Monday, April 25, 2016

A European Adventure: 11 Days, 3 Cities, 1 Girl On Her Own.

Never one to shy away from excitement and exploration, I recently booked an 11-day trip to Europe all by myself. I’ve never traveled completely alone in a foreign country before, and I was excited and a bit nervous for the adventures ahead. I deemed this my "Eat, Pray, Love" trip, as I’ve been itching for a way to unplug mentally and grow emotionally and challenge myself to leave my comfort zone. Little did I know, this trip would achieve all of that and more!

Thanks to an incredible airfare deal (ah-hem $222 round trip!) from SAS Airlines (which just launched a direct flight from LA to Stockholm), I decided to split up my time between three European cities that were each beautiful, inspiring and filled with history. Before I dive into each city experience, here are a few notes I absolutely have to mention that made this whole journey a successful one.



1)    Pack Light. For 11 days, I managed to live out of exactly ONE carry-on roller bag and a backpack, which made flying through security and getting on and off planes, trains and buses pretty effortless. I would absolutely recommend Eagle Creek luggage for durable gear that really gets the job done! I used the Morphus 22 carry-on, which is a genius system that packs two bags into one. The backpack zips completely off, and truly saved my life and didn’t hurt my back at all, which I was amazed by. I used their Pack-It compression cubes and rolled my clothes as tightly as possible to make it all work. And guess what? It did! I will likely never check luggage in for future trips, if I can help it at all. 

Since I was navigating alone, it was really to essential to pare down and only bring what I could feasibly carry with ease. I stuck to a uniform of black leggings and black tops, and a warm puffy coat with a hood (much needed thanks to the cold rainy weather I experienced) and kept everything else really simple.



2)    Pare Down Your Beauty Routine. I was actually stopped at security in Stockholm because they thought I carried too many beauty products and inspected each and every item before letting me go. This is funny because A) this is actually WAY less than I would normally bring, and B) who are they to judge a beauty girl on the go!? If I want to fill my carry-on with beauty products to make sure my selfies abroad look flawless, I don’t see why that should be a problem...


In the end, though, my beauty bag cost me a flight as they took so long at security inspecting my compacts and lipsticks, that the gate closed minutes before I arrived and was totally screwed over and stuck in Stockholm for more days than I planned for. If I could do it all over again, I’m not sure how much less I could possibly bring, but I will say that a few products I toted along totally made sense for a trip like this, where saving space is essential.

The rundown: Honest Beauty face cleanser packets (they’re the size of a sugar packet, you mix with water and toss the packaging daily. So genius!), Sachajuan Volume Powder (absorbs oil and adds lift at the root when you’re short on time and braving the elements (wind, rain, etc.), Herbal Elements Towlettes (so refreshing when you’re surrounded by people, walking the streets and feeling kind of filthy), Charlotte Tilbury Dolce Vita eye palette (the only eye shadow I brought, and so perfect for day to night), LORAC Porefection concealer (covers everything, masks jet lag and sleepless nights effortlessly) and Lysyl lip balm (a Swedish brand, my favorite lip balm ever.)  

As for hair, I didn’t curl my hair at all, so I wish I had left my curling iron at home for space, and totally wore my hair straight and natural every day. It saved on time, and with the weather I endured, there wasn’t much point in putting more effort into it. 

One thing, I will do next time is to really make sure I have a strong detangler/shine/hydrating serum with me. My fine hair knots super easily, especially in the wind, so I spent a good amount of time trying to brush it all out each day. Since hotel amenities vary from each place, my poor hair was suffering after a few days of generic shampoos, and my travel-size goods didn’t do the job as smoothly as I would have liked.

3)    Practical Footwear. I only brought three pairs of shoes on this trip, but I could have made it with just one pair! My Sorel boots wowed me in every way on this trip! I walked around 12-16K miles a DAY every day on this trip, and my feet were comfortably supported in my trusty Sorel boots every step of the way. The boots are also waterproof and super easy to get on and off thanks to the side zipper, so they were perfect for traveling on this trip. The other shoes I packed were black Nike sneakers and nude Tieks ballet flats, which I could have totally done without in hindsight. You live, you learn, but still really impressed with how one pair of sturdy, comfortable boots got the job done for 11 days on non-stop walking and sightseeing!

 
Now, on to the adventures!

First up: Stockholm! I knew very little about this stunning city before I got there, but had heard that it’s a very walkable city with plenty to see, plus everyone speaks English. All of the above is true, and I could now happily recite many other charming attributes this city boasts. Stockholm is rich with awe-inspiring museums and terrific restaurants (Rolf’s Kok and The Flying Elk were a few standouts for me), a really lively culture and gorgeous views everywhere you look. It truly is the most inviting and welcoming place, and everyone is warm and friendly. The US dollar goes a long way in Sweden right now, and I have to say, Americans are definitely welcomed with open arms here. Stockholm, you will always have a special place in my heart! The tourism board even granted me a "Key to the City", where I got to explore museums, bus and boat tours for free, which was SO nice. 


As for accommodations, I had the honor of staying at HTL Kunsgatan, which was a sleek, chic and very convenient hotel that was incredibly easy to navigate from the bus and train stations. The lobby has a spacious and very chic workspace and lounge area with a fully-stocked bar, where you can work or hang out at any hour. With a hotel lobby as stylish yet cozy as this, there’s really no need to venture out to a random bar or lounge to unwind! Check-in is effortless with their self-serve station (much like you would do at the airport), and the rooms are efficient with everything you need in a compact space. 





They even have USB ports for those of us who forgot to bring international power adaptors, which was a lifesaver for the first few days before I got situated with the city and could buy one. The staff felt like family, thanks to their incredibly pleasant and helpful demeanors, and I can’t say enough about what a wonderful and perfect hotel this is for anyone visiting Stockholm! If you find yourself in Stockholm, book a stay at HTL Kungsgatan! You can easily walk to several attractions like Gamla Stan, the Opera Hall, The Royal Palace and more, and the sunsets in Stockholm can’t be beat. Check out a few of my favorite personal pics from this trip!

 





The next city I stopped into was Copenhagen, but only for one day, thanks to the above security airport ordeal with my beauty products (sigh.) With only one day to explore this charming city, I made the most of it, and covered just about everything by foot. Copenhagen is also incredibly walkable with truly stunning views at literally every corner. 

I definitely sensed a trendier, more fashion-forward vibe here, with hip restaurants and great shopping, too. I met some American students studying abroad, and they mentioned how happy everyone is here—how could you not be, when you live in adorable little Copenhagen?! The architecture complete with a regal vibe was positively magical, and there were so many attractions I wish I could have seen if it weren’t for my time limitations. I checked out the modern art museum, The Glypotek, which was beautiful and filled with sculpture and impressive paintings. My favorite aspect was seeing the Edgar Degas sculptures, all of which I studied back in college. I geeked out, for sure. 




From there, I walked around the entire city, snapping photos of the beautiful bridge, the Christiansborg Palace, Nyhaven, and of course, The Little Mermaid statue. All in all, I had an amazing visit and loved every inch of this charming city! I would totally come back and visit again.


 




Last, but certainly not least, I reunited with my favorite city in the world: Paris. I have only been to Paris once before (in college) and for only a short weekend trip, so I was long overdue to visit again as an adult with a different perspective. I stayed at the impeccably perfect Hotel Napoleon, and can’t rave enough about this gorgeous place! 









It’s situated right by the Arc de Triomphe and Avenue Champs-Elysees, which makes for a fantastic location that’s convenient to everything you need to see. The rooms are all exquisitely decorated with a nod to Napoleon himself in class ornate French style, but with a unique twist in every room. I toured the different rooms and suites, and I have to say, this hotel truly has it all. I would absolutely recommend it to anyone visiting Paris and the daily breakfast at Le Bivouac was so delicious—I am still dreaming of waking up to their mouth-watering croissants and frothy cappuccinos! This five-star hotel has every luxurious amenity you would expect, but with the personalized service of a small boutique hotel. The hotel absolutely enhanced the magic of Paris, and made my few days in the City of Lights so unforgettable. 

While in the city, I walked everywhere—and saw the Musee D’Orsay, Musee Rodin, The Louvre, the Tuileries, and explored several different neighborhoods, as well. As for food, of course, I made the rounds at Laduree, Pierre Herme, Angelina, Maison George Larnicol (OMG highlight of the trip!), L’Avenue, L’Avant Comptoir (such a fun and unique experience--standing room only and you order off pictures hanging from the ceiling) and Au Pied du Sacre Coeur (best crispy duck with honey blossom sauce ever!) 









All in all, the trip was everything I could have ever asked for and more. I met fantastic new people, explored beauty at every corner, indulged in incredible food and found an inner strength and happiness with each step of my journey. 

Eat, pray, love, indeed.