Copenaghen: City of Balance

The first word that came to my mind while walking the streets of Copenaghen is Balance. As you probably know, the city won the title of happiest place in the world in the past. The streets are clean and there are thousands of bicycles leaning on walls or polls without a padlock. This detail clearly shows that there is no need to steal because people seem to have enough money to afford a satisfactory lifestyle. Wealth seems equally spread, there are just few homeless hanging out in front of shops. In the eyes of a tourist, this picture conveys a sense of safety and peace. When we travel we try to stay away from touristy spots, but it’s undeniable that when we visit a city for the first time, we will hit the landmarks.

We stayed in a hostel close to downtown, a bit removed from the busiest area. We chose a hostel because Copenaghen is quite expensive, a double in a hotel is around $150, not the best option for backpackers. The name is Hostel Globalhagen and it is situated walking distance from the metro stop Norreport. It is fairly clean and has a friendly atmosphere. We shared the room with six other people. No need to worry, if you’re not used to stay in hostels, the cost of living in the city sets the bar for the type of tourists. Poor people that want to steal don’t go to Copenaghen.

We were pleasantly surprised by the food. It’s flavorful and delicious. Here are a couple of restaurants that we loved during our stay:

Dinner: Gavlen. If you want to try something typical order the farm hyldeblomst (warm drink made with the elderberry flower).

Lunch: Maven

Dinner: Spitestedet Feed

After our experience with the the Danish kitchen I can say that the best is certainly fish, meat, crispy delicious fries and creative dips (eggs, mustard and spices).

The must-see attractions are:

Canals: Copenaghen is surrounded by water so make sure you take your time to wander around the canals without a specific plan. Just open your senses and let them guide you.

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The Little Mermaid: you will find hoards of tourists. It’s hard to find a spot to take a good close up but you can take a nice photo from the balcony above the statue.

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The Round Tower: the view is spectacular but get ready, the stairs to reach the top are steep and there are a ton of people going up and down. Take your time to walk and watch your step.

Christiania: an independent city inside a park. It’s the hippies area. As you enter you feel in another world: food trucks, loud music, graffiti and smoke. Yes, you can smoke marijuana because it’s a self-proclaimed neighborhood with independent rules. They kindly ask you not to take photos. Have fun but keep it for yourself. The government clearly knows what happens in Christiania, but you should respect their privacy.

The non super touristy attraction that we enjoyed the most is the Design Museum. Not everybody is interested in design so you can definitely find less people. We went because my husband is a designer and it was worth it. We discovered that the Danish art has been profoundly influenced by Japan. Danes took the Japanese minimalist approach and combined it with classicism. The result is a unique art that is recognized and appreciated internationally, especially in industrial design.

The nice coincidence is that our next stop of this round the world trip is Japan. Who new that Denmark and Japan had a special connection? Small world!

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Light Backpack – Woman Edition

As I’m a woman, I know how hard it is to pack for a trip. It’s not about how many days we have to stay in a place, it’s about the CHOICE. We want to be able to wake up and decide what to wear based on the way we feel that day. That’s the reason why we pack a thousand clothes and shoes. I had to change this behavior when I realized that there is no space for the CHOICE when you have to leave for a round the world trip. You have to carry the backpack on your shoulders and you have to make sure that your back is safe. Sure, you can bring a suitcase if you want, but that’s not going to be comfortable.

My husband backpacked South America years ago and he learned that lighter is better. This time he decided to carry the essential, nothing more and nothing less. You can imagine my face when I heard his reply after the question: “How many clothes should I bring?” I will give you the answer shortly with the full list of the items that I decided to bring. I’m happy to share the info with other women that want to backpack for the first time. Hope you will find this useful. I have to admit that, despite the sad feeling of saying goodbye to the CHOICE, I’m happy with the way I packed. My back is grateful and, if I need, I can buy more clothes on the road. Choose wisely based on the locations you visit and the different temperatures. My list is for summer, we will buy warmer cheap clothes for the last part of the trip to Patagonia (if needed).

Documents and papers: Passport, credit cards (more than one, so if you have issues with one you have a backup), cash, Visas (if needed), vaccination record (make sure you consult your doctor to get additional vaccination if needed), a journal with a pen (to record your thoughts along the way). Use a small money belt to hide under your pants (put the passport, credit cards and cash). Scan your important documents before leaving and save them in a memory stick to have them with you at all times.

Clothes: Underwear (5), socks (5), shorts (2), t-shirts (3), pants (2), shoes (3): tennis, flip flops and hiking shoes, jacket, sweater (Under Armour is my fav), bathing suit, laundry bag. Use anonymous colors (black, brown, gray). Better not to appear as a tourist, especially in certain locations.

Personal hygiene and beauty: Toothpaste and toothbrush, floss, use airport size Go Tubes (from REI) to store your fav shower gel, shampoo, conditioner, cream (highly recommend aloe, it’s fresh and great to smooth any types of scatch and irritation on the skin), deodorant, hairbrush, nail clippers, make up: the basics (concealer, lip balm), shower cup, razors, travel towel (from REI, easy to dry).

Medicine (health): Bug repellent, Midol, Excedrin (pain reliever), Vitamin C (tablets) and general vitamins (your choice), motion sickness pills (if needed), laxatives and anti-diarrhea (you never know what you eat on the road), band-aids.

Miscellaneous: Headlamp, padlock, stuff sacks of different colors (so your stuff is easy to find), sun glasses, contact lenses and glasses (if needed), a couple of books (or kindle), iPad and keyboard (if you don’t have to work this is a lighter solution instead of the laptop), universal adapter, phone and phone charger. Remember to download your favorite music and podcast before leaving (one less thing to think about when you find wi-fi on the road). Finally a smaller day pack for hikes and excursions (from REI light and foldable).

When it’s time to pack, put your shoes at the bottom and your stuff sacks on the sides (I used one for the underwear, one for the liquids and one for a couple of items from the miscellaneous list). Then put your other clothes and leave a space in the middle for your day pack that you will fill with the basic stuff you need to keep under the seat on the plane (phone, book, sun glasses, sweater etc.). Place your travel towel on top of everything. Put the remaining things on the side pockets.

The last piece of advice is: spend time to know your backpack and the spaces inside. If you stay in hostels and share the room you have to know quickly what to look for in the dark🙂

Happy travels!

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Into the Wildness of WA State

This summer I had the privilege to explore Washington State. Internationally, when you mention Washington, people immediately think about Washington DC. The majority of tourists come to the west coast of the U.S. to see California and they don’t know anything about the other two States above it: Oregon and Washington.

I had the chance to spend some time in Olympia, the capital of Washington State because my husband was born in this city. His parents bought a cabin in front of the ocean and in fifteen years they were able to build a mansion, with their own hands. The house is surrounded by the deep green of trees and the crystalline blue-gray of the  lagoon. The deep emerald color is maintained by the large amounts of rain that falls every year, in fact, the nickname of Washington is Evergreen State. Winters are cold and wet, but in summer, you get your reward.

You can start your day with breakfast on the balcony looking at the water and you will have unexpected company. Seals come up from the water to wish you a good morning and eagles pass above your head to remind you the power of wildlife. The ocean is too cold to swim but you can enjoy some time in the water kayaking. It’s an easy sport that everybody can do. It’s great for your muscles and it also quiets your mind, like a purifying meditation. You are surrounded by the gentle sound of the water and occasional birds chirping. Seals are around looking for food, and if you are lucky you will see their little heads coming out of the water. Always respect wildlife, don’t get too close.

Washington has a lot to offer and it has something for every taste. I have already mentioned the wine country area in a previous article and this time I just want to concentrate on the wildness. California is overpopulated and super touristy. Don’t get me wrong, I love it. Who doesn’t love the Golden State? But Washington has the appeal of an unexplored land. If you want to get away from people in nature, in California, you can drive miles and miles with no luck. But in Washington, your special retreat is at your fingertips.

Olympic National Park – The park is one hour drive from Olympia. It’s a gem in the Olympic Peninsula. If you are willing to hike for a while you will find countless camping areas in the middle of nature and you won’t see human presence for miles. But if you’re not a hiker, an easy trail that you can do, just to have a taste of the park, is Staircase.

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San Juan Islands – This is an archipelago located between Washington State and Vancouver Island, British Columbia, Canada. Pick an island and go! My husband and I camped on Orcas. August is a busy time for the island so camping reservation is recommended. But if you want to try your luck you won’t be disappointed. Obstruction Pass is a camping site fifteen minutes walk from the parking lot. This site can’t be reserved in advance, it’s first comes first. When we arrived we knew we had found our jewel in the middle of the forest. The majority of people want to camp and have their car next to them, but if you are willing to challenge yourself a bit more you won’t be disappointed. We could easily find a free spot and we chose to build our nest in front of the beach. On the island, the other not-to-miss place is the top of Mount Constitution. On a clear day, the view is stunning: the San Juan islands emerge like emeralds from the water. In the distance, you can see the mountains that protect this hidden treasure with their shield.

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Special mention goes to Deception Pass. This is a strait separating Whidbey Island from Fidalgo Island. It is two hours away from the San Juan island and you can easily stop by on the way back to Seattle. The view from the bridge is one of the most spectacular I have ever seen. It caused me physical and emotional vertigos. The current under your feet would have no mercy if you fell. It’s so strong that it can lead to standing waves, large whirlpools, and roiling eddies. Park your car and walk both sides. If you are lucky there won’t be fog. Curiosity: George Vancouver gave it the name “Deception” because it had misled him into thinking Whidbey Island was a peninsula.

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Top off your visit to Washington with a small airplane ride with Glacier Aviation! It was my birthday present. We flew above Olympia and the Olympic Peninsula and the view was mind-blowing. The emerald green, the crystal blue, the puffy white with golden touches, mixed in harmony in front of our  incredulous eyes.

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My second book: One Foot In: Stories of Expat Women in America

Happy to announce that I finished my socio-political book One Foot In: Stories of Expat Women in America now it’s editing phase. I’m preparing to send out the query to agents. If by the time I’m back to the US after the RTW trip I didn’t receive any positive response I will self-publish in February/March 2017. Wish my luck and stay tuned! Here is a teaser:

Contents:

1.Buried in Paperwork
2. Tech World VS Expat Women
3. A Brief History of Immigration and the Role of Women
4. In Love with an American boy
5. Dependent Partners Drama
6. The Toll on Family Life
7. After Graduation the Clock Ticks
8. The Unexpected Twists and Turns
9. No Easy Path for Entrepreneurs
10. Call for Change

Walla Walla

Last week I had the chance to visit sunny and warm Eastern Washington with my husband and in-laws. Walla Walla is the wine country of Washington State, not touristy like the Napa Valley but equally beautiful. First of all I would like to tell you the origin of this cute name. Walla Walla is an Indian name meaning “many waters.” In 1805, Lewis and Clark met a group of Indians who told them that the name of the river nearby was “Wallah Wallah.” The town is situated close to the Columbia River, the largest river in the Pacific Northwest Region. We stayed in a little bed & breakfast situated 2 miles from downtown: The Inn at Blackberry Creek. It’s a Victorian house renovated, but it still keeps the appeal of the old. There are 3 rooms named after famous impressionist artists, breakfast is included and it’s phenomenal (a different dish every day plus fresh fruit and homemade scones). The town is super clean and all seems curated in detail, almost too good to be true. It’s a pleasure to walk and look around. The food is great. My recommendations are: Olive Market Place and Cafe for lunch (good selection of salads and sandwiches with fresh ingredients, Brasserie Four (French) and Saffron (Mediterranean) for dinner. Then of course you should go wine tasting. We were looking for a quality winery with a good patio to enjoy the view of the vineyards and the mesmerizing contrast of the golden wheat fields against the blue sky. We found Basel Cellars that has a stunning view, affordable prices and great wine. Last but not least, if you enjoy nature and hikes, you should check out Rooks Park. It’s a cute little park outside of the town, full of walking trails, creeks and all sorts of wildlife. It’s the perfect break between your tour of wineries. I highly recommend Walla Walla in summer if you are looking for a small place where you can drink some exquisite local wine, eat great food (farm to table style) and you are a fan of non touristy places. Napa and Sonoma are beautiful but pricey and overrated. Walla Walla is an enchanting discovery off the beaten path.

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Foodie Fav List – SF Bay Area

After leaving the SF Bay Area (probably for good), I decided to create a list of my favorite places to eat: from fancy restaurants, to good and affordable, swinging by quick healthy breaks and guilty pleasures. Hope this can be helpful to all the foodies out there!

East Bay:

Chez Panisse (First Restaurant Farm to Table in the US – Fancy Dinner), Angeline’s Kitchen (Southern), Comal (Mexican – Great Patio), Kirala (Japanese), Taste of Himalaya (Indian, Nepalese), Burma Superstar (Burmese).

San Francisco:

Waterbar (Fresh Seafood – Fancy Dinner), Hops and Hominy (Southern), Ryoko (Japanese), Umbria (Authentic Italian), Una Pizza Napoletana (Wood fired pizza), Gracias Madre (Vegan Mexican).

Best fast food – East Bay:

Sliver and Cheeseboard (Pizza – every day different flavor. Cheeseboard is famous for long lines, Sliver has the same quality but no line).

Best fast food – San Francisco:

Eastside West (Best Taco Tuesday), Super Duper (Best burgers and veggie option), SOMA Eats (Addictive salad dressing), Cafe Madeleine (Good sandwiches and salads).

 

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Craving Essence & Freedom

Last week my husband and I packed 3 years of life in Berkeley, California. We will leave all our stuff in the house of my in-laws for 6 months while we will travel around the world. I lived in 3 different countries to date, but this was the first time I had to pack more than 2 suitcases. We didn’t sell anything as we are planning to come back to the US after the trip and move our furniture in a new apartment, the place is yet to be decided. In few days our little lovely nest became a cardboard mess. That’s when I started to realize that we, as humans, live with way too much stuff. Primitives lived with the essential: a place to sleep, food and few other tools. How did we become so materialistic? Society evolved to the point that we started to surround ourselves with useless stuff that we probably use or touch once a year. But somehow we are not ready to throw it away: too many plates, too many clothes, too many ornaments and the list could go on forever. The other thing to consider is that you have to clean the apartment throughly because your landlord comes to inspect it and if he finds something wrong with it he might decide to keep a part of your deposit. The result is stress on top of stress on top of boxes. But with a good team work everything is possible. Once the back of the truck was full I couldn’t believe my eyes. In that moment my husband and I looked at each other and we were thinking the same thing. We were craving an essential life and the freedom to move anytime anywhere with no stress and no truck. Those are serendipitous moments when you have a vision of a different life for the first time and for the first time you think that it’s possible if you really want it. We were ready to hit the road with our life of 3 years behind our shoulders, literally. Every time we stopped for lunch and I looked at the truck I couldn’t believe we were traveling with everything we owned. That feeling was great. It was pure freedom. We were happy homeless. In around 2 months we will embark in a journey that will mark our life deeply. And when we come back hopefully we will live the life that we envisioned the day we looked at the truck and saw in each others eyes the reflection of the essential dream.

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