Happy Tuesday! How are you? I know, I usually upload here on a Monday evening, but I have a very good reason as to why I’m a day late.
As part of a book tour to celebrate her new memoir Odyssey of Love, I have a guest post written by the author herself Linda Jämsén, where she shares four of her top European travel destinations. I think we should dive straight in shouldn’t we?
My Top European Travel Destinations written by Linda Jämsén
Last February, I celebrated twenty years of expat life, during which I had traveled extensively throughout Europe. However, the pandemic dampened all pangs of wanderlust and kept me home in Finland, my adopted country. Now that international borders are slowly opening again, I am dreaming of returning to some of my favorite destinations. Below are four that made a strong impression, each for a special reason.
Oslo—Sea and the City
I recently visited Norway’s capital for the first time and was stunned by how the futuristic-looking architecture appeared to extend into the sea, merging with the landscape. Man-made canals and waterside promenades offer easy access to swimmers and canoers at every turn.
Nearby, kayakers wove through ripples in the shadow of the new Munch Museum.
A short distance from the Opera House, where visitors swarm on its white marble/granite sloped exterior, my Finnish husband was delighted to find a row of floating saunas with views of the Oslofjord. After he indulged, we walked to the end of the peninsula, where we relaxed on wooden loungers and watched the locals plunge into the 11C waters of the saltwater pool. Brrr! Although an ardent swimming, I chickened out, which means I have an added incentive to return next summer. But first, I need to save up; although swimming in the open sea is free, Oslo is otherwise a very expensive city.
A UNESCO World Heritage site known for its breathtaking beauty and fairy-tale castles, Sintra is only a 40-minute rail ride from Lisbon. Although local buses run to each local tourist spot, the best way to explore is by foot. If you hike up the trails through thick pine forest, you’ll arrive at the ruins of a Moorish Castle with a panoramic view of the sea. Along the way, you’ll pass the small cottage where Hans Christian Andersen once stayed.
The highlight, however, is the Romanticist Pena Castle, which towers over the village, its turrets extending above the clouds.
When you return to town, treat yourself to a decadent pastéis de nata, an egg custard tart, at Café Piriquita, and after recharging, walk a short distance to The Quinta da Regaleira. The lush grounds this neo-Gothic mansion are shrouded in mysterious grottoes and waterfalls, secret tunnels, and enigmatic constructions. The inviting chapel is richly decorated with frescoes, stained glass windows, and white stucco.
The Alluring Light of Finnish Lapland
I am embarrassed to admit that I had lived 14 years in Finland before visiting Lapland. The long, dreary city winters usually pushed me south to Greece or Spain, which seemed preferable to even harsher weather conditions and total darkness (or so I thought) above the Arctic Circle. I always had a handy excuse not to visit Lapland until friends generously offered a place to stay over New Year’s weekend. My husband and I took the short flight to Saariselkä, and upon our arrival in the kaamos (polar night), were greeted by rather balmy temperatures (-5C). It was cold enough that our cozy cottage was surrounded by fresh snowdrifts, yet warm for venturing comfortably outside.
Hours later, as the New Year’s countdown began, fireworks shot up and colorful sparks of pink, orange, and silver filled the skies. The silhouette affect on the surrounding wooden barns and snow laden firs created an image of eerie beauty. I stood, transfixed, and reached for my camera.
The highlight of our trip was yet to come: a sleigh ride at Saariselkä Reindeer Farm, owned and operated by a local Sami family that offers reindeer “safaris” in an authentic setting. The staff outfitted us with thick snowsuits and tucked us into our private sleigh with a wool blanket. We spent the next hour and a half “dashing through the snow” (well, not exactly) and staring in awe at the blue-tinged landscape. It was a magical, once-in-a-lifetime experience that I highly recommend, and I was sad when it was time to return to the city.
Budapest’s Soothing Thermal Spas
Much of my recently released memoir, Odyssey of Love, takes place in Budapest, so I’m a bit biased. There’s so much to love about this gorgeous city: elegant Art Nouveau architecture, romantic views of the bridges connecting Buda and Pest, world-class performances at the Franz Liszt Academy of Music; hearty (and inexpensive) food; friendly locals. In addition, Budapest’s thermally heated spas allow you to swim comfortably even during a snowstorm.
The most beautiful spa in my opinion, although quite touristy, is Széchenyi Bath, located within City Park. With pools of varying temperatures to choose from, you can relax in the mineral-rich waters while watching the local men play chess or swim through the ornamental fountains at your leisure. It is worth the price of admission (20 USD) to spend two hours soaking up Széchenyi’s Old-World charm.
For those looking for a more rigorous workout, I recommend the Olympic-sized pool at Dagály Spa, which sprawls out along the Danube, or the Komjádi pools close to Margit Bridge. If you wish to travel to Budapest for a swimming vacation, you can stay at the Császár Hotel, which is part of the Komjádi complex. Last I checked, the price was 62 USD/night for two people including pool admission and breakfast. On my trip to Budapest in November 2019, the hotel’s breakfast room was festively decorated for the holidays.
Budapest was the last place I visited before the pandemic, and my warm memories of that vibrant city helped sustain me during lockdown. Hopefully, we can all dust our passports off soon and take to the skies once again. Wherever you decide to go, I wish you a safe and fulfilling journey!
A huge thank you goes to Linda for not only sharing an amazing guest post with us all, but for allowing me to be a part of her book tour. If you’re keen to read her book you can find it here and for those of you who are in the UK you can find it here.
I’ll be back at my normal time next week with a brand new post.
Alanna Jean x