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”.

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!!

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

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

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!

 

 

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

We are Now Official Finland Residents… We have a Sauna in our New Place

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Saunas were invented in Finland and are a very important part of the culture here. There are only around 5 million people in the entire country (there are around 20 million just in the state of Florida where we just moved from). We have heard that there are over 2 million saunas here in Finland. That’s a lot of saunas for only 5 million people! And I know what you are wondering…  and the answer is YES, they do go naked here in their saunas!!  We have also heard that sometimes after a sauna they also go jump in a hole in the ice into the freezing water of a lake or ocean…  and yes, still naked!!  Yikes!  I wouldn’t mind trying this, but only if I had a wetsuit on!

When we were looking for an apartment here, we were very surprised that pretty much all of them included a sauna. When we came to look at our apartment, I remember us looking at the sauna and thinking that it could be another bedroom or a walk-in-closet! The apartments are much more expensive here and a lot smaller, so we were thinking of other uses for the space at first!

Well, we moved into our place about 2 weeks ago, and decided to give this sauna thing a try.  We were also battling a cold that we picked up from our London trip and thought that maybe the sauna would help a little.   Our first evening trying it out ended up with me at one point coughing like crazy and having to run out of it!!!  I think we were way too excited about pouring the water from our wooden spoon and bucket into the sauna heater with the rocks!   All that steam just about killed me!! Lol

We have used our sauna about 5 times so far and have learned not to pour so much water into it anymore and are beginning to love the experience now!  I am starting to wonder how we ever lived without one!!  No wonder Finland has saunas everywhere. The Finns love their saunas, am I am finally understanding why.  You feel so relaxed after the sauna, and are able to go right to bed afterwards and sleep like a baby.  This is great for me since I have always been a night owl and now I am finally able to get to bed earlier!

Here are a few photos from our sauna:

Our sauna heater with the pretty rocks!

Our sauna heater with the cool rocks… still not too sure if we are using this thing correctly.

Eukalyptus mix that we used while we were battling our colds and our wooden spoon and bucket.

Eucalyptus mix that we used while we were battling our colds and our wooden spoon and bucket.

Starting to heat up the sauna... this is our temperature gauge.

Starting to heat up the sauna… this is our temperature gauge.

Our sauna has two platforms to lay on and a moveable bench on the floor.

Our sauna has two platforms to lay on and a moveable bench on the floor.

I’m sure this Florida girl we will be hibernating in our sauna this winter! I’m not going to want to leave the apartment once it starts snowing here, but at least I will have our sauna to thaw out in! 🙂

London, England: Part Three – Tips and Photos of Architecture & Icons

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Mia and I in front of two classic London Icons (black cab & a red double-decker bus)!

Mia and I in front of two classic London Icons (a black cab & a red double-decker bus).  I love that one of the cab drivers has an Old Guys Rule shirts on!

This is part three of a three-part series of our London, England Adventure. This post will include some of the remaining photos that we took while touring London.  I hope that you have enjoyed my posts from England!

Here are a few photos of London Icons:

Mia sitting on one of the green & white relaxing chairs at St. James's Park.

Mia sitting on one of the green & white relaxing chairs at St. James’s Park. It was so nice to just stop and relax for about 20 minutes to take a break from exploring.

I thought this photo ended up interesting since I took it so quickly... with the guy on the phone walking in front of the London Bridge Sign.

The London Bridge Sign.

A classic red telephone booth close to St. Paul's Cathedral.

A classic red telephone booth close to St. Paul’s Cathedral.

"Hahn/Cock" sculpture by Katharina Fritsch at Trafalgar Square.

“Hahn/Cock” sculpture by Katharina Fritsch at Trafalgar Square.

Mia and I in front of classic red telephone booths.  Mia asked, "What's a telephone booth?!?!" :)

Mia and I in front of classic red telephone booths. Mia asked, “What’s a telephone booth?!” Boy, did that make us feel old! This was the first time she has ever seen one. 🙂

The Ghost Bus Tours

The Ghost Bus Tours

London Tip #7: Check closing times for all attractions as many close earlier than you might expect.  After living in Central Florida for the past 25 years, we have been used to places staying open pretty late for tourists especially in the summer.  However, it seems that places in Europe close much earlier.  Therefore, you must plan accordingly to make sure that you fit as much in as possible especially if you only have a few days in London.

London has to have some of the most beautifully designed architecture in the world. Many of the buildings have such detail that you cannot help wanting to stop and just look around and enjoy all of it.  St. Paul’s Cathedral and the Tower Bridge really stood out to me and were truly breathtaking.  Here are a few more photos from our adventure:

St. Paul's Cathedral.

St. Paul’s Cathedral.

The amazing detail of St. Paul's Cathedral.

The amazing detail of St. Paul’s Cathedral.

Columns at St. Paul's Cathedral.

Columns at St. Paul’s Cathedral.

The beautiful St. Paul's Cathedral.

The beautiful St. Paul’s Cathedral.

The beautiful Tower Bridge taken from the London Bridge.

The beautiful Tower Bridge taken from the London Bridge.

Tower Bridge

Tower Bridge taken from the top of a double-decker bus.

Tower Bridge

Tower Bridge

Tower Bridge.

Tower Bridge.

Mia and Danny at Trafalgar Square.

Mia and Danny at Trafalgar Square.

Mia and I at Trafalgar Square.

Mia and I at Trafalgar Square.

Nelson's Column at Trafalgar Square.

Nelson’s Column at Trafalgar Square.

Trafalgar Square

Trafalgar Square

Trafalgar Square.

Trafalgar Square.

One of the many lion statues in London.

One of the many lion statues in London.

Clock on Fleet Street.

Clock on Fleet Street.

Statue of Queen Elizabeth on Fleet Street.

Statue of Queen Elizabeth on Fleet Street.

Sunday Post building on Fleet Street.

Sunday Post building on Fleet Street.

The Royal Courts.

The Royal Courts of Justice.

Banners along Regent St. to celebrate 60 years since the coronation of The Queen.

Banners along Regent St. to celebrate 60 years since the coronation of The Queen.

Saying goodbye to London!

Saying goodbye to London! We hope to visit again one day!

Our next planned adventure in Europe will be our first trip to Paris!  It is already time for me to start researching where and what we should explore there.  Please let me know if anyone has any tips or suggestions on must sees there! 

London, England: Part Two – Tips and Photos of Big Ben, Westminster Abbey, & the London Eye

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One of my favorite photos from our trip: Big Ben and a red double-decker bus which I took while riding on the top of a double-decker bus.

One of my favorite photos from our trip: Big Ben and a red double-decker bus which I took while riding on the top of a double-decker bus.  A must-see at least once in your lifetime!

I am finally continuing with my London posts. It has been a very busy time for us as we were moving to a little bigger place the last couple of days. Mia has her own bedroom now, so she was very happy to unpack her toys that have been in storage. She also started her first day of 1st grade today and had a great day which was a big relief for us! I couldn’t sleep last night and was so nervous for her, but it all turned out fine and we are very happy with her new teacher!

This is post number two in a three-part series from our recent adventure in London, England. In this post, I will feature Big Ben, the Palace of Westminster, Westminster Abbey, & the London Eye. All but Westminster Abbey have an amazing view along the Thames River and were a short walk from our hotel.

Continuing from my last post, this is London Tip #5: The Golden Jubilee Bridge that is right next to Big Ben and the one you cross over to get to the London Eye gets unbelievably crowded! However, you can get some of the best photos in this area, so you may want to visit it earlier in the day or right before sunset to avoid a million people in your photos with you!

Big Ben has to be one of the most recognizable structures in the world. It was so impressive to see in person and reminded me of one of my favorite movies, Hook. It is one of those places when you see it for the first time in real life, you just say “Wow, that is amazing!” Here are a few photos of Big Ben & The Palace of Westminster (click on photos for a larger image):

For more information about touring the Houses of Parliament, please visit: Houses of Parliament Please note: Only permanent UK residents are allowed to tour Elizabeth Tower and Big Ben.

Westminster Abbey was my favorite place that we toured while in London. This is certainly worth the price of admission and has many surprises inside! It is not just an old gothic church, but a place filled with rich history (founded in 960) and also has an impressive collection of artwork.  It is the coronation church and also the final resting place and memorial site of many significant people.  King Edward’s Chair, the throne which is used for coronations is also housed here.

London Tip #6:  Do not pass up touring the inside of Westminster Abbey! If you only have one day, I would suggest taking the time to tour this church.  Also, do not be intimidated by the line to get it.  It moved very quickly for us and was worth the 20-30 minutes we waited in line. I would also recommend the Cellarium Cafe which is perfect for a nice break with afternoon tea and light snacks.

Here are a few photos from Westminster Abbey (please note: photography and filming are not allowed while you are touring the inside of the Abbey):

The beautiful entrance to Westminster Abbey.

The beautiful entrance to Westminster Abbey.

For more information about touring Westminster Abbey, please visit:  Westminster Abbey

The London Eye was within walking distance to where we stayed and was of course one of those things in London that you just have to do! It is located in the South Bank right along the Thames River. We were able to see so much of London from the top and you get to see out for a distance of about 25 miles from the top. The views from the London Eye are absolutely breathtaking and was definitely something that we are glad that we were able to experience. I would love to experience it at night the next time we visit as I am sure it would be very beautiful with all of the city lights on.

Here are a few photos from our experience on the London Eye:

The London Eye and the Thames River.

The London Eye and the Thames River.

Mia and I having fun on the London Eye!

Mia and I having fun on the London Eye!

The amazing view from the London  Eye!

The amazing view from the London Eye!

Mia enjoying the London Eye!

Mia enjoying the London Eye!

For more information about the London Eye, please visit: London Eye

You can read part 1 of this series at the following link: London Part 1

London, England: Part One – Tips and Photos of Buckingham Palace, Hamleys and Madame Tussauds

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Mia and I in front of Buckingham Palace!

Mia and I in front of Buckingham Palace!

As a girl who loves to take photos, I was totally in awe with London!   Everywhere I turned, there was something that I wanted to take a photo of.  I guess that’s why I ended up taking over 400 photos in 4 days!  Our family really enjoyed our first visit to London together, and I will be making three posts to cover our adventure.  I will try to include around 20-30 photos for each posting which should cover a lot of the London sights that you can accomplish if you plan a 3-4 day trip there (we scheduled 4 full days in London and 1 half day for travel).  There are so many other places that we did not explore during our first trip, but I believe another 3-4 days should cover most of the other places that we would like to see.  I will also include a few helpful tips that we learned along the way.  We are very happy that the flight from Helsinki is only around 2.5 hours and will hopefully bring us to London again while we are living in Europe!

London Tip #1:  If you want to see as many sights as possible, I would suggest seeing them via one of the classic double-decker red buses.  May not be the cheapest way to get around, but it was something you should do at least once in your life and certainly a lot of fun for our daughter!  We were able to hop-on and off at many of the top sights and take us much time as we wanted at each location. Ours also included a Thames River Cruise which we did not have time to do.  The night before our trip, we booked The Original Tour and were quite happy with their services.

London Tip #2: Book the additional 24 hours at the time of purchase for only 7 or 8 additional pounds (not sure the exact amount that they quoted us when we picked up our tickets).  We didn’t do this, but really wish that we had since we were not able to accomplish all of the sights in the 24 hour time for our tickets and this would have been much cheaper than taxis and a lot less exhausting than all the walking we did!  We are still learning to get around via public transportation as well and were not brave enough yet to try it in London.  The yellow line provided you with a live English commentary guide and the red line offered you headsets to listen to the commentary and also provided a channel for kids.  However, we did notice that there seemed to be more of the Big Bus Tour buses running and therefore may enable you to see more sights if you are restricted on time.

London Tip #3: Bring cash if you need to take a taxi!!!  We noticed that it was much harder to find a taxi that would accept credit cards.  Therefore, bring cash (pounds) just in case you need it!

Our visit to Buckingham Palace and The Changing of The Guard (click on photos for a larger view):

For more information on Buckingham Palace and tours, please visit: Buckingham Palace

A historic toy shop that has been around since 1780 (over 250 years) in London is Hamleys. Thanks to a tip from my friend Kim, Mia had a lot of fun visiting Hamleys and we were all exhausted after visiting all seven floors of this mega toy shop!

It's A Boy! The future King arrived the same week we were in London!

It’s A Boy! The future King arrived the same week we were in London!

This was our first visit to a Madame Tussauds. Wow, what a cool place to visit in London!! We really enjoyed this attraction and were very impressed with their wax figures and many were specific to England including the Royal Family. This was one of Mia’s favorite parts of the trip since she is a big superhero fan. Included with our tickets was an amazing 4D Marvel Superheroes Movie at the end of the attraction!

Our family with Queen Elizabeth II  and Prince Philip!

Our family with Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Philip!

London Tip #4: Expect to wait in line for a long time (one to two hours) during the summer when visiting Madame Tussauds! I would definitely consider purchasing their priority access tickets (click on the link above) for this attraction if you are pressed for time!

We can now cross our first Europe Red Pin Adventure outside of Finland off our list!

London, England
I would love to hear your comments and more London tips for our next adventure there!

You can read part 2 of this series at the following link: London Part Two

Our Visit to the Office

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Mia and I were finally able to see where her daddy has been working since November. We had a great time visiting the office on Friday and meeting some of his co-workers. Many were on their summer holiday, so we will try to visit again after the summer is over. Mia thought that her daddy’s office was a very cool place to work!!

Mia and I at the entrance to the office.

Mia and I at the entrance to the office.

A cool display in the lobby.

A cool display in the lobby.

Mia and I sitting on one of the chairs in the store.

Mia and I sitting on one of the chairs in the store.

One of the cool meeting spaces!

One of the cool work spaces!

Mia and her daddy at the cool slingshot display.

Mia and her daddy at the cool slingshot display.

A fun work/play area.

A fun work/play area.

Mia and I having fun at one of the little break areas.

Mia and I having fun at one of the little break areas.

One of the cool meeting rooms.  Mia loved this room!

One of the cool meeting rooms. Mia loved this room!

Mia had a lot of fun writing on one of the creative boards.

Mia had a lot of fun writing on one of the creative boards.

Mia and I in the Mighty Eagle room!

Mia and I in the Mighty Eagle room! These two girls are ready for business! 😉

One of the drink coolers at the office.

One of the drink coolers at the office.

Mia was checking out the beautiful view at the office!

Mia was checking out the beautiful view at the office!

Happy 4th of July from Finland!

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We decided to take our first journey on the train today and made it downtown. We celebrated the 4th of July at the Hard Rock Cafe Helsinki. They were giving 20% off to anyone from the U.S.A. today!
We also went across the street to check out their big department store called Stockmann. It was really nice and we ran into a reindeer!

They were celebrating the 4th of July at the Hard Rock Cafe downtown today!

They were celebrating the 4th of July at the Hard Rock Cafe today!

Made it to the Stockman Dept. Store Downtown today and found a reindeer!

Made it to the Stockmann Dept. Store downtown today and found a reindeer!

We made it! Our first few days in Finland… Wow, there’s so much daylight!!!

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We arrived safely in Helsinki late Saturday afternoon, and have been busy unpacking and exploring all of the different areas around us. After the first day, we knew we needed to find Mia something to help her get around. We have been doing so much walking, so we found her a cute little scooter to easily keep up with us. She is really getting around great now and having a lot of fun with it!

The time zone difference (7 hours ahead of Orlando) has really been tough on us these first couple of days. It is also daylight out most of the time. The sun set on our first night around 11:00 p.m. and then sunrise was at 3:58 a.m.!!! We have to wear sleep masks just to try to keep some of the light out to sleep (we have blackout shades on some of the windows too). On our second night, we were wide awake from 2 a.m. to around 6 a.m. We went out for a walk/scooter ride at 3 a.m. and made it over to Mia’s school so she could see it. Not one soul was out! I was a little surprised since this is the capital city of Finland! We have been here for almost 4 days now, and I have yet to see a police car or officer and have not heard any sirens from ambulance or police. Seems very strange for a big city. I heard at least two or three a day in Central Florida! It is certainly a nice peaceful change. It is also refreshing to see so many people out with their families, walking their dogs, bike riding, and just simply enjoying this beautiful weather!

Danny was back to work Monday morning and we start to look at new places tomorrow. However, we are really enjoying the simplicity of going from a 4 bedroom home to a cute little studio apartment with a view of the beautiful canal…. Not sure if we really need a little bigger place anymore! We’ll see how tomorrow goes. 🙂

Last photo of Mia and her dog, Audrey before we left.  My parents are watching our two dogs while we are away.  Not a day goes by that Mia is not talking about her dog. :(

Photo of Mia and her amazing dog, Audrey before we left. She was originally my parent’s dog, but quickly grew attached to Mia after she was born. Grateful that my parents are watching our two dogs while we are away. Not a day goes by that Mia is not talking about her dog. They are like two peas in a pod! 😥

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

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

In Orlando, getting ready to board our flight to Manchester.

In Orlando, getting ready to board our flight to Manchester.

On the plane, ready to go!!

On the plane, ready to go!! Not sure why Mia wanted to show off her toothbrush they gave her! Lol Total travel time was about 14 hours from Orlando to Finland.

First part of our flight was from Orlando to Manchester. 2 hour layover, then to Helsinki!

First part of our flight was from Orlando to Manchester. 2 hour layover, then to Helsinki! Whew… it was a long journey!

Mia on one of our journeys out to explore the area!

Ready to explore! We hit the ground running (and scootering)! Mia on one of our journeys out to explore the area!

Our cute little studio apartment.  Love it!

Our cute little studio apartment. Love it!

View from our apartment!

View from our apartment! So peaceful!

Mia having fun on her new scooter at 3 a.m.  We were wide awake (it was only 8 p.m. Florida time)!

Mia having fun on her new scooter at 3 a.m. We were wide awake (it was only 8 p.m. Florida time)!

A cool sculpture on one of our many walks.  Hope someone can tell me the name of this beautiful!

A cool sculpture on one of our many walks. Hope someone can tell me the name of this beautiful sculpture!

A glimpse of the perfect weather and the sunrise/sunset times!

I will end with a glimpse of the perfect weather and the sunrise/sunset times!

All packed and ready to go!! Less than 20 hours until our big move…. Finland here we come!

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Here we go!!!! We are finally all packed and ready to go! Moving to Finland in less than 20 hours!!!! Our master bedroom turned into packing central this past week. Only moving with suitcases and donated about 3/4 of all of our belongings to various charities and friends in need. Whew…. It feels great to simplify our lives and we are now ready for our adventure in Europe!! We will miss you all!! ♥

The beginning of all the packing!

The beginning of all the packing! Moving with only suitcases!

A bunch of our furniture went to the Salvation Army today.  This was the 2nd truck to visit our home for the move.  Feeling great! :)

A bunch of our furniture went to the Salvation Army today. This was the 2nd truck to visit our home for the move. Feeling great! 🙂

Finally all packed and ready to go!!

Finally all packed and ready to go!!