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Babcia and Yia Yia!, Study Hall: Essays On Travel

5 Ways to Connect Art To Your Travel

Art and travel go hand in hand just like peas and carrots. This is true no matter where in the world you roam but it may stand out even more when you wander in Europe. Well organized and very relatable, the art of Europe always seems to surface into the stories and memories of travelers. But what if art just isn’t your thing? What if every time you even hear the word art, you involuntarily roll your eyes toward the heavens? More importantly, what if you want to enjoy art but you just aren’t sure how to make it happen? This is your lucky day! We’ve got a plan made just for you!

assorted paintings on green wall
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Do what you like.

So you can’t wrap your mind around the art world. Okay. Maybe, instead, you are a movie buff. Use that comfy space to expand your understanding of the art world. There are plenty of choices. Pop the popcorn and check out some of these amazing films:

  • Woman in Gold with Helen Mirren and Ryan Reynolds which is a 2015 movie about Gustav Klimt and post war Austria.
  • Monuments Men with George Clooney and Matt Damon which is the story of stolen art during the war.
  • Made You Look which is a true crime doc all about the forgeries of Jackson Pollack


Find The Story.

Invest in art by reading both fiction and nonfiction. If you are a book junkie, then the art world has got you covered! There are so many amazing stories that weave together great worls of art and their creators. Here are just a few:

  • Girl With A Pearl Earring by Traci Chevalier
  • Cooking for Piccasso by Camille Aubray
  • DaVinci Code by Dan Brown
  • The Monet Murders by Josh Lanyon


Mix it up.

The idea that you have committed yourself to go to a very large building with a lot of canvases on the wall can realistically feel defeating. The truth is that sometimes the big, iconic museums are just too much to handle and it may be better to dip your toe in the art pool at a smaller venue. Additionally, collective art like the CarnaValet in Paris with its signs, shops, and apartments as well as paintings may give your eye more variety to focus on in a shorter amount of time.

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Photo by Gagan Cambow on

Speaking of time, it’s time to not feel guilty about seeing every single thing when you visit a museum! Walk your walk and look along the way. Feel free to stop at what catches your eye. It’s just fine! Speech over.


Be a doer and not a looker.

Art can fall more into the doing category instead of the looking category. Look to see what art venues are offering. For example you can drop in for a drawing session at the Cloisters through The Met in NYC or the V and A in London has a ton of workshops from stitching to photography. Some are free and some are not, but it’s worth seeing if there’s something that you’re interested in.


Jump in the deep end.

Immersive art experiences have been a huge trend over the past few years and they are starting to produce events for more and more famous artists. Enjoy art by walking into a room which surrounds you with music and some of the most famous canvases in the world. The headliner of these exhibitions has been Van Gogh. His work was set to music and then slightly animated to give you the sense of of storyline. In just 45 minutes or so, you can immerse yourself into his world and then reacquaint yourself with some of his most famous works and motifs. You might be surprised by how much you know!


Coming in at a strong second is the Monet and friends experience which was most recently at Biltmore. Truth be told, I’m a huge fan of Impressionism (and any art professional will most likely tell you that makes me no art expert). But, this exhibit lacked something I couldn’t put my finger on. I loved the work and I loved the music but it just didn’t match the Van Gogh experience note for note. Still it was a worthy excursion and certainly not a waste of time.


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Babcia and Yia Yia!, Notes on Planning and Packing

Travel Plans: Details! Details!

Getting planned and organized for a trip can be a mammoth task. And let’s face it, we feel obligated to ensure we plan thoroughly enough to make every travel moment count. It’s almost as if we are fearful to miss an opportunity that may be just out of reach if we don’t research and plot each and every move.

Truth be told, I love the planning process. It’s one of the many reasons why I write and share so very much. In fact, I sometimes think that planning is as satisfying as the trip itself! (I’m looking straight at you, Disney peeps!)

I know, I know! A weekend trip to Asheville is a super big difference from a multi country, multi week jaunt across the ocean. While one is just a matter of gathering a few things, the other necessitates my big fat trip planning strategy. However, there are a few things that are a travel blessing no matter what kind of trip you are on.

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The Devil is in the Digital Details

My mother often talks about an incredible road trip she took down the Romanticstrassa in Germany. She fondly remembers how each charming hotel owner would simply call ahead to another inn just a few hours drive south. Each place was a new adventure with rooms fit for a princess and picturesque views that are simply unattainable these days. They traveled from Amsterdam all the way to Lake Como using this call ahead system.

Can you imagine it? Just calling ahead!!! One day in advance?! That Europe is certainly not today’s Europe. And, for that matter, it’s not that kind of travel world either. It’s time to face the music: You’re going to have to embrace the digital world to thoroughly plan and track a trip.

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I think about starting to plan. With three trips in the future, I’ve got to log in for flights, tickets to venues, ground transport, hotels or AirBandB’s. It’s a lot of log ins and, as a result, a lot of opportunities to screw up well meant plans. On top of that, it takes time. Hours and hours of time.

There are quite a few great digital conveniences that exist for the planning junkie and top of my list is This travel tracking website and app duo is great to keep your upcoming travels organized in one place. Whether I am simply planning a weekend getaway or I am crafting a multi country, multi week adventure overseas, I use TripIt to file each and every plan. I can keep track of my museum tickets as well as my flights. I can add copies of pdf tickets and boarding passes. It keeps me digitally organized.

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Photo by Leah Kelley on

If you are looking for one less log in, google calendar can also do a decent job of blocking out times and making sure you have your bases covered. As a frequent traveler, I set up a dedicated free gmail account and I can track and schedule everything from one spot.


Home Sweet Home

Once all that planning has been accomplished and you are ready to go, take a bit of time to think about how you are leaving things.

  • Consider a house sitter or pet sitter to check in on your home each day. Be sure to choose wisely and leave detailed instructions! We were on our way out of town and needed someone to just check in once a day on our self sufficient pup. I thought a neighbor’s son would be just fine and while my dog was properly fed and watered just like we asked, our sitter didn’t know to check around the house. We lost two sets of window blinds because my dog couldn’t see out the windows! Ugh! Like I said, detailed instructions!
  • If you are an Amazon Echo or Google Home subscriber, consider the automated plugs that let you turn on lights on a timer or automatically. If automation isn’t an option to get ready to travel, this is a good time to dig out all of those old school timers that you have in your Christmas decorations. Why not put them to work for you twice a year?
  • Take care of the bills, mail, and deliveries. If your lights go on and off but you have 4,000 Amazon boxes at your door, you haven’t helped yourself at all! I try really hard to not order any last minute things. Although I am very guilty of ordering a travel curling iron at the last minute only to find mine two days later as I pulled out my luggage.
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Photo by Kelly on
  • For bills, I try to ensure that they are all taken care of before I go or I simply add them to my calendar so I get a notification when I need to pay them. Be careful to put them on the day before they are due so you don’t wind up being late because of the time zone you are in! As for mail, think about whether to put a temporary stop in place or if your house sitter can take care of that for you. I try to leave an empty basket on the counter as a catch all.
  • Let your bank know that you are getting ready to travel. Your card will get flagged and you could wind up with declined charges. I know I can simply log in and annotate when I am coming and going with my bank. They make it pretty easy.
  • Leave your house exactly the way you want it when you return back home. Be realistic, you don’t want rotting fruit, dirty dishes, laundry or gross garbage in your house upon arrival. You want clean beds and baths, some frozen pizzas to heat up and an empty washer so you can throw your travel gear right in. My routine when I come home is to make my first stop the laundry room. I open my bags up and get a load going while I sort the mail. I order take out or throw in that pizza and collapse. Everything else can wait. After all, tomorrow is another day! Right, Scarlet?


On The Road Again

I once planned a trip to Ireland for six people. The trip was a massive undertaking and took a ton of planning and, as a result, tickets and schedules. I wound up carrying around a mini binder tied up with a ribbon that kept us on track for almost three weeks. Thankfully, technology has done a great job of replacing my binder but it can be it’s own challenge on the road. From google translate to audio guides, organizing your phone to be ready to handle all that you planned before you ever walked out the door is imperative these days!

In addition to having all of your plans readily available, your suitcase needs to earn it’s keep too! Having an organization plan with packing cubes and a laundry plan, if you need it, is a quick and efficient way of getting rid of some of that unnecessary travel stress! I like to pinpoint a laundry mat for wherever I’m going to be on my seventh or tenth day of travel, depending on how long I’ll be gone. I may use the ship’s services if I’m on a cruise or perhaps I find a service in whatever town I’m headed through on that day.

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I know, I know. Laundry seems to be pushing the over planning a bit too far! Just remember that you are going to be lugging that suitcase and carryon around, be sure everything you put in it is worth the effort. The hard truth is that no one ever says “I wish I had packed more!”

Wrapping it all up

I admit it, I’m a shopper! When I am traveling, I’m a sucker for a gift shop. I like Christmas ornaments and jewelry. I fall for kitchen gadgets and artwork. Every. Single. Time. One time I was in Poland and I bought so much pottery that I had to mail it home. I wound up wasting serious time packing and shipping. It’s one of those times that I wish I had a a better plan in place. Whether you plan on just getting a pretty scarf for yourself or you are loading up on local art, have a plan to get it home that doesn’t waste your time.

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Photo by monicore on

Last on my organization list is getting my memories in order. I mean that’s part of the travel point, right? Before I leave, I take a quick look around and I ensure that I know just where a new piece of framed art might work. This lets me have a little guidance as to what to buy while I’m gone. I also pick my digital album layout so I can easily dump photos in when I get home (or even when I’m still on my trip).

a sheep on top of a mountain
Babcia and Yia Yia!, Travel With Alex: Europe 101

Norway 101: Fjords and Coastlines

The very north of Europe showcases some of the world’s most unique nature. From powerful waterfalls to towering mountains, the natural wonder of Norway’s fjords is one of travel’s most vibrant delights. Created over millions of years by glaciers, the fjords share Norway’s 25,000 kilometer coastline with little communities and several major mid-sized towns.

landmark city fjords norway
Photo by Tobias Bjørkli on

Getting Around

There are two good ways to explore the Norwegian coastline. First, there is a popular route that combines a series of trains, ferries, and busses that create a loop along some of the most popular and scenic fjords. The second, and maybe easier way, is to take a cruise on one of the many lines that criss-cross the southern fjord area. Check out Holland America and Windstar for the lines that are perhaps most familiar with these itineraries.

docked ship fjords norway
Photo by Tobias Bjørkli on

The Southern Capitol, Oslo

Dynamic Oslo is an interesting European capitol. Dotted with some solid attractions that will fascinate and entertain. With three easy to reach areas that encompass plenty of art, history, and atmosphere, Oslo wins the atmosphere award.

aerial shot of oslo fjords norway
Photo by Naren Y on

The National Museum

The doors to this state of the art museum swung open in 2022 and did not disappoint. Headlining the place was native son’s Edvard Munch’s The Scream. However, the galleries, full of more than just framed art, held plenty of lovely treasures from the world of fashion, impressionism, design, and medieval relics. The slick, scandinavian design allows the art to be the star here. Additionally, each gallery has some sort of interactive activity for the kiddos.


The Akershus Fortress

Just opposite the newest attraction is perhaps Oslo’s oldest, the Akershus Fortress is not only an historic piece of Norway’s past but also functions as a working base for today’s military. Throughout the complex smaller museums and attractions pop up to make this a destination that’s a must. Of particular interest is…

stone wall fjords norway
Photo by Tobias Bjørkli on

The Norwegian Resistance Museum

We all know how WWII affected the European continent but it’s sometimes hard to focus in on areas that weren’t on the front pages every day. Norway is definitely one of those countries. The story of how Norway fell to occupation and how it had to wait its turn for its eventual freedom from the third Reich is far more interesting than meets the eye. While this facility is dated (go ahead and remodel this one, Norway!), the story is fascinating. From the tiny ham radios to the red caps worn by citizens to show their solidarity, the items and stories, especially Vidkun Quisling’s traitorous one, were well thought. I would have bought 20 red knit hats to show my support for the resistance if I could have.

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The City Hall

A municipal building in almost any other city would normally be a hard pass. However, Oslo’s magnificent City Hall has tales to share and art to be proud of. Start outside with the great Norse myths of the past that surround the walkways. Inside, pass through security and enjoy the main hall. Full of murals that tell the more recent history of the country, the amazing artwork chronicles industry, youth, mythology, and nature. The rooms upstairs function as government chambers and ceremonial spaces that are used by both government and crown alike.

tram in oslo fjords norway
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Nobel Peace Prize Center

While Stockholm reigns supreme over most of the Nobel prizes, Oslo holds on tight to the Peace Prize. The small museum dedicated to that most virtuous of virtues highlights each of the past winners digitally and begs the visitor to ponder the question “what is the opposite of conflict?”


More time?

Look into the reason we call tiki bars over at the Kon-tiki Museum in the Bygdoy district. This district also houses The Fram (a museum about two arctic explorers), The Viking Ship Museum, and the Norwegian Folk Museum (150 historic buildings in an outdoor park). With even more time, the excellent Vigeland Sculpture park allows you to stroll through all kinds of emotions that the sculptor installed in Frogner Park. By the way, Oslo also sports a palace to tour as well. Whew! That’s a lot!

sculpture of two old men in vigeland park in oslo fjords norway
Photo by Gu Bra on

Gift Shops

One thing that Norway seems to misunderstand about the visitor is the joy of a well thought gift shop. We all want to gather a few little treats to bring home and share or simply remember our travels. While there are plenty of t-shirts and troll key chains, Norway seemed to miss the mark when it comes to locally crafted art and design. Bring out the patterns and prints that make Norway an under rated force of design. Somebody’s gotta take on IKEA!!! I highly suggest a field trip to Amsterdam to inspire you, dear Norway. I digress and move past the capitol to…



Norway’s second largest city has a consolidated historic center that is easily accessible by foot. Enjoy this work a day town by visiting the wharf and fish market area. Here, find the picturesque mustard, red, and brown clapboards of the past. There are plenty of warm clothes to buy and a few art galleries sprinkled into the mix of restaurants and troll gift shops. The fish market sports a few ready to eat food stalls including reindeer sausage fajitas (yumm!). Lastly, use the vernacular to take in the amazing views of the Puddfjorden waters just beyond the buildings. Bergen is a great base to start your fjord explorations. To Bergen’s north is…

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This little town sports a charming town center with a few museums to explore. If you get there after Oslo, they may not make the mark. However, the local aquarium just on the outside of town is a delightful look at the cold seas that surround the area. Be sure to check in with the seals and penguins outside. Meanwhile, to the south of Bergen lies…



With a seaport feel, Kristiansand differs quite significantly due to its flat topography. The town is great for a walk and perhaps a leisurely sit in one of the many cafes. However, past that, not much strikes a chord to put it at the top of the must do list. That is, unless you’d like to catch a ferry to Denmark. Now, that’s an exit plan that just might be worth it!

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Let’s face it, the reason that anyone is most likely exploring Norway can be summed up in one very old word: fjords. These mountains and water filled valleys that have been carved over millennia never cease to amaze. Viewing the breathtaking waterfalls that tumble into the waters below is certainly a highlight. But, enjoying all that nature has to offer should be a challenge any traveler takes on. The closest fjords to the tourable cities are listed as they are accessible by either train, ferry, or cruise ship.

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Sognefjord and Flam

The granddaddy of them all, Sognefjord soars high into the skies and dives deep into waters below. Probably the best base in the area is Flam. While here, check out the amazing sites and vistas by taking the historical train up to the top of the mountain. Along the way, the train narrates the view and stops at an amazing waterfall that allows one to better understand the power of water.

mt stornappstinden in flakstad island lofoten islands
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For a thrill, skip the train ride back and try the Flam zip line. This seated zip line speeds you downward at about 80km per hour! Come to a rather smooth stop in a field filled with bikes and goats. Complete this downhill exploration by grabbing a bike and gliding back into town passing all kinds of waterfalls and gullies along the way. With tunnels and bridges that lace the route together, the ride down is nothing short of perfect.



This fjord and its namesake town are perfectly charming and worth exploring. Perhaps the best way to attend to all of those curvy switchbacks and scenic overlooks is to rent a little electric car that lets you zip up and down those iconic roads. Geiranger is perfect for a days worth of visiting which includes the overlooks, the hiking farm, the fjord center and a bowl of seriously good fish chowder.

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Eidfjord on Hardangerfjord

The sleepiest of all the fjords, this tiny little coastline town is perfect for getting out on the water via kayak. Use the local transport system or a tour to get out to the glacier not far away. While Eidfjord is certainly popular, it is a simple add on rather than a must see as the glacier is also accessible via Sognefjord.

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Stave Churches

One last thing worth looking into: Stave churches are the little wooden churches that dot the landscape from the medieval times. Since they are all works of art carved out of wood, many of the 28 remaining Staves are recreations after fire destroyed the originals. These lovely architectural gems can be found tucked away in the countryside. The easiest ones to find are in the outdoor museum in Oslo and the Hoppstad Stave in the little town of Vik which is easily reached by fjord ferry. Find out more about Stave churches here.

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The author visited Norway and the fjords in the Summer of 2022.