america, travels, The Americans, 2017, USA

The Mansion On The River | Charleston, South Carolina

"It was my father who called the city the Mansion on the River. He was talking about Charleston, South Carolina, and he was a native son, peacock proud of a town so pretty it makes your eyes ache with pleasure just to walk down its spellbinding, narrow streets. Charleston was my father's ministry, his hobbyhorse, his quiet obsession, and the great love of his life. His bloodstream lit up my own with a passion for the city that I've never lost nor ever will...

Because of its devotional, graceful attraction to food and gardens and architecture, Charleston stands for all the principles that make living well both a civic virtue and a standard. It is a rapturous, defining place to grow up. Everything I reveal to you now will be Charleston-shaped and Charleston-governed, and sometimes even Charleston-ruined. But it is my fault and not the city's that it came close to destroying me. Not everyone responds to beauty in the same way. Though Charleston can do much, it can't always improve on the strangeness of human behavior. But Charleston has a high tolerance for eccentricity and bemusement. There is a tastefulness in its gentility that comes from the knowledge that Charleston is a permanent dimple in the understated skyline, while the rest of us are only visitors."

Excerpted from South of Broad, by Pat Conroy, 2009, Doubleday books.

copenhagen, denmark, Interviews, scandinavia, travels, Writing

Hidden Copenhagen on The Snak Podcast

Not long ago, I was invited by the good people at The Snak podcast (a part of the family of podcasts) to talk about the process of researching and writing The 500 Hidden Secrets of Copenhagen.

My sprawling conversation with The Snak's host James Clasper was a lot of fun and is, I think, a pretty good introduction to some of the things that make Copenhagen such a fascinating city (especially for us outsiders). Highlights of the podcast include discussions of local breweries, the New Nordic food scene, the thrill of biking as an adult, and, of course, swimming naked in The Baltic Sea in winter. 

You can listen to the podcast here.

A bit about The Snak podcast:


More episodes of The Snak podcast here (English language).

Explore more Heartbeats Podcasts here (English and Danish language). 

bavaria, travels, alps

The Haunting Church of Ramsau, Bavaria

On our recent ramble through Bavaria, one of our most unexpected discoveries was the lovely, haunting, and lovingly kept church in Ramsau, Germany, near the Königssee. As we explored the town, it's streams, bridges, and this charming little church, we had the village almost entirely to ourselves - which made the church and churchyard that much more charming...and haunting. 

austria, travels, design

Zaha Hadid's Otherworldly Nordpark Railway Stations, Innsbruck

'Shell and Shadow' in the Alps over Innsbruck

We only spent one day in Innsbruck, Austria on our way between Salzburg and Munich. But the highlight of our day in Innsburck (besides the struedel) was our slow motion journey up the city's stunning Nordpark Railway, designed in 2007 by architect Zaha Hadid (1950 - 2016).

The Nordpark Railway begins in the city center and then climbs into the mountains, stopping a three stations along the way before arriving at Hungerburg Station. The Funicular stations are made of concrete and Alpine green, sculpted glass. Here's how Ms. Hadid described the inspiration for and design of the Nordpark Stations:

"Two contrasting elements “Shell & Shadow” generate each station’s spatial quality. A lightweight organic roof structure floats on top of a concrete plinth. The artificial landscape functions as a relief in which various movements and circulations are inscribed. Looking at the Roof Shell’s fluid shapes and soft contours, one might be reminded on natural phenomena such as glacier movements." 

You can learn more about the Nordpark Railway and about Zaha Hadid at the architect's website.

Nordpark Railway Station at Street Level by Zaha Hadid. Photo via

Nordpark Railway Station at Street Level by Zaha Hadid. Photo via

Nordpark Railway Station interior by Zaha Hadid. Photo via

Nordpark Railway Station interior by Zaha Hadid. Photo via

Nordpark Railway Station interior by Zaha Hadid. Photo via

Nordpark Railway Station interior by Zaha Hadid. Photo via

bavaria, travels, walkinthewoods

Into The Partnach Gorge, Germany

Down here its our time, its our time down here:

Our recent trek through Germany's celebrated Partnach Gorge was, by far, the most "Goonies-esque" experience we've had during our European travels.

What started as a ramble through a sunny Bavarian village became a walk through low-ceilinged caves, under waterfalls, and along narrow precipices (precipi?) - a journey that ultimately opens out into a wide-mouthed, snow-dotted Alpine valley. And, if that wasn't enough, another short walk up out of the gorge led us back into the sun and into the most picturesque mountain village imaginable (the last few photos below). 

This is the kind of place that truly makes you appreciate the diversity of nature, the power of water, and the importance of publicly-protected national parks. 

austria, bavaria, travels

Königssee, Bavaria

On a March day that couldn't decide whether it was winter or spring, we boarded a vintage pleasure boat and cruised the charming Königssee to the tiny town of St. Barthaloma. By day's end, it was one of our favorites in Bavaria: highly recommended (if only to hear the boat's captain stop mid-cruise to play his trumpet and let the music bounce off the canyon walls in synchronization).

britain, france, travels

Sunny Guernsey Island

Part of The UK, but with flavors of la vie française, tiny Guernsey Island was a short but delightful stop on our journey through the British Isles this past summer. Sailboats, colorful bunting, and an overwhelming warmth from the locals was what stood out to us during our brief tour of this quirky little island. The snapshots below tell some of the story. For the rest of the background on the fascinating history of Guernsey, you'll need to dive into this charming WWII-era novel.

spain, travels

Barcelona Details

In Febraury of 2014, we escaped the cold winds of late winter here in Copenhagen and made our way to mysterious, delicious Barcelona. We instantly fell in love with that ancient, unpredictable, many storied city of Catalan pride and organic architecture - so much so that we're going back there later this month. But until we have more photos and stories to share, here are some outtakes from last years travels.

travels, books

2014 | The Year in Books

Need a good read? Looking for a Christmas gift? Here are ten books that we discovered, read, and loved in 2014. Note: These 10 books were not all published in 2014, but this past year was when they found their way to us. Hopefully something (or several somethings) below will spark your interest: gangsters, river pirates, artists in Paris, daring escapes, a deal with the devil, and the very funny minds of David Sedaris and Tina Fey.

1. One Summer: America, 1927 by Bill Bryson. The inter-war years in America were never as exciting as in the summer of 1927: Lindburgh's Atlantic crossing, Prohibition, Babe Ruth's greatest season, the birth of Hollywood, political scandal, murder, mayhem and 'The Trial of the Century.' This is what literary non-fiction is all about. Five stars, highly recommended.

2. Wicked River: The Mississippi When It Last Ran Wild by Lee Sandlin. Okay, so if this sounds like a kind of a niche-interest book (Mark Twain, reclaimed midwestern history, etc.), well, it is. BUT, it is a remarkable history of frontier America in the years before the Civil War: pirates, river boats, religious orgies, and a haunting profile of the early days of New Orleans. If you have any interest in American history, this book is worth your time. Well researched, brilliant non-fiction prose, I re-read several chapters just to soak in the bizarre beauty of early America.

3. Beautiful Ruins by Jess Walter: Italy in the 1950's, a beautiful actress hiding out in the Cinque Terre, and a whole tangle of lies, secrets, and the fortuitous intersecting of clumsy human lives. This is a beautifully crafted, thoughtful, and simultaneously tragic & wondrous novel. 

4. Bossypants by Tina Fey. Two words: TINA FEY. Ms. Fey's prose is remarkably touching and insightful. You will laugh. You will cry. You will come away from this book with an even bigger crush on Tina Fey than you have right now.

5. The Cuckoo's Calling and The Silkworm by Robert Galbraith (aka JK Rowling). If you like crime novels, detective novels, mysteries set in London, then you will like both of these books. Cuckoo is an introduction to the Cormoran Strike series, but you can start with either book. Mr. Galbraith's plots are intricate and well spun and the reader is given a lot of realistic insights into how investigations work. Fan of detective fiction? These are worthy members of the genre's canon. Note: The Silkworm is considerably more graphic / violent than The Cuckoo's Calling.

6. Room by Emma Donoghue. I have never read a book like Room. And, in my opinion, Ms. Donoghue has written a heartbreaking masterpiece. The tragic scenes and imagery from this book are intense, difficult, and, honestly, haunting. Room tells the story of a young boy and his mother who are prisoners inside a tiny garden shed, their strange life inside, and the hope that sustains them. At times shocking, violent, and is also a picture of human resilience, a mother's love, and the need for all of us to open our eyes to the suffering around us.

7. Let's Explore Diabetes with Owls by David Sedaris. To read David Sedaris is to love David Sedaris. His latest collection of memoir-ish, travel-ish, cultural critique-ish essays is splendid and (clearly!) hard to define. Hilarious, reflective, and always self (as well as others)-deprecating, this has to be one of the funniest and sweetest books of the past few years. This is very addictive prose.

8. The Greater Journey by David McCullough. If you liked the Woody Allen film Midnight in Paris and you don't mind reading name-heavy, date-heavy nonfiction, then you will probably enjoy this book. Mr. McCullough is an literary treasure - his exhaustive books on American history or legendary (John Adams, 1776, Truman, The Great Bridge, etc.) and The Greater Journey is no different. Focusing mainly on the life and times of Americans living and working in Paris in the late 18th and early 19th century, this is a book about art, medicine, literature and the intersection of early American zeal, European expertise, and the golden yellow glow of the Parisian joire de vivre. 

9. The Angel's Game by Carlos Ruiz Zafrón. Think The Da Vinci Code meets Paul Auster, set in Barcelona of the 1920s. This is escapist fiction, fantastic realism, and supernatural whodunnit all rolled into one. Part of a non-linear series by Mr. Zafrón, The Angel's Game is just as much fun as The Shadow of the Wind with it's chases down crooked Catalun alleyways and mysterious midnight visitors.

10. The New Kings of Non-Fiction edited by Ira Glass (of This American Life). We don't normally pick up anthologies - but since this one was edited by Ira Glass, well, we knew it was going to be stellar. And it is. Consisting of essay selections from a variety of authors writing on a number of subjects from all corners of the human experience, this is an outstanding collection and reads like an in-depth, sound-effectless episode of This American Life. Each essay is remarkable in its own way. Highly recommended.

What were your favorite books of 2014? Please leave us your suggestions in the comments below. We're always on the hunt for the next book.