Welcome to Part 3 of my series – Destination Wishlist: Europe!
In this post, we’re continuing our daydreams of traveling the world over. First, we were in Africa and last week we made plans for Asia. This time, we’re going to focus on Europe! Let’s settle in, shall we?
I know what you’re thinking if you’re from North America: “Everybody does Europe” and maybe your eyes roll. Personally, I’ve enjoyed most parts of Europe that I’ve been fortunate enough to visit in the past. I’ve been to a couple of cities twice and it still seems like I didn’t experience enough of them. I’m positive the same will be said about these twelve countries on my wish list of Europe.
Well before Disney’s Frozen gave Norway a bit of a nod, I had been curious about the place. I’m most interested in the Viking Ship Museum in Oslo.
There’s also the Nobel Peace Prize Center. Seriously, that’s as close as I’ll come to ever receiving one, so might as well explore the place. If there’s time, I’d also like to roam around the Akershus Fortress. The fortress was completed in 1300 CE, and you know how I like history!
For you super art fans out there, we can lay our eyes upon the original The Scream painting at the Munch Museum. You’re well aware of how much I love cultural learning – so how do the locals unwind? I think the answer lies at Tusenfryd. Of course, I’m going to leave you hanging on to find out what that is. It leaves me more to write about in the future!
After hanging around Oslo, maybe we could take the 5-hour drive up to the Urnes Stave Church, a UNESCO site. It is Norway’s oldest stave church. I have heard it has some of the best detail work for a wooden stave church. I think I should check that out for myself.
Without getting into politics (this is my happy place from that, after all), I think more Americans need to experience Russia. Is the overall culture as bad as the news outlets say? It didn’t help that Sochi was not even close to ready for the 2014 Olympics. Unfortunately, for Russia, they will be hard-pressed to get over that image. At least, not without the help of travel writers and bloggers such as myself – AND that’s if we actually enjoy ourselves over there!
Outside of the Cold War, what does the average American know about Russia? In four years, it will be thirty years since the Cold War ended and we still keep on with the tension and overall distrust of the Russian government.
Let’s face it – the American society has forgiven the horrors caused by Germany. It has forgiven Japan for Pearl Harbor. It’s cautious about China but has mostly embraced it thoroughly. Are we, as a nation, ready to forgive Russia? More importantly, is Russia ready to make an amends with us?
Sure, the residual tensions from the Cold War are being felt and have proven “useful” for national media to alarm our nation’s population. Trust me, I don’t believe President Putin is innocent in all this, but sometimes you just have to think objectively about both sides of the debate. Let’s choose to be maturely diplomatic and think “Bigger Picture.”
For me, I want to humanize Russia to Americans. I want to help us all understand their cultures better. Let’s not focus on the Russian president. Let’s focus on the people. I aim to do that in Moscow, Serbia, and Saint Petersburg.
What are their daily living situations like? What are their comfort foods? Is the population thriving or barely surviving? How are their social programs? Does the general public feel oppressed or is that just what we’ve been told to believe about Russia? Is Russia’s culture completely divorced from the rest of Europe? I want to answer those questions.
Austria is home to Sigmund Freud, Mozart, and Gustav Klimt (Art Nouveau painter, known for The Kiss). Many people’s first image that comes to mind about Austria is The Sound of Music.
In Salzburg, you can enjoy eating at the oldest restaurant in Central Europe – St. Peter Stiftskeller. In 803 CE, the restaurant was cited in a document by a liegeman of Charlemagne, the scholar Alcuin. If you haven’t figured it out by now, I love history and food and travel. This place just captured all of it. I’m definitely going to make reservations here.
Afterward, I may have to walk to the Mozart House to help aid the digestion of all that Austrian food I’ll be sampling. Maybe after some shopping and taking in everything, I’ll check out the Hohensalzburg Fortress.
An hour away in Hallstatt, there’s the world’s first known salt mine to explore. It’s different from most activities I would do. To add to the unusual activities list, we can continue on to the Charnel House, where we can see decorated skulls of the deceased. The skulls are properly named and are taken care of by the Catholic church, complete with records.
Once I’ve enjoyed an overnight or two in Hallstatt, it’s time to move forward towards Vienna. It’s only a 3-hour drive, so it shouldn’t be too horrible. Well, I’ll have to find out what the snow and ice situation is, then get back to you. I come from a subtropical climate where an inch of ice can shut down our interstate highways. Want to take a guess at how much time I’ve ever spent driving on snow or ice? Hmm, maybe I should look into hiring a driver?
Assuming I arrive safely in Vienna, I’ll hang up the salt mine and work boots in exchange for a glamorous night at the Vienna Opera House. It’ll be hard deciding between an authentic meal outside the opera house or if we’ll see if they’re worth it.
By paying extra to see the evening show of the famous Spanish Riding School and the Vienna Boys Choir together, I get to explore more of the city. That’s what it’s about, right? Soaking up all that culture in Europe? Besides, I’ve been wanting to see the horses in action ever since the Travel Channel Sweetheart, Samantha Brown did an episode in Vienna and covered the impressive riding school.
I’ll spend some time viewing the original version of The Kiss by Klimt at the Austrian Gallery in Vienna’s Upper Belvedere Palace. Since I’ll book the evening show for the horses, there’s the added benefit of not having a case of “FOMO,” or Fear of Missing Out.
FOMO is definitely something I suffer from in the evenings, along with the guilt of not exploring the area I’m visiting instead of being lazy in my hotel. Don’t forget about my introverted nature that needs space away from socializing. It’s a vicious cycle but I usually can work through it with enough determination.
When it comes to the Scandinavian country of Denmark, most people know of Copenhagen. I know that’s the first city I think of when I think about Denmark. However, after doing a little searching there’s more to experience in Denmark than the capital city.
If I do it right, I could arrive in Copenhagen, pop up to Helsingor for a day, then make a large loop from Copenhagen to Aarhus, Jelling, and Odense. If I merely wanted to drive and not actually stop and explore these towns, it would be over 8 hours in a vehicle. Of course, this includes the northern detour to Helsingor in the beginning.
With the idea that my arrival in Denmark will be in Copenhagen, I want to get to exploring quickly! I think I’ll probably want to unwind a little bit and tour the Carlsberg Brewery. If I’m lucky maybe I can take a sip or two on one of their brews. Let’s extend the relaxation a bit with walking along some waterfronts and checking out those adorable famous houses we’ve seen in postcards and retro travel posters. If I come across the Little Mermaid statue, I will be taking the obligatory photo. Maybe I’ll send a selfie to my cousin who shares my love for the Disney version of the Little Mermaid. Hey, I never said I was above making people jealous!
Just 45 minutes by car from Copenhagen is the small ferry port town of Helsingor. Helsingor is home to the Kronborg Castle. If you’re a big Shakespeare fan, you’re not going to want to pass up the opportunity to see this castle, as it was the inspiration for the setting of Hamlet. How cool is that?
In Aarhus, there are a few interesting things to be seen here. For example, they have the Aarhus Women’s Museum and the ARoS Modern Art Museum (very popular for its circular walk giving a city view through the rainbow of colors). There is an interactive Viking Museum. Perhaps after getting all that culture saturated into our brains, we could be a bit frivolous and have fun at the amusement park, Tivoli Friheden.
Even if I have very little time available, I will still want to visit the town of Jelling. The town is famous for the Jelling Stones (not Jellystone and thoughts of Yogi Bear). They were dedicated by the first Christian Nordic king in honor of his parents. If you’re interested, they are on the UNESCO list as a representation of the finest monuments in Europe created by Vikings.
To break up the long drive from Jelling back to Copenhagen, I want to rest a while in the southern town of Odense. It is the home of Hans Christian Andersen, where many public dedications have been made to him. You guessed it – they do have a museum just for him and his works. Don’t forget, we want to also check out his childhood home. There are more things to do here that don’t involve HCA, but I want to leave a little information out until I visit for myself and report on it.
#14 CZECH REPUBLIC
When it comes to the Czech Republic, the main stop for me will be Prague. I mean, I’ve never been to the Czech Republic so it’s probably a top priority of mine to experience Prague. It’s home to the 600-year-old Astronomical Clock and where we can find Kafka’s house. You don’t know this about me, but I adore the works of Alphonse Mucha so a lingering stop at the Mucha Museum will be in order for me.
There’s also this darkly intriguing bone church just a little over an hour’s drive to the east of Prague. Over 40,000 people have sent their remains to be used in artistic ways at this church once word got out that the church was on “Holy Soil.” I’d love to be able to spend tons of time here to just get a thorough tour of the church and the decorative choices.
Perhaps after a half day’s adventure at the bone church, we could find ourselves dining on bagels and beer. I’ve heard good things about both here. Of course, I could take the beer enjoyment to the next level at a Beer Spa. I’m pretty sure my husband would be down to participate in that!
Laugh at me all you want, but I want to go look for Nessie in Loch Ness. Let’s just say after watching “Unsolved Mysteries” regularly as a kid, the need to at least try to find the creature has been on my “experiences bucket list” longer than any destination list I’ve ever dreamed up.
With Loch Ness being in the Highlands of Scotland, I would like to try to time it to see the Inverness Highland Games as well. You know, make the most out of my surely limited time in Scotland.
I’m not usually into actively taking part in sports, even the most leisurely. However, I could be persuaded to take golf lessons in Scotland. Come on, golf originated here! I will easily sign up for a lesson here! Then, of course, pop over to a “whisky” distillery that can help me soothe the muscle aches in my arms and back. I’m almost certain I’m going to need it! I’ve not been much for Scotch but I could stomach some sips here and there.
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I have been fortunate enough to spend a little time in Dublin. It was just enough time for me realize that I should have booked myself for another few days. Ever the storytellers, the people there were always quick to engage in conversation; so much so, that it reminded me of being back in my hometown.
But what about Galway, Cork, and Belfast? Considering that Galway is the furthest I’d have to travel from Dublin, at just over a 2-hour drive, I could easily make my Irish Headquarters in Dublin and enjoy day trips to these interesting cities. I mean, come on, I still want to go back to Dublin so this would be a way to make that happen!
Obviously, Greece had to make my list. I mean, I LOVE history and this particular constellation of islands has it. Since I have yet to explore any part of Greece, you’ll have to forgive me for wanting to do some of the staple attractions, such as the Acropolis in Athens. Of course, if I’m going to be in Athens, I’m definitely going to hit up the Temple of Olympian Zeus and Hadrian’s Arch.
Popping over to the Peloponnese, I’d just have to make the journey to Sparta, no matter how few attractions there really are. Seriously, you have to pay your respects to the famous 300 Spartan warriors of the ancient world. No doubt, a trip to Olympia will also be in order and hopefully, get the opportunity to explore the ruins of the Temple of Zeus.
Now, the real test for me will be the food – I have an allergic reaction to green olives. I don’t know if it’s the flesh of the olive itself or just the preserving juices they’ve been canned in. So I’m desperately hoping there will be plenty of meals to enjoy that won’t leave me in hives, itching for weeks. Will I survive the trip unscathed by olives?
When people say Europe, people often think of Italy first. Sometimes, you just have to immerse yourself in the cities you’re visiting in order to thoroughly allow your mind to conjure images of the past and truly feel as if you were there to witness its ancient histories unfold before you. And that’s exactly what I hope to accomplish in Italy.
I’ve had the fortunate experience of being in Italy before. Honestly, though, I feel as if I barely scratched the surface of Italian culture. While I do want to revisit Rome (since the person I brought with me at the time refused to enjoy our limited time there even though they knew I was most excited about our stop in this major city), I do want to hit up a couple other places I haven’t stepped foot in.
The Italian island of Sicily is one of those places. However, I’m not interested in a swim or attempting a tanning session on the largest island in the Mediterranean. If you’ve read Homer’s Odyssey, then you might be just as interested in the Aeolian Islands of Sicily. I hear there are a few volcanic hikes I could take, with Vulcano Fossa still being active. Apparently, it’s only an hour long hike to the crater or we could take a bath in the hot muds. Of course, I’ll need to know how clean I can get after going through with the hot mud bath therapy.
Another missed opportunity the last time I was in Italy, I want to go to Pompeii in Naples. Even if I don’t get to do anything else in Naples, I need to walk the streets of Pompeii. But, if I’m going to be in the area, perhaps I can also make my way to Capri? Tiberius made this a permanent home for himself. If the stepson to Emperor Augustus loved it enough to create 12 summer villas for himself here, it’s probably worth a day or two of exploration – or even relaxation, if I need to decompress as an introvert amongst the people.
To be honest with you, I really don’t know much about Portugal. However, I’d like to change that. I’d probably have to get started in Lisbon, as that is perhaps the biggest pull of travelers to Portugal.
From what I hear, the Alfama district of Lisbon has a nice array of medieval structures to gaze upon. Also in this district, I can explore the Castelo de São Jorge. Here, they have a permanent exhibition from the archaeological area with pieces dating between the 7th century BCE up to the 18th century CE. Castelo de São Jorge also is home to the ruins of the former Royal Palace of the Alcáçova.
As someone who appreciates interesting architecture, I might have to spend 2 days in Sintra, just a short, 40-minute train ride from Lisbon. Sintra, to have a “small town” vibe, has quite the extensive list of palaces for the wealthiest of Portugal. It also can boast at least 10 national monuments in the town alone.
Do you have any other recommendations for towns and cities to visit within Portugal? I’d love to hear about them!
Ever wanted to meet Santa Claus as a kid? How about getting into that Arctic Circle? Um, for me, yes to both of those questions! You can’t tell me that isn’t super cool for Europe!
Kiddos, you too might be able to find Old Saint Nick’s ‘official’ headquarters! No seriously! I have it on good authority that you can pinpoint Santa’s place in Rovaniemi, where he receives about half a million letters each year! After getting my photograph taken with him, I’ll be sending off a postcard to my best friend to make them super jealous! Don’t let me forget to mention getting to experience a sleigh ride driven by actual reindeer!
Fun fact about me: I’m a night owl. Why is this relevant? Well, part of the fun of being in the Arctic Circle is experiencing the “Midnight Sun!” Okay, a lot of y’all probably wouldn’t be as excited about that as me, but that’s why you bring eye masks with you and scope out lodging featuring block-out curtains. But for me, don’t think I won’t bundle up in the warmest clothes I could come across as a native subtropical resident of the US. Maybe Midnight Sun and Midnight Cocoa will be a great combination? Looking forward to finding out one day!
Home to ABBA, Ikea, and hordes of Death Metal fans, Sweden is the most populous of the Scandinavian countries, with close to 10 million people. Considering the vast population resides in the lower half of the country, let’s consider what they have to offer in Stockholm besides a psychological phenomenon from the summer of 1973.
For the average American such as myself, there’s not a lot of cities within Sweden we know about. Stockholm probably being the first one to come to mind, there’s bound to be plenty of interesting things to do there. Well, there’s definitely at least one unique thing to happen upon: The Codex Gigas, or in layman’s terms, “The Devil’s Bible.” This 3-foot-tall handwritten manuscript was estimated to have taken about 10-20 years to complete by a solitary monk from Bohemia (now the Czech Republic). From what I’ve read, the artistic representation of a devil is on a single page, so if you’re super religious, I wouldn’t worry too much about “gettin’ the evil on you,” as the demon isn’t prominent throughout the huge manuscript.
Now, there is another place I’d like to check out while in Stockholm: Pionen Data Center. Okay, I’m not a geek in the technology and computer coding kind of way, but the fact that Sweden’s biggest internet server is housed 100 feet underground and can withstand a hydrogen bomb is pretty impressive. Of course, it’s the fun 1970s design style that makes if photo-worthy. Don’t worry, I’ll make sure to photograph plenty! I mean, you know, if I can find a way in!
I know I’ve only listed 2 possible things to do in Stockholm and haven’t touched on any other cities within this Scandinavian country, but if I find the opportunity to go, trust me, I’ll definitely be working on a course of action! For now, however, this is where I want to end my European Destination Wishlist, as it’s as extensive as I warned you it was going to be!
If you think I need to add on to this list, write a comment and tell me all about it! I love getting inspiration!
Want to catch up on the previous sections of the Destination Wishlist Series? Find what you’re looking for here!
Be on the lookout for Part 4 of the Destination Wishlist Series, when I finally talk about exploring my own side of the world: the Northwestern hemisphere that is North America. Don’t worry, it won’t be nearly as long as this one!