041. Photo Essay: Stockholm, Sweden Part Two - 24 Hours in Gamla Stan

24 hours in Gamla Stan

Welcome to Part Two of my Stockholm post! As I mentioned, I stayed at my friend's house for a couple days outside the city, but I wanted to have at least one full 24 hours IN the city to explore. So I booked a room at the STF Hotel Gamla Stan. Very affordable, clean, and quiet. I also booked a Swedish Massage at the Luxury Spa at First Hotel Reisen, which was an amazing experience (cliche, I know).

Here's how I recommend spending 24 hours in Gamla Stan.

The wonderful part about traveling during winter is that most places are cheaper and way less crowded. It's honestly the only way I could afford traveling through Europe for 2 months. The downside is, while out exploring, you are often freezing! 
Thankfully, there are plenty of cute little coffee and pastry shops to pop into to warm up (and have a treat... what better excuse!)

The city has such a good energy about it. It's clean, well organized, and once you get into "old town" also known as Gamla Stan, you are transported back to medieval Europe. It's on a little island in the middle of Stockholm (accessed by bridges).

This eclectic mix of new and old, makes Stockholm so much fun to explore (especially for photographers!)
I spent most of my time in Gamla Stan, as there is so much visual and cultural interest there.
Tons of little shops (most of it is pedestrian-only), restaurants, art galleries, and museums.
But even just the people watching is ace, and the old architecture is alluring.

Spend a few hours wandering around the old city. The narrow cobblestone streets and alleys wind between old stucco'd buildings. There's so much to see and you can get a good sense of the place by wandering without itinerary. Stop into any of the coffee or pastry shops for a morning snack/early lunch.

Eventually you'll want to check into your hotel. I enjoyed the STF Hotel Gamla Stan, and it was about $60 including breakfast. Located right on the end of Gamla Stan and easy to access. Even at night I felt safe walking alone in the area.

My friend knew about a really cool place called the Aifur Krog & Bar, which was basically a Viking-style restaurant. It's pricey, but if you have the chance, you MUST have dinner here!!
(NOTE: It's extremely popular so you will need to make reservations!! Even in the dead of winter.)

Seating is family style (large tables) among roaring fireplaces, candle light, live musicians perched on cushions, and the food...oh man the food... 

As a vegetarian eating in a viking restaurant, I was a little nervous. I ordered one of the few options without meat, the stew.

Hands down, it was one of the best things I've ever eaten. I practically licked my steel bowl.

After a rousing dinner, make your way to the Ice Bar. (https://www.icebarstockholm.com/book-icebar/)
It's not in Gamla Stan, but you can get there with a 20 minute walk or by bus.

Located under Hotel C, you walk in, pay the entry fee ($22), and you are escorted through to the very cool (literally freezing) Ice Bar! A very unique (and strong) cocktail is included in your entry fee, but you can buy more as needed/desired. They provide the warm gear for you to wear, which you definitely want, because even the seats are made of ice!

After about an hour, I was frozen to my core, so we decided to head out.
You can enjoy exploring the city a little more, or head to Sjätte Tunnan, and amazing underground "pub" who serves some of the best mead I've ever tried! It's located back in Gamla Stan. It has a very old world feel, and very delicious beverages. (They also serve viking style food but I missed the cut-off.

Excuse the creepy lighting!

Excuse the creepy lighting!

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You'll never run out of things to do, see and taste in Stockholm, especially in Gamla Stan.
A 2 day trip would still leave you wanting more. 

Happy traveling!

040. Photo Essay: Stockholm, Sweden Part One: The New City and Surrounding Area

There's so much to share about Stockholm and the nearby areas that I need to split this post into two parts. Today, I'll share photos and experiences about the "newer" part of Stockholm (which is still really old) and the countryside. Tomorrow: Part Two, 24 Hours in Gamla Stan, the "old city!"

Even in winter the countryside is gorgeous. There's a stark, quiet beauty to it (I love black and white film, and those things go hand in hand!)

Stockholm was one of those places that I had always dreamed of visiting. Any photos I saw of the city were so enchanting and inviting. Last March I had the chance to pass through during my travels, and I was not disappointed. 
I got to meet up with a good friend, who was gracious enough to give me a tour of the city (new and old) and even let me borrow his jacket when it randomly started to snow on us! 

I was staying at his house, just outside the city, so we also had a chance to explore the countryside.

Here are some of my favorite images from the trip that I think capture its personality.

I'm not much of a museum lover, but there is one experience you CAN'T miss in Stockholm. That's the Vasa Museum.

It contains the oldest preserved Viking ship in the world. It's worth the $15 entry fee.
You can't understand the scale of this ship until you're standing next to it!

Bottom left: tiny people ants for scale.

A "miniature" replica of the ship (actual ship shown behind it).

A "miniature" replica of the ship (actual ship shown behind it).

The detailing and craftsmanship is stunning.

The countryside around Stockholm is dotted with ancient Rune Stones. They were originally used as Viking memorial markers (not burial sites though). They've since been preserved and "labelled" - usually there's a little sign next to them (in Swedish).

There's so much incredibly rich culture to explore in Sweden. Having only a few days there is difficult, especially in winter. But even then, you can see a ton just by driving or walking around!

Tomorrow: Party Two, 24 hours in Gamla Stan!

037. Hike Recap: Steall Falls, Scotland

Steall Falls (formerly An Steall Bàn) is a must-see for anyone who likes mountains and waterfalls, and honestly, it's a super easy hike.

Even the drive TO the carpark is gorgeous, as you pass Ben Nevis mountain.

After arriving at the car park, it's about an hour long hike to get to the falls themselves (depending on your speed and how often you stop to take in the view). The trail is not difficult, and most of it is well cared for. I hear in the summer it's an extremely busy hike. I was there in the winter, and only ran into a couple people along the way.

The trail follows a beautiful river, "Water of Nevis," which cascades through the gorge (to your right) among giant moss covered boulders. It's not uncommon to see rock climbers (at any time of year), scaling the steep cliff face on the opposite side of the river.

Eventually the trail opens up into a huge valley, and you finally catch a glimpse of the roaring waterfall in the distance. 

When you finally get closer to the waterfall, the immense height becomes apparent (after all, it is Scotland's second highest waterfall!)

The river snakes in front of you, blocking your path. You can stay here and get a nice view of the falls, and have a nice picnic. But if you want to make the most of the hike, you'll want to cross the river.

The only way to get to the base of the waterfall is a wire bridge over the river. 
I am terrified of heights, and after endless prodding from my friends, decided to try it anyway.

The wire bridge sits about 15 feet above the water - not terrible, but when it's freezing cold and you have your photo gear, you do NOT want to fall in!
 

My friend crossing the bridge first.

Halfway across, I became paralyzed with fear, and begged my friends to allow me to turn back, but they correctly pointed out that there's no way to turn around once you start, so I HAD to finish. With tiny baby steps and white knuckles, I finally made it.

Once across, you are rewarded with an amazing experience. A short hike leads to the base of the falls, which roar down onto mossy rocks and beautiful crystal clear pools.

A photographer's playground!

Even in winter, the area is lush! I'd love to visit again in the spring or summer!

Here's an amazing view looking back towards the trail (showing a self-catering hut for rent). It was the perfect inspiration for one of my paintings.

15x22" watercolor on cold press paper.

Happy hiking!

033. Photo Essay: Tønsberg, Norway

During my Europe trip in February/March 2016, I visited some friends in Norway for a couple days, in a cute little town called Tønsberg. Despite the freezing temperatures and very deep, wet snow, I found it to be incredibly relaxing. It was a nice escape from the city. There was such an interesting mix of architecture - even in a small rural town there were some excellent examples of Functionalism (for architecture nerds out there).
I REALLY hope to go back in warmer weather and explore the forests, as I hear they are rich with flora and fauna. 

I didn't do as much site-seeing as usual when I was there, because of the harsh weather, but I made sure to explore at least a little!

025. 36 Hours in Bruges!

Upon arriving in Bruges, after 12 hours of driving (from northern Scotland), we were delighted to have reached our destination, and immediately enchanted by the beautifully lit architecture. It was 11pm and as we entered the medieval city, our imaginations were sent soaring into distant fairy tales. 
We navigated our way to the Europ hotel, located on the north end of the city next to a quiet canal. One of the difficult aspects of navigating the old city is that you can barely tell the difference between the streets and the alleyways. Lots of one-way lanes and not-so-obvious signage.
We finally found a parking spot, arrived to our room, and almost instantly crashed into the comfy pillows.

At first light, we woke (or should I say, I woke, and to the dismay of my boyfriend, insisted on going down to breakfast before the sun rose so we could maximize our daylight).

Continental breakfast by a small fireplace in a beautifully appointed room awaited us below.

After plenty of trips to the buffet, and far too many croissants, I was eager to hit the streets. My passion for street photography energized me from the start. Despite the freezing temperatures, we were blessed with almost a full day of sun!

Without itinerary, we set off wandering through the narrow cobblestone streets. We spent the morning admiring the (very) old architecture, the scents of fresh waffles and chocolate pulling us from door to door.

Every few feet I was busy snapping a photo or capturing video (my goal was to make a VLOG of the trip, which can be seen here).

I had forgotten my gloves at home, so eventually we wandered into a cute little shop to find a pair. My accommodating boyfriend withstood the next few hours of siteseeing and picture taking, but eventually it was time to warm up.

We did a quick phone search for “vegetarian friendly” restaurants and made our way to Hashtag Food, located just around the corner from the famous Market Place.

This place was cool. I mean REALLY cool. The decor was retro, rustic, yet contemporary. The placemats consisted of old vinyl records. There were dozens of unique menu options (yes very vegan and vegetarian friendly!). And even an insect burger.

To my horror, my boyfriend ordered the insect burger, while I chose a very unique vegan lasagna.

Upon receiving the insect burger, he immediately began inspecting what he was about to consume. Suddenly, a profound EW was heard as he noticed they had put sliced tomatoes on it (which he hates with a passion).
"Really...? THAT'S what disgusts you??" I shook my head and started enjoying my dish.

My favorite part about the meal was probably the Vedett Extra Blond beer! Belgians really know their beer.
And waffles… but we’ll get to that later.

Back out onto the cobblestone, warmed and revitalized, we made our way to the Belfry of Bruges (made famous by the 2008 film, In Bruges). This medieval bell tower boasts incredible views of the entire city, but upon arriving, there was a ridiculously long queue. Neither of us felt like standing in the cold just to get a view, so we decided to move on and explore the canals and side streets.

Only 20 minutes later and I made an executive decision that we should head to our next hotel (yes we changed hotels just because I wanted to check out a different area).

We wandered down to the Hotel Loreto and had a glorious catnap, waking up just in time for sunset. I was craving pesto pasta, and with the insane amounts of Italian restaurants in town, we thought it wouldn’t be difficult to find.

Boy were we wrong.

We wandered from restaurant to restaurant, reading menus (sometimes in English, sometimes in French, sometimes both), to no avail. I was ready to surrender, and driven by our grumbling tummies and desire to get out of the wind, we did a quick phone search and found “the best Italian in town.”

A brisk 15 minute walk and we were finally there! Carlito's, situated on the north east side of the city is worth the walk.

It’s hard for me to describe how perfect this meal was. Maybe it was the hunger, maybe it was the shelter from the cold night… or maybe it was just the best damn pesto I’ve ever tried.

Either way, it was divine, and after a leisurely 2 hour meal, we were both fat and happy again.

We had enjoyed a local brew, Brugse Zot, which was an excellent compliment to the heavy pasta dishes. (I’m normally a wine person, but when in Rome…)

I was dying to wander around and capture the city at night after our first glimpse upon arriving in Bruges. So we bundled up and began the quest.

The walk from Carlito’s to the Market via the Groenerei Canal was perfect. The buildings were softly illuminated, and there were several notable stops along the way.

After about an hour of night photography, we were both chilled again, so we decided to meander back to the Market district to find a pub.

We eventually made our way to Bar Des Amis, and shared a few brews, until we were ready to call it a night.

The next morning, we woke at 8 in order to start our journey on to Amsterdam. However I wasn’t done in Bruges yet. I needed to see what the fuss was with those waffles.

Directly around the corner, we found Tearoom Carpe Diem, where I experienced the heaven that is freshly made Belgian waffles.

After a very filling omelette with fresh bread, we each ordered a waffle. I chose caramel syrup, while my boyfriend chose chocolate.

A proper Belgian waffle is served hot. The soft inner breading is moist and fluffy, encased in a flash-fried layer on which they sprinkle a bed of powdered sugar. The dough itself is sweet. It almost doesn’t need a syrup, but the caramel was absolute perfection.


The perfect ending to 36 hours in this very enchanting city!

013. Photo Essay: Ireland

In September 2014, I had the opportunity to go to Ireland for a week with my friend. This was a dream come true because I had once seen a photo of the Cliffs of Moher in a magazine and thought “I need to go there before I die.” It was the first time I left the country since 2005 when I went to Japan (another story I’ll share in the future!).

I was dreaming of misty green rolling hills and ocean fog. The kind of scenery you see in movies. We ended up with sunny, 75F degree weather almost the whole week! Not that we complained.

We were in Ireland.

I took my medium format film camera (not my digital) for this trip because I really wanted to soak in the experiences. When I use my digital camera, I can get distracted by what’s on the back of the LCD. With film, you take a shot and go (of course, you have to know how to properly expose, but is that part of the fun).

Camera details: Contax 645, 80mm f/2 Zeiss lens. Films: Kodak Portra 400 & 800, Fuji 400h, Kodak Tmax 400, Ilford Delta 3200.

We flew into Dublin, drove across the country to the west coast to see the Cliffs of Moher, stopping along the way in beautiful, quaint little towns, spending the week with a very loose itinerary (booking our B&B’s as we went), and experiencing the beauty that surrounded us.
When I travel, I prefer to do it spontaneously - planning as I go. UNLESS there is something specific I want to see (like a special landmark or something that requires pre-purchased tickets). Traveling in this carefree way is not everyone’s cup of tea. Luckily, my friend was in the same mindset. The week was perfect!

One of my favorite parts of the trip was renting a pub that was converted to a self-catering B&B! It was called Conroy's Bar in Aglish. It was a tiny, quiet town (I mean seriously... like 15 buildings). Perfect for relaxing and a great stop from East to West coast!

I hope to return to Ireland some day - it's such a beautiful country!

You can see my full set of images here.

I highly recommend going in September, it was glorious weather and everything was lush. 

011. Travel VLOG: Bruges to Amsterdam

Here is Part 2 of my recent road trip from Scotland to Amsterdam! This one goes from Bruges, Belgium to Amsterdam in the Netherlands.

I hope you enjoy! I'll be posting lots of my travel photos soon and more detailed descriptions and travel tips. 

If you enjoy this kind of thing, please like this post or comment below! I enjoy making them, and would love your feedback for future videos.

My next big trip is Italy in Feburary! I'll definitely be making another VLOG for that trip (probably many).

005. Photo Essay: The Not So Wild West, Part 1

I wanted to title this post, "The Wild West," but I couldn't do it without giggling. Thus the "Not So" was inserted so that I could live with myself.

This is a collection of images from a 3 day trip from Colorado to Utah (specifically Arches National Park). While there are certainly areas of Colorado and Utah that are considered "wild," it's a far cry from the images of cowboys that were once conjured by the word West. Today, the areas we know as National Parks in America are flooded with tourists throughout the year, and it's hard to visit one without running into at least one other person. Go somewhere as popular as Arches National Park, and you're faced with traffic - both on the road and on the trails.

My boyfriend visited me in May when I was still living in Colorado, so we decided to do a little road trip and check it out. We found ourselves going off-trail as often as possible in order to avoid the crowds, and I captured these images along the way.

(Part 2 is forthcoming, when I take a trip to Zion & Yellowstone National Parks, and/or Sequoia National Forest in 2017).

003. Door Photography

Some of my friends and family have known for a while that I harbor a desperate love for door photography.

I'm often stopped in my tracks by a perfectly symmetrical facade, or a century-old stone entry covered in vines, or the occasional old rusty door, hanging crooked on it's hinges on an otherwise pristine building.  

There's something I love about the geometry, the sudden awareness of the built environment, an everyday object that is often taken for granted, being placed on display as an object of beauty.
Perhaps also the concept of "threshold" plays a role here. To cross through the doorway is to enter a story - to embrace what is within, leaving the outside world behind. 

These are some of my favorite door images that I captured in 2016 in Scotland, Germany, Norway, Sweden, and Denmark. I love them all for different reasons. Maybe next time you walk down the street, you'll look beyond your feet and find an incredible specimin!

002. Photo Essay: The Coast of Southern Maine

From 2007-2015, I visited the southern coast of Maine once a year with my ex-husbands family (sort of a yearly family reunion). 

The family would rent a house and spend a week in sun & surf along the coast of York. Those familiar with the area know it is very touristy port town, so last time I went I brought my Contax 645 medium format film camera to capture the quiet beauty that I saw.

Taken around the Ogunquit and York areas. Fuji 400h and Tri-X 400 film.

These travel photos were featured on Belle Lumiere Magazine.