One thing I’ve learned about myself over the years is how highly I value the simple act of being present. This is especially true in relationships – nothing brings me greater joy than sitting down with someone to enjoy a meal, a beautiful view, or a cup of tea. As our circle of friends and family has continued to expand around the world, I (and my husband) have tried to make the time and space to visit them. There’s probably nothing we love more than learning from people in different places, cultures, and backgrounds.
So when a cousin of mine married a gal from Sweden last year, we knew we wanted to make every effort to visit them. Very long story short, I also have a lot of family in the Midwest I don’t get to see very often, and it turns out they wanted to visit them too. And the Great Cousin Adventure was born!
In two weeks we visited five countries, staying the whole time with family, friends, or friends of friends. We traveled by plane, train, boat, bus, tram, bike and subway–not to mention miles of walking each day. And, we managed to do it all with just one carry-on suitcase.
Here are some of our highlights from the trip, as well as lessons learned along the way!
Our first stop on the journey was Malmo, Sweden, just across the water from Copenhagen. Malmo is a beautiful and diverse city and we immediately felt at home there. Highlights here included renting bikes to explore Copenhagen, stopping for fika (coffee + pastries) everyday, and lots of time with family. We also attended mass at the 1,000 year old cathedral in Lund and watched their medieval clock (which still keeps the accurate time, month, and year) do its hourly dance.
After parting ways with some of the cousins, three of us made our way up to visit more family in Norway. We decided to take the scenic route instead of flying, which meant an overnight ferry from Copenhagen to Oslo, a train from Oslo to Bergen, and a short flight from Bergen to Trondheim. It was a beautiful trip and definitely worth the time! Once in Trondheim, we met up with a cousin and her husband who own a Christmas tree farm. We went fishing on the fjord, ate lots of delicious food including spruce & lingonberry ice cream, and got to pet a baby alpaca. Because the sun doesn’t set at this time of year until about 1AM, we also found ourselves hiking at 11PM one night!
Our last leg of the journey gave us three nights in Amsterdam to see friends and wander around our favorite areas of the city. It was so wonderful to be back and reconnect with friends. Ben and I spent every evening walking and retracing so many paths we walked together three years ago and stocking up on some our favorite treats from Albert Heijn.
When planning our trip, we noticed it was much cheaper to fly home direct from Frankfurt. In a fun coincidence of events, a friend of mine has a friend in Bonn, near Cologne. So we made a day trip by train, spent the night in Bonn, and flew out from Frankfurt the next day. This was my first trip to Germany and we loved getting to know our host and tour guide, Phillip, and having a relaxing backyard BBQ to end our trip.
We always learn so much every time we travel. Here are a few things:
- Staying with locals is my favorite way to learn about a new place. Not only can they recommend great local places, but they are a wealth of information about what makes that place unique. I loved watching old Norwegian children’s programs with my cousin and her husband, discussing the differences between Denmark and Sweden with our hosts in Malmo, and learning about German public radio and culture from our new friend in Bonn.
- Packing light is always a good idea. Generally we try to travel with carry-ons to save money and hassle, but this trip I was especially thankful to have a small suitcase. Not only did we sleep in six difference locations in two weeks, but we often stayed somewhere that involved climbing two or three flights of stairs. Traveling by train also involved lots of stairs and lifting. The only time I regretted having a carry on is when I learned that Tony’s Chocolonely now makes chocolate milk–I could have filled a whole suitcase with that delicious goodness!
- Fika! We loved taking time each day in Sweden to stop for coffee & pastries (my favorite is probably cardamom rolls). This is one tradition we plan to keep somewhat alive now that we’ve returned home.
- And lastly–NO amount of texting can replace an evening with eight cousins crammed on a couch– celebrating job changes, pregnancies, and adventures; re-telling all the old hilarious family stories; taking hours to decide what to eat for dinner; staying up too late playing cards and discussing the best strategy to survive a nuclear fallout. Being present together is really the best part of traveling, after all.
Until next time!