Helsinki Cathedral from the harbour with a sail boat in the foreground

Why Helsinki should be your next city trip

Text: Claire Lessiau & Marcella van Alphen
Photographs: Claire Lessiau & Marcella van Alphen

The capital of Finland, Helsinki, just like the capital of its southern neighbour, Tallinn, might be missing at the top of your bucket list when it comes to must-visit European capitals. However, the modern and hip Nordic city is the ideal place for an off-the-beaten-path getaway full of pleasant surprises and great discoveries. Get inspired and explore the capital of the happiest people in the world!

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Photographer Marcella van Alphen biking the Via Appia, Rome

Uncovering Antique Rome without hordes of tourists [Via Appia]

Text: Claire Lessiau
Photographs: Claire Lessiau & Marcella van Alphen

Cycling past the monumental Circus Maximus where a quarter million spectators used to rave at chariot races, the gigantic Bath of Caracalla where Romans bathed 2,500 years ago, the Via Appia Antica unveils. Just past the Arch of Drusus marking the start of the very first Roman highway, we stand on top of the tower of the Gate of San Sebastian. Following the Via Appia as far as we can see it, we are picturing the rural landscape surrounding antique Rome dotted by large agricultural estates thriving on these fertile lands with the snowy summits of the Abruzzo Mountains in the background. If we are only a short bike ride away from the extremely touristic centre of Rome, we are already far from the hustle and bustle, and about to discover an off-the-beaten gem…

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The Portuguese gazpacho at Cooking Lisbon

Something is cooking in Lisbon!

Text: Marcella van Alphen
Photographs: Claire Lessiau

It is still morning when Chef Sara Verissimo takes us for a stroll to the 31st of January market, far away from touristy Lisbon. Locals have been shopping here for their fresh vegetables, cheese, meat and fish since 1878, and so do we on this sunny day to get the best ingredients for some typical Portuguese dishes.

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Prague from above

Text: Claire Lessiau
Photographs: Claire Lessiau & Marcella van Alphen

The skyline of Prague is dotted with spires and towers giving the Czech capital its fairy-tale appearance. Better than simply admiring these structures from the ground, some of them can be accessed for wonderful views on Prague, the hills of Bohemia and the Vltava River. Know which ones to climb and as a bonus, where to go to take it in in style!

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The secret entrance to the alchemist's lab, Speculum Alchemiae Museum, Prague

Unravelling Prague’s underground from secret alchemists’ labs to nuclear bunkers

Text: Claire Lessiau
Photographs: Claire Lessiau & Marcella van Alphen

As the Old Town developed in Prague during the Middle Ages, the multi-annual floodings of the Vltava River were so destructive that the whole city was raised by one floor: ground floors became basements and new ground floors were built on top of them. This has created a whole network of underground tunnels throughout the Old Town that can be explored today…

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Women walking by the fountain of the Kiliç Ali Pasa Hammam, Istanbul

Traditional hammam experience in Istanbul

Text & photographs: Claire Lessiau & Marcella van Alphen

I follow the call of the muezzin directing me to the Kılıç Ali Paşa Mosque in Beyoğlu on the European side of Istanbul, a stone’s throw away from the Golden Horn and the Bosphorus. Opposite the grand mosque, I enter the namesake hammam: the Kılıç Ali Paşa Hamamı. Sailors used to gather here to wash before praying, and sometimes only, they would also pamper in a treatment that I am about to experience.

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Relaxing in the hot tub at Prague Original Beer Spa

The beer culture in 3 authentic & unusual experiences in Prague

Text & photographs: Claire Lessiau & Marcella van Alphen

The Czech Republic has been topping the charts of beer consumption for years. On average, it is a 33-centiliter beer bottle that is drunk every day by every woman, man and child in the country! Actually, ordering a pint is very often cheaper than a coffee or water to the point that now restaurants and bars must propose a cheaper non-alcoholic drink by law. However, the beer culture in Prague goes way beyond cheap beer enjoyed by locals and tourists in one of Europe’s top destinations for bachelor parties. Keep reading to find out how to experience it through authentic and unusual experiences!

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Author Marcella van Alphen tracking on field guide training

In the footsteps of safari guides in the African bush

Text: Marcella van Alphen
Photographs: Marcella van Alphen & Claire Lessiau

I am seated in front of my tent, browsing through my notes from last year’s Tracks and Signs course as we have just come across a leopard track during this morning’s game walk with our EcoTraining instructor Tayla McCurdy. Suddenly the atmosphere changes and I sense a presence. I look up from my notebook when a 2.5-meter (8 feet) tall elephant appears out of the thickets a mere 4 meters (12 feet) away from me, approaching silently. I stare at the grey giant who casually grabs loads of fresh grass. “Hello beauty”, I speak in a calm voice while rapidly scanning for more of his family members. “I am seated right here… Do you see me?” The elephant looks at me, reacting to my calming tone with which I have just announced myself. He sticks his trunk up in the air to smell me. From its round skull I make out it is a young bull, maybe 15 years old. He gets a bit closer and starts to reach for the bark of the marula tree that shades me from the African sun. Feeding in a relaxed way, he shows no sign of annoyance nor aggressivity and has clearly acknowledged my presence. With his acute senses, he must have known for a while I was around and he decided to pass by our small unfenced camp deliberately. For a few precious minutes, I observe the gentle giant as much as he observes me, before he wanders off to another patch of fresh grass. Despite the seemingly peaceful moment, all my senses are on high alert and I am very aware of my surroundings. The rest of the large breeding herd feeds on further away thickets. As the magic moment has just passed, I recall Tayla lecturing us earlier on dos and don’ts with wildlife and the power of our voice: this EcoTraining Field Guide Course in the Greater Kruger, South Africa, has already come in really handy…

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Atmosphere of the III Draakon medieval restaurant, Tallinn

What to do in Tallinn: through time & across town [3 days]

Text: Claire Lessiau & Marcella van Alphen
Photographs: Marcella van Alphen

Toomas Hendrik Ilves, President of Estonia between 2006 and 2016 sums up Estonia beautifully: “Estonia is like a wild strawberry: pristine and small, difficult to find […] but once it is ours, then it is one of the best things of all.” Its capital, Tallinn is a real gem, from its well-preserved UNESCO World Heritage Old Town to its remnants of the Soviet era, from its spa culture to its intimate speakeasy bars. Let’s travel through time and explore Tallinn!

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Ostrich egg chawanmushi with caviar, FYN, Cape Town

Cape Town Fine Dining: Top Picks!

Text & Photographs: Claire Lessiau & Marcella van Alphen

The excellent the food scene of the Mother City has been consistently ranking high on the lists of world’s best restaurants. If South Africa attracts for its safari game reserves, beautiful Cape Town and the very well-marketed Garden Route, make sure to not miss out on these gems when you are in town…

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Winemaking workshop at Les Caves du Louvre, Paris

Wine blending in an 18th-century royal cellar [Paris]

Text: Marcella van Alphen
Photographs: Claire Lessiau

Sommelier Jan Roche leads us down the stairs through an unsuspected 18th century wine cellar, just below the Trudon mansion in the heart of Paris by the royal palace of Le Louvre. Back then, barrels were stored to age for royal consumption by one of the few wine merchants to the king, simply rolled to the royal residence once ready. If the wine story of these historic cellars has been interrupted by the piercing of the 1900 subway tunnels ending the royal connection, today, the dimly lit and stylish cellars have found their original function back. At Les Caves du Louvre, the underground is a paradise for wine lovers where we are about to learn all about wine aromas, grape varieties and ultimately blend our own wine!

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Catacombs of Domitilla unveiled, Rome

Digging into world’s oldest catacombs in Rome

Text & photographs: Claire Lessiau

The catacombs in Rome are subject to many myths. No, the early persecuted Christians did not take shelter inside these underground necropolises! With thousands of bodies, each wrapped in a linen clothe, simply covered in quicklime entombed waiting for resurrection, in deep galleries with hardly any ventilation nor light, the myth is quite easy to bust, just thinking of the stench…

Follow us deep underground into world’s first catacombs in Rome to dig into the real history of the early Christians, martyrs, popes, saints, and tomb raiders. A place of hope and resurrection for believers, a place to discover how early Christians defended their faith for others. In all cases, a deep, captivating and beautiful experience.

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Pizzas in the oven

Rome’s best pizza you’ll ever have!

Text: Marcella van Alphen
Photographs: Claire Lessiau

Are you expecting pizzeria recommendations? It gets even better than this!

If Italian gastronomy goes way beyond pizzas, they remain a must-taste during any trip to Italy, and they are for sure better than any back home, wherever home is. For the best pizza in Rome, do not look too far: join a pizza making class! Not only will it be the best and most fun pizza ever with your own specific generous toppings, but it is also a wonderful way to bring back home a bit of Italy to share with your loved ones any time you wish.

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Back lit bottles at Les Caves du Louvre, Paris

The dos and don’ts of cheese & wine pairing in historic Parisian cellars

Text & Photographs: Claire Lessiau & Marcella van Alphen

It is underneath the Hotel de Trudon mansion in the heart of Paris where we are exploring the secret 18-century wine cellars which used to connect to the nearby royal palace of Le Louvre. Once a busy storage space where the wine was aging until ready for royal consumption and then its barrels rolled underground to the palace, today, the 600 square meters (6,460 square feet) of stylishly renovated historic cellars house some of Paris’ tastiest workshops! Enter the unexpected world of Les Caves du Louvre to explore the best terroirs of France in an in-depth wine and cheese pairing experience – a during any trip to France!

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Northern lights reflected in a lake

Your guide to Finland (inc. best accommodation types for the Northern Lights)

Text: Claire Lessiau
Photographs: Claire Lessiau & Marcella van Alphen

From the desolated Lapland where admiring the ruska (the fall foliage) in the fall, picking berries in the summer, or watching the northern lights in the winter are all magic experiences, to the traditional Finnish saunas all over and more specifically in the Kuusamo region close to Russia, via the stunning lakes of the Koli National Park, or the off-the-beaten path and hip Helsinki, Finland has much more to offer than simply forests and lakes!

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Chef Neil cooking at The belly of the beast, Cape Town

Cape Town eateries for foodies

Text: Claire Lessiau
Photographs: Claire Lessiau & Marcella van Alphen

Over a few years, Cape Town has become a foodies’ paradise. If the city developed thanks to its ideal conditions to resupply passing ships, today its food scene thrives thanks to its organic green grocers, ethical fisheries, free range cattle farmers, excellent wine regions and inventive chefs putting it all together. From fine dining to casual eateries, do yourself a favour and taste the best of Cape Town! Here is our cherry-picked selection of casual eateries…

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Author Claire Lessiau kayaking the arctic lake by glaciers

Kayaking beyond the Arctic Circle

Text & photographs: Marcella van Alphen & Claire Lessiau

Rune comes out of his living room with a couple of dry suits in his arms. Usually, he operates directly from his arctic kayak base, but he decided to go Beyond Limits for Beyond Boundaries, and to welcome us in his home exceptionally to show us a little bit of the behind the scenes. And the timing is perfect! Pretty excited, he jumps on the laptop close to us and reduces the wind forecast page of the area we were looking at, to open a Voice Over IP secured webpage. “Sébastien has been guiding the crossing Greenland expedition for six days now. He is checking in with me thanks to his satellite phone, as he does on a daily basis”, Rune states excitedly. If we are joining Rune today to explore his backyard on a kayak outing, it is his impressive experience as an expedition leader of the polar regions that brought us to Glomfjord, where he operates from, along Norway’s coastal road, just past the arctic circle.

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Private log-house at Wilderness Muotka Nellim, Lapland

Lapland’s fields of gold

Text: Claire Lessiau
Photographs: Marcella van Alphen & Claire Lessiau

Northern Finland was an uncharted wilderness with a scarce population living off the land until gold was found in 1836. Rumours about the discovery were fast to spread… If the quantities extracted have been little, even after state-sponsored expeditions and heavy investments, the precious metal has changed Lapland to this day, with the development of infrastructures and later tourism facilities to observe the Northern Lights and enjoy the vast wilderness whether snow Mo biking, cross-country skiing, hiking or mountain biking.

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Red sky and water as the sun rises from the ocean

Face to face with endangered nesting turtles, a luxurious beach retreat in South Africa

Text: Claire Lessiau
Photographs: Claire Lessiau & Marcella van Alphen

The waves are crashing on the beach. The Milky Way lights up the sky. The Moon is nowhere to be seen and darkness is surrounding us. Only the faint light of Mbuko’s torch casts a red hue on the slopes of the sand dunes to our left. To our right, the foam of the waves breaking on the beach leave a whitish hue. Mbuko is walking confidently through the soft sand analysing every track he comes across. He freezes as he shines his light on an oval shape sticking out which we follow with our gaze. A ghost crab is firmly grabbing a newly hatched loggerhead turtle. The tiny reptile, no more than 5-centimetre long (2 inches) is still alive. We silently observe how the crab runs to its hole in the sand dragging its bloody prey. We scan the surroundings in search for more loggerhead hatchlings. We spot another new-born, already trapped in a crab’s hole. This is the destiny of the vast majority of turtle hatchlings. If the spectacle of turtles laying eggs and hatchlings running to the ocean at night is magical, it is also a cruel scene, during which human intervention is uncaught for. We silently walk back to the desolated Thonga Beach Lodge where we started from, on foot, an hour earlier, the only lodge for miles along this protected beach of the iSimangaliso Wetland Park in the northernmost corner of South Africa.

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Whisk treatment at Pohjolan Pirtti sauna, Finland

The Finnish sauna culture: relaxation, spirituality & health

Text: Claire Lessiau
Photographs: Claire Lessiau & Marcella van Alphen

The Finnish sauna culture is definitely one of the reasons why the Finns regularly rank first in the yearly polls about the happiest people on the planet. Cleansing and relaxing, saunas are very anchored in the Finnish daily life, and have been exported and modified all over the world. Join us on a trip through Finland in order to dig deeper into authentic Finnish saunas, a 9,000-year-old tradition that has been recognized as a UNESCO’s Intangible Cultural Heritage, and experience some of the best saunas of Finland out of the 3 million of them (for 5.5 million inhabitants!).

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Colourful street in Riga, Latvia

Riga in 11 fun & interesting facts

Text: Claire Lessiau
Photographs: Claire Lessiau & Marcella van Alphen

Sandwiched by Estonia to the north and Lithuania to the south, Latvia is often assimilated to its neighbouring Baltic states, mistakenly. At the crossroads of east and west, and close to Scandinavia, Latvia is still building its identity and its capital Riga is an off-the-beaten path gem waiting to be discovered.

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Author Claire Lessiau with marine biologist Øyvind Reinshol in the Leroy salmon farm control room, Bergen, Norway

Salmon farms: good or bad?

Text: Claire Lessiau
Photographs: Claire Lessiau & Marcella van Alphen

The Norwegian coastline is as long as circumnavigating the Earth… 2.5 times! These 102,937-kilometres (63,962 miles) are wetted by four seas that are particularly rich in fishes: cod, herring, capelin, mackerel, blue whiting… This abundance of fish has made fishing one of the main pillars of the country’s economy, but despite quotas defined by research institutes, and persistent marketing campaigns, sustainability is still only a dream…

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Empty street in the Small Béguinage at dusk, Leuven, Belgium

A city trip to off-the-beaten-path Leuven

Text: Claire Lessiau & Marcella van Alphen
Photographs: Claire Lessiau & Marcella van Alphen

Only 26 kilometres from the Belgian and European capital Brussels, Leuven is a compact student town of 100,000 inhabitants, plus another 60,000 during the school year! Nicknamed the Oxford of Belgium, it competes – gently – against the 2.5-times larger university city of Ghent. Off-the-beaten path, the authentic and historical Leuven is vibrant, young and international, characteristics not often found in such compact towns: all the more reasons to spend a weekend in Leuven between discovering its brewing culture in one of its 240 pubs, exploring its interactive museums, and venturing by bike to some of its picturesque abbeys. For a perfect 48 hours in town read on to find out which places must be on your list!

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The City Hall of Leuven in the sun, Belgium

13 fun & interesting facts about Leuven

Text: Claire Lessiau& Marcella van Alphen
Photographs: Claire Lessiau & Marcella van Alphen

1. The beautiful architecture of Leuven’s picturesque squares is not original…

In 1914, Leuven was burnt to the ground by the occupying German forces: they set fire to the historical city centre to retaliate against the Belgian resistance.

The whole city centre was rebuilt. Leuven’s Oude Markt and Groot Markt are amongst the most picturesque squares of town, reconstructed in a similar style as to prior to the fire. On the other hand, the local Champs Elysées, the former residential Bondgenotenlaan Street that runs from the train station to the city hall, showcases a more eclectic architecture today.

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The North Cape globe at sunset, Norway

The REAL North Cape [don’t be fooled!!]

Text: Claire Lessiau
Photographs: Claire Lessiau & Marcella van Alphen

We are sitting in our room, in the Scandic Ishavshotel overlooking Tromsø, nicknamed the Gate to the Arctic. Looking closely at our interactive map of our next steps, we both tick as we are checking out the North Cape area. About two months ago, we set off from Paris, France, to take our time to explore Norway to eventually reach the northernmost point on the European continent. We zoom in more. It seems clear on the map. We add a pin and check the GPS coordinates. Less than a minute of a degree, but still… The North Cape is not the North Cape!

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Top 5 mountain biking adventures in Norway

Text: Claire Lessiau & Marcella van Alphen
Photographs: Claire Lessiau & Marcella van Alphen

The vast and wild northern landscapes of Norway, with the right to roam freely on uncultivated land as the only rule, set the expectations pretty high for mountain bikers. The reality is not as dreamy, as the very democratic Norwegian vision prompts for trails for all, instead of specifically designed for and designated mountain biking, hiking or cross-country skiing tracks… resulting in no ideal trails for anyone. Still, adventurous riders can have a blast and feel like travelling back to the start of mountain biking, using today’s high-tech bikes! Norwegian mountain biking adventures, past bike parks, have to be deserved. But fear not, if you are ready to do some pushing and carrying during your ride, and if you love being fully immersed in nature while enjoying dramatic sceneries, keep on reading to find out where your extra efforts will be greatly rewarded!

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Reflection of a mountain biker in a calm Norwegian lake

Mountain biking in the tracks of the CIA and reindeer in true wilderness [Norway]

Text: Claire Lessiau & Marcella van Alphen
Photographs: Claire Lessiau & Marcella van Alphen

Above Snåsa in the heart of Mid-Norway, a winding dirt road takes us to Ismenningen Fjellstuggu at an altitude of about 500 meters. Our host, Skjalg Ledang welcomes us with a warm smile as we arrive. With his wife Grethe, he has recently acquired this former hunting chalet to turn it into a homey accommodation to explore the beautiful surrounding wilderness of the Blåfjella – Skjækerfjella / Låarte – Skæhkere National Parks, close to the Swedish border.

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Sperm whale tail by fishing boat, Norway

Whale, whale, whale: safari time!

Text: Marcella van Alphen
Photographs: Marcella van Alphen

Focussed on the horizon, that seems to keep moving uncomfortably, I scout the choppy surface of the Norwegian Sea. Our boat has just left from the small fishing village of Stø, located on the northernmost tip of the Langøya Island of the Vesterålen Archipelago just slightly north of the popular Lofoten. A chilly breeze keeps my senses sharp on this very last day of August and the upcoming winter is already palpable in the air. Dressed warmly for today’s safari, I pick up my binoculars when I spot some activity on the horizon. I cannot yet make out what is going on precisely. Thinking back about my animal tracker course I graduated from in the South African bush, I have learnt to always be on the lookout for signs of other animals, and these fishing seagulls are definitely up to something.  I point out the commotion at sea to our captain who has already been adjusting the course of his small vessel… He takes his binoculars too and a large grin appears on his face: “Killer whales at 12 o’clock!”, he announces with clear excitement in his voice.

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Leuven University Library reading room, Belgium

Have you heard the Big Bang! in Leuven?

Text: Claire Lessiau
Photographs: Claire Lessiau & Marcella van Alphen

The Big Bang theory was formulated in 1931 at the University of Leuven by Georges Lemaître (1894-1966). It was not the first ground-breaking discovery made in the Belgian city. Some of the illustrious alumni and professors of the University of Leuven are the 16th century, Andrea Vesalius (1514-1564) who produced the first complete description of the human body, the cartographer Gerardus Mercator (1512-1594) who invented the projection that allows to properly visualize the globe in 2D, Jean Pierre Minckelers (1748-1824) who invented gas lighting and the linguist and great humanist Erasmus (1466-1536), to name the ones who have had the greatest impact on our lives.

As such, the off-the-beaten path student town with its picturesque centre, has been a melting pot for innovation and intends to remain so. On its cultural stage, a biennale festival takes place highlighting not only scientific discoveries, but also the arts, bridging themes in a universal and humanist approach. Between October 2021 and January 2022, the BANG! Festival will challenge you through three excellently curated exhibits and many engaging events!

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View on Arctic Cathedral from Scandic Ishavshotel at night, Tromso

3 days in Tromsø, the gateway to the Arctic

Text: Claire Lessiau
Photographs: Marcella van Alphen

Tromsø, nicknamed the gateway to the Arctic, is the largest urban area in Northern Norway (and the third largest in the world North of the Arctic Circle) where one can tick off probably all the northernmost bucket list items one can think of from the northernmost brewery to the northernmost botanical garden and many more.

With the city centre located on the Tromsø Island, surrounded by the Norwegian Sea and snowy mountain peaks, the weather can be tricky at times. In this article, activities are sorted out by indoor and outdoor settings in order to easily fill up a three-day stay, with a special section about the Northern Lights that are often the reason to visit.

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Characteristic yellow fishermen rorbuer on turquoise water in Lofoten, Norway

Authentic Lofoten

Text: Claire Lessiau
Photographs: Claire Lessiau & Marcella van Alphen

Hamnøya, Lofoten, 1900s

The ice-cold winds howl through the planks. The fishing nets and gear hanging in the adjacent room make the whole cabin humid. The stinking cod liver oil lamp provides a gloomy light. There is no escape from the pungent smell of cods hanging on the wooden racks everywhere outside. Through the window, the small harbour is packed with fishing rowing boats. As least, they are well protected here in this natural harbour close to the Moskstraumen, one of the strongest ocean currents, running between this island of Moskenesøya and the small island of Mosken at the western tip of the Lofoten Archipelago in northern Norway. Looking at the direction the king cod hung from the ceiling is pointing, the weather is not about to better anytime soon. With another eleven fishermen sharing the four-bedded 20-square-meter room, the snoring is non-stop and covers the lapping of the waves against the stilts and the loud squeals of seagulls. Today is going to be another day getting busy building a mock up fishing boat to pass time.

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Jumping Svolværgeita overlooking Svolvaer, Norway

Goat climbing & stockfish tasting in Lofoten!

Text: Claire Lessiau
Photographs: Claire Lessiau & Marcella van Alphen

It is only thanks to the fish! Mastering the drying of cod, fished in the winter off the coast of Lofoten, transformed this fish into a sought-after and profitable commodity exported all over the world. Without the nutritious stockfish with no expiration date, the Vikings would not have been able to survive their long journeys to Greenland or America; the Hanseatic merchants would not have established profitable businesses in Bergen; Norway would have missed out on one of its most important sources of revenue; and Lofoten would have never seen its cute and colourful fishermen’s cabins pop along its shores attracting so many today and in which it is so enjoyable to stay.

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Tsucan vistas on the Golden Road at sunrise, Norway

Your 4-day itinerary in Norway’s Tuscany!

Text: Claire Lessiau & Marcella van Alphen
Photographs: Claire Lessiau & Marcella van Alphen

Barely an hour north of Trondheim, the lovely Inherred region is the ideal place to slow down and follow a food path between local farms and historical landmarks through fields of gold, rolling hills and scenic fjords… Here is your perfect four-day itinerary in Norway’s food basket through Trøndelag starting from Trondheim.

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The colourful wood warehouses on stilts of Bryggen in Trondheim reflecting in the water

The vibes of Trondheim & its must-visits

Text: Claire Lessiau & Marcella van Alphen
Photographs: Claire Lessiau & Marcella van Alphen

The third city of Norway, and the first significant one in the North, Trondheim remains rather small and easy to discover over a couple of days. The innovative student town showcases different gentrified areas that are enjoyable to stroll, past the must-visit Nidaros Cathedral that attracts thousands of pilgrims, believers and curious travellers every year.

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Stiklestad church, Norway

In the footsteps of Olaf the Bloody, the Saint Viking & eternal King of Norway [around Trondheim]

Text: Claire Lessiau
Photographs: Claire Lessiau & Marcella van Alphen

She is walking briskly. Past the old bridge, along the back side of the colourful wooden warehouses on stilts, towards the train station. It is Sunday afternoon, last day of the Norwegian holidays and the train to Oslo will depart soon. She is carrying a sturdy pair of hiking boots, a 40-litre backpack, and wearing a large smile between satisfaction and serenity. Her face is bright red after days spent in the outdoors. Like her, every year, many complete the Saint Olaf pilgrimage to Trondheim, and even more so during the Saint Olaf festival taking place around July 29, the Saint’s day. To get the official stamp, walking 100 kilometres along the millennium-old hiking path is required. However, many cover much more, and often the 640 kilometres (400 miles) between Oslo and Norway’s third city.

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Author Marcella van Alphen coming out of a crevasse on the Fonna Glacier

Cracks under pressure: The Blue Ice Hike

Text & photographs by Claire Lessiau & Marcella van Alphen

The winding glacier road leaves the peaceful village of Jondal, bordering one of Western Norway’s most picturesque fjords, the Hardanger Fjord. Passing bucolic hamlets and farms, in only 19 kilometres, this narrow route elevates us from the waters of the fjord at sea level to an ice world at an altitude of 1,199 meters. A magic place where adventures await the ones who are ready to beat the cold and are curious to explore what lies beyond the end of the road…

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Lom Stave Church against a blue sky

The 6 must-visit Stave Churches of Norway

Text: Claire Lessiau
Photographs: Claire Lessiau & Marcella van Alphen

A trip to Norway is not complete without visiting Norway’s unique contribution to the world architecture. Thanks to some excellent open-air museums or reconstructions, it is possible to see them in Oslo, Bergen or Trondheim. However, travelling through rural Norway to visit some of the finest remaining stave churches is an unforgettable experience! To decode stave churches and learn some fun facts, check this article out!

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Lofts at the Kviteseid open-air museum, Norway

Meeting romantic Norway deep in Telemark

Text: Claire Lessiau
Photographs: Marcella van Alphen & Claire Lessiau

Many travellers skip the Telemark region, shooting for more arctic landscapes while visiting Norway. However, it is mostly this southern region that helped shape the country’s national identity: slow down a little bit and explore Telemark, the romantic idea that most Norwegians have of their own country…

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View from Floyen, Bergen

Bergen in 11 fun facts

Text: Claire Lessiau
Photographs: Marcella van Alphen & Claire Lessiau

1. On average, it rains 265 days a year in Bergen, making it the wettest place in Europe!

Estimates vary. Keep in mind that with about 3,000 millimetres of rain a year and so many wet days, chances are you may want to have a few nice museums in mind to visit! Perfect, as Bergen is full of them from the excellent KODE 3 art museum to the Fisheries or the Hanseatic Museum. For inspiration, check this article out!

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Woman looking at a globe carved out of ice in the ice tunnel, Norway

Touching Permafrost, Ice Tunnel & Norse Mythology

Text: Claire Lessiau
Photographs: Claire Lessiau & Marcella van Alphen

The Juvasshytta at 1,840 meters of altitude is the base for exploring more than Galdhøpiggen, the roof of Scandinavia. The man-made ice tunnel, entirely dug by hand with ice axes allows you to discover the ins and outs of this world of ice and the fragile climate balance. Explore the mythological well of knowledge hidden in the Ice Tunnel in Jotunheimen National Park, learn about the delicate flora and fauna of the tundra and touch climate change yourself!

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Colourful warehouses of Bryggen with boats in the foreground, Bergen

72 hours in Bergen

Text: Marcella van Alphen & Claire Lessiau
Photographs: Marcella van Alphen & Claire Lessiau

Once past the cruise tourists who tend to stick to the UNESCO World Heritage Bryggen and to the funicular that takes them up Fløyen, Bergen is a charming city with many hidden gems waiting to be discovered. This harbour town has retained its cosmopolitan character and the second city of Norway after its capital Oslo, is very welcoming. This student town is vibrant, surrounded by beautiful mountains and spread around the water: an easy access point to the North Sea that has made Bergen what it is today.

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Photographer Marcella van Alphen walking through the snow in summer with blue skies

On the roof of Northern Europe [Galdhøpiggen]

Text: Claire Lessiau
Photographs: Marcella van Alphen & Claire Lessiau

Jotunheimen, the land of the giants. It does feel like seating amongst millennium-old towering giants looking at all these 2,000-meter-high peaks surrounding our small tent pitched in the soft tundra on our way up Galdhøpiggen, Northern Europe’s highest mountain in the heart of Jotunheimen National Park. No less than 250 of these mountains are located in Norway’s most popular national park where the country’s greatest concentration of high peaks is found. From a distance, the summits look like a world in monochrome with the rugged dark stones partially covered in snow, cut by majestic white waterfalls. In this surprisingly arid polar climate, it is the melting of the glacier that provides water to the surrounding communities. Farmers have even dug 250 kilometres of open channels to irrigate their lands. Only the bells of a few sheep roaming these slopes during the summer break the humming of the water cascading in the distance.

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Musk Oxen in Dovrefjell Sunndalsfjella National Park, Norway

Musk ox safari in the Norwegian mountains

Text: Claire Lessiau
Photographs: Marcella van Alphen

No, it is not related to the bison even though it looks an awful lot like it from where I stand in the middle of the Norwegian alpine tundra! Actually, it is more related to sheep and goats. The prehistoric-looking musk ox lives in the arctic regions of the world, and the only musk ox population in Norway roams the mountain slopes of Dovrefjell-Sunndalsfjella National Park where I am hiking with my passionate guide Jo Even Kolstad on a musk ox safari.

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Writer Marcella van Alphen crossing a suspension bridge above powerful white waters

The white gold that shaped today’s Norway [Odda/Trolltunga]

Text & photographs by Claire Lessiau & Marcella van Alphen

The steep green mountain slopes of Western Norway are covered with white veins. Immensely powerful waterfalls plummet into the crystal-clear or emerald-green waters of the fjords where occasionally a whale passes by… Standing on top of Lilletopp, Tyssedal, overlooking the Hardanger Fjord, I am facing two very different sides of Norway: to the right, it looks like a lost and wild place on Earth dominated by nature, to the left another impression sticks… In the midst of this natural beauty attracting hikers from all over to conquer the famous Tongue of the Troll, or Trolltunga, lays the heart of where the industrial revolution of Norway started and the cradle of the country’s hydropower capabilities…

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Testing the senz° windproof umbrella in Delft

12 interesting facts about Delft [& insider’s tips!]

Text: Marcella van Alphen & Claire Lessiau
Photographs: Marcella van Alphen & Claire Lessiau

Most visitors check Delft out on a Keukenhof day trip, spending only a few hours in the city. Shame! Lovely Delft has a lot to offer beyond its Market Square, Vermeer Centrum and must-visit Royal Delft earthenware factory. Dive into the city, the cradle of today’s Netherlands, to explore this 17th-century postcard a stone’s throw away from Rotterdam and The Hague.

To appreciate it better, here are 10 fun and interesting facts about Delft that you probably did not know about…

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