‘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.

rek-views

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.

cemetary

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.

4757

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.

scandi-1

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.

scandi-2

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.

img_1966
The Little Mermaid Statue
scandi-3
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:

church church-2

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.

helsinki-2

helsinki

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

scandi-header

Travel Hacking the Canadian Rockies

A four-night, four-star trip for next-to-nothing.

I’ve been so eager to tell you how we took second-honeymoon style trip to the Canadian Rockies for pennies on the dollar.  We started travel hacking about 2 years ago and using points and miles has definitely helped with our travel game.

After booking our trip to Australia last year, I had a bunch of American Airlines miles left.   Reading Bryce’s blog about how to use the Fairmont VISA gave me an idea- I’d been dreaming of staying at the Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise since I was a teenager- travel hacking the hotel was the ticket!

fcll1

lake-louise-cover

First, I booked our flight from CMH -> Calgary using 75,000 AA miles.  Here’s what I would have paid using the same flights but paying cash.

american-airlines-what-i-would-have-paid

Instead, here’s what I paid:  75k miles + $123.60 in taxes and fees

Savings on flights:  $1,232.40

You can accrue AA Advantage miles by signing up for 2 Platinum Select Citi AAdvantage cards- if you got the business card and the personal card, you’d immediately have enough miles.  More info HERE.

Our first night of the trip was at Emerald Lake Lodge (review).  Not only was the place exquisite, it’s very pricey.  One night was $329 CAD + taxes.  Our bill at check out for one night + dinner in the lounge and breakfast in the dining room was a whopping $497.89 CAD!

20161107_081550

Before we left home, the Barclaycard Arrival + was offering a sign-up bonus for 50,000 miles after spending $3k in the first 3 months.  We used the card for all of our expenses on the trip, plus  all of our personal expenses and my husband’s business expenses.  After less than 2 months, we hit the minimum spend on this card- giving us 50k points/ $500 in travel credit.

The charge at Emerald Lake Lodge converted to $375.82.  See how I erased the purchase below:

barclay-point-post
Showing we hit the minimum spend and all the points we accrued.
barclay-redeem
You can only erase purchases that cost over $100 each. These are the options Barclay gave me.

barclay-emerald-lake-lodge

So for 2 nights and 2 great meals: FREE

A savings of $375.82

Next we spent 2 nights at the aforementioned Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise.  This travel hack involved signing up for the Fairmont Visa Signature Card.  We applied for this card over a year ago in order to have time to earn the miles and have open availability for the resort.  This card also requires spending $3000 in the first 3 months, but with that comes a bonus of 2 FREE nights!

After achieving the minimum spend I called Fairmont and booked the two nights at the Chateau Lake Louise (you must book directly with Fairmont resorts to use your free nights).  The resort quoted me a resort fee of $13/night, but I wasn’t charged it at checkout.

Here’s what our nights would have cost without credits:

fairmont-hack

$669 CAD is currently $501 USD per night!!  Just having this credit card saved us $1002!

Earning Premier Status also gives you breakfast and dining credits at the resorts.  We were able to use 2 of these at check-out. The parking was $30/night.  Here’s our first bill from the resort and then a second one showing what we paid after the credits were applied:

fairmont-hack

We had horrible weather while at Lake Louise (our mountain view room became a fog-view room), so we really just enjoyed the resort and the room service (YES!).  Our bill at check-out (after Fairmont dining credits) was $163.12 CAD.  This came to $123.13 USD and we were able to erase the entire stay using the Barclay points.

barclay-fairmont

Total cost of 2 nights at the Fairmont + Dining if paid for out of pocket and without credits:  $1002 + $216 USD ($288.12 CAD) = $1218

Total spent for 2 nights at Fairmont + gluttony and room service after HACKS = ZERO

The last night of our trip was in Banff.  I had prepaid for the hotel through AAA.  In hindsight, I could have also booked the hotel with the option to pay at check-out and used the Barclay points to cover it.  However, it was the least expensive option by quite a bit- we stayed at the Banff Aspen Lodge for $133 USD.  The room and amenities were just fine, but I would recommend this more for budget travelers or families.

Total for air and 4 nights before Travel Hacking: $3082.82

Total for air and 4 nights after Travel Hacking: $256.60

Savings: $2,826.22

Bam!!  The Canadian Rockies was one of the most magical places we’ve ever visited.  I think I’ve covered everything, but if you have any questions, feel free to leave them in the comments section. I’m not the final authority on all things travel hacking- I recommend reading 10xtravel.com for more info!  I love them so much, I wrote a blog for them!

Have you done any travel hacking?  Maybe you’ve been the Canadian Rockies?  Maybe you cry, too, when you see a dream come true?

travel-hacking-header

** I’m undeniably one of the world’s biggest haters of debt.  We only use these credit cards with the premise that the uses are already budgeted for and the cards are paid off EVERY month.  I don’t recommend using a credit card if you lack self-control.  My husband is also self-employed so we can easily hit the minimum spends just by charging his gas and other work expenses along with our household expenses.  More HERE.  End sermon. **

 


Booking.com

The Icefields Parkway drive within an hour of Lake Louise

In researching our trip to the Canadian Rockies, I knew that the Icefields Parkway was something we had to cross off of our list.  However, we were short on time, so we knew we couldn’t travel too far from our base in Lake Louise- so these sites on the Icefields Parkway drive are all within an hour of Lake Louise.

The Icefields Parkway is an iconic drive, maybe lesser-known to Americans than California’s Highway 1 or the Blue Ridge Parkway, but lacking nothing in jaw-dropping views.

Icefields Parkway is also known as highway 93 and it begins just north of Lake Louise.  The parkway itself is free, but you do need to have your National Parks Pass for admission.  We paid $80 CAD for a 4-day pass to the parks.  You can take the Icefields Parkway all the way to Jasper, AB but our short getaway just didn’t allow us the time we needed to do this.

ifp-7

ifp-1

The road is well-maintained and has numerous pull-over spots.

Icefield Parkway Stop
They were obviously out of neutral colors at the rental counter.

The first place I knew I wanted to see was Bow Lake.

For the best view, don’t pull over at the lookout- but look for the signs for the Num Ti-Jah Lodge.  The Lodge was not open while we were there (it appeared to be under renovation), but you can still park there and walk right up to the lake.

ifp-3

ifp-4

If it would have been a little warmer, I’d been happy to sit on this bridge with a good book.  The reflections in the lake are gorgeous, if you can get past the tour bus crowds arriving every so often! 🙂

Just a little more north of Bow Lake is Peyto Lake.  This is the stop I’d been waiting for, as the photographic image I’d placed in my mind begged me to see it in person.  The electric blue water against the snow-draped mountains is a highlight for travelers from all over the world (trust me, you’ll see all the tourists even on a snowy day)!

Those not arriving by bus have to park about 1/4 mile from the viewing platform and walk up the hill (err, mountain).  The walk is well-paved but it is steep.  This is where Mr YT and I determined that we were either dealing with some altitude-related struggles OR we really needed to hit the treadmill when we got home — the answer is probably both!

ifp-5
Thinking this view alone was worth the hike- not realizing what I was about to see.

ifp-6

ifp-snow
Snnoowww

From Peyto Lake, we returned south towards Lake Louise.  We really wanted to get settled in at the Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise before dark so we could have a look around the property.  I’m so glad we did because we had about zero visibility the next two days!

So friends, you don’t have to have an entire day to enjoy some spectacular Canadian Rockies views.  I’d easily do this drive again!

Read more about our Canadian Rockies adventure HERE & HERE.  Interested in Travel Hacking a trip to Canada?- CHECK THIS OUT.


Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise

Have you been to the Canadian Rockies?  Maybe the US Rockies?  Where can I find blue water as bright as this?!

ifp-2

icefields-parkway-header

 

**This post may contain affiliate links**

Emerald Lake Lodge – A romantic getaway in the Canadian Rockies

I asked my dear, well-traveled friend where SHE would stay in the Canadian Rockies, “Oh, you must stay at Emerald Lake Lodge!”  Her suggestion was golden- I’m SO thankful for her advice.

Emerald Lake Lodge is nestled in between the stately mountains of Yoho National Park, just outside of Field, British Columbia.  The drive from Calgary airport took about 2 hours. There is no parking at the lodge, overnight guests have to take a shuttle that is over 1/2 mile from the lodges.

The resort is a cluster of cabins, along with the main lodge and other outbuildings.  I haven’t felt so far away from civility since visiting the Australian Outback in my teens.  This is just the place to get away from the cares and affairs of day-to-day life.

ell-8
This bridge allows you to enter the peninsula where the lodge and cabins are. The cabin pictured is Cilantro, the upscale dining option.

Room

Our room was a king bed lake view.  I was a little nervous after reading some of the reviews online, but overall I was quite happy with the room.  The king bed was comfortable and the bedding was luxe.  The in-room wood-burning fireplace was romantic.  The lake view balcony would have been much better served in warmer weather, but added to the value.  We talked about how if we were here in summer we’d probably just sit on the deck all day.  There are no TVs or wifi in the room.  (The room also had ear plugs in it’s amenity kit so YOU CAN IMAGINE WHAT YOU WILL). 😉

ell-6-5

ell-1

ell-2

 

Yes, the outside of the cottages and some of the landscaping and decking could have been improved (which is what you’ll find lots of on TripAdvisor).  Absolutely.  However, I’d say your paying for the seclusion and service- not perfection.  The weather here is harsh (we experienced some of that),  so I can see why the cabins don’t look perfect.

Dining-

The main lodge houses Kicking Horse Lounge and the Mount Burgess dining room.  After arrival, we had dinner in the Kicking Horse lounge.  The serving sizes were large and the food was tasty.  My husband had the bison burger and really enjoyed it.  There is a full bar service.ell-7

ell-9

A breakfast buffet takes place in the Mount Burgess dining room. It is not included in the cost.  We decided to just order our items off of the menu.

I did think things were a little pricey, BUT understanding the views and the serenity, you see why they can charge top dollar (think $4 for a cup of coffee!  We’re not in Ohio anymore, Toto).

There’s also Cilantro on the Lake, which was not open during our stay.   This is the building pictured above that was right on the lake.

 

Out and about-

There’s numerous hiking possibilities throughout the resort and Yoho National Park.  The Natural Bridge area is just a short drive away.  The grounds also have a fitness center and outdoor hot tub.  The view from the hot tub isn’t too shabby:

ell-6

In reality, if I could do my honeymoon over again (i.e. if I could have afforded this at age 20, lol), then this is where I would come.  Secluded.  Romantic.  Inspiring.  The fog made it a a little swoon-worthy.  Men, bring your lady here, she will LOVE YOU FOREVER AND EVER, AMEN.

Book it HERE.

xo

ell-header

**This was not a sponsored post, but does contain affiliate links**