Things That Are Awesome, Vol. 152

The weekly roundup of internet awesome:

  1. Some of these are hilarious: Quiz: Is This a Real Cookbook?
  2. Good stuff: Pride and Prejudice 2005 + Onion Headlines = One Totally Endearing Meme.
  3. I bet it’s only a matter of time until someone does this with a Michigan squirrel: Student Befriends Squirrels on Campus and Dresses Them in Cute Costumes.
  4. When you wish upon a hunk…: This Is What Disney Princes Would Look Like in Real Life.
  5. Perfect: Doug the Pug Channels His Inner Taylor Swift.
  6. Lovely words: 42 of the Most Beautiful Literary Quotes About Summer.
  7. This is decidedly not awesome, but it’s a fascinating – and extremely terrifying – read: The Really Big One.
  8. I find this to be very true: It’s Too Late. Exclamation Marks Are Unstoppable Now.
  9. One, I loooooved Trainwreck (the rare movie that lives up to its hype, in my opinion), and two, I love this piece: Trainwreck, Amy Schumer, and the Promise of the Ladyjerk.
  10. I understand why people want to read Go Set a Watchman, and if that’s your cup of tea, go for it. But as for me, I feel too icky to pick it up. This is a succinct summation of why: The Harper Lee Go Set a Watchman Fraud.

(Image via A.V. Club)

Cathedral Hopping in Helsinki

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One nice thing about Helsinki was that it was essentially a blank slate for me: I traveled there because it was an easy trip from Norway, and not because I set out in search of something specific. As a result, there was plenty of room for Helsinki to surprise me, and it more than rose to the challenge; I wound up loving city. One of the things that most delighted me about Helsinki was its magnificent cathedrals, each different, but each noteworthy in its own right.

I’m quite certain I’ve written about “church fatigue” many times in this space before, and it’s something that often strikes me in Europe: the sense that I could not possibly stand to tour yet another church because they’re actually not that different. But church fatigue never struck in Helsinki, because all the cathedrals in fact were that different. First up in this church parade was Helsinki Cathedral, which was quite a sight: a gigantic, stark white building with gorgeous green domes. My exact reaction as I turned the corner and caught a glimpse of the cathedral towering above Senate Square? I laughed. Are you kidding me?!?!, I thought. This is just too good.

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Next was Uspenski Cathedral, an Eastern Orthodox church which I found memorable for its Russianness. Seeing Moscow’s St. Basil’s Cathedral is one for my bucket list, but since that trip hasn’t happened quite yet, this was a great substitute. Perched on a hill, Uspenski is an impressive building from the outside, but even more so from the inside: blinged out, gilded, gorgeous – the works.

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Finally, I visited Temppeliaukio, or the Church in the Rock, whose name gives it away: it’s literally built into a rock, and the architecture of the place is stunning. This church was unlike anything I had ever seen before, and I was blown away by the creative, cool structure. It was awesome to see something so different for once.

Church in the Rock

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After visiting Helsinki’s three most picturesque cathedrals, I was impressed: I never found myself bored even once, and I found it difficult to play favorites and pick which one I had liked best of all. Each was well worth the visit.

Things That Are Awesome, Vol. 151

The weekly roundup of internet awesome:

  1. The Onion is painfully on point here: Harper Lee Announces Third Novel, “My Excellent Caretaker Deserves My Entire Fortune.”
  2. Sometimes I think about about going paleo but then there’s also this: I Went Paleo and Now I Hate Everything (if “pucks of suffering” doesn’t make you cry laugh, I don’t know what will).
  3. In other cry laughing news: Prayers Up for the Pirates’ Tarp Man (“He died doing what he loved: putting a tarp on a field.”)
  4. I love this: Novak Djokovic and Serena Williams Dance at the Wimbledon Champions’ Dinner.
  5. Where J Law leads we all must follow: the Joy trailer. Who knew a movie about the inventor of the Miracle Mop could look so compelling? (J Law knew, that’s who).
  6. Cheeeeeese: 13 Helpful Diagrams for People Who Only Care About Cheese.
  7. Dying: Ian McKellen, Patrick Stewart Politely Request to Join Taylor Swift’s Squad.
  8. YASSSSS: Newsies & Uptown Funk.
  9. I love this piece: 15 Years of Center Stage: A Personal History.
  10. In near total agreement: The 2015 Snubs, Surprises, and WTFiest Emmy Nomination Awards.

(Image via)

Things That Are Awesome, Vol. 150

The weekly roundup of internet awesome:

  1. Well that’s cool: British Art Dealer Discovers Unknown Monet Pastel Taped to Another Work.
  2. Royal awesomeness: 100 Years of Iconic Royal Wedding Dresses and If Prince Harry Were Your Boyfriend and Pictures of Prince George Stealing the Show at His Sister’s Christening.
  3. This delights me: E.L. James Held a Twitter Q&A and It Went Horribly, Horribly Wrong.
  4. I have much love for #1, and I agree wholeheartedly with #50, so I’m on board with this list: The Definitive and Final Ranking of All 50 States.
  5. The new movie was meh (minus Chris Pratt, of course), but I do enjoy this: Someone Replaced All of the Dinosaurs in Jurassic Park with Cats.
  6. World Cup madness: Listen to All Five U.S. Goals as Called by Telemundo’s Andres Cantor and Abby Wambach, U.S. World Cup Team’s Soul, Soars Despite Lesser Role and Helen Mirren Reads “Where the Sidewalk Ends in Awesome Fox Promo.
  7. This pleases me: Stephen Colbert’s Temporary Late Show Marquee Is One Large Pizza Ad.
  8. Delightful: Channing Tatum’s Vogue Might Just Be Better Than Madonna’s.
  9. “What I find most admirable in Federer’s late career is simply the vision of freedom it implies. The idea that you can make your own way. That you don’t have to give up what you love simply because you’re told to. That what hurts you might also fulfill you, or even make you happy, because life is not simple.”: The Sun Never Sets: On Roger Federer, Endings, and Wimbledon.
  10. Badass: Patti LuPone Explains Why She Confiscated Cellphone from “Rude, Self-Absorbed” Theatergoer Last Night.

(Image via Vanity Fair)

Helsinki: Michelin Magic at Restaurant Ask

In the past year, I have visited four of the five Nordic countries (I’m coming for you soon, Iceland, I promise), and I have noticed the same phenomenon in each: they all seem to be having a moment, culinarily-speaking. In Stockholm, I met the world’s most enthusiastic and knowledgeable cheesemonger, in Copenhagen, I had the tastiest organic hotdog from a street cart you ever did find, and in Oslo, I visited a newly-opened food hall, a delicious spot that locals are increasingly beginning to embrace and enjoy. And in Helsinki? In Helsinki I discovered a robust culinary scene that was much more delicious than I ever would have imagined it to be.

In fact, I loved every single meal I had in Helsinki, which surprised me: I would not have pegged Finnish cuisine as one I would so enjoy. Yet enjoy it I did, and that all started at Restaurant Ask, where I had my first big meal. In perusing travel blogs, I had seen Restaurant Ask mentioned several times. And when I learned that the restaurant had just earned a Michelin star in 2014, that sealed the deal; I knew I needed to try the restaurant that seemed to be hitting its fine dining stride.

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I went to Ask for lunch, where each day they offer a 49 euro four course menu, a menu that changes depending on what ingredients are available that day (always a great sign). In terms of my typical travel budget, 49 euro is more than I usually spend for lunch, but I thought this meal was a fantastic value, as everything was super high quality and delicious.

To begin, I was served a few little nibbles: buckwheat and millet crackers with a yummy elderflower yogurt dipping sauce and fermented carrot with cumin mayonnaise. They also brought me sourdough bread with organic Finnish butter in the cutest butter dish one could imagine – a small touch that I adored.

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For the first course, they served a lamb tartare with wild herb salad and radish. I’m generally not a fan of tartares, but this was excellent – and I loved the dressing on the herbs, too.

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The second course was another winner: nettle pancakes (in a vibrant hue of green) topped with a brown butter sauce, yogurt, and egg. This was the second dish that contained yogurt, and I noticed that yogurt was often a component of dishes throughout my stay in Helsinki, a trend I can definitely get on board with.

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For the third course, they brought out a smoked pike-perch (caught on a nearby island) topped with butter sauce and served with leeks and ramps. The butter sauce was rich but not overwhelming, the fish was perfectly cooked, and I liked the smokiness of the dish. I also adored the veggies, and while I wouldn’t typically say something so rapturous about vegetables, I thought these were incredibly flavorful.

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Before the fourth course, my waitress brought out what she dubbed “a little pre-dessert”: a blueberry sorbet with carmelized oat muesli.

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Then, the real dessert arrived: a lingonberry parfait with deep friend buckwheat and a licorice sauce. The ingredients here – the lingonberries and licorice – were quintessentially Nordic yet unexpectedly wonderful (to my palate, at least). I am not typically a big licorice fan, but its tartness provided a great counterpart to the very sweet lingonberries. In fact, though I’m generally licorice-averse, I spooned up every last bit of the licorice sauce!

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The meal ended on another high note: a tiny piece of spruce fudge with spruce jam. This really did taste sprucey and tree-like, but not in a weird way!

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I loved my meal at Restaurant Ask from start to finish (er, Finnish?). Every course was on point, and I loved how they took Finnish staples – berries, fish, licorice – and made them creative and modern. The service was so well done, too, with perfect timing and helpful explanations for each dish. Restaurant Ask may have been a bit of a splurge meal, but it was one well worth making.


Odds & Ends from Oslo


If I’m being honest, I only went to Norway for the fjords; my visit to Oslo basically happened because I thought, “well, if I’m in Norway, I guess I should see the capital too…?”

That kind of attitude, though, is misguided: Oslo is great. No, it’s never going to be the biggest or the most exciting European city, and it’s never going to have the best food or the most museums. But it does have lots of things to do, to see, and to eat in its own right.

I stayed centrally in Oslo, not far from the Oslo Cathedral. While the cathedral was not particularly memorable, my favorite feature had to be the royal box: the spot where the royal family sits when they come to church. I’m sure they only attend on rare occasions, but I like the idea of being in church on some random Sunday in February, looking up, and waving to the King.

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Across from the Cathedral is Stortorvet, a square with a large flower market on it. Having never met a flower market I did not adore, I browsed through here several times during my stay in Oslo.

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Oslo’s main thoroughfare is Karl Johans gate, which stretches from Central Station on one end to the Royal Palace on the other. While portions of the street are undeniably touristy and tacky, it was nonetheless integral to my stay, and I loved the gorgeous, stately architecture of many of the street’s buildings.

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Just off Karl Johans gate is the National Theater. While I did not get a chance to take in a performance there, I loved this building, from its columns and cheerful yellow facade to everything that surrounded it: statues, fountains, and flowers galore. And speaking of statues, I noticed that they were everywhere in Oslo: from the grand collection in Frogner Park to the statues that could be found in front of just about every major building and in the middle of just about every square. I’m not sure why Oslo is statue-mad, but I loved this aspect of the city.

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Oslo - National Theater

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While it was relatively overcast during my time in town, Oslo’s harbor area was worth a stroll. The waterfront is tidy (of course) and fun, lined with plenty of restaurants and even more flowers. On a sunny day, I’m sure this is the place to be.

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Another highlight was visiting the National Museum of Art, Architecture, and Design. The obvious attraction here is Edvard Munch’s “The Scream,” but I found plenty of other previously unknown-to-me gems, too – all the Norwegian romantic landscapes were a particular favorite. Another fun feature of the museum? One room had a sculpture with easels set up around it – guests are free to sit down and sketch if they like.

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Oslo is very much a modern city, but I found quaint pockets too. I have no idea the name of this neighborhood, not far from Mathallen (Oslo’s food hall), but I loved it. It was very hilly, but the burn in my calves was totally worth it as I was treated to colorful homes decked out with flowers. Swoon.





Oslo’s fortress, Akershus Festning, was another charming spot. My favorite part of the fortress was its views – it overlooks the harbor – but the complex is also home to several different museums. On a rainy morning, I stopped by the Norwegian Resistance Museum – it was tiny and not terribly riveting, but it was still interesting to consider World War II from a perspective I rarely ever hear about.

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(Sidenote: as seen above, Norwegian schoolchildren on field trips are the cutest – they get decked out in matching jumpsuits and reflective vests, like tiny, blonde construction workers, and everyone is always holding hands.)

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I didn’t step inside Norway’s Royal Palace, but I still dropped by to give King Harald a wave from the palace grounds. This was a beautiful building, but perhaps not quite as riveting as other European castles I have visited.

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In terms of food and drink, Oslo had plenty to offer. At Rorbua, a rustic restaurant near the port, I ordered the “bucket of shrimp” and was promptly delivered the largest portion of shrimp I have ever seen in my life, and all of it super fresh. I only ate a fraction of this, but it was damn good.

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Oslo - Rorbua

At Mathallen, which I had already visited once on my food tour, I grabbed a dinner of fish ‘n chips. I loved Mathallen’s vibe: on the evening I visited, it was packed with locals and bustling with activity.

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Another favorite spot in Oslo was WB Samson, a classy café on Karl Johans gate. I stopped in several times for coffee and snacks; it was one of my favorite places to relax and regroup amidst all the sightseeing.

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While I didn’t eat anything there, I also enjoyed browsing the food market on Youngstorget, which was filled with interesting stalls. This market has an eclectic mix of goods: savory and sweet, with tons of international cuisines too.

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A local highly recommended Cafe Tekehtopa to me, and I ducked in there for lunch in the midst of a downpour. It was a cozy place with friendly waiters, and my bouillabaisse was the perfect antidote to the damp weather.

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Oslo’s big department store, Steen & Strom, houses a food hall on its ground floor. Of all the shops, the one that caught my eye was the cleverly named Hello Good Pie. I stopped in for an afternoon snack and found that the place certainly lived up to its name.

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I spent nearly four full days in Oslo, and found that the city was well worth my time: I had plenty to do to fill my days, yet Oslo is compact enough that I felt like I was able to explore beyond the usual tourist sites to find some of the city’s more hidden, off-the-beaten-path attractions. While I wasn’t a huge fan of the weather, and while the crazy high prices made me want to cry, exploring Norway beyond the fjords was most definitely a good idea.

Oslo: Fun and Funky Street Art

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The man walked on to the Norwegian Air flight from JFK to Oslo, guitar slung over his back, long, wild hair, head-to-toe denim, piercings galore. He reached his row, occupied by an elderly, conservatively-dressed couple and himself. “Yes,” he said with a grin and a chuckle, “I am the guy sitting next to you.”

I observed this scene from a few rows over, and as I continued watching people board the plane, it occurred to me that there were a lot of people similar to that man on the flight. Was this indicative of Oslo as a whole, I wondered? Would it be filled to the brim with creative, quirky types? Or by some fluke had they all just wound up on my flight?

While I wouldn’t say Oslo was solely hipster rockstars a la the man who boarded my flight, it was definitely home to a very cool energy. Some of the city was touristy and sedate, sure, but there were also pockets that gave me strong Brooklyn and Berlin vibes. Chief among these Brenneriveien, a street in Oslo’s Grünerløkka neighborhood. The area, filled with old, unused industrial buildings has been transformed into a street art paradise by local art students. I visited twice (once on my food tour and once solo), and each time left inspired and energized.

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The abundance of street art in Oslo surprised, and it’s no wonder: when I think of Norway, and Scandinavia at large, some of the first things that come to mind are tidiness and efficiency. However, creativity is alive and well, too, if only you step off the beaten path to find it.