Oxford: The City of Dreaming Spires

Oxford and Cambridge travel

Medieval Spires of OxfordOxford, located in central southern England, is focused primarily around its prestigious university which lies in the city’s medieval center. The architecture of the university’s 38 colleges led poet Matthew Arnold to nickname it the ‘City of Dreaming Spires’.

Legends claim that Oxford University was founded by a beautiful young princess named Frideswide. When her dreams of becoming a nun were threatened by a king who wanted her hand in marriage, Frideswide ran away to Oxford only to be followed by the king. But when he reached the town border, he was struck blind. Once he agreed to release her from marrying him, and begging her forgiveness, his sight was restored. Frideswide then founded a nunnery on the site of what is now Christ Church cathedral. The earliest of the Oxford colleges were set up around the nunnery as learning places for monastic scholars.

The numerous colleges make for an amazing place to just wander all day, lost among the historic buildings still clamoring with students.  There are numerous guided and self-led walking tours to be found such as University tours, ghost tours, literary tours, and (of course) Harry Potter film location tours. Oxford, England

Guided or not, however, be aware that many buildings have a fee to enter them, and tickets sell out well in advance. So plan your day carefully if there are specific places you want to visit, or make sure the tour company covers entry tickets. That said, it is common understanding that if a gate or door is open, passersby should feel free to wander inside.

And what tour of Oxford would be complete without a visit to the gravesite of J.R.R. Tolkien? Wolvercote Cemetery in north Oxford is easy to reach by bus from Oxford City Centre. It does have a small parking lot and public restrooms. There are signs and maps to get you to Tolkien’s grave readily available.

Finally, when you are ready for a break from the scholarly and more scholastic life, the Oxford Pub Tour is not to be missed. Take some time to enjoy some tea or a pint while looking out over the Thames. 

A visit to Oxford is a convenient day trip from London, and many tour companies will start and end your tours there, allowing you to forego the tricky prospect of finding parking. A parking violation in the city is quite the expensive souvenir.

The relationship between the City and the University wasn’t always grand, however. After one of a series of “Town versus Gown” riots, several scholars departed Oxford and founded the University now known as Cambridge in 1209.

Not quite as large as her sister university, Cambridge is made up of 31 Colleges, and is the top-ranked university in the United Kingdom, and second-best in the world (according to the Times Higher Education World University Rankings). But much LIKE her sister university, Cambridge is an architectural marvel, and fans of historic buildings will not be disappointed. A walk through the numerous courtyards in the town and throughout the university is a must.

CAmbridge river sightseeingSitting along the River Cam, the town of Cambridge is host to a bevy of riverside restaurants serving up delicious meals. And those feeling especially adventurous can splurge on a punt ride, where a boatman will push your boat along with a pole while you wonder at the sights along the riverbank. Some of the best boat guides are former students who share their love of their city and campus with you as you drift up and down the river.

With literary, historical, and contemporary cultural sights to visit, a trip to Oxford and Cambridge is something the entire family can enjoy.  Let Endless Travel help you plan that perfect “Oxbridge” getaway!


Recommended Reading:

  • The Hobbit & The Lord of the Rings Trilogy, J.R.R. Tolkien
  • Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, Lewis Carroll
  • The Wind in the Willows, Kenneth Grahame
  • The Notion Club Papers, J.R.R. Tolkien

Christmas with Santa in Olso, Norway

Christmas in Norway

It’s the end of summer. The Halloween decorations have barely hit the stores. Why would anyone do a travel blog about Christmas NOW? Well, it’s warm. Summer is almost over. And no one wants to have to put together a last minute trip for the Christmas holiday. So, what better time to be thinking about it?

Founded in 1040, Oslo was original spelled Ânslo or Áslo. A fire destroyed large parts of the city in 1624, after which the city was rebuilt closer to Akershus Fortress. Since then, it has become home to the Nobel Peace Prize award ceremony, Frogner Park (the world’s largest sculpture park), and the Viking Ship Museum displaying 1000-year-old, fully intact ships. 

“But why,” you may ask, “would anyone want to go to a country that finds ⅓ of its land area north of the Arctic Circle? Isn’t that cold?” There’s a Norwegian saying, “There’s no such thing as bad weather, only bad clothing.” So bundle up and book yourself a new, incredibly beautiful, and fun way to spend the Christmas holiday!

Earlier in December, Oslo’s Christmas Markets are in full swing, and they are less crowded than closer to Christmas.  Winter Wonderland, one of Oslo’s Christmas fairs goes on for well over a month, and is not too far away from the Royal Palace. The fair combines delicious food and delicacies (local holiday treats like bacon chips and glogg), high-quality craft (wool slippers, hats and sweaters), a Ferris wheel, and a free public ice skating rink.

Christmas in Winterland (Jul I Vinterland) is the main Christmas market in the city. You’ll find traditional candles in windows welcoming visitors, and INCREDIBLE, hours-long sunsets thanks to the limited sunlight this time of year. It also allows for elaborate light displays, bringing an unearthly feeling to the fantastic snow sculptures. If you’re not ready for full on ice rink skating, you can also skate (or skate with just your shoes) on many of the local ponds.  And when you’re all tuckered out, find yourself some fruit with God Jul (Good Yule) messages and relax.

Take the bus to the Norsk Folkemuseum (Folk Museum) Fair and spend an entire day walking through the historic village with local foods like lefse, folk dancers and music, open fires to warm up, and artisan crafts. The candle factory, potters, silversmiths and weavers all sell their own handmade products in the Old Town, where homes decorated for Christmas showcase the holiday celebration according to old local tradition. And many of these markets actually have live reindeer to visit with! Watch out for the costumed children who are recruited to chase about, throw snowballs, make faces and make traditional mischief.

When you’re all marketed out, you should most certainly hike to the top of the opera house to see the view of the harbor. Words don’t do it justice at Christmastime.  And finally, for a true taste of the holiday in “The Land of the Midnight Sun,” join the locals and brave a sauna on a boat followed by jumping into the ice-cold bay! Whether you’re going for the markets, the sunsets, or just to relax, Endless Travel can help you plan the perfect stay, well before the holiday pressure kicks in.  So reach out today.


Further Reading:

Who’s That Knocking on Christmas Eve? – Jan Betts
The Snow Sister – Lisa Aisato & Maja Lunde
Keep Saying Their Names – Simon Stranger
Grown-ups – Marie Aubert

Adventures in Athens

Acropolis, Athens

It is said that the area than the city of Athens encompasses has been inhabited for over 7,000 years, continuously. Because of its age and history, the city is home to a multitude of architectural styles and its historic sights are some of the best known by the modern world. In fact, the number of tourists who visit Greece every year is higher than the actual population of Greece.

Thankfully, as with many places that have relatively temperate climate year-round, visiting Athens in the off-season provides you a glimpse of the birthplace of Democracy with NO crowds, and some exceptional lodging options. And even when there are few tourists around, there are still street vendors offering fresh fruit, nuts and olives for a nice afternoon snack. One of the other benefits of visiting Athens in the off-season is that the usually pushy restaurant hustlers generally offer your discounts and freebies if you are polite to them, but begin to walk away.

Most people, when they think of visiting Athens, think of the Parthenon. And for good reason. Perched atop the Acropolis, the Parthenon, the Erechtheion and the Propylaia date back to the 5th century BC. Over the centuries, the Parthenon has served as a temple, a church, a mosque, military barracks and a munitions dump. It has been set on fire, shaken by earthquakes, looted, defaced, and it was blown up when the munitions stored inside it detonated during the Turkish and Venitian fight over Athens.

In fact, the Parthenon itself has so much history it is generally a wise idea to take a trip through the Parthenon Museum before you actually visit. You’ll get a much better understanding of exactly what you’re seeing while you’re on the Acropolis, and don’t forget to visit the outdoor (free) section of the museum which features uncovered ancient ruins. If you’re looking for a historic tour like no other, book yourself one of the Segway tours of the Parthenon and other historic sites. It is well worth the cost, and fun for everyone in the family.

Athens features other historic sites as well. Pnyx (pronounced “nix”) Hill is about half a kilometer west of the Acropolis. Athenians used to gather there to discuss politics and make decisions pertaining to the city itself. Pnyx Hill is the actual birthplace of democracy, for it was here that all the male citizens of Athens were declared equal and given the right to vote and take part in the decision making. It also sports a pretty fantastic view of the city.

There are modern locations to visit as well. Pay a visit to the Olympic Track and run a lap, or stand on the medals podium for a pretty great photo op. When Athens was modernizing their infrastructure for the 2004 Summer Olympics, subway construction and modernization unearthed over 50,000 artifacts buried beneath the city. There were so many, in fact, that six of Athens subway stations are museums unto themselves. So when you’re getting ready to take a trip on Athens’ very clean and timely subway (don’t rent a car unless you absolutely have to), leave a little extra time to check the exhibits.

For a breathtaking walk through ancient ruins strewn among vegetation, rare plants, and saplings, pack a lunch and make an afternoon trip to the National Garden. The garden is home to 519 species and varieties of trees, bushes and other plants from around the world. Beautiful during any season, the Garden is just off the Syntagma subway station, and is open from dawn until dusk. It also features a conservatory, children’s library and a small cafe.

Finally, when you’ve had enough of ancient ruins and beautiful gardens, you should take advantage of Athens burgeoning street art scene. Several neighborhoods have been transformed into open air art galleries with phenomenal graffiti murals. In fact, several tour companies offer guided street art tours that will cap your visit with a taste of modern day Athens. So when you’re ready to travel back in time to the days of Aristotle and Plato, reach out to Endless Travel to help put together the perfect visit.

Recommended reading:
  • Kassandra and the Wolf, Margarita Karapanou
  • Red Dyed Hair, Kostas Mourselas
  • The Other Alexander, Margarita Liberaki
  • Something Will Happen, You’ll See, Christos Ikonomou

Western Austria


If ever there was a place where the fields truly were alive with music, it is Western Austria. From cowbells on the hills, to concertos from native son Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, to actual people playing actual alpenhorns, the hills teem with enough songs and sights to satisfy even the most discerning traveler.

Western Austria encompasses the high Alpine peaks of Tyrol and Vorarlberg as well as the rolling mountains of Salzburgerland and Carinthia. Nestled among the mountain tops and valleys are flush with castles of every size and style. As you make the stunning drive through the Alps it’s not difficult to stumble upon a “Burg” (military/government castle), “Schloss” (palace), or “Schlössl” (manor) in any state of ruin, repair or resplendence. There is even a bus ride up to Kehlsteinhaus, Hitler’s Eagle’s Nest above the Obersalzberg near Berchtesgaden.

Between castles are beautiful mountain villages with white walls and dark, ornate trim and flower boxes. They are the traditional “gingerbread houses” of Hansel and Grettle fame. It is not unusual to stumble upon a village festival, where you can fill yourself with bratwurst, sauerkraut, pretzels, schnitzel and beer along with local specialties influenced by German, Hungarian and Italian tradition. Knowing how to say “Bitte” (please) and “Danke” (thank you) will thrill the locals, who will be more than happy to go above and beyond to help a friendly traveler.

Outside of the grand castles and picturesque villages, there is still a lot to do and see in Western Austria. Former volcanic zones have dappled the countryside with spas (thermen) and hot springs (thermalbäder) which have spawned a whole industry around therapeutic treatment and rehab programs. They are, however, still open to everyone just looking to swim in steaming hot water any time of year.

Tauren Spa

Therme Aqua Dome” in Längenfeld is your typical example of a modern-day Austrian spa, featuring a sauna village, a beauty farm, pools to swim in outside, and the Aqua Dome itself. Less touristy, but just as well equipped is Tauren Spa in the heart of the Hohe Tauern National Park. Tauren’s waterslides and huge indoor pools are only eclipsed by the stunning views and vistas everywhere you look.

For those who prefer a bit more adventure than hot springs, adventure also awaits beneath the mountains. Deep beneath the mountains surrounding Salzburg, you can tour the “white gold” mines in Hallein and Berchtesgaden. Ride a small mine train deep inside the salt mines (Salzkammergut) to see mines which have been in operation for over 500 years. A 36-meter long miner’s slide, a subterranean salt lake, and the famed Salt Cathedral are all just a short bus ride from Salzburg.

Ice Cave

And if one underground excursion isn’t enough for you, be sure to check out Eisriesenwelt, the World of the Ice Giants. The largest ice cave in the world, Eisriesenwelt is a 42 km deep, natural limestone and ice cavern inside Hochkogel mountain. Even though the cave was long known to locals, it wasn’t explored until 1879 because Austrian legend had dubbed it “the entrance to hell.” Now it plays host to over 200,000 visitors between May and October every year.

Finally, no visit to Western Austria would be complete without watching a sunset over Königssee, a natural lake within the Berchtesgaden National Park. The cleanest lake in the country, only electric and human powered boats are allowed to set sail on it.

No matter what song you sing, Western Austria will provide wonderful accompaniment for your journey. Endless Travel will gladly help you set up your Alpine music debut, so contact them today!

Recommended Reading:

The Habsburgs: The History of a Dynasty – Benjamin Curtis
Brother of Sleep – Robert Schneider
The Painted Kiss – Elizabeth Hickey
The Seven-Per-Cent Solution – Nicholas Meyer

Spring Among the Tulips in Holland

Amsterdam Tulips

Holland is the name given to the western part of the Netherlands that includes Amsterdam, Rotterdam and The Hague. One of the most densely-populated countries in the world, the Netherlands is also one of the most tourist-friendly, with most cities, towns and villages sporting at least one tourist information office providing maps and free brochures. Ocean currents keep the spring and summers very temperate and pleasant, but be prepared for the weather to change at the drop of a wooden shoe!

With over 800 bridges more than Venice, Amsterdam also sports nearly 900,000 bicycles. That’s more bicycles than inhabitants and four times the number of cars. This has led to the city being EXTREMELY bike friendly. In fact, one of the most photographed sights in Amsterdam is the bicycle parking in front of Central Station. Renting bikes to explore the city and take advantage of the more than €120,000,000 invested in bicycle infrastructure is a great way to experience life as a native. Amsterdammers bike approximately 2,000,000 kilometers (1,200,000 miles) every single day. There is even a bike-friendly museum in Amsterdam, the Rijksmuseum, which is the only museum in the world you can cycle through.

There are 51 museums in the city (the highest concentration of museums in the world), which make it a wonderful place to explore art and history. The Netherlands lays claim to some of the world’s most famous painters: Rembrandt, Vermeer, Steen, van Gogh and Mondrian. Besides the Rijksmuseum, people flock to the van Gogh museum and the Anne Frank house, so be SURE to get tickets in advance. The van Gogh museum tickets are available online and give you an assigned start time in order to control the flow of visitors through the museum. Don’t be late for your entry time, or you may not be able to get in. The Anne Frank house releases 80% of their tickets two months in advance, and the other 20% at 9:00 AM the day of.

For those with a more than passing interest in history, a canal cruise is a perfect way to explore the city and see the sights. There are over 60 miles of canals in Amsterdam, separating it into 90 different islands, and Grachtengordel, the historic canal belt, is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Many locals actually live in one of the 3,000 houseboats on the canals, and some of them are even available for tourists to stay in rather than bunking in a hotel.

Dining in Amsterdam is an exploration of world cuisine. There are the traditional Dutch foods such as Bitterballen (deep fried crispy meatballs), Frites (thick cut Dutch fries served with mayo), Snert (a thick green stew made from split peas, pork, celery, leeks and onions), and Stroopwafels (two thin waffles with a sweet syrup holding them together). But you can also get an Indonesian Rice Table dinner (25 to 30 small plates of veggies, meats and other delicacies), a Javanese Bakabana (fried plantain in peanut sauce), Tibetan Dumplings, and Eritrean Meat Stew (with beer served in a coconut shell).

For those looking for a shopping experience, there are numerous department stores and shopping centers, most notable De Bijenkorf in Dam Square and the spectacular Magna Plaza. Kalverstraat and Leidstraat sport numerous exclusive shops such as Paul Warmer, Filippa K and Shoebaloo, as well as more of the typical European fare such as Zara, Esprit and UNIQLO. For antiques and art, be sure to visit Spiegelkwartier. And no visit to the city would be complete without spending some time at Bloemenmarkt, the floating Flower Market and one of the most fragrant places in all of Amsterdam. You can even find flower bulbs certified for export so you can bring some of Holland’s colorful Tulips home with you. You can find tulips in every color in a 64-crayon box, and then some more colors and patterns Crayola never imagined!

A short tour bus ride from Amsterdam is Lisse, home to the famous Keukenhof, the largest flower garden in the world. Hyacinth, tulips and daffodils can be found in spectacular arrangements of colors, creating a display like no other. There are bikes available for rent which you can ride through the fields and surrounding gardens. But the garden is only open a VERY limited amount of time each spring, so if this is one of your chosen destinations, plan carefully, and be sure to take your allergy medication so you can enjoy the incredible smell without sneezing for days.

When your historic, artistic, floral and dining senses have all been overwhelmed, Amsterdam sports the ‘Literary Landmarks Walking Tours’ focusing on libraries, book cafés and the city’s most important writers. Holland’s industrial and mercantile history fostered a robust book trade, which wasn’t subject to the same degree of control that was imposed in countries such as France and England. This brought about a very stimulated cultural and intellectual life for the cities residents, one you are sure to fall in love with as you explore this phenomenal city.

Recommended Reading:

The Diary of a Young Girl, Anne Frank
Amsterdam: A History of the World’s Most Liberal City, Russell Shorto
The Coffee Trader, David Liss
Amsterdam: A Brief Life of the City, Geert Mak
The Signature of All Things, Elizabeth Gilbert