Eating Our Way Through Bologna, Italy

Ah, Bologna… the food capital of Italy! Located about 50 miles north of Florence, Bologna is a wonderful alternative to the more crowded and touristy cities of Italy. It doesn’t have the art museums of Florence, the canals of Venice, or the ancient monuments of Rome, but it does have some stunning architecture and food. The city is famous for its cuisine and is known as the culinary capital of Italy. In fact, Italians refer to Bologna by three names: La Dotta, La Rossa, and La Grassa; the educated, the red, and the fat. “Educated” refers to the city’s university which is the oldest university in Europe (since 1088). “Red” refers to the red bricks that most of Bologna’s buildings are made from, and because of its leftist political views. “Fat” refers to Bologna’s culinary history, making it the food capital of Italy, which held up to its name.

We were excited to taste Bologna’s delicious food and explore a new part of the country. We were also excited to meet up with good friends, Sera and Martin. After a lunch filled with glorious truffles and ravioli, we wandered the streets of the city center of Bologna. We took in sights like the Asinelli Tower, Piazza Maggiore, and the Neptune Fountain, as well as indulging in the wine and food from the Emilia Romagna region of Italy.

Reggio Emilia Tour

During our second day in Bologna we went on a private food and wine tour of the region. After our guide arrived early in the morning, we went to a Parmesan cheese factory in the Reggio Emilia region. Here, we watched the daily process of making Parmesan cheese straight from the cows, along with a taste of the final product at the end (aged 15 months). Yum!

Next we went to the home of a traditional balsamic vinegar producer in the area. Traditional balsamic vinegar of Modena is made only from the Emilia Romagna region, is aged at least 12 years, and is different from the balsamic vinegar of Modena label that we often see. The two are distinct products in their manufacturing, composition, and price. After a tour of the facilities and an explanation of the process we tasted six different traditional balsamic vinegars. We could definitely tell the difference between the traditional and the other balsamic vinegars. They were thicker, creamier, richer, and much more expensive!

An Afternoon at a Winery

The final stop was our wine tasting at a vineyard in the region. The owner (whose real name we never found out, only that he wanted us to call him Jim because his favorite singer is Jim Morrison) showed us the vineyards. We tasted 8 (or 9?) wines and he did not skimp! He poured the wine so high in the glasses that it became more of a wine party than a tasting. It was fun and we don’t remember leaving the winery!

After a little rest and recovery back at the hotel, we ventured out to a local restaurant in Bologna. This trattoria uses only local products and cooks traditional cuisine from the region such as spaghetti bolognese, tortellini al brodo (tortellini in a broth sauce), and lasagna. Dishes in Bologna are less about olive oil and tomatoes and more about butter and cream sauces. The addition of truffles, chestnuts, mushrooms, and a variety of meats, makes for a perfect cold winter night in December. Simply delicious!

Jon and I definitely could have used another day in Bologna and we would love to go back again. We took advantage of the fantastic food opportunities in the region while being able to enjoy the city itself. The people are so friendly, they seem to enjoy life, and are respectful of things and people around them. The weather is great, and the food is fabulous. It’s one of those cities that we could see ourselves living in or around and it got us thinking yet again… can we please live here?

Visiting Vienna X-mas market

Visiting Vienna

Vienna is consistently ranked as one of, if not the best, livable city in the world. And with good reason! Green parks take up almost half of the area, the public transportation system is convenient and reliable, and the cultural aspect can’t be beat. Stately and imposing buildings line the streets, with dramatic entrances, windows, and designs. Opera houses, theaters, museums, and parks are abundant. We thoroughly enjoyed our time visiting Vienna!

Noteworthy Buildings & Museums

We took our time looking through the city, coming across a variety of noteworthy buildings, including the Hofburg Palace. The Hofburg Palace started construction in the 13th century and is the former imperial residence. Now it serves as the official residence of the President of Austria.

Vienna has more than 100 museums containing everything from very famous and historical paintings, to museums that simply show furniture. We went to the Belvedere Museum (housed in Belvedere Castle), which holds paintings and art from Gustav Klimt, Egon Schiele, and Claude Monet. We were able to see Klimt’s famous painting, “The Kiss”.

The Opera

Music is one of Vienna’s legacies so we thought it would be the perfect place to see our first opera. The famous Vienna State Opera House was sold out of tickets two months prior, so we opted for the showing of the Italian opera Tosca at the Volksopera theater on Friday night.

So we didn’t hate it, but we didn’t love it either. We knew the storyline, but we were surprised it was sung in German and not in its native Italian. I know, we’re in Austria and we shouldn’t have expected anything but German, but not being able to understand the words, especially during the slower parts of the opera left us a little bored. The singing, the acting, the lavish costumes, and the story of Tosca were fabulous, but overall, we were meh. We’re glad we tried it though… how do you know something isn’t really for you unless you try it out?

Christmas Markets

Because we visited in December there were numerous Christmas markets that we could attend. This is one of my favorite things about Europe. A lot of countries have these markets, but each one has its own uniqueness and charm. Stands sell everything from from ornaments, to wooden toys, to local food. We sipped on numerous amounts of gluhwein (hot mulled wine) and browsed the different vendors. Each time you get a cup of gluhwein it comes in a decorative glass souvenir mug unique to the market that you’re visiting. We also went to Vienna’s famous year round market, Naschmarkt, which has a variety of different foods, spices, and cuisines to taste.

Visiting Vienna was an experience that we loved! We really enjoyed the different atmosphere that it provided us. We took pleasure in passing the large buildings, listening to the classical music playing in the streets, and wandering through the different areas of the city.

Off The Beaten Path in Rome

There’s something that happens when you visit a city for the second or third time and you’re not trying to see all of the regular touristy sites. You walk a bit slower, take in the sights and sounds of the locals going about their day, and notice just how beautiful the city can be when you’re not standing in line with the crowds. Around every corner and down every street are magnificent buildings; and in no way are they well known or famous, and people don’t go out of their way to see them, but they are striking, majestic, and stunning to admire. This is not to say that you shouldn’t see the main sights in a city. I think you’d be pretty disappointed if you didn’t visit the Colosseum or the Vatican while in Rome. But if you add on a couple more days to a trip, or make subsequent visits, you can truly get off the beaten path in Rome and have a completely different experience.

Aventine Hill

This isn’t totally off the beaten path in Rome, but it’s something different and away from the hustle and bustle. Aventine Hill is Rome’s southernmost hill and walkable from the city center. It’s a quiet residential area with a lot of historical churches and monasteries. One thing we sought out was here as well – the Knights of Malta keyhole in Piazza dei Cavalieri di Malta. Here, there is a keyhole through a door that gives a rather impressive view of St. Peter’s Basilica. When we visited during the winter there was no one there, but now you can expect to wait 15-30 minutes. This off the beaten path in Rome activity isn’t so secret anymore! Nonetheless, it is still away from the crowds and it’s an opportunity to go to a different neighborhood in Rome.

The nearby piazza and gardens gave us a wonderful view of the city stretched out before us.

The Jewish Ghetto

The Jewish Ghetto in Rome was built in 1555 and was the mandatory home for the Roman Jewish population for more than 300 years. Most of the ghetto has been torn down, but you can still discover some remaining structures of the Jews’ notable past and modest present.

Portico d’Ottavia

Portico d’Ottavia, a big ancient ruin, is just next to the ghetto. These are the remains of an ancient gateway, which used to house a flourishing fish market. It was later turned into a church and was subsequently used by the Christians at that time to force the Jews to pray in, in hopes of converting them. Within the archeological site we walked behind an ancient theater, now with more modern buildings built into it. The back is the original rounded portico with arches, reminiscent of the Colosseum and other Roman theaters.


From there we crossed the Ponte Girabaldi into the Trastevere region. This is a very charming area of the city where a lot of young locals live. Small narrow streets dominate the neighborhood and restaurants and bars line the piazzas. After walking around here for a bit we had a fantastic lunch in a cute restaurant and had the best ravioli we’ve had in all of Italy!

Santa Maria in Cosmedin

We crossed back over, this time over Ponte Palatino, and stopped by the church of Santa Maria in Cosmedin. The Roman statue called “La Bocca della Verita” (The Mouth of Truth), is here and legend has it that if a liar or a sinner puts his hand in the mouth they will lose it! The thrill of putting our hands in the statue’s mouth was strong and we couldn’t resist! We stuck our hands in and hope for the best. Alas, the harmless, but unnerving stone did not eat our hands.

Whether you’ve been to Rome ten times or only one, the Eternal City has so much to offer! No matter how many times you visit there is always more beauty and culture for you to discover and enjoy. We can’t wait to go back and discover more hidden gems when you go off the beaten path in Rome!

Exploring the Westman Islands

The day we arrived in Iceland, our first day, we drove 2.5 hours to the ferry terminal in Landeyjahöfn to head to The Westman Islands, known as Vestmannaeyjar. My cousin, who lived in Iceland, highly recommended that we make a stop there as part of our trip. So off we went, bleary eyed and tired, but full of excitement and adrenaline! Exploring the Westman Islands turned out to be a great decision as we learned so much about this island that we never would have otherwise.

What to See While Waiting for the Ferry

We arrived about two hours before the ferry was due to leave, but knowing this beforehand we had planned to go to the nearby waterfalls of Seljalandsfoss and Gljufrabui. The Icelandic term for waterfall is “foss” and these particular waterfalls did not disappoint. We were able to get up close and personal as we were allowed to climb up and walk behind Seljalandsfoss. The mist of the water sprayed on us as we walked around looking at it from all directions. About 1/3 mile down the path is Gljufrabui, which means “Dweller of the Gorge”. It’s about 40 meters high and because there’s a big rock in front of it, not many people notice it. You can wade through the gorge and jump on the rocks on the river or walk up to the rock and see the top.

Onward to the Island

We drove about 15 minutes to the ferry, parked the car, and walked on. The weather wasn’t the best so we decided to stay in and chill, where we ended up passing out for just about the whole 30 minute trip. The rest of the day is a little bit of a blur. We went right to the hotel, checked in, and had a delicious lunch at a local favorite restaurant. We were so tired we went back to the hotel for a little nap to catch up on some sleep before we had a spectacular dinner.

After getting about 10 hours of sleep (!) we awoke to a gorgeous, sunny, and warm day. Luckily we were able to sleep through the daylight the night before since we brought our eye masks – the hotel (or any other place we stayed for that matter) didn’t have blackout curtains. At this time of year (July 2) the sun doesn’t set until almost midnight and then rises again around 2:45am. During those few hours the sky doesn’t even come close to being black!

A Brief History on the Westman Islands

The Westman Islands are a series of islands south of the mainland formed by eruptions about 10,000 years ago. Only one island, Heimaey, is inhabitable, and it came to international attention with the eruption of Eldfell volcano in 1973. The eruption last about 6.5 months and destroyed about a fourth of the island, while increasing the size about 20%. Luckily, everyone was evacuated quickly so no one was killed. Families came back to the island to rebuild, and now climbing the volcano and visiting the museum is a pretty big attraction there, along with puffin watching.

Exploring the Westman Islands View

Eldfell Hike

After breakfast we set out on a clearly marked path towards the volcano Eldfell. They call this area the “Pompeii of the North” due to so many houses and other structures being buried (and most likely preserved) in mounds of lava. We walked past those memorials of houses and schools that were buried 16 meters below where we stood. We continued to get nice views of the town as we walked through 40 year old lava on either side of us along the way to Eldfell. On our walk we learned that heat from the volcano provided the town of Heimaey with geothermal energy from 1976-1985!

We started the somewhat steep climb on the collapsed northern end of the volcano taking breaks to snap pictures of the gorgeous view.

We made it to the top and wow, what a view! Once we got up there the wind hit us and all we could do was stand out facing the ocean with our arms stretched way out. We could basically see the entire island, including the teeny tiny airport. We were also able to see the other small islands that make up Vestmannaeyjar. This was such an incredible view and a great way to start out week in Iceland.

Eldheimer Museum

We made our way to the town and walked to Eldheimer. This is a museum detailing the 1973 eruption, and life on the island before and after it. The museum incorporates one house that was excavated and is still intact, including toppled household items left behind. The museum is beautifully done and we learned so much about the island.

Before we knew it we had to board the ferry again so we could continue our journey (but not before stopping at a delicious restaurant for some lunch)!

We’re so glad we spent some time exploring the Westman Islands. Plus, we got to learn some history about it that we otherwise wouldn’t have known about! After we disembarked we continued eastward on our Iceland journey. Starting our week with this beautiful island was just what we needed!

Driving the Golden Circle in Iceland

The Golden Circle is by far Iceland’s most famous attraction. It’s conveniently situated near Reykjavik and stretches for around 186 miles hitting top sights such as Gulfoss Waterfall, Thingvellir National Park, and the Geysir geothermal area. Along the way one can also see the colorful Kerid Crater Lake, Bruarfoss Waterfall, and the Laugarvatn hot springs. Since the Golden Circle is so popular it can get pretty crowded with buses and tourists. But driving the Golden Circle in Iceland doesn’t have to be a crowded mess! When we drove it we did run into crowds in one area, but because of timing and our direction we were able to peacefully enjoy a lot of it!

Kerid Crater

Since we were coming from the east, Kerid Crater was our first stop. Kerid Crater is a volcanic crater lake that has milky blue water and red volcanic rock surrounding it. The pictures don’t do it justice! The singer Bjork actually held a concert in the middle of the lake about 10 years ago. We walked around the rim at the top to get the best views of it, but you can also take stairs down and walk around that way too.

Gulfoss Waterfall

We drove a little bit north and went to Gulfoss Waterfall. The waterfall is on the Hvita River, which is fed by Iceland’s second biggest glacier, Langjokull. It was pretty crowded when we arrived here and we could see why. The falls are very powerful and were rampaging over the sides.

We went out to different view points, all in an attempt to get away from the mobs of people, but it was hard to do. It’s a great stop to have on a tour bus route. but we much prefer the quieter bus-free areas. We did very much enjoy looking at the intense waterfall though!

Geysir Geothermal Park

The next stop was only five minutes away, the Geysir Hot Spring Area. Because we went to the waterfall first (we had passed the hot spring area on the way) we were able to park in a small empty parking lot away from the tour bus area. The hot spring area is a large open area that has more than a dozen hot water blow holes and has been active for more than 1,000 years. Geysir is the original hot water spout after which all other geysers are named. Unfortunately, the original geyser no longer spews water into the air, but Strokkur is a very reliable geyser within the same area that shoots water 50-100 feet every 5-10 minutes. We watched Strokkur blast some hot water into the air a few times!

Laugarvatn Hot Springs

We continued counter clockwise on the Golden Circle and made a planned stop in Laugarvatn. The small town of Laugarvatn is known for its geothermal baths (Fontana) and we wanted to experience them! We stopped for a quick bite to eat and then headed to the baths. The Fontana is a small and intimate area consisting of several choices of shallow and deeper baths, each marked with a temperature rating. You can also go into the lake (with a sign that says “Dangerous Nature”)! And if you’ve had enough of the baths you can go into the sauna that’s fed by a naturally occurring geyser-like vent below.

This was a really nice place to go and unwind after a long day of driving the Golden Circle and sightseeing. The temperature outside was in the 50s and it was nice to sit outside in the hot water and check out the scenery. We also ventured into the lake a little bit, but didn’t go in that far since the bottom was rocky and it was a bit cold!

Driving the Golden Circle - Laugvartn

Thingvellir National Park

Moving on from Laugarvatn, we drove to our last stop of the day, Thingvellir National Park. Because we arrived later in the day, in addition to its large size, we were able to avoid the masses and explore this park in peace. The park has a lot of historical significance as the Vikings established the world’s first democratic parliament here in 930 (Thingvellir means “Parliament Plains”). Now it is a protected national shrine. The national park is also located on two tectonic plates of the Mid-Atlantic Ridge and it’s possible to stand (and snorkel) in between the two plates.

There is so much beauty in this park! There were a lot of trails, paths, and other walkable areas for us to explore, as well as a beautiful lookout spot that had a stunning view of the park and surrounding area.


The Golden Circle is a really popular area to visit in Iceland, and that brings a ton of people. Here are some tips to best enjoy driving the Golden Circle in Iceland:

  • Almost all of the tour buses and large groups drive the Golden Circle in a clockwise direction. If you are driving yourself then drive the circle in a counter clockwise direction. You will avoid a lot of the congestion and large buses!
  • If you go in the summer you have the sunlight for almost the entire day. You can visit these places at 8pm when the tour buses are gone, but there is still plenty of sunlight!
  • Like with any major tourist area, go early in the morning or late in the afternoon.
  • Definitely take time to do some off the beaten path stuff like the Laugarvatn baths we found. It won’t be crowded and it will recharge you for the next part of your Golden Circle trip.

Driving the Golden Circle in Iceland is a quick and efficient way to see the top spots. Even though the sights can get extremely crowded, knowing when and where to go can greatly diminish the amount of people you come into contact with. There are plenty of off the beaten path stops in between the “must sees” and this can all be done in one day. It’s a great thing to add to any Iceland itinerary!

Strolling the Streets of Paris with Kids

Strolling the Streets of Paris with Kids

In November of 2019 when our children were just about to turn 6 and 3 we flew to London for four days and then traveled through the Chunnel via train to Paris for four days. Since we had been to Paris before it was a pretty relaxed trip. We didn’t feel the need to run around catching all of the sights. And it was magnificent! But even if you haven’t been here, you can make Paris with young kids a memorable and fun trip for everyone. We sat on the grass outside the Eiffel Tower, went to the top of Montparnasse Tower, played in the Luxembourg Gardens, ate croissants and drank hot chocolate everyday, strolled the cobblestone streets, and made our way out to the champagne town of Reims for a day. The best part about this trip was that we were able to meet up with our close friends who were living in Germany at the time.

Family Photo

Eiffel Tower

I mean, you have to see the Eiffel Tower, especially if it’s your first time or second time here. We visited it multiple times with the kids during our stay. Since we had gorgeous weather we were able to sit on the grass, let the kids run around, and enjoy the scenery. They were impressed by its size and genuinely enjoyed seeing it from different angles and vantage points.

We had bought timed tickets to go to the top of the Eiffel Tower. This was the one part of our trip that I wasn’t too excited about. We did it in 2011 during the off season and it was just as busy as any other time. But we wanted to show the kids the top and the beautiful view, so here we were. Even in November, it was crowded and pushy and overall just not enjoyable. But the views were amazing! And the kids had a really nice time and loved it! But that’s it… I’m never doing it again!

Because of the time change the kids were staying up later than normal, which worked out because we all got to experience the Eiffel Tower light display! The light show starts at sundown, takes place every hour until 1:00am, and lasts for five minutes. After a very long dinner we were able to make it there for the 10:00pm show and it was fantastic. The kids really enjoyed it, and over three years later STILL talk about it!

Luxembourg Gardens

The Luxembourg Gardens, Jardin du Luxembourg, is a popular place to relax and get away from the busy Paris streets. The expansive gardens are well maintained, with large fountains suited for toy boat sailing or reading a book. It also has an incredibly fun playground for kids called the Ludo Jardin. At the time it cost a few euros a person to enter, but what you get from an hour or two of the kids playing here will help you continue with the rest of your day in Paris! The area is fenced in so the kids can run around while parents can sit with a coffee or tea.

Montpanarsse Tower

Tour Montpanarsse is an almost 700 foot skyscraper in Paris and was the tallest building there until 2011. The tower is known for having the best views of the city, with an amazing view of the Eiffel Tower.

Strolling the Streets of Paris with Kids

We were excited to go here since we hadn’t been before. It’s right near a metro stop so it was easy to get to, and we had bought our tickets online so there was no hassle at arrival. Besides the view, the great thing about this visit was that it was empty… there was hardly anyone there! We were able to read about the history of the tower, some interesting facts about Paris, and enjoy the view in peace! It’s not obvious when you first arrive, but there are several more flights of stairs that you can climb in order to get to the rooftop terrace. This was our favorite as you can truly relax and enjoy the view at your own pace unlike the Eiffel Tower.

Eating & Strolling

We spent the majority of our time eating and strolling. Every morning we started our day with croissants and hot chocolate. We snacked on macarons, ate crepes with various foods heated inside, and had a lot of bread! Jon and I drank French wine while eating decadent food, and enjoyed somewhat peaceful meals while the kids played with some toys we brought. We walked around the different areas at a very relaxed pace – no running around to different sites, no early wake-ups to sightsee; we just… were.

Dinner with friends!

Traveling to Paris with young kids from the U.S. can be done! The key is finding a balance between what the kids want to do and what the parents want to do. It also helps to find activities that the whole family can enjoy together while finding times to just, be. Either way, take the time to stroll and eat your way through this vibrant city!

Let’s Go to Venice! (Bring the Kids)

Venice is unlike any other city in Italy, or in the world for that matter. From its never-ending canals, bridges, and narrow walkways winding around them all, this city is quite unique! You will find yourself transported to a completely different world. There are no cars whizzing by or scooters beeping at you to move. You can walk along the canals admiring the main modes of transportation, which are walking and boating. The streets can be so narrow that, at times, you must walk single file in each direction, with small bridges stretching the span of the water for pedestrians to cross. And the biggest canal of them all, The Grand Canal, which is Venice’s most important waterway, runs in an S-shape throughout the city nearly splitting it in two. And you don’t have to leave the kids at home! Venice with kids is exciting and fun!

What’s great about Venice is there’s nothing you need to run and see. The goal here is to take in the environment and experience something completely different from what any other city will give you. And each time you go you will have a different outlook. You’ll still be amazed and you’ll discover something new every time.  

What To Do While Here

There are two on-the-water musts to do while in Venice. The first is riding on the vaporetto, which is Venice’s water bus service. This is a great option if you don’t want to walk across the island or if you want to go to a different island like Murano. It operates just like a bus service, with stops dropping people off and picking them up. It’s an interesting sight watching people use this to get to and from work. When we went with our kids, we used this option to get from our hotel to St. Mark’s Square. The kids loved being on the water bus and it was definitely a highlight of the trip.

Venice with kids - on the vaporetto

Another water option is taking a gondola ride. Along the canals you will see gondoliers standing by their gondolas waiting to take you on that relaxing ride. Don’t worry if you’re traveling as a family – it’s not just for a romantic couple. I’ve gone with my kids, my parents, my friends, and my husband. You will have a good time no matter who you’re traveling with! You don’t need to buy the gondola in advance as it’s done on a whim. Give the gondolier the money (80 euros daytime, 100 night) right then and there and off you go! For about 20 minutes they take you down the small canals and under stone bridges, while passing hotels and old buildings. A lot of gondoliers will talk about the historical significance of the buildings that you pass, legends about the bridges you go under, and general information about the city. It’s a charming ride that everyone will enjoy.

St. Mark’s Square (Piazza San Marco)

Piazza San Marco is Venice’s largest and most important piazza and is an absolute must when you visit Venice. In the square, built in the 12th century, you will see beautiful galleries that surround the area, with Saint Mark’s Basilica and the Bell Tower on one end. This is a place to stroll and take in the beauty of the architecture around you. Head into the basilica for some impressive mosaic craftmanship, shimmering with gold from all angles.

Afterwards, head inside and up the elevator in the iconic Bell Tower (Campanile) to get beautiful 360-degree views of the city. This is probably the only tower in Italy that you don’t have to physically climb up! The panoramic vistas are worth the short wait for the lift up.

The Different Islands of Venice

Did you know that Venice is made up of over 100 islands? While there is no need to visit anywhere close to this amount there are a few of note that are worth the visit, namely Murano, Burano, and Torcello. On one of our trips, we took the day to visit Murano since they are known for their exquisite blown Venetian glass and we wanted to learn more about it.

Stepping off the boat in Murano was a completely different experience than on the main island of Venice. It was much quieter, laid back, and had beautiful glass shops and intimate sidewalk cafes. Each shop after the next was filled with intricate, exquisite glass pieces that illuminated with the store lights. We had to learn how these pieces were made! Luckily, we were able to step inside a factory for a tour and glass blowing demonstration. It is pretty impressive what the glass blowers are able to make.

Strolling & Shopping

I’d say one of the highlights of Venice is strolling the streets and checking out the different neighborhoods, each one having its own special appeal. We stopped numerous times for gelato on the go and went in and out of small stores for some shopping, which proved hard to get out of… there are so many cool things to buy! From Venetian masks to glass jewelry, you’ll have no trouble bringing back souvenirs for your friends and family back home.

Whether you visit Venice solo or spend time visiting Venice with kids you are sure to have a great time. Get lost in the maze of narrow streets and bridges, shop in the fabulous small stores, find transportation on the numerous waterways, or make it a combination of all of the above. You can’t go wrong!

Ireland roadtrip

Ireland Roadtrip: Cliffs of Moher, Bunratty Castle

The last part of our Ireland roadtrip took us out of County Kerry, heading north to County Clare. We started our journey in Dublin and Kilkenny, and then made our way down to Cobh and Blarney Castle. After that, we headed to County Kerry where we visited the Gap of Dunloe, the Dingle Peninsula, and Slea Head Loop. It had been an amazing journey so far and we were very excited to experience Adare, the Cliffs of Moher, Doolin, and Bunratty Castle.


We drove up to the Cliffs of Moher and then back down to our lodging at a farmhouse in Newcastle. On our drive up we we stopped in the small village of Adare. Adare is often known as Ireland’s “prettiest village”. The village is famous for its thatched cottages, which were built in the 19th century. Now the cottages house restaurants and small craft shops.

Cliffs of Moher

We drove an hour from Adare to the very famous Cliffs of Moher. There are no words to describe what we saw here – it was that stunning and beautiful. The cliffs tower over 700 feet above sea level and are completely vertical, with abrupt edges down to the bottom.

Road trip through Ireland

We walked out quite a ways down from the entrance in order to get away from the crowds. There were areas that were a little scary to walk by. If you took one wrong step you might have risked falling off a cliff! It was pretty windy while there, and very overcast!

After the cliffs we drove down towards the water to the small town of Doolin. Our friends had told us that they had amazing mussels here, but after looking at numerous restaurants’ menus and not seeing mussels, we settled on some local grub to eat.

Road trip through Ireland

Farmhouse Accommodations

For the next couple of nights we stayed at a gorgeous farmhouse in Newmarket in Fungus, about 15 minutes from Shannon airport, where we had an early flight from there two days later. Cahergal Farmhouse is off the beaten path, but still within access to many sights. This farm is gorgeous with such bright greenery, animals strolling around the grounds, and space in the house so we could lounge without being in anyone’s way. This farmhouse is exactly what I think of when I think of classic Ireland. We were greeted with homemade scones and tea, and lovely hosts that gave us suggestions on what to do since we had a “free” day during our last day there.

Bunratty Castle and Folk Park

Our hosts suggested we go to Bunratty Castle and Folk Park. This is a pretty complete medieval fortress that contains many 15th and 16th century furnishings, tapestries, art, and dwellings, which captures the mood of that time. We strolled between each of the different buildings, all representing a different purpose. There were houses, shops, schools, a post office, a doctor’s office, and pubs, each taking on the medieval time period. We were involved in all of the sights and sounds as they recreated the scene from that time. We watched the tasks of typical rural Irish families and saw the conditions in which they lived. At the end of the morning, we took a nice walk through the gardens. It was modeled on the original Regency period garden, which supplied fruit, vegetables, and flowers to the Bunratty House.

Had our hosts not suggested it we wouldn’t have come to Bunratty Castle. We had read reviews that weren’t the greatest. People stated that it gets very crowded, to the point where it’s not enjoyable at all, that it’s not authentic, and that it’s a big tourist trap. As with most things we do, we got there right when it opened so it wasn’t crowded at all, and we found that everything from the period pieces to the “actors” was believable and tastefully done.

Our Ireland roadtrip proved to be just what we needed; a mix of outdoor activities filled with amazing scenery, and a flexible schedule that allowed for the much needed down time that we were craving.

Ireland Roadtrip: County Kerry

After visiting Blarney Castle we drove the 1.5 hours to Beaufort, which is about 10 kilometers outside of Killarney, and our home for the next three days. We had started our Ireland roadtrip in Dublin and then made our way to Kilkenny. The next day we visited The Rock of Cashel, Cobh, Cork, and Blarney Castle. It was a fun-filled busy few days, and we had such a great time! Now, we were excited to see the wonder of County Kerry as it is full of magnificent scenery, an outstanding national park, and two well-known loop drives – The Ring of Kerry and the Dingle Peninsula. This area is a must for any first time visitor to Ireland.

Gap of Dunloe

For our first day in County Kerry we walked the Gap of Dunloe. The Gap of Dunlow is a narrow mountain pass through Macgillycuddy’s Reeks and Purple Mountain. We parked the car at Kate Kearney’s Cottage, which is a pretty popular restaurant for everyone deciding to attack the Gap (either by walking, by jaunting car, bikes, or driving). It’s a relatively easy, though long, walk with periods of steep ascents. The sun was shining down so brightly and the beauty is unlike anything we’ve seen before.

We met a lot of friendly people on the walk and even witnessed a runaway sheep! Poor thing!

The weather held out for most of the walk. But soon we got to a point where we had to make a decision to keep going or turn around. Although it looked very appealing to keep walking, the skies opened up and it started pouring! We didn’t want to be caught in the mountains during the downpour. So after our three mile walk we turned around and headed back. We dried off and warmed up with some stew and a goat cheese salad at Kate Kearney’s Cottage. Yum!

Dingle Peninsula

The next day we drove around the Dingle Peninsula. We decided against driving around The Ring of Kerry, though we were able to see many parts of it since as our bed and breakfast was just off it. It was super crowded with buses barreling down the narrow roads with us driving a stick with the “wrong” hand on the “wrong” side of the road. We were looking for a stress free vacation! The Dingle Peninsula did just that and had amazing scenery of its own. The coastline is full of towering cliffs interrupted by sandy beaches.

We stopped at Inch Beach at the recommendation of our B&B host. Even though we had planned every part of this road trip through Ireland, we had been able to be flexible and add on things based on locals’ recommendations. And those are the best!

Stretching four miles, Inch Beach is very popular with surfers and swimmers and offers a magnificent backdrop as you look out onto the blue waters. It was a very breezy and brisk day!


Our next stop along the peninsula was the fishing port town of Dingle. It’s a good thing we got here relatively early in the morning because it became so crowded with tour buses and the general public after 12pm. This is a charming town full of pubs that play live traditional music, and shops that sell a plethora of random trinkets and knick knacks. While strolling the streets we found some beautiful artwork to add to our collection, slipped into a teeny tiny restaurant where we had some delicious chowder, and ate ice cream at the legendary Murphy’s Ice Cream Shop. We had a beautiful and relaxing day in this pleasant town!

Slea Head Loop

Instead of heading back, we drove the Slea Head Loop, which is one of the most famous drives in the area. We headed west from Dingle and hugged the coast as we drove through some of the most breathtaking and dramatic views we have seen. In some places the road was extremely narrow with some sharp cliff-edge bends, which provided some heart stopping moments. It is a stunning drive and we’re happy that we decided to do it.


We went to the town of Killarney a couple of times during our stay in County Kerry, mainly for a couple of meals and to walk around. I had read that Killarney is swarming with tourists, but it actually wasn’t too bad and it was a really nice town. I don’t know if I would go out of my way to visit it, but since our B&B was so close it made sense to go there. There were a few great restaurants that we went ate in and quaint streets to walk through.

We wish we would have had more time in this area, but isn’t that always the case?! Next up is the last part of our Ireland roadtrip… the Cliffs of Moher, Adare, and Bunratty Castle!

Road Trip Through Ireland: Cashel, Cobh, Blarney

We planned our road trip through Ireland to start in Dublin and then Kilkenny where we had a great couple of days! After our time in Kilkenny we drove 45 minutes to Cashel to spend the night. From Cashel, we drove to Cobh, Cork, and finally Blarney Castle. This day would end up being one of our favorite days of the whole trip!

Cashel – The Rock of Cashel

Our purpose for visiting Cashel was to see The Rock of Cashel, which we had wanted to visit first thing in the morning. We arrived at our bed and breakfast and were greeted by an odd, but very friendly fellow who showed us around the b&b and to our room.

It was a Saturday night when we arrived and we must have spent about an hour walking around in circles trying to find a restaurant or pub to eat in. There was NOTHING open! It was so weird. The one restaurant we wanted to go to didn’t have anything free until 10pm. I guess that’s where everyone was since the town was dead. It was a complete 180 from what we just saw in Kilkenny a few hours prior. We finally found a pub where we had some stew and beers. There wasn’t much activity, but it had food! The town was a bit of a disappointment and I wish we had stayed in Kilkenny. But at least we still had the ROCK to see.

The Rock of Cashel is a set of medieval buildings dating back to 1100. It’s literally built on a rock and the site rises up from the rolling plains making it dominate the landscape from below. It really is quite a site to see from the town. The Rock of Cashel includes a chapel, a round tower, a cathedral, and a graveyard. It has a rich history and most of it is in its original rustic condition, though they were doing renovations while we were there. Since we arrived right when the site opened we were able to see everything pretty quickly.


We got on the road and drove to Cobh, about an hour away. We hadn’t planned on going to Cobh, but someone on our Kilkenny tour strongly suggested that we stop there and we are SO glad we did! It ended up being one of our favorite stops!

Cobh (pronounced Cove) is a pretty seaside town on the southern coast of County Cork. It served as one of the main transatlantic Irish ports, transporting 2.5 million of the 6 million Irish people between 1848 and 1950. It was also the famous final port of call (then called Queenstown) for the Titanic when it set out of its tragic voyage.

We walked around the town for a while and went to a small market on a plaza on the water. Next to this market was the “Titanic Experience“, a unique experience detailing the history of the ship and its unfortunate journey. It’s located in the original White Star Line Ticket Office, which was the departure point for the final 123 passengers who boarded the Titanic. The first part of the experience retraces the steps of the passengers who boarded on April 11, 1912. We experienced what life would’ve been like for the different classes of passengers and saw replica set designs of rooms. The second part examines what went wrong the night the Titanic sank. The tour was extremely informative and we really enjoyed it!


We left Cobh and drove to Cork for lunch. We went to a delicious restaurant where they use most of their ingredients gathered from The English Market (it’s closed on Sunday, otherwise we would have visited it). Afterward, we walked along the water a bit, but we didn’t get to spend much time here at all. We wanted to stop at Blarney Castle on the way to Killarney and we had to continue our road trip through Ireland as we were running out of time before it closed! Oh well!

Blarney Castle

We were excited to visit Blarney Castle and its famous Blarney Stone. The castle was built nearly 600 years ago and has become one of Ireland’s most visited treasures. Blarney Stone has a lot to do with its popularity – the Stone of Eloquence stands at the top of the tower. Legend has it that if you kiss the stone you’ll never again be at a loss for words (the gift of eloquence or the skill of flattery). The word blarney has come to mean clever, flattering, or coaxing talk sweetened with humor or wit. We were fortunate that we arrived later in the day and had no crowds to battle since August is their busiest month – sometimes the line can be up to two hours to get to the top of the castle, but we walked right up!

The ritual of kissing the stone has been performed by millions of people, and luckily there are now safeguards in place to prevent people from plummeting to their deaths, which did happen. I was very hesitant to kiss the stone; not because of the height, but because of the millions of people who had kissed it before me. I had planned to get into position and put a tissue between my lips and the stone, but I needed both hands to hold onto the railing upside down. Nowadays though, they actually have people cleaning the stone with antibacterial spray after each person’s kiss. It still skeeved me out a bit, so I didn’t exactly touch it, but came close enough! *This was before Covid so I’m not sure what has changed, if anything, with kissing the Blarney Stone!

More Than Just a Castle at Blarney Castle!

There’s a lot more to this castle than meets the eye. The grounds have expansive gardens, each with different names and purposes. Behind the castle is the poison garden, which contains a collection of poisonous plants from all around the world. The plants are labeled with information about their toxicity and traditional and modern uses. Some of the plants are so dangerous here that they are kept in large cage-like structures.

We also walked around Rock Close, which is an enchanting and magical area to be in. As you walk through you can find yourself in a shaded nook, standing on a terrace above a creek with slivers of sunlight peeking through old trees. Here one can find an ancient sacrificial alter, a druid’s circle, a hermit’s cave, a witch’s kitchen, and wishing steps. It was definitely an unexpected find and one that we’re glad we stumbled upon.

Jon made a wish, closed his eyes, and went up and down backwards in hopes his wish would come true.

Road trip through Ireland

This was one of our favorite days out of our whole trip to Ireland. Taking a slight detour from our plans to visit the small and delightful city of Cobh was so special! Having lunch with fresh market ingredients in Cork, and exploring an old castle while engaging in a centuries old tradition, really stood out during our time in this exquisite country. Our road trip through Ireland was well underway! Next up, County Kerry in Southwestern Ireland!

Road Trip through Ireland - Kilkenny

Road Trip Through Ireland: Dublin, Kilkenny

Ireland is such an easy destination to visit from the U.S. One, it’s only about a six hour flight from the NY area. Two, it’s about a five hour time difference as opposed to six (hey, every hour counts)! And three, there are no language barriers as everyone speaks English! We chose to visit Ireland during the warmest and least rainy time, August. We spent eight days on a road trip through Ireland, starting in Dublin and ending in Shannon.


We arrived in Dublin around 6:00am. After going through customs and renting a car we were ready to go! Driving on the left side of the road was… different. The roundabouts were tricky at first and anytime we had to make a turn we looked both ways multiple times because we kept forgetting which way the cars were coming from. There are signs all over the right side of the roads that say, “Wrong way!” and “Turn Around” for everyone not from the area.

Road Trip Through Ireland
What do I do???

After dropping off our luggage at the hotel we made an early visit to the Guinness Storehouse. We figured it wouldn’t be that crowded at 9:30am (it wasn’t) and we wanted to enjoy it while we were fairly awake. We learned all about the history and brewing process of making a true Guinness and even got a certificate on perfecting the perfect pint of Guinness – meaning, they taught us how to properly pour a pint. It was a fun and informative hands-on experience!

After walking through the storehouse we went up to the rooftop bar with our beer and enjoyed the panoramic views of Dublin.

We walked outside to find ourselves in a rainstorm! Rule number one when visiting Ireland – always carry an umbrella or raincoat as there is always some passing shower overhead. We took a cab to another area of Dublin and ate at a delicious restaurant based on a local’s recommendation. After lunch we went for a quick walk around Trinity college. However, we were so tired from our overnight flight and heavy morning beers and lunch, that we went back to the hotel afterwards and crashed until dinner.

The next morning after breakfast we walked to St. Patrick’s Cathedral, a beautiful cathedral dating back to 1191. We opted not to go inside, but the outside was very impressive. We spent the next hour strolling and walking around the city.


We hopped in the car and started our road trip through Ireland. Our first stop after Dublin was Kilkenny, about 1.5 hours away. Kilkenny is a busy, but charming town built on both banks of the River Nore. We really wish we had more time here, rather than rushing off to spend the night in Cashel, but we definitely didn’t realize what a vibrant town this is.

We took a two hour bike tour of the city in order to get a quick overview since we were short on time. The tour used scenic riverbank paths as out roadways, which took us not only to the town center, but to sites such as Kilkenny Castle, The Design Centre, Shee Alms House, The Tholsel, St. Mary’s Church, Rothe House and Gardens, The Courthouse (Grace’s Castle), St. Francis’ Abbey, The Black Abbey, and St. Canice’s Cathedral. We had a really nice time with the diverse group of travelers and our fun guide!

Our last stop on the tour was to St. Canice’s Cathedral and the Round Tower. The site was founded in the 6th century and worship has taken place here for over 800 years! The Round Tower is the oldest standing structure in Kilkenny. We were able to climb to the top and take in some nice views.

We were hoping to get to Smithwick’s Brewery after the bike ride, but we ran late and JUST missed the last entrance for the tour. Since we had reservations at a bed and breakfast in Cashel that night we couldn’t stay in Kilkenny to tour the next day. Instead, we bought some beer glasses and went on with our journey.

Road trip through Ireland

Moving Onward

Dublin and Kilkenny were great places to start our trip. We wish we had more time in both cities, but with limited time something had to be cut. Next up on our road trip through Ireland journey – Cashel, Cobh, Cork, and Blarney Castle!

New Year’s Eve in Naples, Italy

We had heard so much about New Year’s Eve in Naples, Italy that we had to experience it for ourselves! It is said that Naples has some of the best fireworks displays in the world. While there are organized fireworks presentations along the Lungomare (near Castel dell’Ovo), many people buy their own fireworks and head to their roofs or windows to show them off. From high on a roof or balcony you can see hundreds of fireworks from the islands, Naples, and Pozzuoli. In total, they last approximately 45 minutes, though many continue all night and into the daylight the next morning. It was very different from our time in Venice the year before.

Fireworks on New Year's Eve in Naples Italy

New Year’s Eve Traditions

Fireworks are popular with Neapolitans throughout the year. They set them off of their roofs for any occasion, whether it’s a birthday, anniversary, a holiday, or – it’s Thursday! Of course, this comes at a price. While many cities in Italy have banned personal fireworks, Naples holds their traditions and each year hundreds of Neapolitans are injured. In 2012 two people were killed and 361 people were injured (in 2011 two were killed and 561 were injured). On the roof below we witnessed fireworks gone awry as they were shooting sideways and the family was ducking behind walls to avoid them. Yikes!

Another tradition on New Year’s Eve in Naples, Italy is getting rid of old things. When the clock strikes midnight they believe they should get rid of anything they don’t want to carry into the new year. At midnight people will open their windows and throw things out onto the streets that they don’t want anymore. No matter how big it is! People have been injured or even killed because small ovens and refrigerators were flying down from above and hitting them. The streets in the downtown area become so littered with everyone’s old stuff that cars cannot move for hours. While this tradition is slowly fading away you may want to go to an open plaza, a roof, or stay inside on New Year’s in Naples, just in case!

Delicious Food

For cenone (the Italian word for New Year’s Eve dinner), Ashley and I cooked an Italian feast! It consisted of capers, prosciutto, and cheese for appetizers, and continuing on with Pizette con melanzane (fried eggplant balls), Pesto all Genovese (pesto pasta), Spaghetti Tradizionale (spaghetti with oil, garlic, red pepper flakes, and salt), Penne Siciliana (penne with eggplant, meat, and tomato sauce), and a variety of cannoli for dessert. And of course, a plethora of wine and champagne!

We’ve never been so close to a fireworks display and have never seen anything like we saw that night. It was a remarkable scene watching the fireworks from nearby windows and roofs all the way to the islands. We are thrilled that we made the decision to celebrate New Year’s Eve in Naples, Italy. While we didn’t throw anything out of the windows or light our own fireworks, we were still able to partake in one of Naples’ many traditions simply by being present and taking in the experience.

New Year’s Eve in Venice

Venice is quite an interesting place! Small canals run through the city, with small bridges stretching across the water for pedestrians. The Grand Canal, Venice’s most important waterway, runs in an S-shape throughout the city nearly splitting it in two. The streets can be so narrow, that, at times, you have to walk single-file in each direction. Additionally, there are no cars or scooters anywhere. The mode of transportation throughout the city is by boat or on foot. We even took a boat from the airport to Piazza San Marco, and then walked about five minutes to our hotel, which had two entrances: a water entrance and a walking entrance! Overall, we took this opportunity to relax, unwind, and explore at our leisure. We thought Venice would be the perfect place to spend New Year’s Eve.

Taking our Time

Jon and I had no agenda other than to walk around to each of the six different sections of the city and to have a blast spending New Year’s Eve in Venice. Though we have been here four times, our New Years trip was our first time here. At the time there was no Google Maps to help us out with directions! We relied solely on a paper map to help us navigate the streets (the horror)! It was fun wandering the city with no real plan and seeing where each path would take us. We quickly learned that there is always something new to find in Venice!

We walked through the different streets, alleys, and piazzas, passing gondolas, boats, and many glass and mask shops along the way. Oh, the shopping! I’m not a big shopper, but even I couldn’t resist going into some of these beautiful shops to buy gifts and souvenirs.

We also rode in a gondola through the small canals, passing hotels and old buildings, and going under the cute bridges. Our gondolier was excellent and talked about the historical significance of buildings that we were passing, legends about the bridges we were going under, and general information about the city.

Naturally, we indulged in a ton of food and wine, too…

No trip is complete for us until we see a city’s Jewish area. In Venice it is called the Jewish Quarter, located in the section of Cannaregio. We enjoyed seeing a mix of Hebrew and Italian on the buildings. While here, we saw the Holocaust Memorial, which was very moving. In addition, we went into a glass shop where they had a plethora of Jewish goods. We decided to buy a lovely glass mezuzah that they personalized with our last name.

New Year’s Eve Celebrations!

For New Year’s Eve, we had made reservations at a restaurant that offered a seven-course meal for the night. Seven courses! Four hours and two bottles of wine later, we made our way to Piazza San Marco, where a large crowd had formed, a concert was taking place, and people were dancing. It was crowded, but not scary crowded as we had plenty of room to get out if we needed to!

We soon settled ourselves among the diverse crowd and waited for the countdown. Dieci, nove, otto, sette, sei, cinque, quattro, tre, due, uno, Buon Anno! It was fun counting down in another language in another country and it was interesting to see that New Year’s traditions around the world are pretty similar.

We made our way towards the Grand Canal where a beautiful fireworks display was lighting up the sky. We couldn’t help but think how lucky we were to be spending New Year’s Eve in Venice.

More Adventures to Come…

We spent the rest of our time checking out the different walkways and getting lost in the maze of narrow streets and bridges. It was different and refreshing to have no plan and to just wing it. We also knew that at some point in life we would be back with friends or family so we didn’t feel a need to do more. Spending New Years in Venice was special and a trip that we will always remember!

Spending the Morning at Pearl Harbor

Visiting Pearl Harbor was an educational and moving experience for us! There are so many ways to spend your day here. For instance, you can go to the USS Arizona Memorial, USS Missouri, check out the aviation and Pacific Fleet Submarine museum, walk through the exhibit galleries, and so much more. You could easily spend the entire day visiting all of the different sites. However, because there were ten of us with varying attention levels, we decided to just spend a morning at Pearl Harbor. We tried to get tickets to the USS Arizona, but they sell out everyday online within a couple of minutes and it was impossible to get ten at the same time. So we opted for the impressive USS Missouri!

USS Arizona Memorial spend the morning at Pearl Harbor
USS Arizona Memorial
USS Missouri. Spend the morning at Pearl Harbor
USS Missouri

The USS Missouri

The USS Missouri is located on Ford Island. From the visitor center you take a quick shuttle and you’re there! It was quite an impressive sight! The battleship is ripe with history featuring exhibits, historical information, and free guided tours. We were impressed with the amount of things to see and do on the ship. Each deck has different areas to read and learn about, and we were able to explore at our leisure. It was an incredible feeling knowing that we were standing in the very spot where the signing of Japanese surrender happened during WWII. It is also important to note that this was the last battleship ever built. The USS Missouri was launched on January 29,1944 and remained active for over 70 years since then.

The kids had a blast looking at the massive size of the ship. In addition, they were fascinated with how the military lived and worked onboard. Some of the bunk beds had three beds each to them! The workers even had a small scavenger hunt for kids which had them hunting for certain objects around the ship. It kept them entertained and happy! They even learned a bit about WWII and the sacrifices that our military makes to defend our country.

We spent over two hours on the ship, going up and down very steep staircases and dodging low hanging doorframes. I definitely could have spent more time reading all of the information at the exhibits and exploring a little more. There was so much interesting stuff to comb through. However, we managed to see every deck and room, and we made it out of there before it got too hot!

Food and Pool

Since the temperature was quickly rising and we were just a little parched, we bought some amazing shaved ice from one of the food trucks just outside the Missouri. This provided a nice break and relief from the heat!

We took the shuttle back to the Pearl Harbor visitor center and couldn’t believe how crowded it had gotten. The line for the shuttle to the USS Missouri was wrapped around the bend. This was one of many benefits to our early rising because of the time change… we beat the crowds and the heat!

On the way back to the resort we went into Pearl City and picked up some poke bowls to go from Poke On Da Run. They were divine! Spending the morning at Pearl Harbor was a great option for us as we then spent the rest of the afternoon relaxing at the pool. It was the perfect day filled with education, awe, and pool time.

Chasing the Winter Sun in Finland

Way up in Northern Finland, approximately 185 miles above the Arctic Circle line, and about 30 miles from the Russian border, lies a small town named Saariselka in the region of Lapland. Saariselka is Europe’s most northern resort town and is known for its large hilly landscapes and clean air. A five minute walk from the village center brings you away from the lights of the town and into the peace of the wilderness. The town itself has 300 permanent residents and even though there are many visitors, the town continues to hold a peaceful, serene feeling. Winter in Finland is definitely a special and unique experience.

Weather and the Region

The region has six weeks of uninterrupted sunlight in June/July, and six weeks of darkness in December/January. On our first day, the sun rose at 10:38am and quickly set at 2:04pm totaling 3:26 hours of sunlight! The amount of sunlight at this time quickly increases through the month and by the end of January the region will be up to 5:35 hours of sunlight.

The week we visited Saariselka they were having a ‘warm’ week of weather with temperatures ranging from 7-25 degrees F. Typically the temperatures are coldest during January and range from -20 – 14 degrees F, though a couple of years ago it got down to -63 F! Obviously, we packed many many layers, plus our typical ski gear. While walking around the town we took notice of the fresh crisp air and saw that snow covered every surface. It undoubtedly was a winter wonderland.

Getting There

It was a little bit of a process getting to Saariselka. We flew into Helsinki, then connected on a flight to Ivalo. Next, we took a 30 minute bus ride (that had been waiting at the airport for our flight) to Saariselka. The bus dropped us off in the “center” of town, which was about a 10 minute walk from the cabin we had rented with our friends (another couple and their one year old).

In the town are restaurants and a grocery store. The restaurants serve typical Finnish cuisine highlighting reindeer and salmon. We arrived late the first night, but the next day we walked into town and bought some local food at the supermarket to take back for lunches and a few dinners.

Reindeer Sleigh Ride

Our first activity was a reindeer sleigh ride through the woods of Lapland, about ten minutes from Saariselka. With two people per sleigh we slowly went through a path in the woods with the moonlight shining our way. The guide who led the reindeer was a member of the Sami people, a rich culture with an interesting history that stretches over the Norwegian, Swedish, and Finnish Lapland. This group of people are trying to preserve their culture and small community as much as they can. It was so interesting learning more about them. After our ride we were invited into a typical Sami “hut” and drank warm gooseberry juice next to the campfire. We were also fortunate to hear an old Sami song that was sung by our guide.

Husky Safari

The next day Jon and I left for our second Arctic adventure – a husky safari! We were taken to a ranch where the barking of enthusiastic dogs welcomed us at the start. The head musher talked about the life and training of the Alaskan Huskies, which are better suited to run and pull longer distances than Siberian Huskies. Before leaving we were given instructions on how to control the sleds, which we rode in pairs. For two hours the dogs ran and pulled us through the woods, up and down hills, and around tight curves. Whenever we would stop the dogs would start barking and howling, anxious to get going again. After our rides we met our team of dogs and had a chance to look around the ranch. In total they have 106 huskies, all eager to run!

We were then led into a snow covered hut equipped with a fire stove and set tables. We were welcomed with a mug of hot gooseberry juice and a large bowl of reindeer and vegetable stew. It was just what we needed to escape the cold and warm up.

Search For the Northern Lights Via Snowmobile

After a quick hour of rest, we headed out for the night for our next excursion, a search for the Northern Lights by snowmobile. With the moonlight flowing down, we drove the snowmobiles through snow covered forests, and over treeless fells, stopping a few times to look at the sky. We drove to an igloo site where we were given hot chocolate and grilled sausages. While we didn’t see the Northern Lights on this adventure, we had an amazing time driving about 25 miles on this Lapland adventure.

The Northern Lights

After getting back to the cabin we opened a bottle of wine to warm up. Since it was a fairly clear night the boys decided to go for a walk to see if the Northern Lights would make an appearance. I just couldn’t bring myself to go back outside in the cold at 12:30am! However, after walking around for an hour and feeling defeated, the boys saw a faint green light in the sky. The clouds soon moved and this is what they were surprised with…

Eating, Drinking, Relaxing

Besides our excursions we spent a lot of time relaxing and eating! We walked and played in the snow, sampled the Finnish cuisine, and spent time in front of the fireplace drinking hot chocolate with peppermint liquor. We loved this vacation and are so happy that we were able to spend part of our winter in Finland!