taken in a cemetery near our Airbnb flat because it represented such a tranquil space (it was also a garden park in the city center). The gravestones had a very spartan quality that was in stark contrast to the many gravestones I’ve seen in London in Highgate Cemetery or Brompton Cemetery.  The day after I took this photo, it snowed and the entire place was lightly dusted with soft white powder.

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This photo was taken at Vigeland Park, the world’s largest sculpture park made by a single artist. The park was brimming with sculptures of people in strange poses, as you can see by the photo of me with Vigeland’s art. I’ve chosen a tamer sculpture here so as not to frighten Leah’s young readers, as there were some rather strange ones.

Bergen: Charming seaside fronts and UNESCO World Heritage sites

Bergen is one of the most charming places I’ve ever been and may even give Salzburg a run for its money in terms of being the most charming city on earth. In addition to strolling along the historic Bryggen, the city’s historic wharf and UNESCO World Heritage Site, it was most interesting to wander through the little neighborhoods behind the water. Not surprisingly, the seafood was outstanding, but, visitors beware, everything in Bergen is terrifyingly expensive. A simple pint will set you back £8, for instance, and most starters are around £10-16, which I consider a bit high for an appetizer.

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This is the beautiful wharf, Bryggen, which is also a little labyrinth of shops and cafes, albeit slightly touristy ones these days. The site is extremely well preserved and belies the fact that it dates back to the 1350s.

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To get the best view of Bergen, climb to the top of Fløibanen mountain, one of the city’s Seven Mountains that surround it. You can hike to the peak of the mountain or you can take a cable car. We actually chose to hike, which friends of mine would find quite surprising. My advice to other would-be climbers is to wear proper hiking shoes, not pointed toe flats. The reward for your hard work, however, will be this stunning view along with a glimpse of the trolls who dot the top of the mountain (yes, there are trolls!).

Copenhagen: One of the world’s most liveable cities as well as a haven for cyclists

Copenhagen stands out to me as one of the most liveable cities I’ve ever visited. This may also be due to the fact that I absolutely loved our Airbnb flat, but I think there is more substance to back up that claim. The trains in Denmark are efficient to a tee, it’s easy to cycle everywhere (in fact, most people get around entirely by bicycle in Copenhagen), and the overall quality of living seemed very high.

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The Little Mermaid Statue
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Overlooking the Danish rooftops in Copenhagen

Stockholm: Beautiful churches combined with an innovative food and art scene

We only had a short three-day weekend to spend in Stockholm, but it was certainly long enough to get a taste of the city and confirm that we absolutely need to return. Stockholm had all of the hallmarks of a great Scandinavian city to me- extremely clean and efficient travel infrastructure, close proximity to water and natural beauty, eclectic churches, and an overall austere feel to the streets and neighborhoods. Two of my favorite churches are pictured here:

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Helsinki: World-renowned design district and the Moomins

Helsinki is a strange city in that I’m not sure it fully identifies as being Scandinavian. Technically, yes, Finland geographically finds itself within Scandinavia, but it also shares characteristics with Russia and the Baltics, given its proximity to and history with that region. Yet, after exploring Helsinki for a few days, I did come to the conclusion that it was a true Scandi city, deeply possessing all of the things I’ve come to love about that part of the world. The food was off-beat and interesting, the coffee was amazing, the architecture had that clean austerity about it, and one could be close to nature.

Helsinki stands apart from its more glamorous cousins of Oslo and Stockholm with a strong identity rooted in design. The Design District comprises street after street of shops filled with contemporary designs and, in true Scandi tradition, they were extremely expensive.

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Have you been to Scandinavian?  Favorite city?  Maybe you follow hygge?  I’d love to hear!

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A walking tour of Pittsburgh – with kids

{Bus and Subway is optional}

Andrew Carnegie said, “Pittsburgh entered the core of my heart when I was a boy and cannot be torn out.”

It only takes a foot tour of downtown Pittsburgh to fall in love with the architecture, the city scape, and the river views.  A city that has survived the rise and fall of steel is one that charmed our young family on our weekend stay. My hope is that I can give you a taste of this modern city, one that surprised me.

A graphic designer I am NOT, but here is a map of the route our family took (but I corrected it to make better use of the subway and bus- we walked a LOT)

pgh-mapThe Allegheny County Courthouse was a great place for us to begin because it was a brief walk from our room at the Doubletree by Hilton.  Designed by H.H. Richardson, one of the most prominent American architects of the late 19th century, the courthouse reminded me of a building you’d see in London or Oxford, not in a midwestern city.  Tours are provided of the interior during weekdays, but we arrive until Friday evening.

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Take a glance northeast and you can’t help but see the US Steel Building.  The 64-story tower is Pittsburgh‘s tallest building- and the COR-TEN steel used on the exterior causes the rusty color.

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Next up is the City-County Building.  Here you’ll find a statue of Richard Caliguiri, who was Pittsburgh’s mayor from 1977 until his death in 1988.  They decided to put his statue on the steps of this building because he was often seen here talking to people.  The entry way to this building really is breathtaking.  Don’t forget to look up!

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If you position yourself to walk down Forbes Ave to the west, you’ll eventually run into Market Square.  This area was just renovated in 2011 and contains one of Pittsburgh’s most noteworthy dining locales, Primanti Brothers.  Primanti Brothers has been in business since the 1930s and now has 17 locations all over the city of Pittsburgh.  They are famous for appearing on Man v. Food because of the way they stack their coleslaw and french fries ON the sandwich.  I’ll be honest, my husband and I weren’t impressed with the Pittsburgher (their #2 best seller- after beer), but I’ve heard good things about the sandwiches made from cold cut meats.  So, maybe we should give it another go?  I see there are now 3 Ohio locations (no way!)

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When you’re on this corner by Primantis you follow a alleyway that opens to the PPG place.  PPG Place is a 6 city block complex and obelisk.  The PPG buildings have over 231 glass spires all covered in mirror glass.  The spires are to represent the way three rivers come together at Pittsburgh.  In the winter, this area houses an outdoor skating rink, and in the summer it’s the perfect place for children to cool off in the fountains.  Our boys loved the rhythm of the fountains, it was definitely a highlight!

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From here I’d recommend heading towards the Gateway Metro Stop- but instead getting on a bus and taking it to W Carson/Duquesne Incline.  Buses in the city cost $2.50 per adult and we’re free for our kids.  $5 to save your legs (and let your Primanti Bros settle)!

The Duquesne Incline is a must-do for families staying in Pittsburgh.  There are actually two inclines, the Monongahela and the Duquesne, but I’d researched that the Duquesne offers the better views. Oh, it did not disappoint.  The trip up was a little hairy.  I may or may not have told my husband to stop pointing out how old the incline was or how rotten the boards were (aaahh), but the view was so so worth it.  Also, total cost- $12.50.  (Adults were $5 each, our 6 yr old was $2.50 roundtrip).  You won’t find anything else this cheap in Pittsburgh.

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Now it’s time to burn off your Primantis so when exiting the Incline, cross the road and walk towards the Fort Pitt Bridge back into the city.  Pittsburgh is truly a city of bridges and crosses one of these giants makes you appreciate the city a little more (and maybe understand all the traffic drama we had getting into the city?).

After crossing the bridge, take the ramp down into Point State Park.  This area is designated as a National Historic Landmark.  The land was considered a strategic location in the Ohio Valley.  The French built a fort here.  The English built a fort here.  The Native Americans were here first (obviously).  The park was renovated in 2006 and now contains an outline of Fort Duquesne and Fort Pitt into the grassy area.  Our boys loved the fountain, especially when the wind would pick up and we’d all get a good soaking!  It really is a pretty area.  If we weren’t running after 3 little ones, I think Mr Yoder Toter and I would lay around on a blanket and… read a book (;)).

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After you enjoy the park (and maybe take a nap), work your way back to the Gateway Metro Stop.  From here you can take a free subway ride to the North Shore.  It will save you more walking– and it’s FREE.  We used the T to get from our Steel Plaza stop to the North Shore. On a Sunday morning it was nearly vacant, so much so that at first we worried it was closed!

Geek alert- Forget Heinz Field and PNC Park, I wanted to see Mr. Rogers.  The 2009 Sculpture and Arch is called “Tribute to Children” and now takes the place of where a bridge was removed.  Mr. Fred Rogers was from nearby LaTrobe, PA. There’s even a speaker in the arch playing music and stories from Mr. Rogers.  I wish I could put a heart eye emoji, I definitely got verklempt when it started playing, “It’s you I like.

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I can’t think of a better way to end your evening in Pittsburgh than walking by PNC Park when there is an evening home game.  I’m a sucker for the sounds and smells of the ballpark, anyhow, and this is one of the best.  Even better if you pay for admission and can watch the sights of the city as the sun fades.

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If you get back to the Wood Street Metro stop you could either continue walking to your hotel or take the subway to the nearest location.

If you go:

Stay

We enjoyed our stay at the Doubletree by Hilton.  The room was huge and the beds were comfortable for the cost.  If you’re budget allows, I’d stay somewhere closer to Market Square that includes breakfast, like the Embassy Suites or Hilton Garden Inn.

Eat

We had a yummy pizza dinner at Milano’s on 6th Street.  The place was casual and affordable, perfect for kids.  Try the garlic knots!

With the kids

This was another trip that proved to us that the best $100 we ever spent was this lightweight, affordable, double umbrella stroller.  It says it’s only rated for 40 lbs per seat but we can easily push our 46 lb, 6-yr-old (plus another kiddo) and the thing is still in one piece!  It also made it to Australia and back in the underside of the plane!

 

Much of the information on Pittsburgh’s architecture and art came from a FREE downloadable guide provided by the Pittsburgh Art Council.  You can find that guide HERE.

Have you ever been to Pittsburgh?  Maybe you have an emotional soft spot for Mr. Rogers?  What’s your opinion on Primanti Bros?

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*This is not a sponsored post.  All opinions are my own*

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Australia Day in Sydney

What we did + tips for if you go

Ever since returning from my year as an exchange student, I was kicking myself for not attending Australia Day in Sydney!  Australia Day is regarded as a party day for Aussies the same way Americans regard the 4th of July.  Being in Sydney for Australia Day is truly a Bucket List experience.

One added benefit of going to Australia Day in Sydney was that for the past few years, the date has included a special free performance by The Wiggles.  The tickets are free, but are given out on a draw.  We were lucky enough to secure tickets through a friend!

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At the close of the Wiggles concert, we found ourselves in the perfect locale, as  Sydney Harbour is the centerpiece for the Australia Day programming.

The Salute to Australia began at 12 pm from the HMAS ADELAIDE.  After a singing of the Australian National Anthem and “We are Australia,” there was a 21 Gun Salute in North Sydney and an aerial flyover of the RAAF fighter jets.  (As a side note, I should have read the program about the jets because my word it scared the daylights out of Jackson and I)!

After the jets came a pair of helicopters which I was sure were going to crash into the Sydney Harbour Bridge and plunged everyone into the sea (no anxiety here, folks)!  Their maneuverings were quite spectacular- but not for the faint of heart!

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Maybe our favorite part of the ceremony was when the Qantas Airbus A380 did a flyover of the bridge and the Sydney Opera House.  We’d just arrived 11 days earlier on the same aircraft, so it was neat to see the giant from below.

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After a quick lunch at the Western Foyer bar, we returned back to the water’s edge to watch the Tall Ships as they race from Bradleys Head to the Sydney Harbour Bridge.  This iconic view is just what my mind went to when I thought of spending Australia Day in Sydney,  now my only wish was that we’d been on the northern side of Harbour (just for the race, not the entire day), as we would have had a better vantage point.  At the conclusion of the tall ships race, we returned to our hotel for a short rest and respite from the sun!

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Darling Harbour was another hub for Australia Day action, so after a rest we headed over to check out all of the hoopla.  The evening activities in Darling Harbour were to include a live DJ and a fireworks spectacular.  Unfortunately, after a full day in the sun, the heavy crowds of people were a little disheartening.  Instead we chose to exit  Darling Harbour and find a quiet spot for dinner.  This was one of those times when traveling with three little kids meant plans sometimes change.  The enormity of spectators, and our level of exhaustion from a full day in the sun, took a toll.

My top tips for visiting Sydney on Australia Day:

  1.   If possible, go the night before.  You’ll want to be in the city early in the day to begin your time at the festivities, so why not travel in the night before when crowds are few and enjoy a leisurely evening?  There were many kiosks along Circular Quay with Visitor Information and event listings.  We grabbed a map and schedule for the next day so we could plan ahead.
  2.  Sunscreen.  Sunscreen.  Sunscreen.  At midday, there’s really no shade near the Opera House or Circular Quay.  Most Aussies know the sunscreen/hat deal, but us Yankees totally underestimate the Australian sun.
  3.  Be strategic with your hotel.  We stayed at the Sydney Harbour Marriott (Check current rates).  While expensive, the location in relation to Circular Quay can not be beat.  When traveling with small children, you need a place that’s easy to access for naps and rest.  If you have littles, ask for a tub at time of check-in.  Our room only had a shower.
  4.  Water. Water. Water.
  5.   A stroller is a necessity.  The sidewalks of Sydney are handicap accessible.  The only place we had an issue was in the Historic Rocks area where we got off of the beaten track and had to carry the stroller down a large flight of stairs.  Around Sydney Harbour (Circular Quay) and Darling Harbour there are plenty of lifts (elevators) to get you where you need to go.
  6.  The Opera House was open for the use of restrooms.  This was convenient– and necessary. 🙂

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More info HERE

I’d be amiss if I didn’t discuss the controversy surrounding Australia Day.  Australia Day commemorates the anniversary of Captain Arthur Phillip’s  possession of New South Wales and raising the British flag over the bay in Sydney.  Many Indigenous Australians refer to this day as “Invasion Day” and believe it was the day that they losts the rights to their land and culture.  Throughout Sydney, Aboriginal programming was also taking place.  You can learn more HERE.


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