Southern Sweden – Islands, Cuisine and Outdoor Adventures Await!

Swedish Street

The Kingdom of Sweden is the fourth largest country in Europe in terms of land area. And while it ranks high in size, it also sits pretty far up the list in terms of adventure.

With 29 national parks and a myriad of smaller parks and gardens under the watchful eye of the Swedish Society of Public Parks & Gardens, outdoor excursions are always close at hand.  Featuring playgrounds, zoos, cafes, and other attractions, locations such as Fredriksdal Museum and Gardens, Drottningholm Palace Park, and Millesgården host thousands of visitors each year in search of choice photography locations, art, flowers, and history.

When the sun is out, so are the Swedes, patronizing any of a multitude of open air cafes, restaurants and bars. At summers high point, the sun can rise as early as 3:30 AM and set after 10:00 PM, which leaves a lot of daylight hours for socializing, sipping coffee, and eating.

While many people know much of the local cuisine such as Swedish Meatballs with mashed potatoes, potato pancakes and lingonberries from encounters with furniture giant, Ikea, not as many people realize that the smörgåsbord is a Swedish tradition. Culinary delights such as gravlax (cured salmon), Ärtsoppa (yellow pea soup), Flygande Jacob (chicken and banana casserole with peanuts and bacon), and Blåbärspalt (dumplings with blueberries) abound, and those seeking something more thrilling can sample Blodpudding (blood pudding) with lingonberry jam, Surströmming (fermented Baltic herring) and Smörgåstårta, a multi-layered sandwich often filled with shrimp, ham, mayonnaise and preserved fruit.

For those who want to explore the areas outside of the metropolitan centers, trains and ferries are both an economical and scenic way to travel, with many spectacular destinations just a short jaunt away from Stockholm. Day trips to locations such as Drottningholm Palace (The Queen’s Castle), Sigtuna (Sweden’s first town, founded in 980 CE), the Fortress of Vaxholm, and Lake Mälaren and Gripsholm Castle will immerse you in the historic and daily life of the Swedish people.

For the naturalists, ferries travel regularly to many of the 221,831 Swedish islands such as Donso in the North Sea. With around 1500 inhabitants, Donso is ripe with friendly people, local swimming holes, fresh seafood and beautiful walking trails.

And what visit to Sweden would be complete without a visit to Junibacken, an indoor amusement park built around Astrid Lindgren’s stories of Pippi Longstocking. With a visit to Pippi’s house, and a trip on the Storybook Train taking you on a journey through her adventures, adults and children alike can joyfully immerse themselves in the life of Sweden’s most famous literary creation.

Post written and photos provided by Mindy Hanson, AlphaPixel Reach.

Exploring Norway, From Fantastic Food to Opera and Vikings

Flag of norway in front of a body of water

The Kingdom of Norway is the westernmost country on the Scandinavian Peninsula in Northwestern Europe. With a land area slightly less than that of California, it boasts a coastline that is over 15,000 miles long lined with thousands of islands. The majority of its five and a half million inhabitants live along the coast and in the southern portion of the country where its capital, Oslo, is located.

Founded in 1070, Oslo is both a city and a county, serves as the economic and governmental center of Norway, and has been ranked number one for the quality of life compared to other large European cities. A modern cultural nexus labeled one of the ten best cities in the world to visit, visitors find museums, galleries, music festivals, theaters, sports arenas, and the world-renowned Operahuset, or Oslo Opera House.

Clad primarily in white granite and white Italian marble, the main auditorium stage tower evokes old weaving patterns with its white aluminum sheath designed by Løvaas & Wagle. It is the Opera House’s roof, however, that earned the European Prize for Urban Public Space in 2010. Sloping gently to ground level, the roof creates an inviting plaza encouraging visitors to walk to the top to enjoy spectacular views of Oslo. Nothing beats a cocktail on the rooftop as you watch the sunset!

Foodies are always thrilled to explore the many Oslo food markets, especially Mathallen Food Hall at Vulkan which is home to more than 30 cafes, eateries and specialty shops. The areas around the center of the city all have a high concentration of cafes and restaurants, and for the discerning palettes, there are six Michelin Star restaurants located within the city. Traditional cuisines vary from classic Norwegian fare such as lamb and cabbage stew (fårikål), brown stew (lapskaus), Norwegian meatballs (kjøttkaker), and steamed salmon or fish soup to specialties such as moose, reindeer and lutefisk (cod cured in lye). But while you visit, be sure to try the traditional heart-shaped waffles and their assorted toppings such as current jam or sugar and butter.

Bus and rail transportation will get you from place to place in Oslo, and the daily bus ticket also covers the inter-island ferry allowing tourists to explore some of the nearby islands for hiking, swimming, or sea views of the city skyline. Ikea, the Swedish home goods store, also offer quite popular free buses around town to encourage people to visit for shopping and food. And for those who want a bit more flexibility, bike rental stands can be found throughout the city if you want to take one out for a few hours to see the changing of the Guard at the Royal Palace.

No visit to Norway would be complete, however, without a bit of Viking history. It is quite simple to take a train or rent a car to head south to Sandefjord, the richest city in Norway and home to Europe’s only whaling museum. Known as the Viking Capital of Norway, it is also known as the Whaling Capital and has also been dubbed Badebyen (Bathing City) due to the many beaches and spas. History buffs can also visit the Gokstad Mound (Gokstadhaugen), which is a large burial mound at Gokstad Farm. Gokstadhaugen is also known as the Kings Mound (Kongshaugen) and is the discovery location of the Gokstad Ship, which is now in the Viking Ship Museum in Oslo.

And finally, for the well-read visitors, Norway is home to literary greats such as playwright Henrik Ibsen, and Nobel Laureates Sigrid Undset and Knut Hamsun. The Ibsen Museum in Oslo is always a treat, his restored apartment is open for visitation, and if time permits, you can even take a day trip to his childhood home in Skien. If you are traveling in late May or early June, be sure to check out the Norwegian Literature Festival in Lillehammer and don’t forget a trip to the Litteraturhuset, or House of Literature, the national arena for literature, culture and debate.

Southern Norway abounds with treats for all the senses. Find out what else is in store with a visit arranged by Endless Travel.

Post written and photos provided by Mindy Hanson, AlphaPixel Reach.


Petra, The Spice of Jordan



The Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan sits at the crossroads of Asia, Europe and Africa. Bordered by Saudi Arabia, Iraq, Syria, Israel, and Palestine, it sits along the Jordan River to its east, the Dead Sea to the West, and has a short south-western coastline on the Red Sea. This constitutional monarchy is the 11th most populated Arab country, with a population approaching 10 million. And while the majority of its inhabitants practice Sunni Islam, there is also an indigenous Christian minority that coexists quite well, making Jordan a friendly place for Americans to tour.

When many people think of Jordan, the first thing that comes to mind is the facade of Al Khazneh (The Treasury) featured in Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade. But this 45-meter-high elaborately ornate structure carved into the face of a pink sandstone cliff is only one of hundreds of buildings dating back to approximately 300 BCE.  And Petra is only one face of the many-faceted gem that is Jordan.

Petra, also known as “The Rose City,” is Jordan’s most well known and most-visited destination. The capital of the ancient Nabatean Kingdom is accessed via a picturesque trip through the narrow canyon named Al Siq. Voted as one of the New Seven Wonders of the World, Petra has been a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1985 and has an increasing number of visitors from around the world.

Beyond Petra, however, Jordan is the home to several other exquisite destinations including Wadi Musa, the town just outside Petra’s gates. Most visitors find Wadi Musa incredibly welcoming, and it is the perfect place for exploration not only of local cuisine, but of the Spice Markets, featuring delicacies such as saffron, za’atar, sumak, curry, and star anise offered at inexpensive prices in baskets as large as beach balls. These tasty souvenirs will have you reliving your explorations as you savor the flavors of the Middle East upon your return home.

For those looking for a scenic ride potentially interrupted by goat crossings, the King’s Highway is not only an ancient trade route, but an important pilgrimage route for Christians as it passes next to Mount Nebo, the site of Moses’ death and burial. Bus tours along this highway can expect to enjoy unique scenery while seeing the local shepherds, small villages, archeological sites and more.

On the northeastern tip of the Red Sea lies the inspiration for the fictional sultanate of Agrabah in Disney’s Aladdin, Aqaba, a strategic center of trade between Africa and Asia for over 1000 years. With beach resorts known for windsurfing and other watersports, the city is also a popular destination for scuba diving, especially along the Yamanieh coral reef in the Aqaba Marine Park. The Aqaba Archeological Museum and Islamic-era Aqaba Fort provide an in-depth history of the region with artifacts dating back as far as 4000 BCE.

Sixty kilometers to the east of Aqaba you’ll find Wadi Rum, the Valley of the Moon.  This protected desert wilderness features dramatic sandstone mountains, natural geologic arches, and rocky caverns and chasms which sport prehistoric inscriptions and carvings. The domes of Jebel Um Ishrin, Burdah Rock Bridge, and Khazali Canyon provide numerous vistas for photographers of all skill levels, and Lawrence’s Spring is quite the popular destination. The spring is famous for an alleged visit by British soldier T.E. Lawrence, better known as Lawrence of Arabia.

All in all, Jordan is a wealth of vistas and sights that are beautiful, historical, and traveler friendly. Reach out to Endless Travel to book a tour, today!


Recommended Reading –Leap of Faith: Memoirs of an Unexpected Life Autobiography by American-born Queen Noor who penned an exceptional autobiography about her efforts to modernize Jordan. This strong and powerful woman worked closely with her husband to make Jordan the dynamic and exciting place it is today.

Written by Mindy Hanson, AlphaPixel Reach for Endless Travel