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Three-Day Weekend: Norway

By Charles Olav Coxe
January 12, 2022
Norway-Trollstigen
Anders Peter Amsnæs/Dreamstime
It's an old gag: “Have you driven a fjord lately?” But deep discounts and stunning new tourist routes will put the majestic stretch of inlets between Bergen and Molde high on your bucket list.

 This is, undeniably, the most beautiful place I’ve ever used a toilet.

I should probably explain: In Norway, I often find myself uttering variations of “this is the most beautiful _______ I’ve ever seen.” But after years of exploring my ancestral homeland, I never thought I’d say it in a bathroom. It’s a nice side effect of the country’s oil-funded Tourist Route system, an ambitious program pairing Norway’s top architects with the country’s most scenic drives to design overlooks and bridges (nasjonaleturistveger.no). Their genius is also applied to roadside rest stops.

Widely hailed as one of earth’s most stunning places—especially if you gawk at natural beauty—Norway’s fjord country has also been one of the most expensive to visit. But thanks to a surging U.S. dollar, plunging oil prices, and direct cheap flights on Norwegian Air, this year is the perfect time to see Norway at a discount (fares from $249, norwegian.com). 

With so much to explore, the best plan is to see Bergen…and then get the heck out of town, driving through fjord country and hitting every scenic view you can.

Soaking in Norway’s Seattle 

Small enough to see in a day, yet chock full of great neo-Nordic cuisine, culture, and postcard-everywhere-you-look scenery, rain-drenched Bergen always reminds me of the Pacific Northwest, starting with its music. Norwegian acts aren’t quite household names, but the local scene has an impressive range, from Röyksopp (electronic pop) and Enslaved (black metal) to Sondre Lerche (singer/songwriter) and Ylvis (“What Does the Fox Say?”), all the descendants of classical icon Edvard Grieg, who play in small venues like Bergen Kjött (a meat market turned art gallery/concert venue, bergenkjott.no) and the adjacent large stage and intimate club setting at Lille Ole Bull (olebullhuset.no).

I know this sounds touristy, but I can’t visit Bergen without walking through the colorful wharf buildings of the Bryggen, a UNESCO World Heritage site and 14th-century trading center. Dodging the relentless drizzle, I ducked into the expansive Bergen Art Museum ($12, kodebergen.no), then hit the vintage shops and cafés along pedestrianized Skostredet.

They aren’t cheap, but Nordic standouts Restaurant 1877, renowned for its seasonal, local organic produce (from about $64 for a three-course meal, restaurant1877.no), and weather-inspired seafood perfectionist Cornelius (from about $48 for a two-course meal, corneliusrestaurant.no), complete with boat trip to its own island, compare to the best dining experiences I’ve had in any city, from New York to Copenhagen. To give your credit card a break, Marg og Bein’s award-winning local seafood (entrées from about $20, marg-bein.no) and Bare Vestland’s delicious Norwegian “tapas,” craft beers, and the best bread and butter you’ll have in your life (dishes from about $5, barevestland.no) offer quality far beyond their price.

Once the weather cleared, I dropped everything to hop on the Flöibanen funicular up Mount Flöyen for a panoramic view of the city, fjord, and surrounding mountains (round-trip ticket about $11, floyen.no). 

Driving a Fjord

It contradicts everything said about traveling in Norway, but I rented a car. Yes, gas is expensive, but with a scenic view better than the last around every bend, I needed to explore on my own.

My first stop was Naeröyfjord, the narrowest fjord in the world, with 5,000-foot-high snow-capped peaks plunging almost vertically into blue-green water just 750 feet across at its tightest point. This UNESCO World Heritage site is best seen from the water (I opted for a kayak, but there’s also a ferry) or hiking along the 600-year-old Postal Path.

Tunneling under the mountain took me to Flam, a town best known for a railway repeatedly voted most scenic in the world (tickets from about $42, visitflam.com). This hour-long train ride, switchbacking 3,000 feet up the mountainside past a dozen waterfalls, is a must-see. But so, on the way out of town, is the toilet at Stegastein—even if I didn’t need to go. A Tourist Route overlook, this doozy of a loo peeks over the cliff’s edge, thousands of feet above Aurlandsfjord, offering a private, scenic view.

There’s precious little to do in Fjaerland, and that’s why this 300-resident hamlet is one of my favorite spots on Earth. The sleepy streets in town are dotted with tiny bookshops (some just shelves with an honor-system cashbox); above town in summer they’re lined with the sweetest raspberries I’ve ever tasted. Adding to its air of fairytale perfection, the only real lodging option, Hotel Mundal, celebrating its 125th birthday this year, is almost ridiculously quaint and furnished with family antiques (from about $163 per night, hotelmundal.no). The toughest part was finding any motivation to go anywhere else.

Journeying through the Land of Glass and Ice

Just outside town, I stopped by the Norwegian Glacier Museum (admission about $15, english.bre.museum.no) to join a trek on—and in—nearby Jostedalsbreen, Europe’s largest glacier, its arms still grinding inexorably down at a rate of six feet a day (hikes from about $33, jostedal.com). For more midsummer snow, Stryn Summer Ski Centre offers the rare chance to rocket down a 900-foot ski slope in nothing but skis and shorts (about $15 for one trip down, about $45 for one-day access, strynsommerski.com). 

The nearby town of Geiranger, another UNESCO site often called the “most beautiful place on earth,” offers hiking, kayaking, and ferry rides past waterfalls plunging thousands of feet from impossibly perched cliff-top summer farms straight into Geirangerfjord.

Driving up the Valldalen valley, I passed through the spectrum of Norwegian ecosystems (fjord, forests, farmland, alpine meadows, arctic mountain peaks) and history (centuries-old farms and grass-roofed cabins to the new modern visitor center at Trollstigen Pass), seeing the country’s highlights in just 20 miles. My vote for most scenic of all Tourist Route overlooks, Trollstigen, or “Troll’s Ladder,” is a favorite spot for BASE jumpers. I watched jumpers in wingsuits plunge past the buses that climb the hairpin turns, as they tried to get close enough to almost touch one without dying. 

Doubling back down Valldalen, I found an understated architectural marvel: Juvet Landscape Hotel, a scattering of glass-walled cabins and spa unobtrusively perched among birch trees over a rushing mountain river (from about $190 per night, juvet.com). (If it looks familiar, you’ve seen the movie Ex Machina.) Built by the architectural firm Jensen og Skodvin without blasting rock or cutting trees, the cabins have dark walls, sparse furniture, no TVs, and no curtains—ensuring there was nothing to distract from the most impossibly perfect view I’ve ever had from a hotel room. Do I really have to leave? 

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Inspiration

Eat Like a Local in the Bahamas

Like other Caribbean islands that rely heavily on tourism and food imports, the Bahamas are not a cheap destination. Whether you’re on a cruise, at a resort, or even renting with Airbnb, restaurants, activities, taxis, and souvenirs add up fast. Sure, you can skip the latter, bring your own snorkeling gear, and stick to the $1.25-a-ride local jitneys to get around, but the restaurants? Expect to pay more than $25 a plate for something as mundane as shrimp over linguine—and that’s at a casual sports bar outside Nassau. Of course, where there’s a will, there’s a way to eat cheap in the Bahamas, and you can bet that it involves local food. Here are some tips for sniffing it out in and around the pricey cruise capital of Nassau, on New Providence Island. Track Down the Parking-Lot Vans On weekdays, lunch vans will often park in beach lots or near souvenir shopping hubs to provide lunch for local vendors—and any savvy tourists in the vicinity. What’s a lunch van, exactly? Just what it sounds like: a car or van with a hatchback full of home-cooked Bahamian food, from curry chicken to oxtails or pork chop, depending on the day. A heaping plate with two sides—rice and peas, potato salad, coleslaw, steamed vegetables, the islands’ trademark “slice” of mac-and-cheese—will run you about $6. They are not always easy to find, as signage might not be present, so ask around. We found one called Shan’s in the lot behind the massive Mélia resort in Cable Beach, a stone’s throw from the area’s famed Daiquiri Shack. (Incidentally, the daiquiris also cost $6 apiece, if you’d rather drink your lunch!)  Visit the “Other” Fish Fry To be clear, there is only one Fish Fry on New Providence—that colorful strip of fish and conch shacks on Arawak Cay—and it’s definitely worth a visit. But there’s no denying the more laid-back, local flavor of Potter’s Cay, which stretches underneath the bridge to Paradise Island. The “dock,” as it’s called, is lined with eateries and bars, likewise rainbow-hued, but a bit more ramshackle than on Arawak; produce stands and a fish market add to the local vibe. (Also, you’re under a giant bridge, so it feels kind of gritty and secret, despite the turquoise-water views.) Most of these places specialize in unmissable made-to-order conch salad ($12) and cheap Kalik beers, but several offer other Bahamian dishes, like chicken souse and stew conch. To get there, hop on a No. 1 jitney from downtown Nassau—and while some eateries do open for lunch, Potter’s Cay really gets going after 4pm. Hit Up the Bakeries Thanks to a handful of European pastry chefs who have landed in resort kitchens over the years, the Nassau area has a great little bakery scene. At both the Original Swiss Sweet Shop (locations in Cable Beach and downtown Nassau) and the Swiss Pastry Shop (Cable Beach), you’ll find some tasty and inexpensive breakfast and lunch items—Jamaican-style patties (don’t miss the conch patties; $3.75 apiece), dense johnny cakes with cheese, quiches—nestled among the cakes, custards, tarts, and Bahamian sweets. Be sure to pick up a traditional guava duff for dessert; you’ll pay a bit less here ($5) than in most restaurants. Eat on the Road Roadside shacks seem like common sense for inexpensive local grub, but if you don’t have a car here, it requires a bit of research. Along the No. 10 jitney route, west of Nassau between Cable Beach and Love Beach, there are a couple of worthwhile spots, including the always-hoppin’ Dino’s—home of some of the island’s best conch salads, which start at $10 a pop but can easily fill you for lunch or dinner. Cheaper than conch are the meat-and-starch meals you’ll find from food trucks like Evelyn’s, which parks daily at the very end of Potter’s Cay—try the steamed ribs or turkey for lunch ($6), or some grits and sardines for breakfast—and the roadside vendors behind Montagu beach, east of downtown. Go Grocery Shopping Supermarkets around here are pretty standard, not unlike those in the U.S. (and if you’re self-catering, you’re better off buying produce and fish from outdoor markets). But some of them, like the Quality Supermarkets chain, offer a prepared-foods section where you can pick up items like rotisserie chicken, ribs, and Bahamian-style mac-and-cheese for under $10. Add a six-pack of Kalik or a $10 bottle of Ole Nassau dark rum (from a liquor store), and you’re set for the night! This article was written by Laura Siciliano-Rosen, co-founder of food-travel website Eat Your World, a guide to regional foods and drinks in destinations around the globe.

Inspiration

Three-Day Weekend: Nassau & Paradise Island

My hands are shaking and my knees are weak; I'm not in love, I'm climbing the steps of the Atlantis Paradise Island Resort's Mayan Temple, ever so slowly approaching the entrance to Leap of Faith, the largest, steepest water slide I've ever been on. Not only that, this seven-story slide will take me through the Mayan Temple Shark Lagoon—a large aquarium full of Caribbean reef sharks. Gulp. I've spent most of the morning chatting with people who have just been on the impressive-looking slide, trying really hard to talk myself into it. By the afternoon, I've rationalized everything—the drop, the angle, the speed—and am finally ready to take the plunge. And then I find out there's another, easier way to see the sharks up close: another Mayan Temple attraction called the Serpent Slide that doesn't involve a terrifying drop down a 60-foot tall almost-vertical body slide, but rather a fun ride on an inner tube that ends in a large, clear tunnel, slowly taking you through the shark-filled aquarium. So, yes, I may have totally chickened out on the big slide, but at least this way I was able to glide past the giant sharks, and believe me, that was terrifying enough! Don't have enough time to visit all 700+ islands of the Bahamas? Start with New Providence Island, home to Nassau, Paradise Island, and enough beaches and Bahamian culture to satisfy every foodie and history buff in your arsenal. Plus, the U.S. Dollar is on par with the Bahamian Dollar, so you don't have to worry about the exchange rate, and the locals are super-friendly. What's not to love? Experience all the perks of the Atlantis Resort—for less! We've all seen photos of the iconic pink towers of the Atlantis Resort's Royal Towers, but did you know there's a way to experience all the perks of the resort without actually ponying up the big bucks to stay there? The secret: stay next door at Comfort Suites Paradise Island (from $130 in early December). Not only will your nightly rate give you complimentary Wi-Fi and daily breakfast, it also includes day passes to Atlantis, which normally run $150 per person, for free. Spend the day taking on the water slides in more than 20 swimming areas and 11 themed pools, lounging on white-sand beaches, or feasting at the one of the resort's fine dining restaurants, then unwind by the pool and bar at Comfort Suites Paradise Island if you need a break from all the excitement. Don't miss the Lazy River Rapids (which feel like they're part lazy river, part wave pool!) and of course, the legendary water slides of the Mayan Temple that let you float or slide through an aquarium tank full of Caribbean reef sharks! Note: It's also worth checking for flash sales on the Atlantis Resort website for extra savings if you really want to stay on the property; rates at the resort's Coral Towers start at $170 per night in early December. Enjoy tasty Bahamian fare—conch fritters, anyone? Don't miss the Bites of Nassau Food Tour a three-hour food tasting and cultural walking tour through the colorful streets of Downtown Nassau, with stops at six local restaurants and specialty shops—like an artisanal chocolate tasting at the Graycliff Beer Garden & Chocolatier or a lesson in local Bahamian herbs and spices that will change the way you look at medicine the next time you have a cold (curry spices are used in cooking to treat inflammation and coughs, who knew?). You'll also stop at Van Breugel's Bistro & Bar for Caribbean fusion dishes; Bahamian Cookin' Restaurant & Bar, where the locals go for traditional eats; Athena's Cafe, the island's oldest Greek restaurant; and the Tortuga Rum Cake Company to taste flavored rum cakes that are baked daily with five-year aged rum (from $69 per adult, $49 for children ages 12 and under, children under 3 are free). For a fun, super-authentic dining experience, check out the Fish Fry at Arawak Cay, a collection of small, local restaurants just outside Downtown Nassau where you can sample Bahamian favorites like cracked conch (pronounced "conk" by the way) and Sky Juice, a milky-white concoction made with gin, coconut water, sweet milk, cinnamon, sugar, and fresh nutmeg. A number of locals I spoke to recommended Oh Andros as their favorite spot for food in Arawak Cay and Twin Brothers for the best daiquiri cocktails. I concur. Visit Fort Charlotte, The Queen's Staircase, and a Pirate Museum! History buffs will love exploring Nassau's old forts, originally built to protect the island from invaders, but luckily, none has ever had to be used in battle. Fort Charlotte is about a five-minute walk from Downtown Nassau and features displays of how the complex was built and what it was like to be stationed there in the 17th century (spoiler alert: it wasn't easy!) Admission is $5 for adults, $3 for seniors, $2 for children ages 6-12, ages five and under get in free. Closer to Downtown, Fort Fincastle sits at the top of Bennet's Hill overlooking the city. To reach it, climb the Queen's Staircase, a 102-foot tall staircase built by slaves in the late-1700s and later named in honor of Queen Victoria, who is credited with abolishing slavery in 1837—or do what I did and take a taxi to Fort Fincastle and make your way down the Queen's Staircase instead (admission is free for both sites). Pirate lovers will want to visit the Pirates of Nassau Museum, home to an interactive pirate attraction that feels like you've become part of the Pirates of the Caribbean ride—keep an eye out for the pirate ship Revenge and get your close up of Blackbeard himself ($13 for adults, $6.50 for children ages 4-17). See the Straw Markets Brush up on your negotiating skills and pick up some locally-made handicrafts from the Straw Market on Bay Street in Downtown Nassau, a great place to find hand-woven straw bags, hats, and other Bahamian crafts and souvenirs for your friends back home. Smaller straw markets are also located on Paradise Island and in the Cable Beach resort area about a 20-minute drive from Nassau. Go beyond Downtown Nassau If you plan on renting a car to discover the rest of New Providence Island, keep in mind that everyone drives on the left in the Bahamas, so proceed with caution, especially if you're not used to it. I opted for taxis, a great option if you're traveling with a group, or an easy 10-minute water taxi ride to get between Paradise Island and Downtown Nassau ($4 one way, $8 round-trip, every half hour). Another option, especially if you're staying along Cable Beach or areas west, is to hop a ride on the jitneys into and out of Downtown Nassau, a great way to chat with locals who are doing the same thing (each ride is about $1.50). For a nice, quiet stay in Paradise Island, head east and try the Best Western Plus Bay View Suites for a relaxing romantic getaway. It's a five-minute walk to the nearest beach, and also a great option for large or multi-generational families traveling together who might need more space (from $160 per night). Explore the hidden gems of Paradise Island Tucked away on the eastern end of Paradise Island about a 15-minute walk from the Atlantis Resort area, you'll find Versailles Gardens, a lovely, terraced, European-style garden modeled after its namesake in France. The Versailles Gardens are located on part of the One & Only Ocean Club's property along Paradise Island Drive, but are free and open to the public 24/7, and as you can imagine, a popular spot for photos and weddings. You'll also find the remains of an original 14th-century French Cloister across the street that's part of the complex, purchased by William Randolph Hearst and later by Huntington Hartford, who brought it with him to the Bahamas. The best part: it's closer than you think I was surprised how fast the flight was from JFK, a mere 2.5 hours! Catch a nonstop flight on JetBlue from JFK, Boston, Orlando, Washington National, or Fort Lauderdale; fly on United for nonstop flights from Chicago, Houston, and Newark; SouthWest Airlines for nonstop flights from Baltimore; American Airlines for nonstop flights from Miami, Philadelphia, and Charlotte; Delta for nonstop flights from JFK and Atlanta; or Bahamasair for nonstop flights from Miami and Fort Lauderdale. Keep an eye out for flash sales by following your favorite airline on social media or signing up for their email newsletters so the deals come straight to your inbox.

Inspiration

A Stroll Through Dickens's London

On my first visit to London, a doorknocker spoke to me. Back story: When I was eight years old, I played Tiny Tim in a grammar school production of Charles Dickens’s A Christmas Carol. Though I’m certain my stage debut was nothing remarkable, the experience was pivotal for me. It kindled a lifelong devotion to reading and writing, performing on stage, and studying the life and work of Dickens, who was not only a passionate and often hilarious novelist, essayist, and public speaker but also a social activist. So, back to that talking London doorknocker. Upon my first arrival in London at age 23, I decided that the best way to see the city was to do as Dickens himself had done: Walk. Everywhere. For hours. I happily took in the city's sights and sounds from my hotel in South Kensington all the way to Fleet Street and Chancery Lane, an area where Dickens-related churches, residences, and courts of law still stand. I wandered up high streets, into little alleys and down courts (essentially scenic "dead-ends" to this native New Yorker), following Dickens-themed guidebooks (this was pre-smartphone) to find what remained of Dickens’s London, including landmarks from his life and a few places where scenes from his novels were set. In one court in particular (it may have been Took's Court, but I don't recall), I came across a cast-metal doorknocker in the shape of a man's face. Not just a man's face, but a smirking man's face. Of course, for this fan of A Christmas Carol, that slyly smirking doorknocker wailed, "Scroooooooooge!” And in that moment, my devotion to reading and writing melded with my budding love of travel. Here, before my eyes, was precisely the type of doorknocker that may have inspired my favorite writer to pen his most famous work. SEARCH FOR EBENEZER SCROOGE We know that, in 1843, Dickens conceived A Christmas Carol in a righteous, political frame of mind after reading an account of childhood poverty. But do we, could we possibly know whether there was one specific London doorknocker that inspired him to come up with the scene in which Ebenezer Scrooge imagines that the knocker on his own front door morphs into the ghostly visage of his deceased partner, Jacob Marley? This year, as Christmas approached, I decided to pose this decidedly niche query to Louisa Price, Curator at the Charles Dickens Museum. She did not disappoint me. “It was on Craven Street that Dickens got the idea of the famous scene,” says Price. “We don’t know which one (or if the knocker is still there!) but perhaps go down the street and see which one you think it might be.” Price also suggests that, to get a sense of what Ebenezer Scrooge’s counting house might have looked like, we should spend some time in London’s financial district, known locally as the City, where narrow alleys and courts remain (amid contemporary business towers) to evoke that December of 1843. VISIT THE CHARLES DICKENS MUSEUM The Charles Dickens Museum ($12, 48 Doughty Street, Bloomsbury, dickensmuseum.com) is one of the most popular Dickens-related sites in London, a short walk from the British Museum. The Dickens museum is housed in the Georgian townhouse where the author lived with his growing family as he finished The Pickwick Papers (which, like most of his novels, was published in installments, a bit like a 19th-century Netflix series) and wrote Oliver Twist in the late 1830s. “It is the only remaining family home of Dickens's in London,” says Price. “The house has retained many of its original features, including the washhouse copper, which we believe inspired the Christmas pudding scene in A Christmas Carol. The house has been restored to an 1830s interior as Dickens and his young family would have known it, and it is full of furniture, paintings, and other items that they owned, as well as other treasures from our collection which relate Dickens’s life and times.” Among the “treasures” in the museum are a few items that will connect viscerally with anyone who has enjoyed Dickens’s fiction. “Certainly the most popular will be Dickens’s desk and chair on which the author wrote his later novels like Great Expectations, A Tale of Two Cities, and Our Mutual Friend,” says Price. Another popular item at the museum, from Dickens’s mid-career novel Dombey and Son, is a street sign known as “The Little Midshipman.” This item was my personal favorite when I first visited the museum, which was then known simply as the Dickens House. “Dickens once stood outside Norie’s, a shop that sold nautical charts, sailing directions, and navigation textbooks at 157 Leadenhall Street. Dickens was familiar with Norie’s and became so fond of the midshipman that he gave him a starring role in Dombey and Son as the sign of Sol Gil, nautical equipment maker. In the novel he is described as ‘the woodenest of that which thrust itself out above the pavement.' Dickens also describes in The Uncommerical Traveller [one of Dickens’s many collections of essays] how he would pass the figure and pat him on his calf for ‘old acquaintance sake.’” Not surprisingly, the Charles Dickens Museum goes all out from December 1 through January 6 (Twelfth Night), including an exhibition devoted to A Christmas Carol, candlelit tours, evening readings, and decorations typical of a 19th-century London home. Guided tours of Dickens’s London run weekly from the museum. Reserve your tour for your next London trip at the museum website. EAT AND DRINK LIKE A VICTORIAN LONDONER There may have been no writer before or since Dickens who was as fond of food and drink and the camaraderie of like-minded friends; the novels are filled with accounts of huge dinners, toasts, and revelry. I asked Price if she could recommend a true “Dickens of a pub” in London. “The George and Vulture Pub is the site of the Pickwick Club’s meetings in The Pickwick Papers (it is mentioned about 20 times in total in the book),” she says, referring to Dickens’s first published novel, which relates the travels and extremely funny mishaps of the iconic Mr. Pickwick, his cockney servant Sam Weller, and their friends. “The George and Vulture was built in 1746 as a public house in Castle Court, near Lombard Street, City of London. There has been an inn on the site since 1268. It was saved from demolishment in 1950 by the great-grandson of Charles Dickens, Cedric Dickens. It has been the site of the City Pickwick’s Club meetings and the Dickens family Christmas gatherings ever since.” (Samuel Smith Nut Brown Ale, Oatmeal Stout, meat pies, and other traditional pub fare, 3 Castle Court, 020-7626 9710) VISIT THE MUSEUM OF LONDON The Museum of London covers the city’s history from prehistoric times to the present, covering the Roman settlement, medieval times, plague, fire, and various revolutions, with a healthy dose of Victorian-era artifacts and works of art. One exhibit brings a 19th-century London street vividly to life, and one painting in particular will resonate with Dickens aficionados: “The Crossing Sweeper,” by William Powell, depicts one of the young boys, like the character Jo in Bleak House, who made a meager living by sweeping mud, rubbish, and manure off the streets for pedestrians (free admission, museumoflondon.org). GET TO KNOW DICKENS'S OTHER CHRISTMAS STORIES While A Christmas Carol is by far the best-known of Dickens’s Christmas-themed fiction, in subsequent years he published several other short novels with holiday themes, including The Chimes and The Cricket on the Hearth. I asked Price if she had a favorite Christmas piece, and I was delighted that she recommended a story I hadn’t read yet. “My favorite is his first bit of Christmas writing, ‘A Christmas Dinner,’ which he first published in 1835,” she revealed. “‘A Christmas Dinner’ begins with: ‘Christmas time! That man must be a misanthrope indeed, in whose breast something like a jovial feeling is not roused - in whose mind some pleasant associations are not awakened - by the recurrence of Christmas.’ The whole piece brims with all of Dickens’s enthusiasm and love of the season and describes a gathering very similar to the ones we know and love now.”

Inspiration

Why I Took a Road Trip for My Honeymoon

Despite what Pinterest would have us believe, weddings are stressful. Even “carefree” moments are scheduled with military precision. In travel and in life, I don’t love that kind of structure. So when it came to my honeymoon, I wasn’t inspired to race around airports, making connections. All I wanted was to unwind, wear hoodies, and eat carbs. My husband, Andrew, and I have always shared a love of road trips: the flexibility, the spontaneity—the simple pleasure of serendipity. California makes an especially good backdrop for such an easygoing journey, with its dramatic shifts in landscape; drive a few hours and you’ve crossed from desert into lush greenery, from the shore into mountains. Andrew and I took our time getting hitched, exclusively dating in L.A. for years beforehand. By our wedding, we had driven as far south as Rosarito, Mexico, and as far north as Portland, Oregon. So, for us, there was an implicit romance to this honeymoon concept: As anyone who has ever driven cross-country knows, road trips represent a kind of shared freedom. We decided to do this one like the “adults” we suddenly felt we must be. This wouldn’t be some haphazard slog to worn-down shacks labeled “cottages.” We’d still hold fast to our money by eating inexpensive snacks on the road—albeit high-end Kettle Chips and coconut water this time around—but since we were saving on airfare, we would splurge on the high-end hotels I’d always fantasized about visiting. On a crisp fall day in early November, with The Clash blaring, we rode that tailwind of change up the 5 freeway, away from the past year’s stresses.  As is often the case with memories, when I look back on the trip, I am rewarded with ephemeral impressions: crisp breezes carrying scents of salty sea and rosemary, bucolic walks through what felt like enchanted forests, strolls in impossibly quaint towns sampling olive oil and coconut sorbet, a perfect song erupting from the radio, laughter as we relived our wedding or happened upon a pen of adorable baby fainting goats. Still, one experience from each leg of the journey stands out—four in total. They are the chapters of my storybook dream trip, hard-won with budgeting, and savored to this day, the edges gilded in my mind. I. Sausalito We landed first on the other side of the bridge from San Francisco in lesser-known Sausalito at Cavallo Point Lodge, a hotel converted from a onetime U.S. Army post, Fort Baker (cavallopoint.com). To me, it was the embodiment of the Golden State’s signature relaxed luxury: at once historic and contemporary, organic and geometric, pampering and utilitarian. I have gauzy memories of enjoying our spa treatments and nature hikes. But the moment that crystallized for me was just after we arrived: Alone in our impeccable, earth-toned room, we peeled off our jackets and looked, spellbound, out the large windows. The Golden Gate bridge loomed orange above us; its lights twinkled as the sun went down. II. Point Reyes Our next stop was Point Reyes, where oyster farms line the foggy, protected shoreline. At Manka’s Inverness Lodge, high-end log cabins sit nestled among redwoods and firs (mankas.com). Open since 1917, the hotel had recently lost their lauded restaurant to a fire. As a result, simple yet transcendent meals were brought to our room. The kitchen culled all their ingredients from within a couple of miles, and you could taste it. One morning, we opened our front door to find a tray waiting. We carried it to our dining nook, where we unwrapped impossibly fresh yogurt, homemade granola, local apples, and hot cinnamon buns made from scratch, served straight from the oven. It was the best breakfast of my life. III. Napa Valley At Calistoga Ranch, the Napa Valley wine country stop on our journey, our room felt like the world’s most lavish treehouse (calistogaranch.aubergeresorts.com). Tucked amidst greenery, an actual oak grew through the sun deck beside an indoor/outdoor fireplace. We adored the bathroom: Beyond two distinct sleek sink areas opposite each other (what Andrew and I consider “living the dream”), an outdoor shower and garden awaited. We hardly wanted to leave the room, but eventually, we made it outside, accidentally happening upon quirky Prager Winery and Port Works (pragerport.com). My only previous experience with the sweet drink involved stealing it from a friend’s parents’ liquor cabinet when I was a teenager. But here we swirled it, inhaled it, really tasted it. Andrew ended up falling hard for a tawny port, tucking it into our trunk before continuing to our final destination. IV. Big Sur We had spent enough time in Big Sur in years past to hear buzz about Post Ranch Inn (postranchinn.com). We couldn’t wait to try it for ourselves. The rumors were true: Our room was extraordinary, massively windowed and overlooking rolling hillsides where wild turkeys roamed. In the brisk fall evening, Andrew suggested that we throw on plush robes, grab wine, and hustle to one of the hot plunges embedded in the cliffside. I was initially resistant because of the chill, but as soon as we climbed into the warm water, I knew he’d been right. The moon was full and bright. Gazing out over the dramatic cliffs, we passed the ambrosial wine back and forth, swigging from the bottle. Just when it seemed like the moment couldn’t get more idyllic, we turned to find a deer regarding us calmly from just feet away. It was as though a fairy godmother herself were designing our own personal fable. When the sun rose on the final morning of our honeymoon, we were melancholy, of course. The afterglow of a hotly anticipated journey is bittersweet. But as we wound through peaks and valleys on our way home, luckily we weren’t on anyone else’s schedule…and we took our sweet time. Nora Zelevansky is the author of Will You Won’t You Want Me? (out April 19) and Semi-Charmed Life.