I really loved Madrid. It wasn’t that touristy when I was there and it has a great relaxed atmosphere with a ton of culture. As always, here are my tips for Madrid:
- Most museums are free for students or have certain days and times when they are free to the public. Booking in advance can save you some time in museum lines.
- The public transportation is pretty new and functional. Google Maps works great with the transportation system, though keep in mind if you’re going to the airport with the subway there may be an extra cost. Walking is also a great option.
- Stay up late. The hours are shifted in Spain, with late lunches and late dinners (around 8 pm).
- The permanent must sees were: Thyssen-Bornemisza Museum and Prado for a range of artwork, Sorolla Museum, and Guernica at the Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofía
- Nice outdoor spaces: pay a quick stop by Plaza Mayor, check out the park by Rio Manzanares and the art at Matadero, Parque del Oeste and the Temple of Debod, Real Jardín Botánico, and Parque Retiro
- Places to eat: go to San Ginés for chocolate and churros. The Calles Cava Alta and Baja generally have good tapas, as do mercados, or markets. I also had good food at Taberna la Concha and La Rue
- Lots of restaurants will have a menu del dia, or daily menu, which often is three courses and wine for a very reasonable price.
I adore Oslo. It’s one of my favorite European cities and one that I’ve never gotten tired of.
- DO NOT TAKE A TAXI. Taxis in Oslo charge a minimum 200 NOK (24.80 USD) fare. You should absolutely take advantage of the public transportation system, especially since it works pretty well. The apps to use are RuterBillett (to buy tickets) and RuterReise/Google Maps (to plan out a trip and navigate the system). Note: you don’t actually have to validate your transportation tickets (and you can freely walk through the barriers in the subway system), but they do randomly check to make sure that you have tickets. The fines are very steep if you’re caught without a ticket (~150 USD) so just keep that in mind if you decide not to buy one.
- In order to get to the city from the airport you’ll either take the flytoget (airport train) or the flybussen (airport bus). The train is much faster, but depending on where you’re staying the bus might drop you off closer to your accommodations.
- The city’s main street is Karl Johans Gate and quite a few major sites are near it as is a ton of shopping.
- The Oslo Opera House is quite possibly my favorite site in Oslo. It’s a stunning piece of architecture and you’re free to walk in it, on it, and around it. The view from the roof also isn’t half bad. I would highly recommend either doing a tour of the opera house or going to see a performance there. The opera is required to sell 100 tickets at 100 NOK (~16 USD) for every performance so it’s pretty easy to get affordable tickets and good seats.
- Absolutely go to Vigeland Park (which is in Frogner Park). The park is a ways away from the city center so I would recommend taking the tram or subway, but the sculptures are great and it’s nice to just walk around.
- Definitely pay a stop to Bygdøy peninsula. Depending on the time of year, you can reach it by either bus or by ferry. If the ferry is running I would recommend taking it, even if it’s just to get a view of the city from the water. Here’s what you can see there:
- Viking Ship Museum – It has three different viking ship relics + a few other Viking things. It’s kinda cool to go and see but there isn’t actually much to do at the museum
- Folkemusem – Great if you want an overview of Norwegian history and culture. It also has 24 acres of land with 160 different kinds of historic buildings. If you’re dying to see a stave church and won’t make it out of the city then definitely stop by.
- Fram Museum – Unfortunately I haven’t spent enough time here. What I did see what great, especially if you’re interested in Arctic exploration and/or ships (plus all of the other major ship museums are literally next door).
- The Nobel Peace Center – Does a pretty good job of talking about the Nobel Peace Prize and the latest winners. I would recommend going if you want to learn more about the prize.
- Nasjonalmuseet (The National Museum) – A pretty good museum and the location of Munch’s famous The Scream. It’s small though so it’s pretty manageable to do in about an hour or two.
- City Hall – If you can manage to go to the room where they give out the Nobel Peace Prize you should since it’s stunning. I’m pretty sure that they organize tours.
- Ekeberg Park – Go if you want a good view of the city (but if it’s a cloudy or foggy day maybe give it a pass). It’s an interesting place since it also has a ton of famous artwork scattered throughout the park (Rodin, Salvador Dali, etc.). Walking down from the park to the city will also give you the same backdrop that is painted in The Scream.
- Holmenkollen – Go if you want to see the famous ski jump, walk around the forest, and get a good view of the city. I’ve heard that the museum is also pretty good and has a ski jump simulator.
- Vigeland Museum/Mausoleum – There are actually two Vigeland sculptors, and this is a “museum” done by the less famous brother. It’s a bit outside of the city center, but if you have the time to check it out it’s pretty neat.
- If you want to see some nice graffiti/street art go check out the area around Mathallen (food hall).
- If you are there in winter, you absolutely have to check out Korktrekkeren, a large sledding area that will take you about 15 minutes to go down. It’s fantastic. For the best sledding go early on a weekday.
It seems as though the theme of February is Norwegian travel. The day after I got back from Røros I was yet again off on another trip. For those of you who are wondering, I do in fact really enjoy Trondheim and my travels do not reflect a desire to escape from it. This time my trip was somewhat mandatory. I was off to Oslo for the winter Fulbright seminar and ski retreat.
The seminar itself was on Thursday, but I was able to fly in on Wednesday. Because I arrived in the afternoon, I had some time to walk around the city. Having really loved my visit to Vigeland Park in August, I thought I’d pay it another visit to see if I could catch some snow on the park’s statues.
Unfortunately it was too warm for snow, but not too warm for ice. The park’s paths were incredibly icy, and to make matters worse the ice was melting. Because ice has more or less disappeared in Trondheim, I have stopped wearing ice grips on my shoes and didn’t bring them with me to Oslo. So when I initially saw the icy roads going through Vigeland Park my face fell. Lucky for me, I have managed to develop enough skill when it comes to walking on ice that I managed to avoid falling.
Even though I didn’t get to see any snow on the statues, I still had a great time walking around and seeing the park in winter. Vigeland Park still remains one of my favorite Oslo sights.
From there, I went back to the hotel to meet two other Fulbrighters, Alyssa and Meghan. The three of us set off on the 1 subway line for Frognerseteren. Our goal: sledding. Not just any sledding though, we were going out to Oslo’s most popular run, Korktrekkeren, or the Corkscrew. The run is 2000 meters (1.24 miles) long with an elevation drop of 255 meters (836 feet). The course starts at Frognerseteren and ends at Midtstuen, seven subway stops away (approximately a 13-20 min ride). The course itself is free, but the sleds are not. There are two kinds of sleds, wooden and metal, and Alyssa told us that we should rent the metal ones. Apparently when she and her friends had tried renting the wooden ones many of them were broken or falling apart.
Unfortunately I don’t have any pictures. Because we went late in the evening, my iPhone wasn’t able to do justice to either the course or the magnificent view of the Oslo skyline. Overall, the sledding was incredibly fun and the run took us about 15 minutes from top to bottom, not factoring in the subway ride. A few things to note are:
- The course is groomed every evening so it’s best to do the run in the morning. By the time we went, there were a number of snowy mounds that had formed, which depending on the size of the mound meant that you either caught some air on your sled or simply slammed into the mound.
- I wouldn’t recommend going on a weekend since I’ve been told that it’s absolutely packed.
- Lastly, there is only one restaurant at the subway stop, so if you intend on eating be prepared to either eat at the restaurant or to bring your own food.
Even though I was pretty travel weary when I arrived in Rome, I still managed to really enjoy the city. Here are my tips and tricks:
- Rome is a city that you can easily visit multiple times, so there is no need to rush through the city.
- I went in winter and I have to say that going during the off season was a good choice. You can still expect crowds at all of the major tourist attractions, but they are pretty manageable. I think the longest wait that I had was about an hour.
- Rome is a fairly walkable city. All of the buses that I saw were packed, but I’ve heard that the subway is pretty functional. You can use this website to figure out how to navigate the public transportation system, though be aware that things generally don’t run on time. If you want to avoid public transportation, all of the big tourist sights are probably within an easy 20-60 minute walk no matter where you are in the city.
- All of the fountains in Rome offer clean water that you can easily fill a water bottle with. Now when I say fountain I don’t meant that you should dip your water bottle into the nearest Bernini fountain, I mean small water fountains that are scattered throughout the city.
- When ordering water at a restaurant it will be bottled (and expensive) unless you specifically request tap water.
- Many sights are close to each other so be sure to glance at a map beforehand so that you can be efficient with your time.
- If you are a Dan Brown fan and want to follow the major sights listed in Angels and Demons check out this blog.
- People in Rome eat late so many restaurants won’t open until late.
- I was warned by pretty much everyone I know to watch out for pickpockets in Rome. Honestly as long as you keep an eye on your things and take preventative measures such as zipping up your pockets you’ll be fine.
- You do not need to tip at restaurants since a service charge is generally included.
- Sights run by the city of Rome should be free on Sundays.
- On Sundays the Pope occasionally appears at noon to give blessings to people in St. Peter’s Square.
- Many churches have their most famous pieces of artwork in shady corners. Many of these shady corners have lights that are activated when you feed a few euros into a machine.
- Have gelato
- Italians HATE it when you don’t have exact change so try and keep track of those pesky coins.
- While reservations and tours would probably enhance your experience in Rome I was honestly just fine without them. That being said, the standards for tour guides are quite rigorous so if you do hire a guide you will probably have someone who is very knowledgeable about the city and its major sights.
- For me the permanent must sees were: the Pantheon, St. Peter’s Basilica (go through the catacombs and the climb up to the dome), Villa Borghese (you should probably make reservations for this, although you can try and weasel your way in), Basilica of Santa Maria del Popolo, Church San Luigi dei Francesi, Santa Maria Maggiore, Roman Forum (you can buy combination tickets for the Coliseum and the Roman Forum so buy them at whichever sight has the shortest line), Coliseum, Piazza Navona, and Trevi Fountain (though it’s currently undergoing renovations).
- The temporary must sees were: the M.C. Escher exhibit at Chiostro del Bramante and the Henri Cartier-Bresson exhibit at the Museo dell’Ara Pacis
I thought I’d repeat what I did with the Lofoten Islands and do a little summary of tips and advice for anyone planning on going to Munich or Füssen.
- Fly into the regular Munich Flughafen airport (MUC) NOT Memmingen airport
- Google Maps is your best friend. Google Maps syncs really well with the transportation system in Munich and makes the city very easy to navigate. Thanks again to Michael for being the designated navigator for most of our adventures.
- Definitely utilize the public transportation system and know that a ticket will cover you on the subway, tram, and bus and that a partner ticket works for 2-5 people.
- I would highly recommend everything that we did in my Sights of Munich post (St. Peter’s Church, Munich Residence, English Garden, Pinakothek Museums, and Hofbrauhaus).
- Definitely drink beer and eat the pretzels if not schnittlauch breze, a pretzel with cream cheese and chives.
- To look into trains to Füssen or book one you can go here
- If you’re going to Füssen and looking for a more jam packed day I would say that you should visit Hohenschwangau before Neuschwanstein.
- To get a great view of Neuschwanstein follow the Marienbrücke path.
Overall I had a thoroughly enjoyable time in Munich and Füssen. Thanks again to Julie for being an amazing hostess!