Dream Home

A family photo taken August 2010
With Matt gone and the weather rather grey, I’ve been spending more than my fair share of time on Pinterest. Most people have a board related to their dream home with photos of lovely wrap-around porches and gorgeous cozy gardens full of fairy lights and comfy chairs. But I’m kind of taken with the life of the tinker/transient, which means I might get some of my favorite things in each place I live, but I probably won’t get to build it custom or even own it. So can I post this picture on my “Dream Home” board?

You cant step in the same river twice

The kids' first Metro ride in Helsinki (October 2010). Some people spend a lifetime trying to see what my kids have seen in the past 16 months. One of the many things for which I am thankful.

The Greek philosopher Heraclitus said, according to Plato, that you cannot step in the same river twice due to the constantly-changing nature of the river. It’s a pretty good metaphor for expat life, especially when that expat life involves moving every 2-4 years. I think I’ve mentioned before that I lived in the same general area of a not over-large suburb for the first 18 years of my life, so this constant moving thing does not come naturally to me.

But that’s not to say that I don’t embrace it. In fact, I’m starting to believe that it is the act of stepping into that river, and realizing that it’s different than it was last time, that keeps me moving forward, keeps me interested. And it’s a good thing, because even though we’ve only been in Helsinki 16 short months, we now know that in June we’ll be moving on.

This time, we’re headed to Ulm, Germany. Read more

There’s More to Lapland than Santa’s Village!

a photo of sunrise in Lapland
A sunrise fit for Santa himself!

One of the unexpected joys of living in Finland (and there are many) is Santa mania. According to This is Finland, Finns have been claiming that Santa lives in Finland since 1927. Reindeer, after all, can’t survive winter at the North Pole, but they can in Lapland! It follows that Santa’s Village, located in Rovaniemi right on the edge of the Arctic Circle, is a major tourist destination for those who decide to make a winter trek to Finland. Many families with children add a visit to Rovaniemi to their winter itinerary, taking the scenic overnight train north and visiting Santa, Mrs. Claus, and the elves. From what I’ve heard, it is pure magic for the children, and includes ample shopping and activities to keep adults entertained as well.

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Windsor with Children

It wasn’t until I went to link back to my Windsor post that I realized I had not, in fact, ever written it. So here it is, over a month after our return…Ed.

a photo of the Round Tower, Windsor Castle
The stunning Round Tower, take from the Moat Garden, Windsor Castle

Traveling with children typically involves some negotiation and compromise between what the parents want to do and what will keep the children entertained enough to prevent complete melt-down. Ladies and gentlemen, I present to you the best possible solution to this dilemma–Windsor, England.

The very walkable size of the town, the number of outdoor attractions, and the presence of Lego-Land make this small town just outside of London a great location to visit with children. Having spoken to many parents who shudder at the thought of losing a child in the crowds of London, I think Windsor offers a nice balance of kid-friendly activities and amazing historical sites bound to please family-members of all ages. Read more

A Photo Journal of Andalucía

It’s almost time for fall break and choosing this year’s destination was tough. I’m still acting like a kid in a candy store when it comes to planning holidays even though we’ve been in Finland–and therefore tantalizingly close to some of my all-time favorite places–for close to a year now. I mean, I can fly to Norway for cheaper than I used to be able to fly to Phoenix. Need I say more?

At any rate, after lots of thought and discussion, we chose to return to Provence. But I was really, really tempted to revisit Andalucía. So when I heard that a friend was heading to Spain next week with a rather open itinerary, I had to put together my visual case for visiting Andalucía. It’s been nearly ten years since we were there, but it still stands out in our minds. The food, the amazing melding of European and Muslim architecture, the beauty of the hilly terrain dotted with olive trees…Highly recommended. So here goes… Read more

Never say never

Photo from the State Library of New South Wales collection (http://www.flickr.com/photos/statelibraryofnsw/)

When Gabriel was about 18 months old, I got together with a group of my friends from college. Several of us had children within a few months of each other, so there was a lot of talk that weekend about how life had changed and what we had to look forward to as our children grew. One friend who had older brothers told us about a recent birthday party she’d attended that involved pony rides, a cowboy, and goodie bags that cost roughly $20 a pop. We all howled about how ridiculous that was and about how we’d never, ever, ever do that.

The kids’ first few birthday parties held true to my proclamation. But that’s easy in Boulder County, where dressing up often meant pulling on the new Icebreaker or Mountain Hardware hoody and putting on the dressy jeans that weren’t frayed at the bottom from wearing them with flip-flops. Birthday parties there usually involved playing out in the back yard and oodles of home-made whole-wheat cupcakes, with a few gluten/dairy/soy/corn/nut free ones for the children with food sensitivities. Favors I offered in the past included little pots filled with dirt and basil seeds, home-made play dough, and little bouquets of natural dye-free lollipops. Read more

Naerofjorden & Aurlandsfjorden

photo of mountains outside gudvangen
The mountains outside Gudvangen

As a long trip comes to a close, you always hope there will be something spectacular left so that you can head home on a high note. I wish I could take full credit for the stunning end of our journey in Norway, but I have to admit that it was luck that we did the tour counter-clockwise, leaving the beautiful Naerofjorden & Aurlandsfjorden area for last before returning to Oslo.

Once again, it took a train, a bus, and a boat for us to make it to Flam and the delightful Freitham Hotel, but the views from each were nothing short of amazing. Plunging waterfalls, steep cliffs, and green so lush that it almost glows leave you rubber-necking the entire trip. Between Matt & I, we took nearly 1500 photos in just under 2 weeks and many of them came in the last two days.

The boat between Gudvangen and Flam in particular was gorgeous, although getting a good seat involved some quick and aggressive maneuvering. Gudvangen is at the end of Naerofjorden, the narrowest fjord in Norway, and Flam, our destination, is at the end of Aurlandsfjorden. Although the two fjords meet inland, you still get to see two different types of fjord landscape during the several hours of the cruise.

Still, we wanted to see the fjords even more close-up, so we took the Fjord Safari that leaves from Flam and retraces the route of the much larger ferry boat. With only ten passengers and a boat that put us right at water level, it was a fun and fast-paced way to take a second look at the scenery. As if we’d called ahead, the sun returned for this portion of the day, making the views even more beautiful.

Waiting for us back in Flam was an expensive but decadent dinner from the Freitham Hotel’s famous buffet. Full of locally cured meats, hand-made cheeses, and lots of traditionally-prepared fish, this buffet was worth the price in terms of exposing us to the best foods of the region. The next day, we were restored enough to venture of a fairly lengthy hike to a waterfall overlooking town before boarding the Flamsbana railway that would climb steeply up toward Myrdal, where we caught the bus back to Oslo and caught our flight back to Helsinki.

This trip was without a doubt on my top five list, even though many of the others on that list were completed in what seems like total luxury (i.e. without children!). It not only showed us an amazing cross-section of exquisite Norway, but gave us hope that the children (now aged 5 and almost 7) are very nearly old enough to keep up with our globe-trotting ways.

Bergen

a photograph of the Norwegian coast
The coast between Alesund & Norway is dotted with tiny islands

We returned to Ålesund just long enough to board the Hurtigruten bound for Bergen. This was the one part of the trip when I felt that Fjord Tours sort of dropped the ball–at no point during booking do you realize that you can’t get on this boat until after midnight! That left us hanging out at the port in Ålesund, which, for the record, has no waiting room of any kind. Since we had children in tow, hanging out in a bar wasn’t an option either, so we ended up in the Radisson Blu. I suspect it wasn’t the first time that people bound for Bergen crashed in their lobby, and they do have an assortment of snacks and drinks, as well as comfy couches, to make the late hour a bit more comfortable.

The accommodations on the Hurtigruten are typical of larger cruise ships–single bunk beds and a bathroom that is clean and functional, but barely large enough to turn around in. We were not able to figure out any sort of family room, so we booked two doubles and split up–one adult with each child (another reason I’m glad we opted for only one night on the boat!). Read more

Day Trips from Helsinki – Porvoo

porvoo
Waterfront with Porvoo Cathedral in the background

Heading east from Helsinki on the King’s Road (Kuninkaantie), you can reach the charming river-side town of Porvoo in under an hour. From May to September, you can also reach Porvoo by boator cruise there and take a bus back to Helsinki to save a little time (the boat ride is just over three hours, while the bus takes under 90 minutes).

One of several medieval towns in Finland, Porvoo was founded in the 14th century and many of the old wooden buildings and narrow cobblestone streets remain. Made famous (in Finland at least) by the paintings of Albert Edelfelt, it is a scenic town where many of the beautiful old buildings now house good restaurants and shops selling Finnish artisanal goods. Read more

Day Trips from Helsinki – Mustion Linna

Mustion Linna
Mustion Linna is a great day-trip from Helsinki
Taking advantage of the nice days and the new car, we headed west of Helsinki for a trip down the King’s Road to Mustion Linna. This eighteenth-century manor house brings together neo-classical and rococo architecture in what is the largest wooden house in Finland. Although we opted out of the one-hour tour of the manor house due to antsy children, we enjoyed a really spectacular lunch at Slottskrogen, featuring lots of locally produced and traditionally prepared goodies. The children particularly enjoyed their menus, which were children’s books with menus pasted into the front. We spent about two hours wandering around the lovely grounds before driving just over an hour back to central Helsinki. Definitely worth the visit!