Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park & Field of Light

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Field of Light Uluru Ayers Rock

This one has taken me awhile, but I have finally managed to get this post finished from our top bucket list trip to see Ayers Rock. My family and I went on our first trip to Australia a couple of months ago.  We first visited Sydney and then flew to Uluru about a week later.  I had received a postcard from a friend when I was a teenager from her trip to Ayers Rock and I have always wanted to see it in person since then.  The trip did not disappoint and was certainly worth the over 20 year wait! Here are some of our photos from our adventure to the Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park:

Ayers Rock from a Plane

It was so exciting to see our first view of Ayers Rock from the window of the plane as we were flying from Sydney to the Ayers Rock airport.

 

Ayers Rock from the plane

This is another stunning view of Ayers Rock from the plane. I remember thinking that it looked so surreal seeing this big red rock sticking up out of the earth all by itself!

 

Ayers Rock Sunrise

We had to start our first morning at Uluru way too early for the sunrise and guided base walk tour we booked through AAT Kings! Anyone who knows me well knows that I am a night owl and not an early bird!! I promise you that it was all worth it in the end though!

 

Ayers Rock Sunrise

This is one of my favorite shots from our visit to Uluru. It was so peaceful watching the changing shadows and lights displayed on this massive rock while the sun rose right in front of our eyes! Truly a must see once in your lifetime!

 

Ayers Rock and Kata Tjuta

This shot is a view of the left side of Ayers Rock with a view of Kata Tjuta in the background during the sunrise.  It is surprising how small Kata Tjuta looks in this image!

 

Ayers Rock with family

After the sunrise, we walked down from the viewing platform to the closer viewing area on the ground and had a nice lady take this photo of us.

 

Ayers Rock Heart

We then returned back on the tour bus and headed to the base of Ayers Rock and started the tour with our guide on the Mala Walk. In this shot, you can see that there actually is a heart on the “Heart of Australia”! ❤️

 

Ayers Rock Aboriginal Rock Art

This shot is of some of the Aboriginal rock art we saw during the Mala Walk. It was pretty exciting to see it in person! There were several black spots on the top of the cave which was probably from the fires they had burning on the ground. It was pretty exciting to see this art work in person!

 

Ayers Rock Watering hole Kantju Gorge

This was the stunning watering hole at Kantju Gorge. The heart was also to the right of this view.

 

Outback license plate

This was a license plate of one of the tour vehicles while we stayed in the Outback.

 

We decided to rent our own car for the drive over to see Kata Tjuta (the Olgas).  There are 36 domes which form Kata Tjuta. Mount Olga is actually some 200 meters taller than Uluru! We were a little nervous at first as my husband would have to drive on the other side of the road for the first time.  Last summer, we hit a tree trying to park the RV we rented in Florida and that cost us $1000 in damages! Yikes!! It was a pretty quick drive over, so luckily all ended up being fine this time.  It was a very hot day and the flies were a bit much, (tip: definitely buy one of those silly nets that cover your head… we really wished we had) but we still managed to have a nice hike!

Ayer Rock Car View

This is a shot of Ayers Rock from our rental car during the beginning of our ride over to Kata Kjuta!

 

Kata Tjuta View

This is a shot of me at the viewing platform for Kata Tjuta. It was a beautiful sight and much different from Uluru!

 

Ayers Rock in the Distance

This is how small Ayers Rock looks from the Kata Tjuta Viewing Platform.

 

Kata Tjuta Lizard

This was some type of lizard we spotted while walking up to the Kata Kjuta viewing platform.

 

Kata Kjuta hike

This was towards the beginning of the hike up to Kata Kjuta.

 

Kata Kjuta Hike

Mia and I at a stop along the hike up at Kata Kjuta. We definitely had to stop a couple of times because of the heat for some water!

 

Kata Kjuta Rocks

A close up shot of these massive rock formations. Photos can never do it justice. You really need to see them in person to truly experience the awe of these stunning formations!

 

Driving in Australia

Danny having to drive on the other side of the road and on the right side of the vehicle for the fist time! It was pretty strange, but he did great!!

 

4x4 Rental in Australia

This was the 4×4 we rented for the trip to Kata Tjuta! It was a fun experience for us!

 

The highlight of our trip was definitely the opening night of Field of Light by Bruce Munro.  We purchased tickets well in advance for the Sounds of Silence event which included a dinner under the stars overlooking the stunning Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park with access to the Field of Light art installation after the yummy 3-course bush tucker inspired buffet.  The experience even began with canapés, Australian wine and beer along with local dancers and a funky sounding didgeridoo being played! What an experience we will never forget and what a surprise to get to actually meet the artist, Bruce Munro as he was at the dinner along with his family for the opening night!

Uluru Performance

A local dance performance at the beginning of the Sounds of Silence event.

 

Ayers Rock Performers

We were able to experience a really cool local performance at the Sounds of Silence opening night!

 

It was pretty amazing to hear the funky sounds coming from this didiv while looking at Ayers Rock in the background. What a unique experience it was for us!

It was pretty amazing to enjoy a glass of wine and hear the funky sounds coming from this didgeridoo while looking at Ayers Rock in the background. What a truly unique Australian Outback experience it was for us!

 

Field of Light

Danny and I with Bruce Munro, the internationally – acclaimed artist behind the Field of Light installation. We enjoyed chatting with him for a bit on the walk to the dinner area and hope to get the chance to see another one of his installations in the future. A big thank you to Mary from for taking this photo for us. She was a very sweet lady from Brussels who sat with us at dinner.

 

Field of Light Entrance

Mia and I at the entrance into the stunning Field of Light installation.

 

Field of Light Display

The Field of Light installation has over 50,000 frosted-glass spheres on display until March 31, 2017! It is definitely a once-in-a-lifetime experience to see if you can!

 

Field of Light Pathways

My family and I really enjoyed the experience of getting to stroll through the winding pathways of the Field of Light Installation. There was something truly inspiring while walking amongst the thousands of lights and under the milky way in the Outback night sky.

 

Danny and Mia in front of the Field of Light display. I think we all could of happily spent all evening strolling through the display!

Danny and Mia in front of the Field of Light display. I think we all could have happily spent all evening strolling through the display! I wish we could have just laid down on the ground and spent the whole night there in the middle of the lights under the stars!

 

Field of Lights Full View

The surreal sight we saw of the Field of Light display in front of Ayers Rock at the end of our walk through the display. It will literally give you chills and is an out of this world feeling to see it in person. We truly felt that we were on another planet and I really tried to soak the sight all in for as long as I could! We will never forget this truly amazing experience and will be forever grateful to have had the opportunity to finally make it to the Outback of Australia!

 

Boarding at the Ayers Rock Airport

The end of our adventure to the Outback of Australia. This was one of the smallest airports we have ever had to land at. The plane had to use the same runway we landed on to turn around on to get to the gate!

We can now mark another Red Pin Adventure off our travel bucket listVisit the Outback in Australia (See the Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park) 

Here is the link to my post from our trip to Sydney: Our Australian Adventure: Sydney

For more information about the Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park, please visit: Uluru-Kata Tjuta

For more information on the Ayers Rock Resort where we stayed, please visit: Ayers Rock Resort

For more information on the tour group we booked with, please visit: AAT Kings

For more information about the Sounds of Silence (April 1, 2016 – March 31, 2017), please visit: Field of Light

For more information about the internationally – acclaimed artist behind the Field of Light installation, please visit: Bruce Munro

 

 

Our Australian Adventure: Sydney

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I have wanted to visit The Land Down Under since I was a little girl. Who isn’t curious about this country with such amazing things as cute koalas, kangaroos, surreal Uluru/Ayers Rock & the stunning Sydney Opera House? My family and I have finally crossed off Australia from the top spot on our travel bucket list and we had an amazing adventure exploring the Outback, Sydney and the Blue Mountains areas.

First up is our first stop to the beautiful harbour city of Sydney where we spent almost a week exploring.  I will do two more posts from our other stops in Australia next. Here are some photos of our adventure in Sydney:

We arrived at Sydney in the evening and this was our fist view of the Sydney Opera House from our room at the Shangri-La. The online reviews were spot on about how amazing the view was from the Premier Grand Harbour View rooms and the staff were extremely friendly as well!

We arrived at Sydney in the evening and this was our fist view of the Sydney Opera House from our room at the Shangri-La. The online reviews were spot on about how amazing the view was from the Premier Grand Harbour View rooms and the staff were extremely friendly as well!

It was raining and cloudy pretty much all week, but the Sydney Opera House still shined and is one the most stunning architectural masterpieces we have ever seen!

It was raining and cloudy pretty much all week, but the Sydney Opera House still shined and is one the most stunning architectural masterpieces we have ever seen!

One of the many Mine! Mine! birds who enjoyed hanging out with us over dinner overlooking the beautiful Sydney Harbour.

One of the many Mine! Mine! birds who enjoyed hanging out with us over dinner overlooking the beautiful Sydney Harbour.

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This was on our ferry ride from Circular Quay over to Manly Beach.

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An evening shot of the entrance to Luna Park. The distinct smiling face is one you’re sure to never forget!

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The sun beginning to set over the Sydney Harbour Bridge while on our ferry ride over to Manly Beach.

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This is Mia and I on Easter Sunday on our walk to the Sydney Opera House to go on the tour for the first time!

This is a view from inside one of the Sydney Opera House shells with a view of more of the other shells.

This is a view from inside the Sydney Opera House glass curtain walls of one of the eastern shells with a view of the western shells.

A view of the Northern Foyer inside the Sydney Opera House with its distinctive purple carpet.

A view of the Northern Foyer inside the Sydney Opera House with its distinctive purple carpet.

Mia and I enjoyed seeing the beautiful Concert Hall at the Sydney Opera House.

Mia and I enjoyed seeing the beautiful Concert Hall at the Sydney Opera House.

The stunning Concert Hall. This was the most majestic space we saw inside the Sydney Opera House.

The stunning Concert Hall. This was the most majestic space we saw inside the Sydney Opera House.

Our future architect in front of the sign honoring the Danish architect Jørn Utzon who designed the Sydney Opera House. We were shocked to hear that he never actually had the chance to see it completed in his lifetime!

Our future architect in front of the sign honoring the Danish Architect, Jørn Utzon who designed the Sydney Opera House. We were shocked to hear that he never actually had the chance to see it completed in his lifetime!

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A view of the Sydney Harbour Bridge from the fountain in front of the Sydney Opera House.

We loved the name of this city on this directional sign!

We loved the name of this city on this directional sign!

A beautiful view on our tour around Sydney from the hop-on, hop-off bus.

A beautiful view on our tour around Sydney from the hop-on, hop-off bus.

It was another gloomy day, but we really wanted to see Bondi Beach on our last full day in Sydney!

It was another gloomy day, but we really wanted to see Bondi Beach on our last afternoon in Sydney!

Mia at the stunning Bondi Beach.

Mia at the stunning Bondi Beach.

Mia loved this cool circular stone walkway close to Bondi Beach.

Mia loved this cool circular stone walkway which felt like the edge of the earth on the coastal walk.

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There were many of these cool rock formations along the coastal walk.

A beautiful view of the waves coming in on the coastal walk.

A beautiful view of the waves coming in on the coastal walk.

A map of the Eastern Beaches Coastal Walk.

A map of the Eastern Beaches Coastal Walk.

A lifeguard stand at the end of our coastal walk. We were running out of daylight, so decided to take a bus back to the city after this stop.

A lifeguard stand at the end of our coastal walk. We were running out of daylight, so we decided to take a bus back to the city after this stop.

We decided to try out Uber for the first time.  It was the first time our driver had been out of the city and to the Featherdale Wildlife Park.  To add to our adventure, at one point he ended up going the wrong way on one of the roads, but we eventually made it and overall it was a great experience!  The photos below are from the Featherdale Wildlife Park which was about a 45-minute drive from the Shangri-La Hotel in Sydney:

We really enjoyed meeting the koala bears at the Featherdale Wildlife Park in Sydney.

We really enjoyed meeting the adorable koala bears at the Featherdale Wildlife Park in Sydney.

A funny wombat we fell in love with!

A funny wombat we fell in love with! It looks like he got his nose in a spider web!

Danny with one of the friendly kangaroos at the park.

Danny with one of the friendly kangaroos at the park.

Mia had a great time hanging out with all of the kangaroos at the back of the park!

Mia had a great time hanging out with all of the kangaroos at the back of the park!

Mia feeding one of the kangaroos an ice cream cone!

Mia feeding one of the kangaroos an ice cream cone! This experience was her favorite part of our stay in Sydney.

A close-up of one of the beautiful kangaroos at the park.

A close-up of one of the beautiful kangaroos at the park.

The kangaroos were pretty funny and we really enjoyed the time we had with them at this amazing park!

The kangaroos were pretty funny and we really enjoyed the time we had with them at this amazing park!

A really close-up shot of a stunning ostrich who wanted to check out my camera!

A really close-up shot of a stunning ostrich who wanted to check out my camera!

On our last full day in Sydney, we really didn’t want to leave without doing the Bridge Climb experience.  It was another gloomy day, so we weren’t too sure if it would be worth it or not. Even though it rained on us once we were at the top, it was well worth it and we are very happy that we decided to do it at the last-minute.  The photos below are from our Bridge Climb experience:

Mia on our climb to the summit of the Sydney Harbour Bridge!

Mia on our climb to the summit of the Sydney Harbour Bridge!

My family and I on one of the top sections of the bridge!

My family and I on one of the top sections of the bridge! We had to put our rain jackets they provided on at this point!

A lovely view of the city behind us from the top of the bridge climb!

A lovely view of the city behind us from the top of the bridge climb!

My family and I with the stunning Sydney Opera House in the background! Luckily, it hadn't started raining yet when we made it to this part of the bridge climb!

My family and I with the stunning Sydney Opera House in the background! Luckily, it hadn’t started raining yet when we made it to this part of the bridge climb! It was a bit scary at first, but seeing the view from the top of the bridge was definitely the top highlight from our visit to Sydney!

 

For more information about Sydney and activities in the area, please visit: The Official Tourism Site for Destination NSW

For more information about the Shangri-La Hotel in Sydney, please visit: Shangri-La Sydney

For more information and to experience feeding kangaroos and meeting koalas, please visit: Featherdale Wildlife Park

For more information on climbing to the summit of the Sydney Harbour Bridge, please visit: Bridge Climb Sydney

We can now mark another Red Pin Adventure off our travel bucket list:  Sydney, Australia (See the Sydney Opera House, koalas, & climb to the summit of the Harbour Bridge)

 

Weekly Photo Challenge: Half-Light

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My family and I are currently on our first trip to Australia.  This has been at the top of my bucket list since I was a little girl. I can still hardly believe that we are actually here! I have always been a night owl, so it is quite rare that I actually get to see the sunrise. My family and I decided to book a sunrise viewing of Uluru (Ayers Rock) this morning.

We had to get up at 4:15 am to join our tour which began at 5:15 am.  It was a bit rough getting up for all of us, but well worth seeing the sunrise highlighting this stunning monolith sandstone rock right in front of us!  We also enjoyed walking around this sacred site and learning more about the Anangu people. I was quite surprised to see this evening that the challenge this week was half-light. I had a quick laugh as I thought it was quite ironic to have just done our sunrise viewing this morning! I will post more photos from our Australian adventure later, but here are a few photos from this morning:

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This was the beautiful sight we saw a little while after we arrived at the sunrise viewing platform.

 

The stunning showing of light and shadows as the sun rose this morning at Uluru.

The stunning showing of light and shadows as the sun rose this morning at Uluru.

 

This shot shows the left end of Ayers Rock as well as a view of Kata Tjuta in the distance.

This shot shows the left end of Ayers Rock as well as a view of Kata Tjuta in the distance.

Weekly Photo Challenge: Oops!

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Oops! I snapped this camel pic at the wrong moment! Even the camel on the left thought it was funny! :)

Oops! I snapped a photo of this camel at the wrong moment! Even the camel on the left thought it was pretty funny, too!

This week’s weekly photo challenge is to post one of our photographic Oops moments! This camel in The Empty Quarter Desert was laying down and suddenly decided to stand up. However, they stand up in such an awkward way that this shot ended up looking pretty funny.  The best part was later seeing the grin on the other camel to the left once I downloaded the photo!

Sir Bani Yas Island, Abu Dhabi, UAE

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A beautiful giraffe crossing in front of our game viewer vehicle during our safari!

A beautiful giraffe crossing in front of the game viewer vehicle during our safari!

My family and I recently visited this stunning island which is located only about a 2.5 hour drive from the Abu Dhabi International Airport. The island is accessed by a quick 15 minute ferry ride across the tranquil turquoise sea of the Arabian Gulf. The island has its own airport with accessible flights from both Abu Dhabi and Dubai. For the more adventurous, there is also a seaplane that you can charter for a more unique arrival.

There are three Anantara Eco-Friendly Resorts to choose from on the island. The main resort is Desert Islands, which is located on the coast. The second is Al Yamm which is also located on the coast with 30 luxury beachfront and lagoon villas. The third resort, the Al Sahel Villas is the one my family and I stayed and was definitely our favorite. Your villa is nestled amongst the Arabian Wildlife Park and free-roaming animals can be seen all around the property.

There are numerous adventurous activities to choose from. Our first morning we did the safari drive, which I highly recommend. As we boarded our Land Cruiser Game Viewer, it was hard to believe we were in Abu Dhabi and not Africa. We saw numerous animals including gazelles, deer, giraffes, and even cheetahs. We also took a kayaking trip through the mangroves which was very peaceful. We even managed to spot some sting rays and flamingos. Our guides on both activities were extremely informative and friendly. Activities book up during peak times, so I would recommend making reservations in advance.

The dining options were another highlight of our trip. Each morning, we ate at the Savannah Grill at Al Sahel. Although the pictures and videos don’t quite do it justice, I’ve tried to show just how amazing it was each morning having breakfast right next to the amazing wildlife. We also took the opportunity to eat at Amwaj at Desert Islands. Located beachside, this seafood restaurant did not disappoint. For our last dinner, we did the Boma BBQ at Al Sahel. With a bonfire and traditional African dishes, it was a memorable family dinner under the stars.

This is our second visit to an Anantara resort. The first being Qasr Al Sarab (which I’ll write about next). Both of which have made it onto our Top Adventures List and have an exceptionally friendly staff and perfect serene settings for a unique and relaxing holiday.

The boats and a seaplane at the dock on Sir Bani Yas Island.

The boats and a seaplane at the dock where you arrive on Sir Bani Yas Island.

A beautiful Arabian Oryx we spotted on the drive in to the Al Sahel Resort.

A beautiful Arabian Oryx we spotted on the drive to the Al Sahel Resort.

Sunset at the giraffe sculptures which greet you at the reception entrance to the Al Sahel Resort.

Sunset at the giraffe sculptures which greet you at the reception entrance to the Al Sahel Resort.

This is Mia when we first arrived at the resort. She couldn't beleive her eyes and was pointing at everything!

This is Mia when we first arrived at the resort. She couldn’t believe her eyes and was pointing at everything!

Danny and Mia having fun in front of the Game Viewer vehicle which we rode in for our safari and to our kayaking adventure.

Danny and Mia having fun in front of the game viewer vehicle which we rode in for our safari and to our kayaking adventure.

A stunning Blackbuck/Indian Antelope on the island.

A stunning Blackbuck/Indian Antelope on the island.

The impressive large curled horns of the Barbary Sheep.

The impressive large curled horns of the Barbary Sheep on the island.

Two stunning Reticulated Giraffes on our safari.

Two stunning Reticulated Giraffes with the gazelles and birds on our safari.

Mia and I in the game viewer vehicle with a view of the beautiful giraffe.

Mia and I in the game viewer vehicle with a view of the beautiful giraffe.

Sand Gazelles and a Beisa Oryx in front of the beautiful salt domed hilltops on our safari.

Sand Gazelles and an Indian Antelope in front of the beautiful salt domed hilltops on our safari.

Two beautiful deer on our safari.

Two beautiful deer on our safari.  We spotted many deer on the island.

A stunning male Axis/Indian Spotted deer on our safari.

A stunning male Axis/Indian Spotted deer on our safari.

Beautiful sand gazelles on our safari.

Beautiful sand gazelles on our safari. I loved the one who looks so proud in the center.

Mia and I in front of the beautiful landscape at a stop on our safari.

Mia and I in front of the beautiful landscape at a stop on our safari.

Our guide, Marie pointing out the olive trees and the stunning landscape on our safari adventure.

Our guide, Marie pointing out the olive trees and the stunning landscape on our safari adventure.

I really enjoyed the safari experience on the island.

I really enjoyed the safari experience on the island.

The lovely beach/villa area at the Al Yamm Villa Resort.

The lovely beach/villa area at the Al Yamm Villa Resort.

Mia and her daddy having fun at the stunning infinity pool at the Al Yamm Resort.

Mia and her daddy having fun at the stunning infinity pool at the Al Yamm Resort.

Our family at a sandbar getting ready to explore the mangroves on the island.

Our family at a sandbar getting ready to explore the mangroves on the island.

My family and I on our sea/mangroves kayaking adventure on the island. Our very informative guide Matt, took this photo for us.

My family and I on our sea/mangroves kayaking adventure on the island. Our very informative guide Matt, took this photo for us.

Mia and I at the beautiful entrance to the Desert Islands Resort.

Mia and I at the beautiful entrance to the Desert Islands Resort.

The breathtaking lanterns at the lobby of the Desert Islands Resort.

The breathtaking lanterns at the lobby of the Desert Islands Resort.

The entrance sign to the Al Sahel Villa Resort.

The entrance sign to the Al Sahel Villa Resort.

Mia having fun at the back of our villa at the Al Sahel Resort.

Mia having fun at the back of our villa at the Al Sahel Resort.

The relaxing bedroom/desk area of our villa. It was perfect weather to enjoy all of the back doors and windows open for a nice view of all of the animals and a relaxing breeze.

The relaxing bedroom/desk area of our villa. It was perfect weather to enjoy all of the back doors and windows open for a nice view of all of the animals and a relaxing breeze.

The lovely bathroom area of our villa.

The lovely bathroom area of our villa.

The beautiful copper tub at our villa at the Al Sahel Resort.

The beautiful copper tub and front garden area at our villa.

The dining area at our villa at the Al Sahel Resort.

The dining area at our villa.

Mia at the fire pit area at our villa.

Mia at the fire pit area at our villa.

The back porch area of our villa at the Al Sahel Resort.

The back porch area of our villa at the Al Sahel Resort.

The back view of our villa where we watched many free-roaming animals every day.

The back view of our villa where we enjoyed watching the many free-roaming animals every day.

Mia and her daddy having fun in the pool at our villa.

Mia and Danny having fun in the pool at our villa.

I was relaxing on the back porch of our villa and couldn't believe how close this beautiful sand gazelle came up to me! What an amazing experience!!

I was relaxing on the back porch of our villa and couldn’t believe how close this beautiful sand gazelle came up to me! What an amazing experience!!

Mia found this cool walking stick at the Al Sahel Resort.

Mia found this cool walking stick at the Al Sahel Resort. This is a side view of the villa.

Danny took this photo of me taking photos of the animals at the Al Sahel Resort.

Danny took this photo of me taking photos of the animals at the Al Sahel Resort. So peaceful!

The view of the animals from the breakfast at the Savannah Grill at the Al Sahel Resort.

The breathtaking view of the animals from the breakfast at the Savannah Grill at the Al Sahel Resort.

Mia really enjoyed the breakfast every morning with the animals at the Al Sahel Resort.

Mia really enjoyed the breakfast every morning with the animals at the Al Sahel Resort.

These beautiful birds loved to hang out by our table every morning for breakfast.

These beautiful birds loved to hang out by our table every morning for breakfast.

Mia and Danny having fun at the breakfast which had an unbelievable view of many animals every morning.

Mia and Danny having fun at the breakfast which had an unbelievable view of many animals every morning.

I believe this beautiful bird is a Takahe. It was one of the many birds who you will see at the breakfast at the Savannah Grill Restaurant.

I believe this beautiful bird is a Takahe. It was one of the many birds who you will see at the breakfast at the Savannah Grill Restaurant.

A large group of gazelles at the Al Sahel Resort.

A large group of gazelles at the Al Sahel Resort.

Gazelles having some fun in the sprinklers before sunset on the island.

Gazelles having some fun in the sprinklers before sunset on the island.

This award for the World's Leading Sustainable Tourism Destination was displayed at the entrance to the Al Sahel Resort.

This award for the World’s Leading Sustainable Tourism Destination was displayed at the entrance to the Al Sahel Resort.

A stunning sunset at the Al Sahel Resort pool.

A great way to end the day… A stunning sunset at the Al Sahel Resort pool.

 

For more information about Anantara’s Sir Bani Yas Island Resorts, please visit:
Anantara: UAE & Sir Bani Yas Island Resorts

We can now mark another Red Pin Adventure off our Travel Bucket List: Sir Bani Yas Island, Abu Dhabi, UAE

3 Year Blogiversary!

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I received a notification from WordPress yesterday that it had been 3 years since I started this blog! Where has the time gone?! I have unfortunately not done much blogging this past year.  I guess it means that we are staying pretty busy and really enjoying our 2nd expat experience.  I was very surprised to see that people from 113 countries have now visited this blog.  It’s hard to believe that people still stop by even though I have not been posting anything lately.  I guess it’s time to get back to some blogging! I truly appreciate those of you who have stopped by here at Red Pin Adventures! I’ll be posting a few things very soon! ❤️🌎

My family and I on one of our adventures this year in an RV to the Florida Keys!

My family and I on one of our adventures this year in an RV to the Florida Keys! This will be one of my upcoming posts from this summer!

3 Year of Blogging! A big thanks to the 113 countries above who have visited my blog!

3 Years of Blogging! A big thanks to the 113 countries above who have visited my blog!

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Weekly Photo Challenge: Connected in Peace

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"Connected Camels and Peace" at the Rub' al Khali (The Empty Quarter) desert in Abu Dhabi, UAE.

“Connected in Peace” at the Rub’ al Khali (The Empty Quarter) desert in Abu Dhabi, UAE.

After an adventurous ride on the camels in this photo, my family and I were able to take a break for some much needed water and had fun running up and down some of the massive dunes in the stunning Empty Quarter Desert. I happened to look over to where the camels were laying down enjoying their break and noticed one of the guides starting to get the camels up and then they all started their journey back to where they stay. I started snapping shots of them as they were leaving and then the camel guide suddenly turned and looked at me. To my surprise, he then smiled and held up the peace sign! I watched them for as long as I could until they faded away into the desert and the hazy sand.

As my family and I explore more of the world and live as expats, we have realized that a majority of the people we have met around the world have a strong desire to be connected to each other and the only way this works is to live together in “Peace”.

Photobombed by a camel!

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Nothing like getting photobombed by a camel!

Nothing like getting photobombed by a camel!

This is Mia and I posing in front of the camels after we took a pretty adventurous ride on them around the serene Empty Quarter Desert.  Much to our surprise, we were photobombed by one of the camels in the back! 😂

Weekly Photo Challenge: Rule of Thirds

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Rub' al Khali (The Empty Quarter) desert.

Rub’ al Khali (The Empty Quarter) desert.

Mia and I relaxing and enjoying the breathtaking view of The Empty Quarter Desert.  The Rule of Thirds: This is one of my favorites when it comes to photographic composition.  I love to see photos that are off-centered.  I believe my hubby did a great job capturing Mia and I as we enjoyed one of those special serene moments in life we will never forget!

Weekly Photo Challenge: Depth

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Plenty of "Depth" to climb at the Ponce Inlet Lighthouse in New Smyrna Beach, Florida.

Plenty of “Depth” to climb at the Ponce Inlet Lighthouse in New Smyrna Beach, Florida.

 

"Depth" from the World's Tallest Building in Dubai. I took this from the At the Top observation deck at the Burj Khalifa. This building is over 828 metres (2,716.5 feet) and more than 160 stories tall!

“Depth” from the World’s Tallest Building in Dubai. I took this from the At the Top observation deck at the Burj Khalifa. This building is over 828 metres (2,716.5 feet) and more than 160 stories tall!

Weekly Photo Challenge: Express Yourself

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Mia and I along with the crowd expressing ourselves by dancing and parading down the street at the Market Square!

Mia and I along with the crowd expressing ourselves by dancing and parading down the street at the Market Square in Helsinki, Finland during Vappu!

This is one of my favorite shots from while we lived in Finland.  This was our last month there and it was during the Vappu (May Day) celebration. After a very dark and cold winter, it was the most exciting day we had seen in Helsinki all year! Although it was still gloomy, it was amazing to see so many people out and about and truly having a great time. We had no idea so many people actually lived in Helsinki!

This candid shot my husband managed to get after we danced around for a long time with this crowd is my favorite not only because it shows the genuine good time Mia and I were having on our faces, but also because of the people of Finland it shows in the background. There are so many expressing themselves: The bright pink lady blowing her whistle, the lady with the plaid long skirt banging on her tambourine, and the guy behind me showing the peace sign.  I also had no idea there was a guy that looks like Kid Rock to the left of us and a very sad faced guy with pink bunny rabbit ears to the right of us! Good times!!

2 Year Blogiversary & The Weekly Photo Challenge: Achievement

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Enjoying delicious cupcakes at New York City based Magnolia Bakery today celebrating our 2 year Blogiversary!

We enjoyed some delicious cupcakes at the New York City based Magnolia Bakery while celebrating our 2 year Blogiversary today!

This week’s photo challenge is Achievement and it was pretty ironic and also perfect timing to receive this message from WordPress this morning: 

Celebrating 2 years of blogging today!

Celebrating 2 years of blogging today!

I started this blog 2 years ago, and it was right before my family and I made the big life changing move to Finland!  We have been very busy settling into our new home (our 2nd expat experience), so I have been a little behind on keeping up with my blog lately.  We even had to purchase a car this past week (something we didn’t need while living in Finland). There is so much more to see and do here and it can be quite overwhelming at times. We are hoping to see and experience as much as possible while we are living here.

When I decided to start this blog, I never knew how much it would actually change my family’s life.  There is so much more adventure and excitement and we have all made friends from many different countries and cultures.  Our upcoming year will be full of adventure as well… and will include a visit to Australia, New Zealand, Italy, Desert Camping, Sea Kayaking, and Golf Lessons just to name a few. We are truly grateful for all we have experienced since starting this blog and are looking forward to many more adventures!

Thanks so much to the above 97 countries who have visited my blog in the past 2 years! Truly an achievement when I see how many countries are now colored in on my WordPress stats! Amazing!!

Thanks so much to everyone from the above 97 countries 🌎 who have visited my blog in the past 2 years! I would never have imagined it would be viewed in so many places around the world.  It is pretty cool to see how many countries are now colored in on my WordPress stats map! I am now encouraged to focus more on my blog and get some more posts written.  Our visit to St. Petersburg, Russia is finally up next and I’m really looking forward to getting back into reading more of my fellow bloggers’ adventures too! Cheers to another year of blogging! 🍷

Here’s a link to my most popular blog post over the past 2 years and the biggest achievement from our travels so far: 

Seeing the Northern Lights through a Glass Igloo in Lapland, Finland

Weekly Photo Challenge: Descent

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This series of photos are from the Suomenlinna Sea Fortress in Finland.  It was a very cold and breezy day, so there were not a lot of people visiting the fortress. We decided to go down this empty street where we stumbled upon a big friendly kitty and around another corner I spotted a guy standing on a boat coming out of one of the buildings.  It matched with the building nicely, so at first I thought it was a part of the building. I believe it is a boat that was just finished being built and was making its ceremonial descent down the little ramp and into the sea!  There was a Finland flag flying and as you can see from the last photo, they lowered the flag right after the boat had successfully made it!

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This is when I came around the corner and spotted the beautiful boat sticking out of the building.

 

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The boat making its descent down the ramp.

 

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This image shows the Finland flag being lowered after the boat was successfully launched into the sea!

 

Weekly Photo Challenge: Dreamy

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The weekly photo challenge this week comes at a perfect time to introduce our new kitty named Frida! This kitten is an Arabian Mau, and was rescued from the streets by an amazing lady named Jackie who runs a cat rescue group here.  It took us about a month to get her healthy, but she is doing great now and loves to play.  This is a very rare shot as Mia hardly ever takes a nap…  little Frida had jumped on Mia’s back while she was sleeping and then she also fell asleep. I ran to get my camera and snapped this shot. Mia had no idea that Frida slept on her back until after she woke up and I showed her this photo!  💞

Mia and Frida enjoying a nap on the couch!

Dreaming away: Mia and Frida enjoying a nap on the couch!

Weekly Photo Challenge: Nighttime

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For this week’s challenge, I have chosen two photos.  The first photo is a scene that woke me up in the middle of the night, while we were staying in a glass igloo in Northern Finland.  We had waited for hours to see the northern lights outside in the freezing cold earlier this year and had given up.  After falling asleep for about an hour, I woke up and saw this amazing sight.  I took this shot and then we bundled up again and headed out into the freezing cold and were lucky enough to see an amazing show from the northern lights for about an hour:

A stunning sight of the northern lights I woke up to in the middle of the night from our glass igloo!

I managed to set up a tripod in the dark in a very tiny space that was in the center of the two twin size beds to get this shot.  This is the stunning sight of the northern lights we woke up to in the middle of the night from our glass igloo!

The second photo was taken from the top of the tower at the Clarion in Bergen, Norway.  Guests can request a key card to visit the tower and can see amazing panoramic views.  We were hoping to get lucky and see the northern lights again after our luck in Northern Finland earlier this year, but no such luck in Norway!  However, we were still grateful to be treated to this amazing view while we enjoyed a nice relaxing evening outside at the top of the tower: 

The beauty of Bergen, Norway at night!

One of the best kept secrets of Bergen, Norway is the tower at the Clarion.  This is one of the beautiful scenes you can enjoy from the tower at night!


ALS: Ice Bucket Challenge~ In honor of my classmate

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I have been nominated by my high school classmate, Melissa (Missy) Y., who is currently battling this progressive neurodegenerative disease.  If anyone has any doubts about this challenge, I believe her post below shows that it is certainly making a difference, especially to those who are currently battling ALS.

This has been a very successful campaign for the ALS Association and has brought in an extraordinary amount of donations in such a short time.   I have accepted her challenge, and would also like to encourage my fellow bloggers and readers to help continue the momentum which brings more awareness and funds to help those currently living with ALS and their families and to hopefully one day find a cure!

ALS

Here’s our video: 

 

ALS info

Please make a video, pass along the challenge to three others, and here’s how you can make a difference by donating at one of the links below: 

You can donate to the ALS Association and learn more about the disease at this link:

ALS Association/Ice Bucket Challenge

Missy has also recommended her local chapter for donations:

Webmn.alsa.org

Or, if you would rather your donations go towards ALS drug development, she has recommended this site for donations:

ALS Therapy Development Institute

Update: Thank you to everyone who has donated at one of the above links so far! I normally do not post my blog posts to Facebook, but have been amazed at the response and those who have let me know that they have donated and also doing the challenge now.  I know that Missy is grateful for those supporting her and this ALS fundraiser.  It certainly gives hope for a cure! 

Weekend Getaway in Stockholm, Sweden

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A view of the many boats on the harbor.

A view of the many boats on the lovely harbor in Stockholm, Sweden.

During our last month living in Finland, we finally took a weekend to visit the lovely city of Stockholm, Sweden.  After our trip, we had really wished we had visited sooner! It was pretty cheap to travel there from Helsinki and only about an hour flight away.  We were really missing out as there is not much to do in Helsinki, but Stockholm had a totally different feel and felt like a true international metropolis. It would have been nice to have been able to spend a couple of weekends there to really explore the area and more of the archipelago islands.  Here’s some photos from our weekend trip exploring Stockholm:

Mia in our hotel room, we had a lovely view of harbor and The City Hall of Stockholm (which has 3 crowns at the top of the tower).

Mia in our hotel room, we had a lovely view of the harbor and The City Hall of Stockholm (which has 3 crowns at the top of the tower).

 

A view of the city from our room with a view of Kungsholmen Island.

The beautiful Kungsholmen Island in Sweden.

 

We were dropped off in front of this beautiful harbor at Gamla Stan.

We were dropped off in front of this beautiful harbor before we started exploring Gamla Stan (Old Town).

 

A cool door and buildings in Gamla Stan.

A beautiful door and buildings in Gamla Stan.

 

The Royal Palace (Stockholm Palace).

The Royal Palace (Stockholm Palace).

 

Mia and I in front of The Royal Palace (Stockholm Palace).

Mia and I in front of The Royal Palace (Stockholm Palace).

 

A lovely red tulip stands out in the crowd at Gamla Stan (Old Town).

A lovely red tulip stands out in the crowd at Gamla Stan (Old Town).

 

Mia in front of a beautiful water fountain sculpture in Gamla Stan.

Mia in front of a beautiful water fountain sculpture in Gamla Stan.

 

Mia and I in front of the cannons at The Royal Palace.

Mia and I in front of the cannons at The Royal Palace.

 

Mia enjoyed watching the ducks go by in Gamla Stan.

Mia enjoyed watching the ducks go by in Gamla Stan.

 

We took the #7 tram, and made it to Djurgården Island.  This is the Nordic Museum which was built in 1907.

We took the #7 tram, and made it to Djurgården Island. This is the stunning Nordic Museum which was built in 1907.

 

Mia and her daddy in front of the Nordic Museum.

Mia and her daddy in front of the Nordic Museum.

 

We enjoyed visiting the Vasa Museu located on Djurgården Island.  This is the only surviving 17th century ship in the world!

We enjoyed visiting the Vasa Museum located on Djurgården Island. This is the only surviving 17th century ship in the world!

 

The Vasa is a ship which sank on it's maiden voyage in 1628.  It never even left the Stockholm harbor.  It was raised some 333 years after it sank.

The Vasa is a stunning ship which sank on its maiden voyage in 1628. It never even left the Stockholm harbor! It was raised some 333 years after it sank.

 

Leaving Djurgården Island on the #7 Tram.

Leaving Djurgården Island on the #7 Tram.

 

The view as we were arriving on the boat to the Fjäderholmarna Island.

To end our weekend trip in Stockholm, we took a boat to the Fjäderholmarna Island. One of the thousands of islands off of Stockholm which make up the archipelago.

 

These stunning wooden boats were displayed nicely on Fjäderholmarna island.

These stunning wooden boats were displayed nicely on Fjäderholmarna Island.

 

A cool display of fish heads at the Fjäderholmarna island.

A cool display of fish heads at the Fjäderholmarna Island.

 

A lovely view at Fjäderholmarna island.

A lovely view at Fjäderholmarna Island.

 

Mia with a cool old anchor on the Fjäderholmarna island.

Mia with a cool old anchor on the Fjäderholmarna Island.

 

Mia and I enjoying the afternoon at Fjäderholmarna island.

Mia and I enjoying the afternoon at Fjäderholmarna Island.

 

Kastellet is a small citadel. It is located on the islet Kastellholmen.

Kastellet is a small citadel. It is located on the islet Kastellholmen.

 

We met a very nice couple from Sweden on our boat ride who told us that this stunning sculpture was created by the Swedish Sculptor, Carl Milles.

We met a very nice couple and their dog from Sweden on our boat ride who told us that this stunning sculpture was created by the Swedish Sculptor, Carl Milles.

 

We couldn't visit Sweden without trying out the Swedish Meatballs!  The lovely Rökeriet Restaurant at the Fjäderholmarna island.  Our server brought us the most amazing strawberries we have ever lasted at the end of the meal!

We couldn’t visit Sweden without trying out the Swedish Meatballs! The Rökeriet Restaurant at the Fjäderholmarna Island was a lovely treat. Our server brought us the most amazing strawberries we have ever tasted at the end of the meal!

 

Mia having fun at the display for Junibacken at the Stockholm Airport.

Leaving Stockholm…. Mia had fun playing at this display for Junibacken at the Stockholm Airport.

 

We never leave to travel without Mia's Junior Pilot hat.  We have always wanted to get a picture of her and a real pilot with their hat on too.  We finally found a nice pilot at the Stockhom Airport who was happy to take a picture with her.  We do not know his name, but a great big Thank You to this Norwegian Airlines Pilot! :)

We never leave to the airport without making sure we have Mia’s Junior Pilot hat!  It’s considered one of our good luck pieces while we travel.  We have always wanted to get a picture of her and a real pilot with their hat on too. We finally found a nice pilot at the Stockholm Airport who was happy to take a picture with her. We do not know his name, but a great big Thank You to this Norwegian Airlines Pilot!🙂

 

Maybe a future pilot... Mia having fun on a cool red plane at the Stockholm Airport.

Maybe a future pilot… Mia having fun on a cool red plane at the Stockholm Airport.

 

We can now mark another Red Pin Adventure off our Travel/Life Bucket List:

Stockholm, Sweden (visit the archipelago)

For more information about the Vasa Museum, please visit:

The Vasa Museum

For more information about the Rökeriet Restaurant, please visit:

Rökeriet Restaurant

For more information about Fjäderholmarna Island, please visit:

Fjäderholmarna Island

Weekly Photo Challenge: Silhouette

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A silhouette from a very cold and dreary day at the Suomenlinna Sea Fortress in Finland.

A silhouette from a very cold and dreary day at the Suomenlinna Sea Fortress in Finland.

For this week’s challenge, I have chosen another photo from our day trip earlier this year to the Suomenlinna Sea Fortress. I will add a post with more photos from this trip soon.  A UNESCO World Heritage Site, located on a group of islands off of Helsinki, Finland.

Weekly Photo Challenge: Texture

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Sheets blowing in the wind at the Suomenlinna Sea Fortress in Finland.

There is something very relaxing about this shot with many textures: Soft flowing sheets blowing in the wind against an impressive building made of colorful rough stones and hard metal poles in the foreground.  ~Suomenlinna Sea Fortress

This photo was taken earlier this year on a very breezy and chilly day at the Suomenlinna Sea Fortress.  A UNESCO World Heritage Site, located on a group of islands off of Helsinki, Finland.  

The Weekly Photo Challenge: Between & A Blog Hop (My Writing Process)

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For this week’s photo challenge, I have picked the following photo which is us “between” homes again!  This is at the airport in Helsinki, Finland… Moving again to another country with only suitcases! We are still in the “between” process and will move out of our temporary hotel to our new place next week!

Not the best of photos, but a true photo that shows the life of an expat (in between countries)!

Not the best of photos for this week’s challenge (cell phone shot), but a true example which shows the life of an expat (in between countries)!

And now onto the Blog Hop! First off, thank you to Sandy @ Hoarder Comes Clean for picking me as a fellow blogger to participate in this blog hop (my very first one).  You can check out her blog hop post here: Sandy’s Blog Hop Post.  Sandy’s blog features wonderful before and after shots of her decluttering process at her home combined with the weekly photo challenges.  She is a true inspiration for me as I am consistently working on simplifying my life! I am so much happier with less stuff!  So here goes, the following four questions for this blog hop are about my writing process:

What am I working on/writing?

I am currently working on playing catch-up on my blog.  I am very far behind on writing about our adventures.  After a whirlwind rush to see all of the Scandinavian countries as well as Russia before we moved away from Finland, my family and I have been staying in a hotel for the past three weeks while we are getting settled into our new life in another country.  My next post will be about our trip to Stockholm, Sweden.  It was only an hour flight from Helsinki and after our weekend trip to Stockholm, we really wished that we had visited there more often since it was so close by and pretty cheap to travel there from Finland.  I believe the flight only cost 39 euros each way!  I will then work on a post about our weekend trip to St. Petersburg, Russia which we managed to squeeze in our last weekend before we moved!

How does my work/writing differ from others of its genre?

I believe my work/writing differs from others of its genre by mainly focusing on my photos to tell the story of our adventures.  I take hundreds of photos on every trip that we take.  I noticed that I really tend to spend more time at my fellow bloggers’ sites that have more photos in their posts.  I tend to be a more visual person and therefore, I really enjoy taking photos and love to share our experiences in other countries while we travel through my photos.

Why do I write what I do?

I really hope that my posts encourage others to really try to get out into the world and see as much as they can see even if it’s in their own city.  It is amazing how much you can miss out on right in your own backyard!  I think many of us get so caught up in the everyday grind.  We noticed that we were guilty of this after living in Florida for 25 years and were about to move to Finland.  We suddenly felt the need to make a Central Florida bucket list!  How did we miss out on seeing so many things while living there for so long?   It was certainly a life changing experience for us.  We now try to hit the ground running on every new adventure and really enjoy seeing so much more of the world!  We have seen more in the past two years than we saw in our entire lifetime up to that point!

How does my writing process work?

Oh boy… where do I start on this question?!? To be honest, my writing process is a complicated mess at times!  It starts off of course with me taking hundreds of photos on a trip.  I also pick up tons of brochures and magazines while we are traveling.  We tend to also not do too much planning before we travel.  Surprisingly, there are many trips that are booked only the week or a few days before we go (yes, we enjoy being spontaneous as we get older)!  I believe this has started only because we have simplified our lives in the past two years.  We don’t get as stressed and have learned to do things on the fly!  Sometimes, I can write a post pretty quickly after a trip, and others may take me weeks to get into the spirit of writing and sorting it all out before I hit publish on a post.

The part that takes me the longest is sorting through the hundreds of photos.  I first bring them into iPhoto on my MacBook Pro and write the numbers down of the photos I would like to use.  I also sort through all of the magazines and brochures so that I can correctly label the photos.  I also try to brainstorm a few words that remind me of the location and write those down.  I then decide on what links to add at the bottom of my posts which I believe would be of interest of someone who may want to visit the location.  I then go through several save drafts and then I finally hit the preview button to see how it looks and then make final changes (usually grammar) before I hit Publish!! It is always very exciting and a great sense of accomplishment once I hit that publish button!

Here are a few photos which show my writing process from my last post about our adventures in Norway:

This is a shot of my spiral notebook where I start my writing process of each of my posts.

This is a shot of my spiral notebook where I start my writing process for each of my posts.

 

This is a shot of the what the table in our hotel room looked like while I was working on my last two posts about Norway!

This is a shot of what the table in our hotel room looked like while I was working on my last two posts about Norway! So as you can see, it can be a pretty complicated mess at times as I am writing a post!🙂

Passing on the baton:

I hope you enjoyed reading about my writing process! I am very happy to pass on the baton to a fellow blogger who is very similar to myself and who’s blog I enjoy following.  Amy@ Créatrice Mondial (French for “Global Creator”), also lived in Central Florida while in college and found my blog while I lived in Finland.  She is a fellow artist and also shares my love for traveling and I know you will enjoy following along with her adventures as well! You can read her blog hop post here: Amy’s Writing Process

~Christine

Norway in a Nutshell: (Pt. 1-Oslo, Fjord Cruise, & The Flåm Railway)

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Norway ranks at the top of my list of places to see in Scandinavia.  The peacefulness you feel while in Norway is something you will never forget.  I try to show what my family and I experience through my words and photos on this blog, but sometimes I feel that it is hard to do a very special place the justice it truly deserves.  Norway is certainly one of those places.  You really need to go there in person to experience the calmness, fresh air, and the true majestic beauty of it all. No wonder it was ranked at the top of the list for most happiest countries in the world*(see link below)! 

Maybe it is not our recent move that is taking me a long time to show our full Norway adventure (we have been staying in a hotel the past two weeks until we find a new place), but I believe I was really having a hard time deciding how to show such a magnificent place the way I thought it needed to be seen.   I think the best I can do at this point, is to forget about what to say in words and just show the photos and hope my two posts on Norway will inspire others to add Norway to their list of places to see!  So, here we go….  our Norway in a Nutshell experience in photos:

Our Norway in a Nutshell experience began in the city of Oslo.  This is the Royal House of Norway, the official residence of the current monarch.

Our Norway in a Nutshell experience began in the city of Oslo. This is the Royal House of Norway, the official residence of the current monarch.

 

This is Mia and I next to (well as close as we were allowed to get to his circle on the ground) one of the guards in front of the Royal House.

This is Mia and I next to (well as close as we were allowed to get to his circle on the ground) one of the guards in front of the Royal House.

 

Mia with the Lego Mascot  in the streets of Oslo, Norway.

Mia with the Lego Mascot in the streets of Oslo, Norway. Mia loves her legos!!

 

Time for a break and desert at the Hard Rock in Oslo!

It was time for a nice break and dessert at the Hard Rock in Oslo!

 

After one night in Oslo, we took the Bergen Railway to a stop in Myrdal and jumped on the Flåm Railway.

After one night in Oslo, we took the Bergen Railway to a stop in Myrdal and jumped on the Flåm Railway.  One of the steepest and most beautiful railways in the world!

 

A shot of inside the train before we left the Myrdal stop.

A shot of inside the train before we left the Myrdal stop.

 

The view from inside the Flåm Railway as we were leaving Myrdal.

The view from inside the Flåm Railway as we were leaving Myrdal.

 

Another shot at the beginning of the train ride.

Another shot at the beginning of the train ride.

 

Mia was enjoying the view from the amazing Flåm Railway!

Mia was enjoying the view from inside the amazing Flåm Railway!

 

I spotted these cross country skiers while on the train.  It looks like a nice relaxing place to enjoy an afternoon of skiing!

I spotted these cross-country skiers while on the train. It looks like a nice relaxing place to enjoy an afternoon of skiing!

 

At a quick stop on the route to see one of the beautiful waterfalls.  The entire route runs 12 miles long.

At a quick stop on the route (Kjosfossen) to see one of the beautiful waterfalls. The entire scenic route runs 12 miles long and has a descent of 2838 feet with a gradient of one in 18!

 

The beautiful waterfall at one of the stops high above one of the tunnels.

A beautiful waterfall at one of the stops high above one of the 20 tunnels on the route.

 

Mia getting ready to hop off the train at one of the stops.

Mia getting ready to hop off the train at one of the stops.

 

The cool Zig Zag Road up the cliff (Flåmsdal - Myrdal).

The cool Zig Zag Road up the cliff (Flåmsdal – Myrdal).

 

A beautiful shot of the valley.

A shot of one of the beautiful valleys on the route.

 

A view of the front of the train from the window of our train car on one of the many curves.

A view of the front of the train from the window of our train car on one of the many curves.

 

Ahhhhh.... the picturesque Flåm Valley!

Ahhhhh…. the picturesque Flåm Valley!

 

I would love to spend a year or so in this lovely valley!

The lovely Flåm Valley! So beautiful and peaceful….

 

I thought this was an interesting shot with the tractor and I believe a cemetery.

I thought this was an interesting shot from the valley with the tractor and what I thought at first was a cemetery, but I believe the stakes are part of their farm to grow something with vines!

We made it to the end of the route at the stop in Flåm! Next, we spent a little time eating lunch and shopped in the enormous gift shop during our break after the train ride! About an hour and a half later, we boarded the amazing Fjord1 cruise to Gudvangen (Aurland, Undredal, Nærøyfjord, and the majestic Sognefjord- the longest and deepest fjord in the world)!

Danny and Mia getting ready to board the ship for our fjord cruise!

Danny and Mia getting ready to board the ship for our fjord cruise!

 

The seagulls followed us for a long time on the cruise!

These seagulls followed us for a long time on the cruise!

 

Me at the beginning of the cruise.  What an amazing experience in Norway!

Me at the beginning of the cruise. I was so excited to have the chance to see the magnificent fjords in Norway!

 

The amazing view as we were leaving Flåm!

The amazing view as we were leaving Flåm!

 

Danny enjoying seeing the fjords from the boat!

Danny enjoying seeing the fjords from the boat!

 

This was the sight before we made the first turn on the cruise.

This was the sight before we made the first turn on the cruise.

 

This was as we were making the first turn.

This was as we were making the first turn.

 

One of the many beautiful waterfalls on the tour!

One of the many beautiful waterfalls on the tour!

 

The charming Village of Undredal!

The first view of some cute homes in the charming Village of Undredal!

 

Some more of the cute homes in the Undredal Village.  Another example of the simplistic beauty you will see in Norway!

Some more of the cute homes in the Undredal Village. Another example of the simplistic beauty you will see in Norway!

 

Last shot of the charming Undredal Village.  Anyone else want to move here?  :)

Charming Undredal Village. Anyone else want to move here?🙂

 

A stunning view from the cruise!

This view of Undredal Village really shows the stunning sight! The Village looks so tiny!

 

Leaving the Village of Undredal....

Leaving the Village of Undredal….

 

Absolutely stunning!! The magnificence of Norway!

Absolutely stunning!! The magnificence of Norway!

 

Mia having fun on the cruise....  One of the funniest moments of our trip.  After about 45 minutes into the cruise Mia shouts out "When are we going to see the Fjords!?!?!"  Danny and I were completely stunned!  She thought when we explained to her what we were going to see on the cruise that the fjords were actually glaciers!!  Oh boy!! Love my funny girl! ;)

Mia having fun on the cruise…. and one of the funniest moments of our trip. After about 45 minutes into the cruise Mia shouts out, “When are we going to see the Fjords!?!?!” Danny and I were completely stunned! She thought when we explained to her what we were going to see on the cruise that the fjords were actually glaciers!! Oh boy, I guess we should have explained it a little better!! Love our funny little girl! Now one of our inside jokes as we are traveling is “When are we going to see the Fjords!?!?!”  I now need to add glaciers to our list of things to see!!😉

 

Toward the end of the amazing cruise!

Toward the end of the amazing cruise!

 

Me enjoying the amazing views at the end of our cruise! Ready to do it again!

Me enjoying the amazing views at the end of our cruise! I would love to do it again one day!

 

Last shot from our cruise.  We truly enjoyed our experience on the Fjord1 cruise!

Towards the end of our cruise.  Spring on the bottom and winter at the top of this scene! Truly an amazing sight to see!

 

At the end...

At the end… The view as we entered into Gudvangen. We truly enjoyed our experience on the Fjord1 cruise!

 

For more information on the Flåm Railway experience, please visit:  Flåm Railway

For more information about The Bergen Railway, please visit: NSB

For more information about the Royal House, please visit: The Royal House of Norway

For more information on the Norway in a Nutshell tour, please visit: Norway in a Nutshell

To read the article from Forbes about the Happiest (and saddest) countries in the world in 2013, please visit: Happiest Countries

To read Part 2 of our Norway in a Nutshell adventure, please visit: Norway: Part 2  

We can now mark another Red Pin Adventure off our Travel Bucket List:  Oslo-Bergen, Norway (See the Fjords and Ride on the Flåm Railway).

My upcoming posts will feature a Blog Hop, Sweden (Stockholm), and Russia (St. Petersburg)!

Norway in a Nutshell: (Pt. 2-Voss & Bergen)

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Norway has to be one of the most breathtaking places I have been so far in my travels! If you only had time to visit one place in Scandinavia, I would certainly put Norway at the top of your list. This post will include the last part of our Norway in a Nutshell tour (Voss & Bergen). I will post the 1st half of the adventure in my next post (Oslo, Flåm Railway & Nœrøyfjord). I’m posting them backwards so that it will show up on the blog in the correct order on the home page.  Here are some highlights from the second part of our Norway in a Nutshell adventure:

Mia and I in front of the Fleishman's Hotel where we stayed for one evening after our fjord cruise.

Mia and I in front of the Fleischer’s Hotel (built in 1864) where we stayed for one evening after our fjord cruise.  Lots of history here (royal guests) as well as an amazing view of Lake Vangsvatnet.

 

Mia and I with this huge troll in Voss, Norway.

Mia and I with this huge troll in Voss, Norway.

 

Mia had fun playing on this cool Voss sign.  Voss bottled water comes from this small town in Norway!

Mia had fun playing on this cool Voss sign!

 

Mia and I in front of the breathtaking Vangsvatnet Lake.

Mia and I in front of the breathtaking Vangsvatnet Lake.

 

The tranquil view of Lake Vangsvatnet! Ahhhhh... I sat for a long time on a rock and really soaked up the view and the fresh air!

The tranquil view of Lake Vangsvatnet! Ahhhhh… I sat for a long time on a rock and really soaked up the view and the fresh air!

 

Mia playing in front of the Lake.  She has always been our "water baby".  She is the happiest when she is in the water or close to it!

Mia playing in front of the Lake. She has always been our “water baby”. She is the happiest when she is in the water or close to it!

One last shot of Mia with the beautiful lake! I think she could have easily spent all day here!

One last shot of Mia with the beautiful lake! I think she could have easily spent all day here!

 

Vangsvatnet Lake in Voss, Norway.  I appreciate nature as an amazing work of art which we can enjoy everyday.

Vangsvatnet Lake in Voss, Norway. I will always remember this as one of the most serene moments of my life!

 

On to the next stop! Mia and I right before we boarded the train to Bergen!

On to the next stop! Mia and I right before we boarded the train to Bergen!

The following photos are from our last stop on the Norway in a Nutshell adventure – Bergen, Norway (Mt. Floyen, Fløibanen Funicular):

Street scene in beautiful Bergen, Norway!

Street scene in beautiful Bergen, Norway!

 

Mia on a cool fish sculpture in Bergen.

Mia on a cool fish wood carving in Bergen.

 

This is the entrance to the Fløibanen funicular.

This is the entrance to the Fløibanen Funicular.

 

Tracks and tunnel on the Fløibanen Funicular ride.

Tracks and tunnel on the Fløibanen Funicular ride.

 

The Norway flag and the Fløien Folkerestaurant at the top of Mt. Floyen.

The Norway flag and the Fløien Folkerestaurant at the top of Mt. Floyen.

 

The stunning view at the top of Mt. Floyen.

The stunning view at the top of Mt. Floyen.

 

This is Mia who went into this pose when we made it to the top of Mount Floyen in Bergen, Norway.

Mia went into this pose when we made it to the top of Mount Floyen in Bergen, Norway.

 

Mia on our hike around Mt. Floyen.

Mia on our hike around Mt. Floyen.

 

Mia and Danny checking out the swing on our hike around Mt. Floyen.

Mia and Danny found this cool swing on our hike around Mt. Floyen.

 

Getting ready to head back down the mountain!

Getting ready to head back down the mountain!

 

The beautiful view from the bell tower where we stayed in Bergen.

The beautiful view from the clock tower where we stayed in Bergen.

 

Another view right after sunset from the top of the clock tower.

Another view right after sunset from the top of the clock tower.

 

A beautiful ship at night in Bergen.

A beautiful ship at night in Bergen.

 

Getting ready to fly back to Helsinki... An amazing Mastiff dog we found at the Bergen airport wanted to play with Mia's stuffed whale!

Getting ready to fly back to Helsinki… An amazing Mastiff dog we found at the Bergen airport wanted to play with Mia’s stuffed whale!

 

Saying goodbye to Norway... An amazing Mastiff dog drooling and happy as can be and at the Bergen airport! :)

A great way to say goodbye to Norway… Seeing an amazing Mastiff dog drooling and happy as can be at the Bergen airport!🙂

 

For more information about Voss, please visit:  Voss, Norway

For more information about Bergen, please visit: Bergen, Norway

For more information about the Fløibanen funicular, please visit: Fløibanen (Bergen)

My next post will be Part 1 of our Norway in a Nutshell adventure.  We can now mark another Red Pin Adventure off our Travel/Life Bucket List:  Oslo – Bergen, Norway (See the Fjords & Ride on the Flåm Railway)

Weekly Photo Challenge: Twist

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These are my 3 picks for this week’s photo challenge:

Mia on a glass bottom boat ride in Okinawa, Japan.  Her hair was a "twisted" mess at the end of the ride!

Mia on a glass bottom boat ride in Okinawa, Japan. Her hair was a “twisted” mess at the end of the ride!

 

A very "twisty" staircase at the Ponce Inlet Lighthouse in New Smyrna Beach, Florida.  I also felt pretty "twisted" after climbing all the way up and down them!

A very “twisty” staircase at the Ponce Inlet Lighthouse in New Smyrna Beach, Florida. I also felt pretty “twisted” after climbing all the way up and down them!

 

Mia and I with some "Twisty" jellyfish at the Ripley's Aquarium of the Smokies in Gatlinburg, Tennessee.

Mia and I with some “Twisty” jellyfish at the Ripley’s Aquarium of the Smokies in Gatlinburg, Tennessee.  Those who know me well know that I am extremely terrified of these.  I was attacked by them pretty badly at the beach when I was a teenager and had to be rescued by a lifeguard!! 

 

 

Weekly Photo Challenge: Work of Art

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These are my two picks for this week’s photo challenge:

This was a neat display of fish skulls on the outside of a building in Stockholm, Sweden.  I thought the contrast with the scenery and the red wall really stood out in this image.

This was an interesting display of fish skulls on the outside of a building in Stockholm, Sweden. I thought the contrast with the scenery on the left and the red wall on the right really stood out in this photo from our trip last weekend to one of the beautiful archipelago islands (Fjäderholmarna).

 

Vangsvatnet Lake in Voss, Norway.  I appreciate nature as an amazing work of art which we can enjoy everyday.

Vangsvatnet Lake in Voss, Norway. I appreciate nature as an amazing work of art which we can enjoy everyday.  I just sat on a rock in front of this view for about 15 minutes and just soaked all of the beauty of it in! Ahhhhhhhhh….

Copenhagen, Denmark: Tivoli Gardens

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I’m way behind again on blog posts… we have been very busy planning for our upcoming move and packing up the apartment. It is hard to believe that we have less than two weeks left here in Finland. We finally had beautiful weather this weekend and we enjoyed a high of 72℉ today! Too bad we will be moving when it is so nice here. It felt like we were back in Florida today!!

This post is from a trip in April during Spring Break. We decided to use the break to work on seeing more of Scandinavia.  Spring Break in Finland is only a long weekend (not like the week off we are used to in Florida), but it was a nice break to finally enjoy some nice sunshine after the dark winter.  Here are a few photos which highlight the stunning Tivoli Gardens, which opened in 1843 (the second oldest theme park in the world & the most visited in Scandinavia).  Walt Disney himself even visited this park for inspiration for Disneyland:

Mia and I in front of the entrance to Tivoli Gardens.

Mia and I in front of the entrance to Tivoli Gardens.

A beautiful view over the water at Tivoli Gardens.

A beautiful view over the water at Tivoli Gardens.

Mia and I in front of one of the beautiful cherry blossom trees at the park.

Mia and I in front of one of the beautiful cherry blossom trees at the park.

Mia and I had fun watching this peacock eat cookies inside this store at Tivoli.

We had fun watching this peacock visit this store at Tivoli for some treats!

A  beautiful ballet show at the park.

A beautiful ballet show at the Pantomime Theatre.  Shows have been performed here since 1874.

Mia enjoying a nice relaxing break at the park.

Mia enjoying a nice relaxing break at the park.

Danny and Mia having fun in front of the stage.

Danny and Mia having fun in front of the stage.

Below are a few other places we visited while in Copenhagen (Rosenborg Castle, The King’s Gardens, Amalienborg Palace & The Little Mermaid Sculpture) :

The front view of the stunning Rosenborg Castle (built in 1606).

The front view of the stunning Rosenborg Castle (built in 1606).

This is the crown of King Christian IV which is on display at the castle.

This is the crown of King Christian IV which is on display at the castle.

On display at the castle, these amazing S. Colt Revolvers given to King Fredrick VII by Pres. Abraham Lincoln.

On display at the castle, these amazing S. Colt Revolvers given to King Frederik VII by Pres. Abraham Lincoln (1861).

Mia in front of an amazing cherry blossom tree in the King's Gardens.

Mia in front of an amazing cherry blossom tree in the King’s Gardens.

Mia and I having fun on the amazing cherry blossom tree at the King's Gardens.

Mia and I having fun on the amazing cherry blossom tree at the King’s Gardens.

Mia and I next to the Amalienborg Palace Guards.

Mia and I next to the Amalienborg Palace Guards.

The beautiful The Little Mermaid Sculpture by Edvard Eriksen in 1913 at Copenhagen Harbour.

The beautiful The Little Mermaid Sculpture by Edvard Eriksen in 1913 at Copenhagen Harbour.

Mia and I in front of The Little Mermaid sculpture.

Mia and I in front of The Little Mermaid sculpture.

A view through the trees of Skt. Alban Church.

A view through the trees of Skt. Alban Church.

A beautiful swan was proud to pose for a photo at the Copenhagen Harbour.

A beautiful swan next to The Little Mermaid sculpture at the Copenhagen Harbour.

Mia and I in front of an amazing group of Cherry Blossom Trees.

Mia and I in front of an amazing group of Cherry Blossom Trees.

For more information about Rosenborg Castle, please visit: Rosenborg Castle

For more information about Tivoli Gardens, please visit: Tivoli Gardens

For more information about Sculptor Edvard Eriksen and The Little Mermaid, please visit: The Little Mermaid

My next posts will show our adventures in Norway and Sweden.  We can now mark another Red Pin Adventure off our Travel Bucket List:  Copenhagen, Denmark (visit Tivoli Gardens)

Weekly Photo Challenge: Spring

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My family and I spent this past weekend exploring beautiful Stockholm, Sweden. These two photos are my picks for this week’s photo challenge:

This one red tulip stood out in the crowd this weekend in Stockholm, Sweden!

This one red tulip stood out in the crowd this past weekend in Stockholm, Sweden!

Spring is here! Beautiful tulips in Stockholm, Sweden!

Spring is here! Beautiful tulips in Stockholm, Sweden!

Celebrating Vappu (May Day) in Finland!

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We couldn’t leave Finland without experiencing Vappu! For our last month living here, it was great to see all of the Finns out celebrating today and last evening here in Helsinki! I believe it is the biggest celebration of the year in Finland. There were so many people out and about that I thought we were in a completely different city… much different from the peace and quiet that we have seen this past year! It was nice to finally see so much fun and excitement!! Here are a few photos from the celebration:

This is the crowd getting ready for the crowning of the Havis Amanda Statue.

This is the crowd getting ready for the crowning of the Havis Amanda Statue.

The crowning of the Havis Amanda Statue in Market Square.

The crowning of the Havis Amanda Statue in the Market Square.

This is a shot with the crowd right after she was crowned with her hat!

This is a shot with the crowd right after she was crowned with her hat!

Mia and I had a great time on the eve of May Day for the celebration at the Market Square!

Mia and I had a great time on the eve of May Day for the celebration at the Market Square!

We met a nice lady who was all dressed up for the celebration!

We met a nice lady who was all dressed up for the celebration!

Mia and Danny enjoying the celebration!

Mia and Danny enjoying the celebration!

Mia and I with one of the many balloon vendors on the streets.  We felt like we were back at home on Main St. at the Magic kingdom! :)

Mia and I with one of the many balloon vendors on the streets. We felt like we were back at home on Main St. at the Magic Kindgdom!🙂

Here she is after the crowning ceremony! This is on the eve of May Day and it took place around 6:00 p.m.

Here she is after the crowning ceremony! This is on the eve of May Day and it took place around 6:00 p.m.

Mia and I in front of the Havis Amanda Statue after we stopped for dinner.  Not long after the crowning, her hat is usually taken from someone in the crowd!

Mia and I in front of the Havis Amanda Statue after we stopped for dinner. Not long after the crowning, her hat is usually taken from someone in the crowd! It was gone in less than two hours!😉

There were lots of balloons and tents set up at Kaivopuisto today (May Day)!

There were lots of balloons and tents set up at Kaivopuisto today (May Day)!

More of the crowd at Kaivopuisto today (May Day)!

More of the crowd at Kaivopuisto today (May Day)!

We sat down for a picnic, but it started to rain and get really cold so we had to head home for our picnic!  I guess we needed a tent!

We sat down for a picnic under a nice tree, but it started to rain and get really cold so we had to head home for our picnic! I guess we needed a tent!

Mia and I had fun dancing with the band who was parading down the street at the Market Square!

Mia and I had fun dancing with the band who was parading down the street at the Market Square on the eve of Vappu! A great memory for our time while living in Finland!

If you would like to learn more about Vappu, this is a great article about the celebration in Helsinki (sorry, you will have to copy and paste the link, but this is the best article I found in English: www2.hs.fi/english/archive/thisweek/18042000.html

We can now mark another Red Pin Adventure off our Travel Bucket List:
Celebrate with the Finns during Vappu (May Day) in Finland!

Weekly Photo Challenge: On Top

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For this week’s challenge, I have chosen two photos. They are both from this past Easter weekend when my family and I visited Denmark & Norway & they both represent the feeling of being on top of the world! The first photo is of me climbing a tree in the Royal Garden at the Rosenborg Castle. The second one is of my daughter Mia when we were at the top of Mount Floyen in Bergen, Norway.

This is me climbing a tree in Copenhagen, Denmark at the Rosenborg Castle Royal Garden.

This is me climbing a tree in Copenhagen, Denmark at the Rosenborg Castle Royal Garden. When you see a tree like this… you’re never too old to climb it!

This is Mia who went into this pose when we made it to the top of Mount Floyen in Bergen, Norway.

This is Mia who went into this pose when we made it to the top of Mount Floyen in Bergen, Norway. I think she felt as though she was “on top” of the world!🙂

Ski Saariselkä & Santa’s Resort in Finland

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My family and I were finally able to try out snow skiing and snowboarding for the first time in our lives at Ski Saariselkä Sport Resort in Finland two weekends ago.  I ended up with a nice bruise on one of my butt cheeks from it for the past 2 weeks, but all in all it was a very fun experience for all of us!! We also went on a ski lift for the first time… and boy oh boy was that hilarious!! I fell off the side trying to get off and lost my blue winter hat in the process which went flying down the ski slope never again to be seen!😦 So, if anyone finds a nice light blue winter hat that has a Helsinki tag on it… it’s mine! My husband also banged up his legs trying to get him and Mia off safely… my goodness, we were a complete mess trying to get off that darn ski lift!! Leave it to the family from Florida to show everyone how to do it so gracefully! Ha Ha! Oh well, we can now say we’ve tried it, not successfully, but we survived… barely! Another check off the bucket list!🙂

We first tried out snow skiing with a very nice ski instructor named Leen.  It was a great experience to have snow skis on our feet for the first time. It was a little difficult to walk at first, but we managed to go skiing down a little part of the bottom of the slope! The next day we tried out snowboarding.  We were exhausted from all of the excitement of staying up late the evening before to see the amazing northern lights, so my husband and I didn’t do as well.  But, to our surprise, Mia was a natural!! She had so much fun and we couldn’t believe our eyes when she kept successfully going down the little part of the slope and even slightly turning at the bottom.  She looked like a little surfer girl with her arms stretched out on that snowboard…We were so proud and amazed!!  All in all, this was a very fun experience for us and something we will never forget.  We would love to try cross country skiing one day as well.. it looks a lot less scary and much more peaceful!!

Here are a few photos from our first experience snow skiing and snowboarding:

Mia with a pair of snow skis on for the first time!

Mia was so happy to have a pair of snow skis on her feet for the very first time!

 

This is Mia with our ski instructor Leen, learning how to stop.

This is Mia with our very patient ski instructor Leen, skiing down the slope!

 

This is me trying out snowboarding for the first time!

This is me trying out snowboarding for the first time! It was much more difficult than I thought it would be!

 

Mia and her daddy on the ski lift... so happy right before all the excitement happened trying to get off! :)

Mia and her daddy on the ski lift… so happy right before all the excitement happened trying to get off!🙂

 

Mia and I at what felt like the top of the world (well almost)... we were north of the arctic circle!

Mia and I at what felt like the top of the world (well almost)… we were north of the arctic circle!  That is also my blue hat I lost after falling off the ski lift!

 

I had a lot of fun trying out snowboarding for the first time!

I had a lot of fun trying out snowboarding for the first time!

 

This one is a bit blurry (forgot to change the settings).  This is our family with our amazing ski instructor, Leen! :)

This one is a bit blurry (forgot to change the settings). This is our family with our amazing ski instructor, Leen!🙂

 

Santa’s Resort:  After our ski lesson on Friday, we made it back to the Kakslauttanen Arctic Resort where we stayed and they had transportation (a quick 5-minute drive) ready for a group of us to experience their Santa’s Resort. We were greeted by a very friendly elf and were taken to feed some of Santa’s reindeer. We were then taken up a pretty snow lined path to where we could see Santa in front of a cute little cottage and he was standing next to a real reindeer!! Mia starting screaming “Santa, Santa, Santa!!” It was a pretty cool sight to see!  We were then able to take photos with Santa and his reindeer and then went inside his cute cottage. Mia was able to sit on Santa’s lap and he gave her a present. The cottage had a cute desk where letters from children around the world were displayed. It also had a room where Santa’s sleigh bed was and a very cozy fireplace in the living area.

We were then taken down a beautiful wooden bridge where you could get a great view of the Celebration House (Finland’s largest log building which is used for special events).  We enjoyed a nice warm juice drink and some tasty gingerbread cookies inside the stunning Celebration House.  Here are a few photos from our experience at Santa’s Resort:

Mia and I with Santa and one of his reindeer at Santa's Resort.

Mia and I with Santa and one of his reindeer at Santa’s Resort.  What a neat experience!!

 

Our Family with Santa and one of his beautiful reindeer! I believe this may be a photo for our Christmas card this year!

Our family with Santa and one of his beautiful reindeer! I believe this may be the photo for our Christmas card this year!

 

Mia with Santa in his cottage. He gave her a nice gift as well!

Mia with Santa in his cottage. He gave her a nice gift as well!

 

I love this shot of Santa walking in the distance!

I love this shot of Santa walking in the distance with all of the snow all around him!

 

This was a very unique building on the property!

This was a very unique building on the property at the end of the bridge!

 

You can go gold panning here in the summer.  Mia really wanted to do that, but of course it was frozen!

You can go gold panning here in the summer with Santa’s elves. Mia really wanted to do that, but of course the river was frozen!

 

Mia and I with the beautiful Celebration House in the background.

Mia and I with the beautiful Celebration House in the background.

 

The Celebration House on the property is absolutely stunning!

The Celebration House on the property is absolutely stunning!

My family and I really enjoyed our weekend trip to Saariselkä, and truly had the time of our lives! We can now mark two things off our Red Pin Adventure  Travel Bucket List:

Try snow skiing

Try snowboarding

For more information about Ski Saariselkä and ski/snowboarding lessons, please visit:

Ski Saariselkä Sport Resort

For more information about visiting Santa’s Home, please go to:

Kakslauttanen – Santa’s Home

To view my earlier post from this same trip about seeing the northern lights from a glass igloo, please visit:

Seeing the Northern Lights through a Glass Igloo

Weekly Photo Challenge: Threshold

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For this weeks challenge, I have chosen 3 photos. The first one shows this past years point of beginning for my family after we donated almost all of our belongings and left Florida with only suitcases and moved to Finland!  It was a new beginning for us with so many changes and certainly at the time, a very scary new adventure!! Well, almost one year later, it is not so scary anymore and our lives are much more simple, peaceful, and at times pretty adventurous! It has changed us all in so many ways and we have now been to so many wonderful places and experienced some pretty amazing things like seeing the northern lights in Lapland!!

Made it to the Airport with all 15 of our bags! Thanks to my brother, Richard for getting us there. Whew!!

Off we go…. We moved to Finland with only ourselves and these suitcases! We were ready for a new life adventure!

 

Tallinn, Estonia

We have been able to visit some pretty neat places this past year… This photo is from Tallinn, Estonia.

 

I was so excited to be standing in front of such an amazing show from the northern lights... one of the most exciting moments of my life!

I was so excited to be standing in front of such an amazing show from the northern lights… one of the most exciting moments of my life happened just this past weekend!  What an experience this was … this moment also changed my life!

 

Seeing the Northern Lights through a Glass Igloo in Lapland, Finland

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 This is the view we saw sometime after 1:00 a.m. from the glass igloo before falling asleep!

This is the amazing view we saw sometime after 1:00 a.m. from the glass igloo before falling asleep on March 29, 2014! The experience of a lifetime!!

My family and I took the adventure of a lifetime this past weekend when we boarded a plane for a short one and a half hour trip up to Northern Lapland, Finland.  We stayed at the Kakslauttanen Arctic Resort in Saariselkä. We decided to stay in one of the log cabins for the first two nights after reading some reviews and did the last night in the glass igloo (no shower, only a sink and toilet), but overall more spacious than we thought it would be.  It ended up being one of the most exciting adventures of our lives!

We flew into the very small Ivalo airport and were picked up by a transfer bus to the resort.  We were then dropped off right in front of our cabin and given our key.  It was very convenient and the staff was very friendly (the owner who claims to be Santa’s brother even gave Mia a stuffed reindeer). They served us and the rest of the small group on our bus dinner at the restaurant even though we didn’t arrive until sometime close to 11:00 p.m. Breakfast and dinner were included, but I would recommend asking for their á la carte menu for more local choices for the dinner.

We were so determined to see an amazing show from the northern lights before we move in less than two months and we not only had one evening with an amazing show, we were completely shocked when we saw them 2 nights in a row (over one hour each night)!!  The first evening was too cloudy, so we waited and waited the next evening and finally saw them sometime after 11:00 p.m. on Friday evening.  One couple was so excited about seeing them that they got engaged right in front of us!! We gave up around midnight on Saturday evening after standing in the cold for so long, but then saw this amazing sight in the photo above sometime after 1:00 a.m.!  We ran outside in the cold again and watched an even better show than the night before!!  Everyone around us was so excited and I even had to email 4 different groups of people photos that we took to those who couldn’t take a clear enough shot from their cameras.  It was a very exciting weekend for all of us at the resort!!

 

This was right after we landed.  Transfer bus to the glass igloos!

This was right after we landed. Transfer bus to the glass igloos! We were so excited!!

 

This was the cozy 2-bedrrom cabin we stayed in the first two nights.

This was the cozy 2-bedroom cabin we stayed in the first two nights. It included a kitchen, living area, dining area, fireplace and also a sauna in the master bathroom.

 

Mia and I in front of the glass igloos.  There are only three rows of them (20 in total).

Mia and I in front of the glass igloos. There are only three rows of them (20 in total). A very special serene setting on a hill.

 

This is Mia and I in front of one of the beautiful glass igloos lit up before dark.

This is Mia and I in front of one of the beautiful glass igloos lit up before dark.

 

Wow!!! The beautiful Northern Lights!

Wow!!! The beautiful Northern Lights! Amazing things happen to those who wait… very patiently! The show of a lifetime!!

 

One of the happiest moments of my life... standing in front of the northern lights! Amazing!!!

One of the happiest moments of my life… standing in front of the northern lights! Amazing!!!

 

It looks like the ice the northern lights are coming right out of the Snow Chapel!

It looks like the northern lights are coming right out of the Snow Chapel! Breathtaking!!

 

This is the only shot with Mia in it before she fell asleep on a sled at midnight all bundled up in blankets!  She said she sleep so good on that sled under the stars!

This is the only shot with Mia in it before she fell asleep on a sled at midnight all bundled up in blankets! She said she had her best sleep on that sled under the stars!

 

Danny in front of the beautiful northern lights.

Danny in front of the beautiful northern lights. We worked so hard together trying to get the lights to show up in our shots with us in them. Photographing the auroras was extremely challenging while you are freezing!!

 

This shows one half of the beautiful arch from the northern lights.

This shows one half of the beautiful arch from the northern lights.

 

This is one of my favorite shots from Saturday evening (March 29, 2014)!

This is one of my favorite shots from Saturday evening (March 29, 2014)!

 

I was so excited to be standing in front of such an amazing show from the northern lights... one of the most exciting moments of my life!

I was so excited to be standing in front of such an amazing show from the northern lights… one of the most exciting moments of my life!

 

This is a day shot of the area where we viewed the amazing northern lights!

This is a day shot of the area (snow chapel) where we viewed the amazing northern lights! I believe this is the best location at the resort to see them with no trees blocking your view.

 

Kakslauttanen Hotel & Igloo Village entrance sign.

Entrance sign at the Igloo Village Kakslauttanen.

 

There are many beautiful art pieces around the resort.  This one was my favorite!

There are many beautiful art pieces around the resort. This one was my favorite!

 

My family and I really enjoyed our weekend trip to the Kakslauttanen Arctic Resort and overall had an amazing experience that we will never forget!  For more information on the resort, you can visit:

Kakslauttanen Arctic Resort in Saariselkä, Finland 99830.

For more information about Aurora Hunting and photography tips (I stumbled upon an article with Andy Keen and found his tips which were a great help to me although I still have lots to learn). I do hope to experience his “The Great Aurora Hunt” in Norway one day… what a dream that would be! Please visit:

Aurora Base Camp

For more information on the best times to see Auroras, please visit these two very helpful sites (I checked these often before our trip and almost every 15 minutes during our trip):

Aurora Service

Aurora Forecast (Includes the very important Kp tracker while aurora hunting. We only needed a Kp2 to see the auroras since we were so far north).

 

My next post will include our first experience ever snow skiing and snowboarding as well as our visit to Santa’s Home at Santa’s Resort.  We can now mark another Red Pin Adventure off our Travel Bucket List:

Stay in a glass igloo in Lapland (see an amazing aurora borealis show)!

Weekly Photo Challenge: Street Life

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I have three photos to share for this weeks photo challenge.  The first one is one of my favorite shots from our trip this past year to Paris.  The guy in the background with the black jacket and his eyes closed was so peaceful and was handing out bird seed to people in the street to feed the birds.  When we tried to pay him for it, he refused our money and just filled our hands with the seeds.  He was one of those people who seemed so peaceful and fulfilled in life.  As soon as I got over the surprise of the birds landing in my hands, I could feel the peacefulness that he must feel while feeding the birds, which I assume is often.  I will be forever grateful for this wonderful experience on the streets in Paris!

This is me feeling free as a bird at the Notre Dame Cathedral.

This is me feeling free as a bird at the Notre Dame Cathedral.

This second photo is of a couple that I feel was just as peaceful in life and didn’t care what anyone thought in the beautiful streets of Tallinn, Estonia.  They were just happy to be relaxing and soaking up the sun!

One of the cutest older couples I have ever seen!

One of the cutest older couples I have ever seen!

My last photo from the streets is of the Naked Invisible Man in Tallinn, Estonia.  It’s truly amazing what you can find just walking around the streets of a new place you are exploring!

We enjoyed saying hello to the Naked Invisible Man at the Viru Gates. ;)

We enjoyed saying hello to the Naked Invisible Man at the Viru Gates.😉

Winter in Helsinki & Aurora hunting in Lapland tonight

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All the snow has melted here in Helsinki, and it is finally starting to really look like spring after a little tease we had a few weeks ago.  Mia was lucky to wake up on her birthday to a beautiful fresh snowfall, which I am hoping was the last one for the season.  I am way behind again on a blog post, but I have plenty of photos to share from around beautiful Helsinki during the winter as well as a few shots from a few places we have visited in the area.  I am very happy to say that we managed to survive the darkness and a winter in Finland. We brought Florida with us and were very lucky as we heard this was the mildest winter in Finland in the last 20 some years!

My family and I are flying up to North Finland (Lapland) this evening for one last shot to see the northern lights.  We are also signed up for skiing lessons as we have all never been snow skiing before.  We only have about two months left here in Finland (yes, we are on the move again… this time to some place warmer)!  I will post photos next week from our adventure this weekend and hopefully some aurora shots will be included. I am better prepared this time and have a tripod packed and ready to go… Aurora hunting here we come!!

 

Mia in front of the beautiful Helsinki Cathedral.

Mia in front of the beautiful Helsinki Cathedral.

 

Helsinki Cathedral through a window...

Helsinki Cathedral through a window…

 

Mia and her daddy in front of the Helsinki Cathedral.

Mia and her daddy in front of the Helsinki Cathedral.

 

Helsinki Orthodox Church.

Helsinki Orthodox Church.

 

I spotted this guy ice fishing while on a ride on the metro.

I spotted this guy ice fishing while on a ride on the metro.

 

Mia having fun one day on the metro.  Hmmm... I wonder where everyone was that day?

Mia having fun one day on the metro. Hmmm… I wonder where everyone was that day?

 

Relaxing at Starbucks!

Relaxing at Starbucks!

 

Birds camping out on the frozen sea!

Birds camping out on the frozen sea!

 

Mia and I on the bridge we cross often... with the frozen sea in the background!

Mia and I on the bridge we cross often… with the frozen sea in the background!

 

Mia and her crazy stuffed fish!  I wonder if people thought she really caught a big fish!

Mia and her crazy stuffed fish! I wonder if people thought she really caught a big fish!

 

Doggy footprints in the snow!

Doggy footprints in the snow!

 

Mia's woke up to this beautiful snow on her birthday after we thought all the snow was gone for the year!

Mia woke up to this beautiful snow on her birthday after we thought all the snow was gone for the year!

 

Birthday snowball!

Birthday snowball!

 

We enjoyed viewing an art show close to our apartment one Sunday afternoon (Kaapeli).

We enjoyed viewing an art show close to our apartment one Sunday afternoon (Kaapeli).

 

I enjoyed visiting the Iittala factory with some of the other moms from Mia's school.

I enjoyed visiting the Iittala factory with some of the other moms from Mia’s school.

 

One of my favorite artists now (Tove Jansson) - a lovely Moomin display at Iittala!

One of my favorite artists now (Tove Jansson) – a lovely Moomin display at Iittala!

 

Me with the Moomin mugs!

Me with the Moomin mugs at the Iittala factory in Arabia!

 

This is our porch covered in snow after a crazy storm one night!

This is our porch covered in snow after a crazy storm one night!

 

Reindeer anyone?  It was surprisingly delicious! It's a popular dish here in Finland!

Reindeer anyone? It was surprisingly delicious! It’s a popular dish here in Finland!

 

 

Weekly Photo Challenge: Juxtaposition

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I thought this turned out to be an interesting shot from Gatorland in Florida.  I had lived in Florida for 25 years and never made it to this popular attraction until right before we moved to Finland.  My family and I had a lot of fun!

Four scary prehistoric looking gators piled on top of each other with this beautiful white crane just taking a nice leisurely stroll in the water right behind them…  

A beautiful white crane taking a walk behind four scary gators!

A beautiful white crane taking a leisurely stroll behind four scary gators!

Weekly Photo Challenge… Window

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This is my first time participating in the weekly photo challenge.  I was seeing a lot of interesting shots from fellow bloggers on this week’s challenge and I wanted to include two of my favorite window photos I took this past year:

One of the beautiful windows at Westminster Abbey.

One of the beautiful windows at Westminster Abbey in London.

Mia at our hotel widow with a beautiful view of the Eiffel Tower in the background.

Mia at our hotel window with a beautiful view of the Eiffel Tower in the background.

A Backyard Koi Pond: The Ultimate in Relaxation

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Mia and I in front of the relaxing koi pond.

Mia and I in front of the relaxing koi pond at my parent’s house.

It’s 2014 and my family and I just returned to Finland a few days ago after spending three weeks back at home in Florida for the holidays.  We have gone nonstop for the past year with the move and my husband’s busy job, so we really needed some time to recharge, thaw out, and just turn everything off for a couple of days.  We were successfully able to do so mostly because my dad decided to put in this amazing koi pond for my mom a little over a year ago.  My mom is from Okinawa, Japan, and one of her dreams has always been to have a koi pond in her backyard.  Well, my dad jokes that he has heard her say that she has wanted one the whole time they have been married (40 years this year).  So, if he was going to finally put one in for her, he was “going to make damn sure it was a really nice one, so he wouldn’t have to hear about one for the rest of his life!”

Well, he successfully did so after finding a company that installs koi ponds in the Central Florida area and to our surprise, construction finally began on my mom’s koi pond and was finished in only a couple of days! This corner of their backyard has turned into an amazing sanctuary where you can sit on one of the benches and listen to the sounds of the waterfall and truly feel yourself completely relax.  My daughter Mia has spent hours upon hours playing and catching little minnows and frogs at the pond.  There is even something so tranquil about feeding the koi (nishikigoi) and watching them come to the surface and swim around each other while they eat.

There is a lot involved in the pond such as the pump, waterfall feature, bubblers, UV lighting to control the algae, the filter, and testing the water.  But, overall there is not much upkeep to it other than feeding the koi everyday and cleaning out the filter. There are about 30 koi total in the pond as well as minnows and frogs.  The plants have really grown in since the install and although the lily pads that were originally put in looked really nice, they have all been eaten by the koi.  Here are a few photos of the koi pond in my parent’s backyard:

A backyard koi pond: The ultimate in relaxation!

A backyard koi pond: The ultimate in relaxation!

A few of the koi coming up to the surface to eat.

A few of the koi coming up to the surface to eat.

Mia spends a lot of time with this little net catching some of the minnows in the pond.

Mia enjoys spending a lot of time with this little net catching some of the minnows in the pond.  She puts them in a bucket and then returns them back to the pond.

So tranquil… the beautiful koi peacefully swimming around the pond.

Ahhhhh…its ‘s so tranquil watching the beautiful koi peacefully swimming around the pond.  You could easily want to spend all day here!

Mia was so happy to catch one of the frogs in the pond!

A koi pond is loads of fun for kids…  Mia was so happy to finally catch one of the frogs in the pond!

My mom and Mia on one of the rocks in front of the waterfall at the koi pond.

My mom and Mia enjoy spending lots of time relaxing at her backyard koi pond.

2013 and A Little Angel: Travel Rocks for Jaedyn

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2013 is coming to an end and this is what is coming to my mind, “Oh my, what a year it has been!”   For my family and I, it will always be a year that we will never forget.  It was filled with excitement, laughter, ups and downs, and even some “what the heck were we thinking” moments!  This was the year that our family decided to donate 3/4 of our belongings, remove toxic people and things from our lives, move to Finland with only suitcases, and basically simplify our lives in so many ways. We also spent a lot of time focusing on our travel bucket list, and as we reflect on this past year, we have so much to be grateful for.

A few weeks before we moved to Finland, I received this email on Facebook from one of my high school classmates who I hadn’t seen in many years:

The email that started "Travel Rocks for Jaedyn".

The email that started “Travel Rocks for Jaedyn.”

My friend lost her baby girl, Jaedyn, at only 16 months old after a tragic accident. Jaedyn would have been 10 years old this year.  Since I can remember, my daughter Mia has always picked up rocks wherever we went. She has probably picked up a thousand by now!  I would find them everywhere… at the bottom of my purse, in my pockets, her pockets, and her daddy’s pockets.  She even has a very nice collection of them on her window sill in her room in Finland.  So, after receiving this email from my friend, I knew this was a perfect job for my family and we started to pick up rocks for Jaedyn on our trips that we went on. Here is a photo of precious Jaedyn which was taken only three weeks before the accident:

Our angel who has been traveling with us: Jaedyn

The little angel who has been traveling with us this past year: Jaedyn

Here are photos of the jar we made for her travel rocks and also photos from her gravesite where her mommy joined us to give the rocks to her a few days ago:

We put the rocks we collected for Jaedyn in little bags and wrote where there are each from and put them in this purple jar.

We put the rocks we collected for Jaedyn in little bags and wrote where they are each from and put them in this purple jar.

Jaedyn's beautiful gravesite where we placed her jar of travel rocks a few days ago.

Jaedyn’s beautiful gravesite where we placed her jar of travel rocks a few days ago.

The jar of Travel Rocks for Jaedyn along with some other rocks that people have collected for her.  She's traveling the world!

The jar of Travel Rocks for Jaedyn along with some other rocks that people have collected for her. She’s traveling the world!

I will end 2013 with this photo of my daughter Mia with one of her rocks she has collected and a quote that I love about when a child gives you a rock.  I would also love to hear any of my fellow bloggers’ stories about their children and rocks as well as any special things that you do for those who have passed.  Thank you all for following along. I wish you a very Happy 2014 and a new year of peace and many exciting adventures!

Mia and one of her many rocks she collects with one of my favorite quotes. Happy New Year to you all! xoxo

Mia and one of her many rocks she collects with one of my favorite quotes.  Happy New Year from Red Pin Adventures! ~Christine

Dog Sledding with Huskies & Seeing the Northern Lights in Lapland

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One of the huskies close-up during the ride. This is one of my favorite shots!

One of the huskies close-up during the ride. This is one of my favorite shots I took from our adventure!

My family and I had the chance to go Dog Sledding with Huskies and also to see the Northern Lights while on our visit to Rovaniemi, Finland a few weeks ago. Our trip to Lapland was one of the most exciting trips that we have ever taken!

Dog sledding with the huskies was probably one of the most exhilarating and relaxing experiences of our lives. The huskies were so excited before we went off for our ride… they kept doing this weird jump that reminded us of a fox while hunting. They couldn’t keep still and could hardly wait to go on the run!! We signed up for a one hour safari at the resort where we were staying (Santa Claus Holiday Village). When we signed up for the safari, we had no idea that my husband would be the one to actually drive the sled. Wow!! He had to go through a little lesson on how to use the brakes by pressing down on a wedge with his foot that went into the snow. He was also told how to assist the huskies while going uphill by pushing off in the snow with his feet. Mia and I sat in the sled and were covered in blankets since we were going on a pretty long ride. There was one sled in front of us with our tour guide and another sled behind us with another dad and his daughter.

After the huskies took off for our ride, all you could hear was Mia and I screaming with such excitement for about 10 minutes straight!! We were not expecting them to go so fast and we also went through such a twisted path at the beginning which went so close to so many big trees covered in snow. We kept thinking our sled was going to run right into them!! After the first 15 minutes of total excitement, we found ourselves in the middle of the most beautiful snow-covered forest. We were able to sit back and truly enjoy being in the Arctic Circle and Lapland! There were moments during the ride that we could not see the sled in front or back of us and it was just my family and I alone with the huskies in the forest. Although our tour started at noon, the sun was already setting around 1:00. The sun would rise around 11:00 and would be set by 2:00, so there was very little daylight there. Here are some of the photos I was able to get while riding in the sled and a few shots from right after our exciting ride:

This is the entrance to the husky sled dogs.  It was so beautiful all covered in snow!

This is the entrance to the husky sled dogs. It was so beautiful all covered in snow!

I saw this husky sleeping so peacefully in the snow when we first arrived for our sled ride.

I saw this husky sleeping so peacefully in the snow when we first arrived for our sled ride.

Danny and another dad learning how to drive the sled!

Danny and another dad learning how to drive the sleds!

Danny and Mia getting ready for our sled ride.

Danny and Mia getting ready for our sled ride.

Mia and I in the sled getting ready for one of the coolest rides of our lives!

Mia and I in the sled getting ready for one of the coolest rides of our lives!

The huskies getting ready for our sled ride.

The beautiful huskies getting ready for our sled ride.

The sun setting on our ride in Lapland.

The sun setting on our ride in Lapland.

  Enjoying the peacefulness… we were  all by ourselves  with the amazing huskies at this point during the ride.

Enjoying the peacefulness… we were all by ourselves with the amazing huskies at this point during the ride.

The beautiful scenery and the sun setting on our sled ride.

The beautiful scenery and the sun setting on our sled ride.

The huskies working hard  on our ride through a beautiful  snow covered forest.

The huskies working hard on our ride through a beautiful snow covered forest.

Mia and I right after our  exhilarating husky sled ride!

Mia and I right after our exhilarating husky sled ride! Our faces were frozen!

This amazing husky loved on Mia right after our sled ride!

This amazing husky loved on Mia right after our sled ride!  So sweet!!

Meeting a cute husky puppy while thawing out by the fire after our sled ride!

We met a cute husky puppy while thawing out by the fire after our sled ride! Our camera was fogged up from the heat in the hut!

Mia enjoying a gingerbread cookie after enjoying the yummy Salmon.

Mia enjoying a gingerbread cookie by the fire after enjoying some yummy Salmon right after our husky sled ride.

This little hut has the best Salmon… cooked over an open flame!

This little hut has the best Salmon… cooked over an open flame by Konsta the chef!

One of my dreams has always been to see the Northern Lights in person.  We knew that it could be hit or miss when trying to see them.  We only had two nights to see them and we had no luck the first night of our trip even though the sky was completely clear that night.  So, we had one last night and I was really hoping that we would get to see them on our trip to Lapland.  I researched the internet to see what our chances would be that evening and what the best time to go out to look at the sky for them.  I found out that the best time would be between 10:00 and 11:00, but we only had a moderate chance of seeing them according to the Auroras Now! website.

It was so cold (-6 F) and we could only stand to be outside for short periods of time, so we got all bundled up and headed outside at around 10:00.  We looked around and didn’t see anything and then I noticed a slight arched light gray hazy line about 2 feet in height started to form across the sky not far from the horizon.  We decided to climb up this snow mound close to our cabin and waited to see if anything would appear.  Then slowly right before our eyes this arched line started to change from the grey to orangish to a bright green!!  It would change in shape and disappear and then slowly appear again and at one point took up much of the sky at the horizon.  We were in complete shock!!! The whole show only lasted about 20 maybe 25 minutes top.  I wish I was better prepared to take photos I didn’t even have a tripod!  I hope that one day we will have the opportunity to go back and I will be able to getter shots.  Here is what we were able to get… Not great, but I’m sure you can tell that they are the Northern Lights: 

The Northern Lights only gave us a show for about 20 minutes, but it was a dream come true to see them in person!

The Northern Lights only gave us a show for about 20 minutes, but it was a dream come true to see them in person!

One of the coolest things we have ever seen!

One of the coolest things we have ever seen!

The Northern Lights in the sky right above where we stayed.

The Northern Lights in the sky right above where we stayed.

The amazing Northern Lights suddenly appeared in the sky right in front of our eyes!

The amazing Northern Lights suddenly appeared in the sky right in front of our eyes!

The snow mound were we viewed the Northern Lights.

I took this shot the next morning before leaving Lapland… this is the snow mound where we viewed the Northern Lights.

I will have one more post to end the craziest and most exciting  year of our lives so far. To end 2013, I  will share the story of a little angel who has been traveling with my family this past year.

We can now cross off these latest Red Pin Adventures off our travel bucket list:

Dog Sledding with Huskies

Lapland – See the Northern Lights

The Magic of Meeting Santa at his Home in the Arctic Circle

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Mia getting ready to meet Santa's Reindeer!

Mia getting ready to meet Santa’s Reindeer!

This past weekend my family and I took the short 1 hour journey by plane to the beautiful Arctic Circle to visit the “real Santa” in Rovaniemi, Finland.  We stayed at a very fun resort for families called Santa Claus Holiday Village where you get to stay in cute cozy cabins which include a sauna in the bathroom.  Breakfast, dinner, and wi-fi are also included.  Mia and I had never seen so much snow in our lives!  The resort was a great experience and had many activities for families to do including: Snowmobile rides, sledding, shopping, restaurants, husky sled rides, Santa’s main post office (where all the children’s letters to Santa arrive), Santa’s ice park, the chance to see the Northern Lights, Santa’s reindeer rides,  and of course Santa himself!  Here is a link to their website:   http://www.santaclausholidayvillage.fi

Here are a few photos from around the resort:

The cozy cabin where we stayed.

The cozy cabin where we stayed.

The beautiful scenery around the cabins.

The beautiful scenery around the cabins.

Mia's first experience sledding and seeing so much snow!

Mia’s first experience sledding and seeing so much snow!

We were in love with all of the beautiful trees in Rovaniemi!

We were in love with all of the beautiful trees in Rovaniemi!

Mia and her daddy at the line for the Arctic Circle!

Mia and her daddy at the line for the Arctic Circle!

The temperature at the Arctic Circle.  Brrrrrr!!!

The temperature at the Arctic Circle. Brrrrrr!!!

One of Santa's beautiful reindeer.  There are more reindeers than people in Rovaniemi! It was amazing to see a real one in person!

One of Santa’s beautiful reindeer. There are more reindeers than people in Rovaniemi! It was so amazing to see a real one in person!

We decided to travel to a secret place in the middle of the forest to experience the Dream of Joulukka.  It was an experience our family will never forget! If you get the chance to experience this through the eyes of a child it is truly a magical and unforgettable experience. A white van came to pick us up at the resort and we stopped to pick up a few others on our way to Joulukka.  We drove for about 30 minutes out to what felt like the middle of nowhere into a mystical forest.  All of the kids also magically fell asleep on the ride there and back. So, it certainly is a secret place and the kids have no idea where they were! There were 12 of us total on this adventure and we were greeted by a cute little elf!  She took us to a cozy hut with a fire pit in the middle which said elf school above the door.  Her, another elf and a troll told us elf stories and  taught us a few of the elves secrets.  We also had fun decorating gingerbread cookies and receiving our Santa’s Helper Diplomas after graduating from elf school! 

We made it to Joulukka and were dropped of in the middle of nowhere (a mystical forest)!

We made it to Joulukka and were dropped of in the middle of nowhere (a mystical forest)!

The Joulukka entrance sign.

The entrance sign for Joulukka.

We were greeted by this cute elf after getting dropped off!

We were greeted by this cute elf with a pointy nose in a red dress after getting dropped off in the forest!

The elves getting ready to take us into their Elf School Hut.

The elves getting ready to take us into their Elf School Hut.

The cozy fire in the Elf School Hut.

The cozy fire in the Elf School Hut.

We enjoyed decorating gingerbread cookies in the cozy hut!

We enjoyed decorating gingerbread cookies in the cozy hut!

One of the elves signing our Santa's Helper Diploma!

One of the elves signing our Santa’s Helper Diploma!

Mia's Diploma after graduating from Elf School.  Each of us received one of our own at the end!

Mia’s Diploma after graduating from Elf School. Each of us received one of our own!

After graduating from elf school, the elves took us through a candle lit forest to a fire where they told more stories under the beautiful clear star lit sky of Lapland. We enjoyed roasting marshmallows and sipping on hot chocolate to keep us warm and cozy!  We then took another journey through more of the candle lit mystical forest to Santa’s Command Center where we saw many cool things including Santa’s world map, his mail machine, his desk, and at the end we enjoyed a very magical experience of meeting  Santa Claus himself!

Our walk through the forest to Santa's home which was hidden under a huge pile of snow!

Our walk through the forest to Santa’s home which was hidden under a huge pile of snow!

The elf doing the secret knock to enter Santa's Home.

The elf had a secret knock to enter Santa’s Home.

Santa's World Map showing the other command/toy distribution networks around the world!

Santa’s World Map showing the other command/toy distribution networks around the world!

Santa's radar and elf cam!

Santa’s radar and elf cam!

Santa's mail delivery machine delivers children's letters to him no matter where he is!

Mia putting a letter into Santa’s mail delivery machine which delivers children’s letters to him no matter where he is!

After going through a secret door, we met Santa himself! Mia had the opportunity to tell him what she dreamed of for Christmas and Santa also presented her with a gift (we secretly gave it to an elf ahead of time) and he even walked outside in the snow to talk with us before we left his home in the forest!

Mia telling Santa what she dreamed of for Christmas this year!

Mia telling Santa what she dreamed of for Christmas this year!

Mia receiving her special gift from Santa!

Mia receiving her special gift from Santa!

Mia with Santa and one of his elves in the snow covered forest at his home!

Mia with Santa and one of his elves in the snow-covered forest at his home!

Here is a link to the Dream of Joulukka Santa experience:

http://www.joulukka.com/programs/dream-of-joulukka/

My next post about Rovaniemi will include our Husky Sled Ride experience and seeing the Northern Lights! We can now mark another Red Pin Adventure off our travel bucket list:

Visit the Arctic Circle & Santa Claus 

Off to meet Santa in the Arctic Circle

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Mia's first time trying to make a snow angel!

Mia’s first time trying to make a snow angel!

It’s been a little while again since my last post…. and now the craziest year of our lives is almost coming to an end!  We finally had a nice snowfall today which was enough for Mia and her friends to play in after school today.  We had so much fun running around laughing and throwing snowballs!  We had zero snow in Florida, so it was an exciting afternoon for us!

We did make it to Florida a few weeks ago.  The strike did not happen and we were very happy to go home even if it was only for a few days.  We felt right at “home” as soon as we saw this Mickey in the photo below at the airport in Orlando.  Mia had so much fun visiting her school that she attended for 3 years in Florida and it was nice to spend some time with our family. Mia and her dog Audrey were so happy to be reunited!  She has been talking about Audrey since we moved.  They were just like two peas in a pod again!

Mia and her BFF Audrey, reunited in Florida!

Mia and her BFF Audrey, reunited in Florida!

Mickey and Mia at the airport in Orlando!

Mickey and Mia at the airport in Orlando!

Mia also had her first piano concert at school this week.  I think we were more nervous than her.  She went right on stage and played her song with such confidence.  We were so proud!

Mia playing the piano at her first piano concert.

Mia playing the piano at her first piano concert.

Our next stop is to visit with Santa Claus in Rovaniemi, Finland!  We leave very early in the morning and we are super excited to meet the real Santa in the Arctic Circle. Mia has her letter to Santa all ready to give to him. We are also looking forward to being in Lapland and to hopefully experience a dog sled ride with huskies!

Here is a link to where we will meet Santa Claus:

http://joulukka.com/en/the-secret-of-joulukka/

One year Blogiversary and reuniting Mia with her dog (hopefully)!

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Mia and her best friend having fun (she calls Audrey her BFF)! This photo was taken the morning we moved to Finland.

Mia and her best friend having fun (she calls Audrey her BFF)! This photo was taken right before we left for Finland.

Happy Friday! It is hard to imagine that it has already been one year since I started this blog.  What a year it has been!! My husband moved to Finland this month last year while Mia and I stayed behind in Florida so that Mia could finish Kindergarten.  It was a rough time for our family while we were apart and we now joke that deciding to be apart for 7 months was the dumbest decision my husband and I have ever made as a couple in the 17 years that we have been together!

Well, we have been back together for almost 6 months and are enjoying our family living in the same place again!  However, we had to leave Mia’s dog Audrey and our dog Ollie behind at my parent’s house in Florida.  Ollie is very old at 13 and Audrey is very big at almost 70 pounds and we were not too sure about bringing them here as we would be renting an apartment and would have to travel.  We also plan to spend a couple of months each year back in Florida. Audrey was originally my parent’s dog, but Mia and her became like two peas in a pod so she became Mia’s dog…   A day hasn’t gone by since the move that Mia has not talked about her best friend, Audrey.  It has been really tough, but Mia has been super excited that she will get to go home to see her dog tomorrow (well, maybe).  We just found out yesterday that some employees at the airline that Mia and I have tickets with (FinnAir) may be going on strike.  We really do not want to let Mia down so we will do our best to find a way to get her home to her best friend.  So far, our flight is not one of the ones cancelled!

It's really cold in Finland, so I am hopeful to be in sunny Florida tomorrow!

It’s really cold and dark (sunsets at 3 something now) in Finland, so I am hopeful to be back home in sunny Florida tomorrow!

I also wanted to thank all of my friends, family and fellow bloggers for following along this past year on my blog!  When I started this blog, I had no idea what I was doing.  I still have a lot of work to do and a lot to learn about blogging, but I am so grateful for the experience so far!  A great big thanks to all of the people who have viewed my blog from the following countries this past year:

Thank you all for viewing my blog!

Thank you all from the above 47 countries for viewing my blog this past year!

1 year blogiversary

Chàteau de Versailles & Love Locks in Paris

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We were able to take a very short trip over to the Palace of Versailles during our Paris trip.  We took the train (RER C-line to the Rive Gauche station), which was only about a 30 minute journey. We also met a very nice family from California that also took the train over and we enjoyed chatting with them while we waited for tickets and to get into the Palace.

There are so many impressive things to see while touring one of the most famous world heritage sights.  The architecture, artwork, and the gardens are truly an experience you will never forget.  The gardens were absolutely stunning and I had no idea how massive the grounds would be.  We were not able to see much of the Palace and gardens as we only had about two hours left to explore before we needed to head to the airport for our trip back to Finland.  We spent about an hour inside the Palace and then an hour in the gardens.  We were told when we purchased our tickets that you would need a good six hours at the property to see everything, so we decided to rent the golf cart that is offered when you first exit the Palace and enter the gardens.  It cost us 30 euros for one hour.  It was worth it since we were so pressed on time.  We were able to do a nice drive around most of the property, but we were not able to really get off the cart to explore into some of the sections, but did manage to get off a couple of times to get a few shots.

Here are a few photos from the 2 hours that we spent at the Palace of Versailles:

Mia and I at the front of the Palace of Versailles.

Mia and I at the front of the Palace of Versailles.

Mia and I at the Hall of Mirrors inside the Palace.

Mia and I at the Hall of Mirrors inside the Palace.

The Ballroom inside the Palace.

The Stunning Great Hall Ballroom inside the Palace.

Versailles Ballroom Fresco

Versailles Great Hall Ballroom.

Palace of Versailles Hallway.

Hallway at the Palace of Versailles.

One of the many impressive painted ceilings at Versailles.

One of the many impressive painted ceilings at Versailles.

Mia and I enjoying the beautiful gardens.

Mia and I enjoying the beautiful gardens.

The stunning Apollo Fountain.

The stunning Apollo Fountain.

Mia and her daddy having fun at the gardens.

Mia and her daddy having fun at the gardens.

Mia and I in front of the peaceful Grand Canal.

Mia and I in front of the peaceful Grand Canal.

The Palace in front of us and our family in the golf cart at the end of our garden tour.

The Palace in front of us and our family in the mirror on the golf cart at the end of our garden tour.

Mia having fun on the golf cart while touring the gardens.

Mia having fun on the golf cart while touring the gardens.

Love Locks in Paris:

We decided to visit a bridge in Paris (Pont des Arts) one evening before sunset which has thousands of love locks attached to it.  These love locks are locked onto the railing of the bridge usually with the lovers names on them and then the keys are tossed into the Seine River so that no one can ever unlock their love.  I know that some may say that these locks are not attractive on the bridges.  However, I thought there was something so amazingly beautiful about them.  It is truly breathtaking to see the thousands of love locks attached to the railing.  Talk about really feeling the emotions of being in the City of Love!  We decided to make a family love lock  so that no one could ever unlock the love that our family shares.  Here are a few photos from our experience on the Pont des Arts bridge:

So breathtaking… thousands of love locks on one part of the Pont des Arts bridge.

So breathtaking… thousands of love locks on one part of the Pont des Arts bridge.

Our family love lock.

Our family love lock.

Mia and I in front of the love locks.

Mia and I in front of the love locks.

Our family love lock on the bridge!

Our family love lock on the bridge. One of thousands… but very special to our hearts!

 

I will end this post with a sunset photo that I took from the plane as we were leaving Paris and on our way back to Finland.  There is something about it that I just find so peaceful and it is a perfect shot to end our first trip to Paris.

The sunset from the plane as we were leaving Paris.

The sunset from the plane as we were leaving Paris.

 

 

 

Bonjour from The City of Love: Paris, France

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Mia at our hotel with a beautiful view of the Eiffel Tower in the background.

Mia at our hotel with a beautiful view of the Eiffel Tower in the background.  We really enjoyed exploring and falling in love with “The City of Love!”

It has been some time since my last post here on my blog.  Honestly, I’m not sure where the time has gone! We seem to be busier and busier as we are getting settled in. We enjoyed seeing our first snowfall here in Finland this past weekend.  I have also been meeting many moms from all over the world from Mia’s school and have been learning a lot about Finland as well as working on a few projects here.  We have managed to pick up a few Finnish words here and there as well since Mia is learning Finnish in school!

My family and I really enjoyed our first trip to Paris.  We didn’t have much time to explore on this trip, but we did manage to see a few of the must sees mostly in the late afternoons/evenings.  Once again, there were so many things that I wanted to take a photo of!  Paris was a little overwhelming, but so exciting all at the same time!   Overall, I thought Paris was a very beautiful city and it was nice to finally see the Eiffel Tower and the Mona Lisa in person!  Here are a few photos from our adventure:

Mia and I in front of the Eiffel Tower.

Mia and I in front of the Eiffel Tower.

We made it to the top of the Eiffel Tower (The Sommet). It was breathtaking!

We made it to the top of the Eiffel Tower one beautiful evening. It was breathtaking and it even rained some in true Paris style!

I am finally planning the trip at the very last minute... on a double decker bus!

I am finally planning the trip at the very last minute… on a double decker bus! Oh boy, where to start? So much to see in Paris!

Mia and I taking a nice break at The Musée du Louvre.

Mia and I taking a nice break at The Musée du Louvre.

Mia and her daddy at the beautiful Arc de Triomphe.

Mia and her daddy at the beautiful Arc de Triomphe.

The Mona Lisa

We were very excited to be able to take the journey into the famous Musée du Louvre to see the Mona Lisa in person and all of the other amazing artwork in this stunning museum.  We just wish we had more time to explore a little longer.  It was so massive and overwhelming that you would need an entire day to really get a good glimpse of all of the beautiful pieces on display.   Here are a few photos from our experience seeing the Mona Lisa for the first time:

Leonardo de Vinci's Mona Lisa portrait at the Louvre.  The most famous work of art in the world....

Leonardo de Vinci’s Mona Lisa portrait at the Louvre. The most famous work of art in the world.  There is just something about her… Truly stunning!

Mia and I really enjoyed seeing the Mona Lisa in person!

Mia and I really enjoyed seeing the Mona Lisa in person!

The crowd trying to get a shot of the Mona Lisa.  It was an amazing experience!

The crowd trying to get a shot of the Mona Lisa. It was an amazing experience!

Please click on the images in the gallery below to see a larger view:

Mia and I in front of Rodin's "The Thinker"

Mia and I in front of  “The Thinker” by sculptor Auguste Rodin

One of the most stunning sculptures: Rodin's The Gates of Hell.

One of the most stunning sculptures by Rodin: The Gates of Hell.

I will do one more post from Paris which will include images of the love locks and the beautiful Chateau de Versailles. I will end this post with two beautiful sunsets that I was lucky to get shots of.  The first one is at The Louvre – we were a little lost and ended up walking past it again at just the right time.  The last one is of the beautiful Eiffel Tower.

Sunset at the Musée du Louvre.

Sunset at the Musée du Louvre.

Sunset at the Eiffel Tower.

Sunset at the Eiffel Tower.

We can now mark Paris, France off our Red Pin Adventure Travel Bucket List:

Paris, France

Au revoir from la ville de l’amour! ♥

Like Stepping Right into a Fairytale… Tallinn, Estonia

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I thought this red door behind me was really beautiful!  There is so much character in all of the buildings in Old Town Tallinn.

I thought this red door behind me was really beautiful! There is so much character in all of the buildings in Old Town Tallinn.

We decided to take an impromptu trip to another country this weekend. There is a cruise ship port only a 10-minute walk from our apartment, and we have been seeing the ships come in and out of the port from our patio.   We walked over with just a small backpack and were able to purchase tickets over to the picturesque town of Tallinn, Estonia.  We took the Eckero Line M/S Finlandia ship and chose the cabin for the return back so that we could sleep after a lot of walking and exploring.  We had also heard that The Finns like to take a trip to Estonia to purchase cheaper alcohol and cigarettes.  This was certainly true as we saw many people with carts loaded to the top with cases and cases of beer on the return trip to Finland!

We were pleasantly surprised with this charming place which is only a 2-hour cruise ride from Helsinki.   It truly felt as though we had stepped off the cruise ship and landed right into a little Fairytale.  We spent a very relaxing 5-hours exploring the Old Town area and then returned to the port for the short 2-hour trip back to Helsinki.

Here are a few photos from our adventure this past weekend in Tallinn, Estonia (click on photos for a larger image):

Where we enjoyed a nice relaxing lunch. The Olde Hansa in Tallinn.

The Olde Hansa in Tallinn. Where we enjoyed a nice relaxing lunch.

The inside of the Olde Hansa Restaurant.

The inside of the Olde Hansa Restaurant.

A beautiful apple tree in front of a really cool looking building.

I thought this apple tree was so beautiful in front of this very interesting building.

The beautiful St. Alexander Nevsky Cathedral

The beautiful St. Alexander Nevsky Cathedral.

Mia and I with Shrek and Donkey!

Mia and I with Shrek and Donkey!

The Century is Yours.

This statement was on one of the walls as we walked through Old Town. The Century is yours.

This is one of my favorite shots.  I just love the architecture in Old Town.

I just love the architecture in Old Town.

Mia enjoying our little lunch break outside at the Olde Hansa Restaurant.

Mia enjoying our little lunch break outside at the Olde Hansa Restaurant.

We enjoyed saying hello to the Naked Invisible Man at the Viru Gates. ;)

We enjoyed saying hello to the Naked Invisible Man at the Viru Gates.😉

The cruise ship we took over to Estonia.

The cruise ship we took over to Estonia.

We really enjoyed our latest Red Pin Adventure to Tallinn, Estonia this past weekend and can now cross it off our Travel Bucket List:

Tallinn, Estonia