Tomorrow we leave for Croatia and with the weather here holding at 8C and rainy, the 24s forecast for the Dalmatian Coast cannot come fast enough. Brrrrrrrr. *Snuggles down into comfy chair with pot of tea for the day*
Today I’m packing for our trip and realized that after four years of vacations spent primarily in rented apartments and homes throughout Europe, we’ve got packing experience worth sharing. I’m not talking about clothes or shoes, because that varies so much based on where you’re going and when. I’m talking about a handful of household items that we’ve learned through experience can make life in a rental so much easier.
These items may not be necessary if you’re staying in a major metropolitan area with a mega-store right down the way, or if you’re hoteling it, but if you’re staying in out of the way places, or traveling without a car, both of which are the norm for us, this pack list for vacation rentals can make a huge difference. Read more
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.
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.
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
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.
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
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
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!
We left Oslo via train and headed north to Dombås and then on to Åndalsnes on what ended up being quite a scenic ride on the Rauma Railway. While the first leg of the journey cuts up the middle of Norway and takes you past Lillehammer and the home of Peer Gynt, the second leg winds slowly down into the Rauma River Valley across amazing bridges and towering cliffs typically named after trolls! Read more
We began our carefully planned trip to Norway in its capital city, Oslo. While some friends and even some guidebooks had suggested skipping Oslo in favor of seeing more of the beautiful fjords, I’m glad we spent three days there. It was probably the easiest of our stops in Norway in terms traveling with children, and also gave us the historial and cultural backdrop we needed to fully appreciate what we saw later on.
Like Helsinki, Oslo is a surprisingly small capital city of around 600,000 people. The city center, bisected by two parallel roads–Karl Johans Gate and Stortingsgata–with park and historic buildings in between, is easily traveled by foot. However, it should be noted that even in July the weather in Norway is unpredictable. If getting wet is a problem, or if your stay and children’s temperament allows seeing a lot of museums, consider the Oslo Pass which offers not only unlimited public transportation and discount parking, but free admission to many of the museums and attractions in and around Oslo. Read more