We are ending our time here in Denmark so we made the call to have one of our last trips be to Ireland. Day 1: After a very entertaining flight (drunk passenger talking about his many “conquests” and wealth, although he was sitting in economy on a budget airline), we spent our first full day in Dublin. We took the express bus from the Dublin airport into the downtown area.
Our first stop for the day was EPIC or the Irish Emigration Museum. We were first handed a passport that we could stamp ourselves at different themes throughout the museum. This was pretty much what the girls did the whole time. They raced around to find that stamp. It was also a very interactive museum. Good for a 9 year old, not great for a 6 year old. So I spent much of my time chasing after the wee one but the Notorious Irish display was a big hit along with the Irish dancing. We learned some very interesting things about Irish culture, its influence on the world and so much more. Highly recommend a visit!
After EPIC, we walked through Dublin. We enjoyed lunch at a vegan diner then crossed the Ha’penny bridge towards the famous Essex Street. We stopped and got ice cream across from the Temple Bar and snapped the obligatory pictures. It was quite crowded as this bar is seen as a must stop for tourists. But we were able to grab seats right outside the ice cream shop.
We then started walking towards a wool shop. We wanted to buy a lap blanket and figured Dublin would have the widest variety. And man, there are a LOT of souvenir/wool shops around. We ventured in and out of many shops but only found a few souvenirs and one blanket. We then walked around Trinity College before heading to a nearby playground for the girls to run out some energy.
After playing at the park, we decided to call it a day in Dublin. We had contemplated checking out the Guinness tour/museum but since it is expensive and neither of us drink it regularly, we decided to skip it. The girls were getting tired of walking, we had a two hour drive to go to the east side of the country and the weather was turning sour. We hopped on the bus to the Dublin Airport, picked up our rental and headed towards Bunratty. We stayed in the Bunratty Manor Hotel. An excellent hotel with a pub and restaurant on the first floor. After putting the girls to sleep, we went downstairs to the pub and the husband enjoyed a Guinness.
Day 2: The next day, we went to the nearby Bunratty Castle. Bunratty Castle was built in 1425 and was an important stronghold. One can now tour the castle along with the folk park around it. Unfortunately for us, the folk park part was pretty closed down due to COVID and the season. There was no petting zoo, few actors, and no events. We did get to meet and pet two Irish Wolfhounds thanks to a nice policeman. We also saw the baby goats and played in the playground. We participated in a fairy hunt through the northern part of the park. Due to a sisterly spat, we had to separate for heads to cool down but were able to end the tour on a good note.
After Bunratty, we ate at the nearby Creamery Bar. If you suffer from celiac or gluten intolerance, Ireland is THE place to visit if you want to enjoy local foods at restaurants without the fear of getting sick. Celiac disease is very common in Ireland so most eateries offer gluten free foods and know how to prepare it safely. Besides the delicious food, we also enjoyed looking at all the American service badges over the bar. We found Iowa State Patrol and other USA departments.
Next, we drove to the Cliffs of Moher. What a sight!
The Cliffs of Moher sit along the Atlantic Ocean. They were formed over 320 million years ago and run 8 miles along the coast of County Clare. The highest spot is near O’Brien’s Tower at 700 feet.
We went and explored the visitors center first. It was a pretty small exhibit and didn’t have a lot of interactive spots for children so we didn’t spend too much time here.
Next, we explored the cliffs. It was extremely windy and we understood why it’s called the Wild Atlantic. The wind was so strong that the crashing waves at the bottom of the cliffs were being sprayed up towards the paved walkway. There were even a few points where we were holding on to each other tightly as the wind was so strong (Claire nearly lost her hat). We walked from one end to the tower taking lots of pictures and soaking in the view. There was another, unpaved path but we decided with the wind and the warnings posted on the trail, we weren’t going to attempt it.
Next, we headed north towards Galway. On our way there, we stopped at an old abbey I had found on Google Maps. It was called the Corcomroe Cistercian Monastery. It was founded in 1194 but was too poor by the 15th century to keep a fully staffed monastery and was shortened to just a church and graveyard. It was amazing to look at all of the gravestones and how old they were.
By the time we pulled in to Galway, it was time to find some food. I had found a gluten free place that promised fish and chips. Unfortunately, Galway was very busy. We had an incredibly difficult time finding parking and had to drive around multiple times to find a parking spot. I also had to do a quick google search on parking laws in Galway to make sure we were allowed to park where we did. The little restaurant was packed when we arrived. Luckily for us, it was a first come, first serve (no reservations) and a table had just opened up right near the window, so we were able to grab a seat and order. Guys, this food was sssoo good. The husband and I literally still talk about it. If you are ever in Galway, check out Hooked. We then found our hostel and after some parking issues, we settled down for the night. I really wanted to walk around Galway but it was rainy, we were tired and I decided it wasn’t worth the fight.
We grabbed a quick breakfast at the hostel and started driving north. Our next stop was Glencar Waterfall in County Leitrim. The drive became very scenic the farther north we went and after two hours of driving, we turned onto a tiny road that lead us to Glencar. Glencar Waterfall is a very kid friendly waterfall. It’s a short hike from the parking lot and includes public toilets, a playground and cafe. We could also see other waterfalls from the road. Pretty neat!
We then started driving north again towards Slieve League. But first, we had to pull over and admire Benbulbin. Benbulbin is a flat-topped formation in County Sligo. While the husband and I would have loved to hike it, we decided not to push our luck with the girls. We also had a lot of driving to do that day so we settled on a picture.
After some winding roads and a quick stop to pay access to the upper car park, we arrived at Slieve League. While not as famous as the Cliffs of Moher, Slieve League is home to the second highest sea cliffs in Ireland and some of the highest in Europe. It must be gaining popularity though as there was a vending truck parked on top and many tour buses coming and going in the tiny parking lot. Two of us had some shaky knees as there are very few barriers in place and a trail close to the edge. Luckily for us, the wind was much calmer than the day before. After summoning up our courage, we walked the trail overlooking the cliffs. What a view!
We soaked in some sunshine then loaded back up in our car to head towards Letterkenny for supper. We may have also decided to stop in Letterkenny due to a certain Canadian show on a certain streaming network. No, we did not find any Puppers. But we did find another fish and chips place with gluten free options. It had more options the girls liked like chicken nuggets with fries. A win! We spent the night outside of Derry before our adventure into Northern Ireland the next day.
Day four was to be another long day so we got up early to enjoy a real Irish breakfast in the hotel. Once we crossed the border, we headed toward Dunluce Castle. Dunluce Castle was built in the 13th century and was believed to have operated until 1690. The north wall has collapsed into the sea. It was also a film location in the Game of Thrones series as the House Greyjoy. There was a new overlook just west of the castle so we stopped there to take a few pictures of the sea, castle and neighboring town.
We also stopped at the castle but after hearing the groans of “NOT another castle!” we decided to move onto the Giant’s Causeway instead. You may be familiar with the Giant’s Causeway. It is a geological area of hexagonal basalt columns that may have been created 50-60 million years ago after volcanic activity. The cooling of the lava led to the hexagonal like columns. Or you can believe the legend: an Irish giant and Scottish giant decided to fight so the Irish giant created the causeway to Scotland. Upon his arrival, Fionn, the Irish giant, realizes that Benandonner, the Scottish giant, was bigger than him. He then fled to his home where his wife disguised him as a baby. When Benandonner arrived, he saw the “baby” and assumed that the “baby’s” father must be larger than himself. Benandonner ran home to Scotland destroying the causeway to prevent himself from being chased down. The Giant’s Causeway is free to everyone BUT not if you park at and explore the visitors center. We bit the bullet and decided to park as close as we could and tour the visitors center. The visitors center included a video about the giants legend, artwork from Susanna Drury and the history/creation of the Giant’s Causeway. It is pretty small so we moved quickly through it before heading to the rock formations. We noticed a few tour groups and I zeroed in on their logos, Cedar Rapids. Then I noticed the Cedar Rapids Kernels hats and Hawkeye gear. Here we were all the way in Ireland seeing fellow Iowans. Many of them were scattered all around the Giant’s Causeway taking in the waves and the formations. We also took a few pictures, climbed up and down the rocks and tried not to get blown away.
We then jumped in the car and started heading south towards Belfast. We didn’t have a plan for lunch so this one time we decided to let the girls choose and of course, they wanted McDonalds. So after some confusing streets, a bit of yelling and Happy Meals, we were back on our way to Belfast to visit the Titanic Museum. The Titanic was built in Belfast by the White Star Line. This museum covers the history of the company in Belfast, the shipyard life, the building of the Olympic ships (including Titanic) and the Titanic and that fateful night of the sinking. There is even a little ride that carries you through the levels of the Titanic and the type of work that was done to build it. We did pretty good 3/4 of the way through the museum. The kids had a little map and they were tasked with finding each person on the map and answering a question. Since they had been locked in a car for so long though, they really seemed ready to run so the husband and I weren’t able to absorb as much history as we would have liked. When we got to the part of the museum that discussed the sinking, we had a girl with a big heart who just couldn’t take it. She became very upset and we had to leave the exhibit. You never know what will stick with children. The girls and I instead went to see a tiny exhibit about marine and coastal life. When Dad joined us, we skipped the video of the deep sea exploration of Titanic and went to the gift shop before we drove back to Dublin to what we thought was the end of our time in Ireland.
Day 5: Day 5 was suppose to be an easy day. Get on the bus, go through security, get on plane and arrive home. It was the day before St. Patrick’s Day in Ireland and lots of people were arriving at the airport in their green ready to party in Dublin. So we got to the airport and waited….and waited….and waited. Our flight was delayed and we were told it was a computer issue. Then three hours after our take off time, our flight was canceled. A handful of people had already gotten on the airplane and they had to get off. Now this was my first experience with a canceled flight. OMG. I do not wish it on anyone. It was so confusing. We were told to go to one place then moved to another place. We were told that our flight was to be the next day and a hotel was being booked for us. At that point, we split up. The family went to get our checked baggage while I waited for the hotel representing the airline to arrive and book us a room. Happily, I was probably the second person in line and was able to get a room. Due to St. Patrick’s Day, our hotel was outside of Dublin. We were guaranteed “free” meals and transportation to the airport in the morning. So we spent the rest of the day lounging in the hotel room, eating during mealtimes and walking to a nearby store. The next day, we got to the airport with no issues. We made it through security and even onto the plane this time. Unfortunately, we were again delayed by some passengers apparently checking in but not actually getting on the plane. So their bags had to be removed from the cargo and we had to wait for this. The pilot joked that they were likely in the bars celebrating the holiday and he may have been correct, the airport bars were full! Happily, the rest of the travel had no hiccups and we made it back to Denmark albeit one day later than planned.
Easter Break: For our final European vacation, I decided to make it easy. We made the executive decision to do an all-inclusive/resort style trip this time. We wanted to relax and chill on the beach. We didn’t want to run around and hop from hotel to hotel. So we looked around and decided on Mallorca. Mallorca is a Spanish island in the Mediterranean. It is part of the Balearic Islands and is known for it’s resorts and tourist culture. So I really don’t have much to share about our travels there. I would compare it to Mexico resorts like in Cancun except 90% of the tourists spoke German. We had wristbands indicating our half-board status. We spent time on the beach, kids club and the pool. On our last day, we rented bikes and checked out one of the famous coves in Mallorca while also finding ice cream. It was quite an adventure involving a flat tire, a thorn in a hand and dodging other tourists. BUT it was relaxing 75% of the time which is what we wanted.
Yep. Another trip. With our time in Denmark beginning to come to an end, we are trying to squeeze in as many European trips as possible. So when my gearhead husband saw that EICMA, or “The Milan Motorcycle Show”, was a go in Italy, the whole family booked tickets to go along with him.
We flew to Italy on the budget airline, Ryan Air. If you’re from the USA, I would compare it to Allegiant Air. While the initial price is cheap, you have to pay for each additional bag, seat, etc. A lot of hidden charges. However, it was still cheaper than our return flight using our reward miles. But because it is a budget airline, it sometimes lands outside of major cities. This particular one landed in Bergamo so we had to take a bus to Milan. And man…the bus station was FULL. It was definitely smart to have purchased tickets online as we were allowed on the bus first. Unfortunately, (I’m assuming here) our driver had sold the last two tickets for the bus and didn’t see our two children in the seats that he likely assumed were empty. He instructed us to have our five and nine year old sit on our laps the whole one hour ride into Milan. It became a hot and bit claustrophobic ride but the girls were well behaved.
The bus stopped at Milan Central Station so we walked seven to eight blocks to our hotel. We had to show our CoronaPas, (an app that displays a QR code that indicates your vaccine status, negative test or immunity from COVID-19), our locator form for Italian authorities and our passports. We were so very happy to get into our room. We had a couple of hours to spare before our scheduled time to go to the pool. Due to COVID-19, only a certain amount of guests were allowed in the pool at a time and you had to schedule it. I had emailed the hotel a few days before our arrival to book our times. Turns out that was a good move as another gentleman checking in was unable to get in the sauna area until midnight.
We splashed away our 45 minutes in the pool and settled in for a good nights sleep.
We started the day with breakfast in the restaurant. It was a very big breakfast full of pastries, fruit and meat. They also had a little gluten free option box for me (mainly prepackaged, dry options). We were sure to fill up as much as we could as we were going to try and limit our meals to only two a day to save money; one huge breakfast and one big dinner.
Dad then went out into Milan while the girls and I stayed at the hotel. Dad would get to enjoy the motorcycle convention and the Alfa Romeo Museum without uninterested tag-alongs.
While Dad was away, the girls and I watched movies, enjoyed the pool and took a late afternoon stroll to a gluten free bakery and McDonalds (it was their request, not mine). We really learned how big Milan was. The night before the streets had been fairly manageable but wow….it was very busy on a Saturday afternoon. I was a bit uncomfortable as it was only my set of eyes to keep watch on the girls but they stayed close and we had no issues.
Dad’s adventure was a bit more hectic. He was able to ride the metro directly to the arena where the EICMA was held (Side note: The metro in Milan is super simple to take. If you have a contactless card, you just scan it on and off the metro. No special ticket needed). But when he got there, it was packed. He was only able to see a few of his favorite brands (MotoGuzzi & Honda) before calling it quits and heading to the Alfa Romeo museum.
According to the Alfa Romeo website, there should have been a bus for easy transport to and from EICMA and the museum. Unfortunately, the husband couldn’t find a spot to buy bus tickets. Since his phone was dying, he instead called a cab.
He made it to the museum without incidents and enjoyed his time there as it was virtually empty since most gearheads were at EICMA. Enjoy pictures of cars below I know nothing about:
When he left, his plan was to jump on a direct bus from a nearby mall that went directly into downtown Milan. Unfortunately, for him, he couldn’t find a spot to buy tickets. According to a few people he asked, he was unable to purchase tickets on the bus due to COVID-19 and no one knew where he could purchase them in the mall. So as his phone died, he hailed a taxi and went back to the EICMA to take the metro back to our hotel. Thankfully, he remembered the stop and was able to find his way back to the hotel. (I was not very calm at this point. He had no phone and was in a huge city without his guide (me).)
After finishing a movie, we went out for gelato. I found a little spot not far from the hotel, that served gluten free options (along with other dietary options). And let me tell you, it was delicious! We all loved it and made plans to go back the next night.
Sunday funday! Today we woke up early to grab breakfast. I had a bit of a nervous stomach ache as I was finally going out to see the big city. I had spent the weeks prior to our trip reading all sorts of warnings about pick pocketers and scammers in Italy. So I was sure to be on my guard as we were going to the second largest cathedral in Europe, Duomo di Milano.
We arrived 30 minutes before our tickets to allow us into the cathedral. So we took this time to walk through the Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II, Italy’s oldest (and very expensive) shopping mall. Since everything was closed, we pretty much had the entire mall to ourselves. We walked past Prada, Chanel, Gucci and many more ($$$) stores. But we were able to find the lucky bull. According to legend, if one turns on the bull’s family jewels with their right foot, they will have good luck. The Christmas Tree was being put up when we arrived but luckily the bull was still uncovered. So we definitely tried our luck at it.
At 9:30, we made our way into Duomo di Milano. We had to go through corona and security check-points. Mass was also going on. It was a very neat experience to view the church and also witness a service in person. Attendance was low but tourists were trickling in and out at a pretty steady flow. But man, the church was massive. The cantor’s voice echoed off the walls and filled the space. We even got to hear the Lord’s Prayer in Italian. You can rent an audio headphones but we decided not to (it appeared to be closed when we were there). Looking back, I would recommend renting one. There aren’t very many plaques around the church explaining the murals and statues. The headphones may have offered a bit more history on the cathedral.
Next, we went on the ROOF! We paid extra to take the elevator up to the top (hundreds of steps did not sound appealing with little kids). Due to COVID-19, we couldn’t take the elevator down and everyone was to move in one direction. But man, the views were awesome and the detail was….just….WOW! There was detail on everything! From the stairs tucked back in a corner to the top of every spire (over a hundred). We enjoyed looking at the different faces of over a hundred gargoyles and finding the smallest details. It was truly stunning! It is amazing to think exactly old it is. Construction on it began in 1386 and ended around 1858. Wowza!
We made it down the stairs with just a bit of whining and ended up back in the church. We decided to call it quits and made our way out into Piazza Duomo. By 10:30 am, it was packed. The mall was crowded with weekend shoppers and everyone seemed to be out in the square enjoying the day and view of the cathedral. The girls chased around pigeons while the adults tried desperately to keep an eye on them and avoid the scammers. We successful kept track of the girls but may have overpaid on some bracelets by a pushy salesman.
We then decided to go grab lunch. I had found a gluten free bistro and was very excited to try it. Unfortunately, I had forgotten we were in Europe and it was the weekend. We should have booked a table because when we got there, we were told they were all booked up. But as we turned around to leave, the waiter said he had one table we could stay at if we promised to leave at noon. We promised and sat down to have a quick bite. The girls ate gluten free pancakes (they stated mine are better) and the husband and I got focaccia pizza. It was…so…good. If you have to or choose to eat gluten free, you know most breads under perform and taste dry or like cardboard. But oh my goodness, this was so fluffy and moist, I had a hard time believing it was gluten free. Yum!
After grabbing our bite, we decided to take the metro back to the hotel and rest our feet before our next sight, Museo Nazionale della Scienza e della Tecnologia Leonardo da Vinci (or Leonardo da Vinci National Museum of Science and Technology).
After a couple hours (and a snooze for the parents), we jumped on the metro to the Leonardo da Vinci National Museum of Science and Technology. Wow! What a museum. It is an enormous museum full of pretty much everything and anything. Parts of it had Leonardo da Vinci works of art and inventions, another area had information on crop production in Italy and a whole other building housed different types of transportation. We definitely didn’t make it through all of it before the museum was set to close. Just so much stuff! But I will admit, it was not the most kids friendly museum we’ve been to. There were less hands on displays than other kids museums we’ve been to. Our littlest became bored pretty quickly…
We left the museum as the sun was setting and decided to stop by McDonalds for the girls. We were all exhausted from a long day and figured this would be the quickest/easiest option for them. Afterwards, we grabbed more delicious gelato. That evening, we went to the swimming pool. And we definitely ended it on a note. Avery was practicing holding her breath underwater. Unfortunately, she swallowed some water and then proceeded to throw it all back up. We cleaned it up and called it the end of our pool time. But…that night, Claire started complaining about a stomach ache. We told her to just get some rest and we’d see what tomorrow brings.
Day 4: We woke up early to grab a taxi from our hotel to the airport to pick up a rental car. Dad and Avery went to breakfast, while Claire and I stayed in the room. She said she still didn’t feel right and wasn’t hungry. We opted for a taxi instead of public transportation due to our luggage and the fact the metro didn’t go all the way out to the airport we needed to get to. We could have jumped on a bus but we wanted to do something a bit easier. In hindsight, it was the correct call. While we weaved our way through Milan, Claire was beginning to look more pale. I told her to breath through her nose and relax. The poor driver kept trying to make small talk with us but we pretty much ignored him as we were worried about Claire. As soon as we disembarked from the taxi, Claire decorated the side of the airport with yesterday’s McDonalds. We told Claire we were so proud of her for not hurling in the taxi and waiting until we had left it. After we made sure she was ok, we went to get our rental. Luckily, it was all outside so Claire was able to take some deep breaths. We packed the car full of sacks that I had grabbed from the hotel in case we had another incident, and we headed north to Lake Como. Our first stop, Como. We parked and immediately had to find a toilet for the little one. There is a little park located on Lake Como. In the spring/summer, it looks like a mini carnival is set up for kids. We instead played a few of the game located in the park, watched an owner and dog playing catch, counted the ducks and even watched a water airplane take off. P.S. The weather was also sunny!
We then made our way to the shopping district of Como. We were lucky as there was an active Christmas market open and we got to see some classic Italian foods (so much cheese!). The girls also grabbed a hot dog for lunch (Claire was feeling better). The architecture of Como was just amazing. I really enjoyed Como over Milan because it was smaller and much easier to maneuver through. Our littlest was fed up with walking so we eventually meandered our way back to our car.
Next, we continued our northward adventure. The road became very narrow and curvy. It was quite the terrifying adventure. Our next stop was at a scenic spot called Orrido di Nesso. It is a gorge that opens to a waterfall and scenic bridge called Ponte della Civera. I don’t know how we did it but we convinced our youngest to walk a very steep path down to the bridge (and back up). But it was totally worth the views!
After a LONG trek back to the car, our next stop was Bellagio. We were to jump on ferry and cross it to Varenna. I had planned on walking around Bellagio for awhile but we arrived right when the ferry was leaving so made a split second decision to just get on the ferry now. It provided gorgeous views of northern Lake Como and the Alps.
Once we reached Varenna, we turned south towards the Moto Guzzi factory in Mandello del Lario. Due to COVID-19, we were unable to tour the museum connected to the factory. So instead, the husband checked out a local motorcycle dealer and took a picture of the iconic Moto Guzzi door. The girls just enjoyed time in the car.
The sun was low on the horizon at this point and we decided to head back to southern Milan. We were staying right next to the airport since we were heading south the next day and had an early flight in two days.
Day 5: Our last day in Italy was for cheese and cars! We woke up nice and early to drive to Caseificio Bazzanese, a small cheese factory. It was my third choice but the bigger dairies were either sold out or closed on this particular day. But I was not disappointed. I was a little worried when we arrived 30 minutes late. There had been an accident on the freeway and traffic was backed up. However, we were the only ones scheduled for the tour so it didn’t bother our tour guide one bit. She took us into a little room to change into hair nets and plastic gowns. She also warned us that she wasn’t the best at speaking English but she did an amazing job. We learned all about Parmigiano Reggiano; how the process starts early in the morning with milking of the cows and then the milk is shipped to the factory. It goes through so many different steps from milk to curd. After being molded, it’s put in a salt bath for over an hour. Finally, it is set out to dry for a year or more! Any company that makes Parmigiano Reggiano must have it inspected by a cheese curator. Talk about a dream job. This curator looks at EVERY. SINGLE. wheel of cheese to decide if it meets Parmigiano Reggiano quality. We learned there are three levels. The first means excellent quality and is given the Parmigiano Reggiano seal. The next is good quality and is usually sold to restaurants. This last level can still be sold as cheese but it cannot carry the Parmigiano Reggiano seal. It is sold under another name.
Avery hated the tour. I mean…it’s cheese making. It had a very sharp smell and she was not a fan. She was in full tears so our tour was pretty quick. Claire also wasn’t a fan of the smell but she loves learning and took in all the information. Afterwards, we got to eat cheese! The platter included a year aged cheese, two year aged cheese and a three year aged cheese. We were also treated with some curd (or whey, can’t remember), crackers, and local balsamic vinegar. Oh…it was ssssooo good. Even Claire loved it (Avery only ate the crackers). The vinegar with the older cheese was such a good combo and we ate every single piece (don’t judge).
Now it was time for cars for the gearhead. First stop: Ferrari.
I’ll be honest here. I had little to no time to look at the cars. This portion of the trip was for the husband. So enjoy some pictures of fancy cars:
My job was the follow the girls around and make sure they didn’t touch anything. We pretty much zoomed through the museum and made our way to a park located directly outside. The girls played while we waited for the husband to finish looking at the cars. I think one of his favorite parts about the day may have been hearing all the Ferrari’s running at the test track and factory nearby. We also saw quite a few Farraris driving around.
We then discussed lunch. I found an Italian café that made gluten free pizza so we ordered from there (using WhatsApp and Google Translate). We picked it up and ate on the way to our next car museum, Lamborghini. The Lamborghini museum was much smaller than Ferrari but much more interactive. We first walked in to a dark room that started playing a very intense promotional video for Lamborghini cars. Even the girls were entranced and ready to see some cars after it. The girls particularly liked one section where you could build your own Lamborghini. There was even a green screen set up for one to take pictures as a Lamborghini model. While the museum was smaller, the girls really enjoyed it.
When we left the museum, we even spotted a few camouflaged Lamborghinis driving around. My husband also found that really cool. The next morning we woke up at 4 am to make our 6 am flight…which was an adventure in itself. We landed in Frankfurt with no issues but taking off from Frankfurt was an ordeal. We were all on the plane when the captain reported that a person was running on the runway and we would have to wait until officers cleared the area. Next, we were told the computer system on the plane was not working. So we had to get off the plane onto some buses to take us to another part of the terminal. Once there, we were told that the backup plane had to be prepared so the girls and I did some shopping. The wait was actually much shorter and we were racing to get on buses again to bring us to our plane. So we were very happy to land back in Denmark albeit three hours later than planned.
The one thing I learned during this trip is that we prefer scenic areas over cities. We preferred picturesque Como over crowded Milan. So that leads into our next trip we did briefly over Christmas.
Trip #16: Sweden
With Omicron cases soaring in Europe, many places were tightening rules for travel. The girls’ school even closed down a week early while Denmark waited to see what Omicron would do to the hospitals. So our options were a bit smaller for Christmas travels. We decided to take a ferry to Sweden. Why did I agree to go on a ferry again? Did I not learn from my Norway trip? I do not do well on the ocean and spent most of the ferry ride lying down or just trying to keep from being sick. Ugh. But I really don’t have much to share about Sweden as we didn’t do much. We had a harrowing adventure driving from populated areas to our secluded cabin in our mini-van with no studs or chains. But my husband is an excellent driver and we made it safely to the cabin to find we had no cell phone service to contact the AirBNB owner to figure out how to get in. So we had to find some neighbors who had working phones. Saunas are a part of Nordic life especially in Sweden, Norway and Finland. Our neighbors were in their sauna when we knocked. They were all dressed in towels and one gentleman even came outside in the howling wind and snow like that. After some confusion, we were able to borrow one of their phones to call the AirBNB owner and we got into our cabin. We spent the rest of our time there playing games, watching Christmas movies and playing in the snow. Although it was short and non-eventful, it was a good (fairly) stress-free trip.
Life in Denmark has been an adventure after Christmas. We have dealt with COVID-19 isolation and infection (we’re all fine), changing of isolation rules and Denmark now opening up. Omicron continues to sweep through the country but as ICU numbers continue to drop, Denmark has dropped almost all restrictions (no facemasks, no distance requirements, no crowd limits, etc.). You must still isolate if you are ill with COVID-19 and test coming into the country (unless you are a resident or citizen of Denmark and/or vaccinated). It appears most countries in Europe are starting to loosen restrictions so we are hoping to travel to a couple more countries before our return to the states this summer. Thanks for following along!
Week 42 was fall break or kartoffelferie (potato holiday) in Denmark. (Quick note: In Denmark, one keeps track of life by using weeks of the year. It has been as confusing as learning Danish to this American.) We looked at our gained flight miles and decided to go to Switzerland to see the Alps. We decided to go during October in hopes of saving money. October is considered a shoulder season for tourists. Switzerland has mainly hikers in the late spring/summer and skiers in the winter. By going in October, we were hoping to get some good deals traveling to one of the most expensive countries in Europe (maybe the world). And man, was it an adventure…in learning to adapt to unexpected circumstances….
We flew out of Copenhagen so we had to catch the train first. We were going back and forth on if we should take the train or drive to the airport. The cost of each route ended up being the same but when the budget lot filled up online for the holiday travelers, we were pretty much stuck taking the train. We arrived at the airport three hours before our flight. At check in, the husband and I just had to prove our vaccination status and we were cleared to board the plane. We landed in Zurich airport after 9:30 PM and were tired. We missed our bus to the hotel by 3-5 minutes so we had to wait almost an hour for the next one. When we arrived at the hotel, we found out that there was indeed a hotel shuttle running to and from the airport (Boo). But we checked in and all feel asleep very quickly.
We packed up and grabbed some McDonalds breakfast from the one attached to the hotel (very convenient for gluten eaters). Next, we walked to the train station. It was about 900 meters from the hotel but involved us having to roll our luggage along with us. But we had no issue getting on the right train directly to Zurich (Thank you Google Maps, which saved us multiple times on this trip).
Side note: I had bought Swiss Travel Passes before our trip. Very expensive but 100% worth it. It provided us with easy travel on buses, trains and ferries (ski lifts/gondolas not included). It was so simple! I was also reminded about why you can’t always trust technology. I had the downloaded the email with the QR code to scan but apparently, it was only linked to one ticket. Thankfully, I had printed the tickets as well and this saved us from a possible fine!
When we arrived at Zurich train station, we found the lockers to store our luggage so we could explore Zurich. I had known I wanted to try true Swiss fondue with a gluten free bread option and this was the town. Unfortunately, I really hadn’t planned our Zurich stopover well. Due to Covid-19, we were required to book a table to the restaurant and the next available slot wasn’t until 2:30 PM….sssooo we had to find something to do. I had pinned a couple of museums onto my list thinking we would have no problem booking times to get into them. Well…I was wrong. The two museums I had considered going to that morning were sold out so we had to resort to Plan B: Find a park. Luckily, I had pinned a park on Google Maps that sat on a hill overlooking the Limmat River through Zurich and is nestled along the Old Town of Zurich. So after I grabbed some breakfast from the grocery store in the train terminal, we made our way towards the park on foot. On the way there, we stumbled upon a love locks bridge. The girls spent a great deal of time looking at all the different types of locks and all the names written on them.
After walking the length of the bridge (and back), we hiked our way up to the playground. It was complete with two swings, slide, climbing-rope tepee things and spring riders (& public bathrooms. So another tangent here but I found this bathroom so different. It was a large stainless steel wall/chute and you had to pull the toilet seat down. When you flushed, the toilet seat would fling back up and the whole wall had water running down it. Finally, you washed your hands into the wall. I probably did a horrible job explaining this but they were just something I had never seen before.)
The husband and I walked around and enjoyed the view of Zurich.
After playing and soaking up a good amount of sunshine, we continued to Lindenhof, a historic center of the city with an even better view of Zurich.
Next, we walked through the shopping district and old town area. We had seen a carousel from the train station and decided that we would go waste some time down there. While all of the shops were closed, we did marvel at some of the items on display in the windows. We saw cuckoo clocks, lots of watches and Swiss army knives. The streets were narrow and tiny alleys led to more shops and streets. We even found in the middle of one of these little alleys the remains of two bathhouses believed to have been from 70 AD! Wow!
The girls lost interest in the bathhouses pretty quickly but gained new energy when we reached the carousel. It wasn’t packed but there was a steady stream of families enjoying the gorgeous view and thrills of the carousel. We were also lucky that we had arrived when the bubble man was in action. Our girls chased huge bubbles all around the square/bridge with other children. During his intermission, they also begged to go on the carousel. We caved and allowed them to go on one ride. The husband did have to run to get some Swiss Francs as they would only take cash. The youngest had a blast while the oldest felt she was a bit too old for it (although she still smiled).
After a second performance from the bubble man, it was time to eat! We ate at the Swiss Chuchi restaurant. We had to show our vaccination status before going in but were seated right away. We looked at the menu and were completely overwhelmed. We hadn’t heard of much of the items on our English menus so we had to ask our waiter from some guidance. Eventually we ordered chicken nuggets from the children’s menu for the girls and the adults each got a pot of fondue. Mine was called the Lady Fondue and was traditional fondue cheese mixed with Prosecco, cherry liquor and garlic. My husband got one mixed with ham, mushrooms, white wine, cherry liquor and garlic. We also had a bag of small roasted potatoes, gluten free bread, steamed veggies and regular bread on the side. I preferred his over mine but I still ate all of my fondue…definitely a fan.
After eating the most amount of cheese in my life, we caught a ferry to bring us back to the train station to jump on a train to Lucerne. The ferry was included with the Swiss Travel Pass and since it was such a sunny day it was a great cruise on the river and lake before we returned to the train station.
When we got off the boat, I realized we likely missed out on a pretty cool town with lots of history. I think a walking/boat tour with commentary would have been a good idea but alas, everything looks better in hindsight.
Next, we headed to Lucerne by train. The neat thing about the trains in Switzerland is that they can be double decker. So you know our kids raced to the top of any double decker train. The views weren’t bad either but since we were on one of the fast trains, it was a lot of tunnels and not an extremely scenic trip.
When we arrived in Lucerne, it was BUSY! We were going to attempt to get groceries at the train station store but it was packed. We also had two tired girls and we made the executive decision to head to our apartment in downtown Lucerne. It was only a 10 minute walk from the train station and perfect for our family. The husband ended up going to the store alone and we had frozen pizza. In truth, we ate very frugal the rest of the trip. The authentic Swiss fondue experience was a very expensive meal and we were learning very quickly how expensive Switzerland is.
Day 3: We walked out the door around 8:30 am to make our train then bus to Stoos. But we did catch a gorgeous morning view in Lucerne on our way to the train station:
The journey to Stoos was an adventure. The train stopped before our scheduled stop and I had no idea what we were suppose to do. Since we didn’t speak German, we had no idea what was being announced over the speaker. I tried to ask a teenager next to me but she just gave me a look and didn’t respond. We noticed everyone getting off so we jumped off. Next, we literally ran around the train station trying to figure out what to do. Luckily, Claire spotted a departure board with the town we needed to get to. It ended up being a train parked right in front of the train we had just deboarded. Of course.
But we made it to Stoos funicular, the steepest in the world! It has a maximum of 110% gradient (47°). It was also included in our Swiss Travel Pass (score!). We did have to wait a bit in line but it was only a 5 minute ride to Stoos, a carless village settled in the mountains.
Our first destination in Stoos was to go to the summit of Fronalpstock. For this, we had to take a ski lift. We really had a great time riding them and we were lucky the wind was calm too.
But the view from the top was spectacular! And another reason I picked this location is because it also had a playground! The girls climbed all over the equipment while we snapped pictures from the many viewpoints at the top. There is also restaurant there but we opted for a picnic with a view.
After letting the girls play a bit more on the playground, we (somehow) convinced them to go on a little hike around the summit. It was a very simple hike but we did have to take some breaks. The girls enjoyed playing in the little bits of snow and throwing snowballs at their parents. Mom and dad enjoyed the views. We all enjoyed watching a paraglider take off right in front of us!
We immediately went back to the ski lift after our hike and made our way back down to Stoos. A few more pictures of Stoos, a gorgeous Alpine village:
We then went on a kids adventure hike around Stoos lake called the Moor Experience Trail. It had a special trail just for kids that included many different types of obstacles or trivia. We climbed over rocks, jumped on a water bed, learned about different creatures that inhabit the area and many more. We even grabbed a brochure/scavenger hunt type form for the girls to complete throughout the trek. In summary, each stop on the trail has a braille type key that one has to rub onto the paper. When we were finished, we brought them to the funicular shop and the girls received candy for completing it. Score!
By this point, we decided it was time to end the day. There was another kids trail on the opposite side of the mountain, but with public transportation, we weren’t sure if we’d make it before the last gondola ride. So instead, we made our way back to Lucerne and stopped at the grocery store. I picked up a small serving of microwavable fondue, veggies and gluten free bread (when in Rome…I mean…Switzerland, do as the Swiss do). The girls were not fans of the fondue but don’t worry, they got pizza again.
After our supper, we decided to explore Lucerne at night. We walked across the lesser known Spreuer Bridge with its death paintings, along the Reuss River and back again over the Chapel Bridge. It turns out there was a fire on the Chapel Bridge in 1993. They had actually kept a few of the fire damaged pieces but much of it was restored. It is also the oldest covered bridge in Europe and was virtually empty at night.
Day 4. Sigh. Day 4 was not a great day. Let me tell you a story…
I had great plans for us today. We were going to go on a toboggan ride (the one thing the girls requested) then tour Lucerne before catching our train. I wanted to see the Lion Monument and walk the Musegg Wall and its nine towers. A lot to squeeze in before we departed for Interlaken and we needed to store our luggage at the apartment. Unfortunately, I could not get ahold of the apartment management. We decided to wait a couple hours and try again. During that time, my youngest was not acting like herself. She was lying in the hallway, away from us, and complaining about a tummy ache. The husband and I figured it was just normal digestive problems while traveling so we just encouraged water and bathroom use. We had noticed a Claire’s boutique just around the corner, so while we waited for the hotel management to get back in touch with us, we got (my) Claire’s ears pierced. She had been asking for quite some time so we figured why not make a great memory for her on one of our vacations! She was so brave and didn’t shed a single tear.
Avery also said she felt better so after many failed attempts to contact the apartment agency, we decided to just store our luggage at the train station again. We had a full day and needed to catch the bus to Kriens to get on the gondola lifts to bring us to Switzerland’s longest summer toboggan ride. It was on the bus where I started to worry about Avery. She was looking pale and did not seem like herself. She kept telling me she just wanted to sleep…at 10 am. So I told her, we would just do this toboggan ride then we could rest. Unfortunately, we had to hike uphill quite a ways from the bus stop up to the gondola ride. But fortunately for Avery, she has a strong dad with strong shoulders. He helped to carry her much of the way up to the ride.
The gondola ride was uneventful. We listened the the cows and their cowbells along the mountainside and enjoyed the view down towards Lucerne. Once we reached the top, oh man. I knew we were in trouble. Avery was done. She was sleeping on my shoulder and was complaining about being cold even though it was warmish. We discussed not going on the toboggan but Avery started crying and said she really, really, really wanted to try it. So we gave her some water and hiked up to the start of the toboggan ride. We decided Avery would go with dad and I would go with Claire. It was a different toboggan ride than the one we had been on in Germany. This one was not attached to rails. It was literally just a slide and you, the driver, were in charge of the speed. I was a bit nervous about this fact at first but Claire and I handled it just fine. Claire did say I went too slow but safety first for this mom. When we reached the bottom, a cable attached to the back of our sled and we were hauled back up to the top.
We decided to grab lunch at the picnic tables right next to the run. As we sat down, Avery took a couple bites of her sandwich. And then it all came back up. Our daughter was throwing up on the side of the mountain. OMG. I snapped into mom mode helping her throw up not on the table but on the ground, away from her clothes and shoes. Dad ran to the concession stand nearby and grabbed a fist of napkins. It was at this point I really appreciated waterproof clothes. Turns out they are also vomit proof and one can easily wipe vomit off. Sigh…
So….plans were altered. We made our way back down the mountain on the gondolas with our empty sandwich bags out and ready. Dad then carried Avery the whole way back down the hill to the bus stop where we waited for the bus to bring us back to Lucerne train station. We retrieved our luggage and waited for our train to Interlaken to arrive.
I am happy to report that the train ride to Interlaken was uneventful. The train was fairly empty as we were traveling on a workday before 3 PM. Avery slept the entire time. Her little body was definitely fighting something. The views from the train were excellent though.
We arrived in Interlaken and Avery ate one cucumber and a bit of water. We had a 10 minute walk to our next hotel/apartment. When we arrived right outside the resort, Avery’s stomach decided that the cucumber was too much and she threw up again. So I went in quick to check us in and we immediately went up to the room to get Avery showered and into bed. I sent the other two to the store with the purpose of obtaining supper for them and crackers and lemon soda for Avery.
Before the start of Day 5, I spent most of the night in bed with Avery. We fed her crackers and soda. She happily did not get sick again but was just up often throughout grabbing sips of “bubbly” (as we started calling it for fun). That night, we decided to split the group. Claire and dad were to go on what was originally planned and mom and Avery were to stay at base.
Group 1: Avery and I spent much of the day in the hotel. We colored, watched BBC cartoons and watched paragliders outside our hotel window. There is a paragliding launch point from the top of Interlaken and in front of the hotel, a huge green landing area. So if the day was nice, paragliders were a constant sight. We were also able to catch Dad and sis live on TV at Schilthorn as there was a live stream of several mountain webcams on the hotel TV. Avery and I then ventured a walk to the grocery store later in the afternoon. She hadn’t been sick for 24 hours and she desperately wanted to try out the hotel pool. I told her that if she walked the whole way to the store without complaining or getting sick, we could try the pool when we got back. While she did break the complaining part of the deal, she did not get sick. So we went down to the nearly empty pool. We didn’t stay long as we both found the pool cool and Avery wasn’t quite herself yet. But I was happy to see her on the mend.
Group 2 (as told by Claire): To start our day, we got on a train to Lauterbrunnen. Then, we hopped on a bus to Schilthornbahn to get on our first cable car to reach the top of Schilthorn. One has to take four cable cars to reach the summit of Schilthorn. The rides were slightly swinging around, so by the time we were off the second car, I was feeling nauseous. After a little break at Mürren, we got on our next cable cars from Mürren to Birg and then finally to Schilthorn. Up on top of Schilthorn, there is an observatory deck to view the Alps. There is even a trivia game for kids to play while looking at the different mountain peaks. The tallest peaks were Eiger, Mönch and Jungfrau. After looking around outside, we went inside to the Bond World exhibit. This exhibit exists here because in the movie “On Her Majesty’s Secret Service”, a part of the it was filmed here. It was the villain’s secret lair. In the Bond World exhibit, there are stories of how it was filmed here. It shares how the shots were achieved on skis, a new concept for action films at the time. There were also a lot of different facts about the movie and actors involved. My favorite is about how the actor playing James Bond was waiting impatiently at a table in Hotel Jungfrau. After a while, an Italian waiter came up and the actor commented “Do you know who I am? I am James Bond!” The waiter replied, “Yes. And I am Paul.”(haha)
After touring Bond World, we went down one cable car ride to Birg. At Birg, there is a thrill walk. It is a trail that circles the peak of Birg. The path splits in two at certain locations, one for a “thrill” and another for safety. There are four thrill paths; I did three and my dad only did one. The four thrill paths were a tight-rope with chicken wire under for safety; a sheet of glass (I didn’t do this one), a metal rod path, and a wire tunnel. It was awesome!
After our thrill, we were hungry. We ate our packed lunch and went down the remaining cable cars. We hopped back on a bus then train to join mom and Avery in Interlaken.
Together again: When the husband and Claire were back at the hotel, we decided to go down to the pool again. Avery wanted to share the experience with her sister. But again, Avery was ready to go back up to the room after just 15-20 minutes. When we went back to the room, I announced that I HAD to get out of the apartment and see something. I was originally just planning to leave with Claire but Avery would not leave my side so we decided to have a family outing. Above Interlaken, is a restaurant/overlook that sits on the mountain, Harder Kulm. It is easy to access it by a funicular in about 10 minutes. With our Swiss Travel Pass, we received 50% off the funicular and were at the top just a few minutes before sunset. Avery was in an awful mood (which was understandable) but we were able to enjoy an absolutely gorgeous sunset over Lake Thun.
We made it down just at dusk and had a filling meal of more fondue and buttered noodles (have to save money somewhere).
We woke up in the morning unsure of what was going to happen. Avery had slept most of the night and was not complaining of a stomach ache. She seemed like almost her normal self so we decided to set out for the day. First, we decided to try somewhere close in case someone became sick. So we hopped on the train to Lauterbrunnen and then on the bus to our stop at Trümmelbachfälle, a system of glacier waterfalls inside a mountain. Of course you had to pay to go in BUT there was an elevator! We were able to catch a ride up to the most exciting part of the waterfalls. A bit about the Trümmelbach falls: It drains about 20,000 liters of water per second from three glaciers. Needless to say, IT WAS LOUD! We held on to little hands very tightly and traversed our way through the caves around the falls. It was a very neat experience.
After Trümmelbach falls, we determined we were all okay enough to continue to another location. This time, you guessed it, another mountain! We rode the bus back to Lauterbrunnen and got on the scenic train to Wengen. Before I move on, Lauterbrunnen has a gorgeous waterfall and church in the center of town (it’s all over Instagram). It is 100% worth a stop and picture unless you are trying to make a train that only runs a couple times a day. So this is what I got from the bus/train windows of the beautiful spot:
I know. Pretty poor photos but hey! We saw it with our own eyes.
Once we reached Wengen, we had to walk to the gondola lift station. Now this was a big gondola. It departed at a certain time and for five extra euros (each) we could sit on the open air top known as the Royal Ride. It was a hard no for us. Reasons: 1) kids on an open air gondola. No thanks. 2) it was chilly even with the sun out and 3) no. The girls actually read their books the whole way up on the gondola. So be it. Sights from Wengen:
When we reached the top, it was now COLD! The wind was whipping around and we all put on the winter gear I had packed. We then headed to the playground. By far, the coolest playground we’ve been to. It has a huge cow that you could go in complete with puzzles, a cowbell (which we heard nearly everywhere we went in Switzerland) and slide that is also the cow’s tongue. There is also bowling, climbing ropes, swings and so much more. We told the girls to wear out their energy while we absorbed the view.
So while the girls were playing, I made a decision, that I would hike the Royal Walk. No big deal right? It was called the “Royal Walk” not “Royal Hike”. I knew the girls would whine the whole way and I needed some alone time after having Avery attached to me for the last 48 hours. So away I went… I started out at a good pace. I could do this. It was only an additional 120 meters in elevation. But after a few minutes, I soon found out that the air is definitely thinner at 7200 feet above sea level and I was Out. Of. Shape. Thank the Lord that there were benches for me to stop at. I had to take frequent stops and was panting by the time I reached the top. And I’m not exaggerating, I was spent and I’m pretty sure the hiker at the top was fearing for my life. So lesson learned, don’t try to climb a mountain unless you are in shape or have trained.
I am happy to report that the way down was much easier. I did have to take a break when I reached my family. I pretty much drank the rest of the water we had and caught my breath. Wowza. After the girls were all played out, we hopped onto the gondola lift going down the opposite side of the mountain towards Grindelwald. It was another magnificent view filled with the ringing of cowbells.
Once we reached Grindelwald terminal, we had a decision to make. Run to the train that was leaving in two minutes or look around Grindelwald and wait for the next train. We decided to look around Grindelwald. Unfortunately, we didn’t make it too far out of the train station. We looked around the terminal where many souvenir shops were located. And we found a very important one, Lindt! Lindt is a Switzerland chocolate staple. We had thought about touring their chocolate museum in Zurich but since we had already been to a chocolate museum in Germany, we decided to pass. BUT that didn’t mean we couldn’t buy some chocolate. Unfortunately, I found out Lindt uses gluten ingredients in many of their chocolates, so I had to read a lot of labels but was able to find some options for me. We left the store with a variety of chocolates and hot chocolate.
At this point, we decided to catch the next train. We could have walked around Grindelwald a bit more, but we were all pretty tired. Honestly, I didn’t want to push our luck with Avery too much longer. We arrived at the hotel and spent much of the evening in the swimming pool as it was our last night here.
Day 7: Our last full day in Switzerland. We decided to spend half our day close to Interlaken by exploring St. Beatus Caves, which was only a 15-20 minute bus ride from Interlaken. St. Beatus Caves are nestled above Lake Thun, complete with a waterfall, museum and restaurant. They are named St. Beatus Caves because of the mythical story of a monk named St. Beat who hunted a dragon that took shelter inside these caves. I’m sure there’s more history to it but we skipped the museum as we were tight on time and didn’t think our girls had the patience for it today. I think my favorite part of the caves was honestly the entrance. We had to hike up the side of a mountain with a waterfall and castle-looking entrance at the start of the caves. It was really a scenic/fairytale view.
We were all very happy to make it to the top. Some little legs were also sore. After paying, we made our way into the caves. They basically reminded me a lot of the caves I saw in South Dakota as a kid. Just a bit more narrow with TVs highlighting the way to go. We had fun looking at all the stalactites and stalagmites and the names given to them. BUT we also got in arguments over which way to go. Turns out the caves were not in a perfect circle so we had to backtrack to the exit. No big deal but led to some spats among siblings.
After over an hour of cave exploring, we went down to the playground situated next to the caves. We enjoyed the sunshine and let the girls play for 30 minutes before we realized we should start making our way down to the bus stop so we didn’t miss it. But the view from the playground was pretty gorgeous:
We then hopped on the bus and made it back to Interlaken. Once there, we had to walk back to the hotel to grab our luggage and hop back on the same bus to bring us to Thun to catch our train. I wanted to catch a train that was just a straight shot to Zurich airport. I really didn’t want to hassle with changing trains if we didn’t have to. Unfortunately, we missed our train. There was a LOT of traffic going into Thun so the bus was almost 20 minutes late dropping us off. Ssssooo….we had to wait 40 minutes for the next train. Which was full! We were able to find a spot but wow…the girls and I were crammed into one spot while dad had to find another spot for himself. Luckily when we stopped in Bern, a bunch of people got off and we were able to find a spot to all sit together. After that it was smooth sailing until we were 30 minutes from our stop. This was another moment every parent dreads. Your child throwing a tantrum on public transportation. I won’t go into much details on what it was about but just want to highlight our trips are not always roses and sunshine. Life continues to happen on vacation….
That night, we put everyone to bed early as we had a 7 AM flight the next day. We had zero hiccups on the flight and airport. But on the way home in Denmark, we missed our train connection. So we were stuck in the train station for an hour waiting for the next one. It was at this point we decided we would likely not be taking the train anymore to the airport. Too much of a risk of missing our flights.
All in all, it was a good trip. My husband says it was his favorite trip so far (mine is still summertime Norway).
So I haven’t written a post since April. Why? Well I would say it’s because life has gone on and we traveled very little over those months. But we were able to make it stateside in July. The girls and I spent a whole month in the USA and we spent the majority of it seeing family. It was so good to see everyone again.
But when we returned back to Denmark, it seemed like a completely different country. All restrictions, mandates, policies for COVID-19 have pretty much been eased. There are still a few travel restrictions but movement is pretty free across the country and most of the EU. Nearly 75% of the Danish population is vaccinated with boosters beginning for those in high risk groups. So we were happy when the Faroe Islands (a part of the Denmark kingdom) announced that it was opening to tourists. Backstory: we had booked airline tickets to visit the Faroe Islands when COVID-19 first closed down the country. We assumed we would be able to travel there in the summer of 2020. Unfortunately, the Faroe Islands closed their borders so we were left with flight vouchers. So on September 1st when the Faroes announced it was open to tourists, we booked our tickets.
The Faroe Islands are a small group of islands located north of Scotland. It is a cluster of green, lush islands full of sheep (how the island may have gotten its name), migrating birds, and beautiful landscapes. The islands make up 540 sq. miles and are populated with around 53,000 people (according to Wikipedia). There are only two airlines that fly to the Faroe Islands, Atlantic Airways and Scandinavian Airlines. We had tickets with the former. Our flight wasn’t until the afternoon and we didn’t arrive in the Faroe Islands until after 6 PM. Since we were only going to be on there for 5-days, we decided to book a campervan. I’m fairly certain the girls were most excited about the thought of camping than seeing the island itself.
When we landed at the airport, there was no border patrol or car rental booth. An email told us to head directly to the rental lot and that our van would be ready and waiting.
Our first stop for the night was to a campsite.
Not a bad view, huh?
Out in front of our van (the silver one), we saw what we believe are fish rearing hoops. In the distance, is the island of Koltur, population 2. We went about the task of setting up the van. We could not find directions on how exactly to do that though. The camping/hostel we stayed at did have Wi-Fi so we were able to look up some YouTube videos on how to raise the top and make our beds. The girls were so happy to jump to the top level.
But one became too sacred to sleep up in the dark tent with just her sister so dad was sent to sleep on the top bunk.
After some not great sleep (I like my home bed), we started the day off with groceries. We needed to fill up the van with enough meals and snacks to last us in the coming days.
As soon as we had eaten breakfast, we made our way to Sørvágsvatn Trail Head. Unfortunately, that trail entrance was closed due to rough conditions and we had to recalculate our way to the correct entrance. At this entrance, we all used the toilets and paid to hike the trail. It wasn’t cheap (~$30/adult) but I understand the reasoning. Since the spot has become so popular, the money is used to help keep the trail in good condition and protect the land. So we set out with snacks, patience and adventure in our hearts.
The girls did quite well. It is about a 1.5 mile walk and with two little ones in tow, it took us around an hour to reach the first overlook. We did have to take a stop whenever we saw a bench and many cookies were promised when we reached the lookout over the sea. Man, it was breathtaking (I’ll be using that word a lot throughout this post).
The photos above really don’t do it justice. It was a cliff! The distance from the ocean to the top of the cliff, Trælanípan, is 313 meters (~1026.9 feet) tall. Eek! We could see birds swooping in and out of the cliff, the crashing ocean waves and the islands on the horizon. What. A. View. After taking it in (and holding on tightly to the girls), we hiked towards the lake to try to see Bøsdalafossur, a waterfall. This hike is actually part of a very famous photo you may have seen, the lake over the ocean. It is a fresh water lake that flows/falls into the ocean. Unfortunately, we learned that you really can’t see it from the trail. Maybe we could have seen it if we had hiked all the way up to the top of Trælanípan but our little ones were tired of walking (and very hungry). So instead, we sat down on the rocks leading to the waterfall and took a long rest. I ventured away from my crew to try and see the waterfall. I could see a bit of it flowing into the ocean but the angle just wasn’t right. If we had a drone, I would have been able to snap the perfect picture.
Then we headed back. Oh man, that was pure torture for my youngest. Her little legs were killing her and she had had enough hiking. So we kept encouraging her, switching parents to keep patience together and we made it back. We told them both how proud we were of them and let them get lollipops from the trailhead shop.
Our next stop was Saksun. At about this point (midday), the weather had turned sour. It was rainy, windy and chilly. When we reached Saksun, the wind was howling and a constant drizzle was in place. There is a hike we could have done (Út á Lónna-Black Beach), but due to the weather and my youngest refusing to get out of the van, we decided to just take in the scenery.
Just a little church sitting on the edge of wilderness and it was a gorgeous sight.
We then turned around to see a waterfall with Fabio the horse grazing before it. I had to explain to Claire who Fabio was and how the blonde hair on the horse reminded me so much of the model.
After taking in Saksun, we headed farther east to Tjørnuvik where we could experience another black beach and catch a view of Risin og Kellingin. Risin og Kellingin (The Giant & the Witch) are named after a legend about a giant and witch who were trying to steal the Faroe Islands for Iceland at night. They were so preoccupied with their task that they forgot about the rising sun. Since they were creatures of the night, they were instantly turned to stone off the coast of Eiði. Read/listen to the full story here. By the time we arrived at Tjørnuvik, the weather had not improved. It was still windy and rainy. But the good thing about the weather is that it provided a rough sea and we were able to see the power of the waves pounding against the beach. Claire especially enjoyed monitoring the waves to see just how close/high they would get on her waterproof boots.
Click photos to enlarge:
We then took a little walk down a road that went along the side of the beach. During this walk, we saw someone trying to surf the waves. They must have decided it was too rough or unsafe as they never got up. But we all enjoyed watching them ride out in the rough water because we knew we would never be brave enough to do something like that.
After our walk, we made our way to the neighboring island of Eiði, where we would be spending the night. The campsite was on an old soccer field right next to the water. There was no one there to check us in or even tell us where to park so we just picked a spot with a decent view of the sea. We learned here that camping is pretty much based on a trust system. No need to check in, just pay and park; “we trust you”.
That night, the eldest had a bit of motion sickness and since the tent part was loud from the wind, she spent the night on the bottom with dad while I popped to the top with the youngest.
The next morning was again dreary and rainy but hey, we can’t let that ruin our fun. As soon as we woke up and had breakfast, we made our way east again. We did stop at one viewpoint to catch another look at Risin and Kellingin before we saw our next legend.
If you can tell from the traffic jam picture above, many of the roads on the Faroe Islands are one lane, especially the more remote you go. We happily never had an issue but looking from the side of our rented van, I believe it may be an issue for some. The roads are also carved into the side of sloping mountains so views like below were very common:
We were in awe (again) at the views as we made our way to Gjógv. Gjógv is a village that has a gorge or natural harbor that runs into the village. It also has a small overlook with a special bench, Mary’s bench. The bench is named after the Crowned Princess Mary of Denmark (Denmark is a constitutional monarchy) after she came to visit the village in 2005 and was the first to sit upon this bench. It is definitely another small village with gorgeous views. We walked down into the gorge and heard music/sounds. Someone had placed speakers inside the gorge to give a sort of new experience besides the crashing waves. It was very serene.
After we had our fill of Gjógv, we made our way to Klaksvík to catch our ferry. Klaksvík is the second largest town in the Faroe Islands. We arrived three hours before our ferry. I had originally planned on us sleeping in a bit that morning but since we didn’t, we were a wee bit early. So we decided to grab a bite to eat then walk the town. Unfortunately, our youngest had had enough walking for one day so we really didn’t get very far but we were able to burn some time by walking with the ducks, seeing the harbor and checking out sweater and toy stores.
At 3:15 PM, our ferry was ready. We paid with card (price included our return trip) and the ferry filled up quickly. Around 15 cars could fit on the ferry and I’m pretty sure it was full when we took off for the island of Kalsoy. Kalsoy is very popular for tourists. It has an extremely popular hike to the Kallur lighthouse, a lighthouse that sits atop a mountain and overlooks the sea (you may have seen it). I even learned that that part of the island may be in the new James Bond movie, so look out for that… But even so, the population is only around 76. There are no gas stations, grocery stores or the like on Kalsoy. Since it is so unpopulated, the roads are narrow. And to make it more exciting, one lane tunnels.
We did not run into any oncoming traffic which is likely due to the spaced out ferry times. We drove right to our campsite, another soccer field but this time we didn’t set up on it. We parked next to it. There was an outdoor trailer with heated bathrooms probably in the best condition of all the previous campsites we had been to. (Not that the others were bad, this one was just the best.) The view too! Wow! We sat atop a hill overlooking the village of Mikladalur and the sea beyond. The campsite with the best view to date!
We played a quick round of soccer then walked down to Mikladalur towards the famous statue on the island representing another Faroe Island myth. The statue of the Seal Woman or Kópakonan.
The legend of Kópakonan is a terrifying story. You can read it all here but the jest of it is this: Once a year, the seals from the sea would come up to the shore, shed their skin and become human to party the night away. But one year, a young farmer hid and watched. One particular seal shed its skin to become the most beautiful woman he had ever seen. So he stole her seal skin and she was unable to turn back into a seal at sunrise. He hid it in a chest keeping the key on his belt loop while she stayed with him in the village. Many years passed and the farmer and seal woman built a life together though he knew she wanted to return to the sea. One day while fishing, the farmer realized he did not have the key on him. On returning to the house, he found their children safely in the house but the chest unlocked and his wife gone. As time passed, a big seal hunt was planned by the village. The farmer was visited in a dream by his wife. She said to leave a big male seal and the cubs alone at a particular cave as they were her seal family. But this only enraged the farmer and he found the male and cubs and killed them. That night as the villagers prepared to celebrate, the seal woman visited as a banshee and cursed the entire village: many would fall or be killed by the sea from Mikladalur. To this day, it is believed that the webbed toes that are common in the Faroe Islands are descendants from the farmer and seal woman’s human children.
Scary, huh? We didn’t read the whole story to our youngest but did convey the main points to her. But the way the statue just emerges from the rock and sea is stunning. I honestly think the trip to the island was 100% worth the view and story of Kópakonan.
After a steep trek back to our campsite, we settled down for the evening. Another fellow camper pulled up to us from Belgium. My husband saw him pull out an ATV and was intrigued enough to strike up a conversation with him. He had just come from Iceland and was on a months long tour of Iceland and the Faroe Islands by ferry. What an adventurous spirit!
That night was the first one the girls slept on their own at the top of van while mom and dad got the bottom.
Day 4: We woke up to dreary, foggy conditions. I had contemplated heading farther north on Kalsoy to hike to Kallur Lighthouse. But the weather was so dreary, I knew that it would be dangerous for us to go before the fog lifted. The thought of walking on a moderately difficult hike with my 5-year old was also not appealing. Instead, we took our time getting ready in the morning and arrived an hour before our ferry departure time.
Next, we drove to Tórshavn, the Faroe Islands’ capital and largest city.
First, we found parking along the harbor and to be honest with you, finding this parking was the most harrowing part of our trip. The streets were narrow like in the countryside but there was on-coming traffic this time. The streets also round around sharp corners and many were one-ways and downhill. But we made it to the full, free parking lot just as someone was pulling out. Score! After lunch in the van, we decided to roam the streets of Tórshavn. We first stopped at a few thrift shops to see if we could find some Faroese wool sweaters at a good price. We left those shops empty handed and instead went to some sweater stores. You definitely have your pick there. It seemed like every block had at least one store. I did manage to find one that I liked. It is authentic and handmade. The store owner was also amazing with the girls and shared information on each sweater I tried on. She indicated that the one I had picked out was definitely Faroese wool because it was thicker and itchier than the Norwegian sweater I had in my other hand. She also told me to NEVER wash it to keep the lanolin of the wool on the sweater. So if I smell like sheep, this is the reason why. After purchasing the sweater, we made our way to a coffee shop, toy store and grocery store (to get ice cream). We then made our way down to the harbor and walked toward the Fort of Tórshavn. The current fort is believed to have been built in the 1780s. It was then fortified by the military in 1865 with two large guns added by the British Forces during WWII.
After Tórshavn, we drove back to the island of Vágar where the airport is located. This time we went west of the airport along the coast towards the island’s famous waterfall, Múlafossur.
Could we have wished for more perfect weather? The waterfall falls over 100 feet (30 meters) into the ocean from a tiny river. We were lucky as strong winds are known to push the waterfall back into the cliff, but this day was perfect. There are only 25 houses in the village of Gasadalur but there is a parking area just for the hikers and tourists who come. It was quite breathtaking as you just pop out of this one-way tunnel to this stunning sight at the end of the road. Just wow!
We were also able to see the island of Mykines from Gasadalur. Mykines is famous for puffins. Puffins tend to descend upon the island during the spring and early summer months. We had originally planned on visiting Mykines during this time to experience the puffins. But since we arrived in fall when most of the puffins were gone and the hike alone would be around two hours one-way, we decided to pass.
As we drove back towards Sandavágur to camp the night, we stopped to overlook Sørvágs fjord. We saw Drangarnir (the rock with the hole in it), Tindhólmur (the big pointy rock on the right) and more fish rearing stations.
The last stop of the day was at Leitisvatn, the lake from our first hike. There was a horse statue just jutting out of the water and I wanted to see what it was about. A sign close to it told about another Faroese myth, the myth of The Nix.
The Nix is a horrifying creature that lives in almost all lakes on Faroe Islands. Its sole purpose is to lure people to the water and then drown them. This particular statue is to represent the legend of the Nix in Leitisvatn. The legend states that one day some children were playing by the lake when they came upon a beautiful horse. The children went to pet it and jumped up on its back. It then took off towards the middle of the lake with the children unable to break their grip. However, the youngest child who was unable to climb up on the horse, called after his brother. He called “brother Nics!” The Nix, hearing its name, lost its power and the children were able to get away and were saved. This determined that saying the Nix’s name will save all from a watery grave.
Thankfully, my children did not read this story so they didn’t go to bed that night terrified a Nix was going to come get them. We stayed at the same campsite we were at on our first night since it was just 10 minutes away from the airport. We even ran into our Belgium friend again. We settled the girls down with a movie while the husband and I worked on cleaning out the campervan and making sure it was ready to be handed back over to the rental company.
The following morning, we were greeted with the best sunrise over the Faroe Islands. A good ending to a short, scenic family vacation.
We decided to spend part of our summer vacation in Norway.
Norway wasn’t our first choice. We had first planned on traveling back home but due to the quarantine requirements in the USA and on our return to Denmark, we decided it wasn’t worth the hassle. We then bought plane tickets to the Faroe Islands. Unfortunately, they changed their policy for testing and quarantining and we opted out of going there (we will eventually go due to non-refundable tickets. We got vouchers).
So our next choice was Norway. We were hesitant since we had already been to Tromsø, Norway (and a we had a frightening reindeer experience there). We had gone in the winter when there was little sunlight and decided summer in Norway may look much different.
The ferry ride from Denmark to Norway is only three hours. We decided that it was completely doable. We made sure everything we booked was refundable yet affordable. I premade all of our meals (eating out in Norway is $$$) and packed everything into coolers. We loaded our car and headed north.
DAY 1: Day 1 was full of driving. We first had to drive to the ferry town of Hirtshals, Denmark. Six ferries leave from this point; four go to Norway cities, one to Iceland and another to the Faroe Islands. We arrived an hour and half ahead of departure. I was a little worried about passport control due to our USA passports and the fact that Norway has one of the strictest corona restrictions in the Nordic countries. But it was a breeze. The teller took one look at our passports, asked no questions and let us through. We parked in our lane and watched the lot fill with cars. I was shocked at how many people there were. I knew capacity had been decreased due to COVID-19 but man…there were a lot of cars.
At about 45-30 minutes before departure, the cars started loading onto the boat. We parked the car on a lower deck and headed up to where we would sit for the journey. It was hard to keep our distance with so many people coming on but we did the best we could. Claire noticed a sign pointing to the kids area so we headed there. Unfortunately, it was all locked up due to the virus so we just found a table with a good view.
We departed about 15 minutes late to Norway. After about an hour, we were out in the rough, open seas. And it was rough. I was sucking on ginger drops trying to keep my seasickness at bay. Eventually, I had to lay down on the floor and just stare at the horizon. I do NOT have sea legs. But in my defense, my roller coaster riding daughter also got woozy by the end of the trip too. It was a rough sailing day.
After three hours, we docked in Kristiansand, Norway. I was very happy to get into the car and on solid ground again.
We started driving north towards our first stay in Røldal ski center. It was a four and a half hour car drive. But WOW! We were saying “ooohhh” and “aaahhh” around every corner it seemed. Beautiful mountains, roads along the fjords and waterfalls (we lost track counting, that’s how many there were). The mountainsides were full of cherry and apple trees. There were roadside stands every couple of miles advertising fresh fruit for sale. We even found directions to Arendal. Elsa and Anna are from Norway you know…
The girls did absolutely amazing on this first day too. They were supplied with activity books, crayons, chapter books, audio books and snacks. I was shocked at how awesome they behaved having to sit in the car for over seven hours.
Everyone was happy when we reached the apartment. I imagine that this location is quite expensive in the winter time for skiers but for us, it was quite reasonable. The view wasn’t half bad either. (Aren’t the living roofs awesome?)
DAY 2: Wednesday is for waterfalls! I had a list of waterfalls to see on our way farther north. The first one we stopped at was Låtefossen (translation: sound waterfall). I completely understand why it is called that. It was right next to the road and man, it was roaring when we visited.
We were able to get up very close to it and see all the water rushing by. We also got soaked standing so close to it.
Both girls, at first, decided they didn’t care. They were more interested in their books. But Claire decided to explore it with me and eventually her sister did too. They thought it was cool!
Next on our itinerary was to hike to a glacier! I was a little apprehensive about how this hike would go. Avery HATES walking/hiking. She whines at every walk, geocaching adventure, anything that requires her to walk for an extended period of time. But we rolled the dice and brought along the toddler carrier in case she melted down on us. First off, the view just making our way to the glacier was stunning. We came into Odda, Norway which is a very popular tourist destination as it is the where many hikers begin for Trolltunga. It is surrounded by mountains and is nestled in a fjord.
We made our way towards the parking lot for Buarbreen (breen is glacier in Norsk). The glacier is actually in a farmer’s backyard and he is kind enough to let others hike a trail to the glacier along with a 150 NOK ($15) parking fee. This was our view from the parking lot:
Online, the hike is estimated to take 3-4 hours so with fairly happy kids in tow we started our trek. The husband and I didn’t have great hopes that we would actually make it to the glacier. 1) It’s a 3-4 hour hike…likely 5-6 with kids. 2) It is labeled as a medium level hike. We are typically easy level hikers (two kids). 3) When we reached the gate on the north side of the farm, a sign stated that the river was very full and moving with a lot of force. Caution needed to be exercised. With this in mind, we decided to go as far as we felt comfortable. The start of the hike was simple. It was right along the river and it was very apparent that many hikers had left some calling cards along its banks. Rocks were stacked on top of each other to form mini totem poles. Our girls decided to leave theirs.
As we reached the forest, the hike became much more difficult. It was very muddy and slick. Our jumpy 8-year old decided to jump off a slick rock and ended up covered in mud (luckily she was still wearing her waterproof gear at this point). We had to navigate over boulders and narrow paths in the rocks.
After about an hour of climbing, falling and child carrying (yes, we begged her to get in the carrier), we reached the river. I decided to go first to see what was up ahead as it looked a little sketchy to me. I was right. The river was definitely full and rapid. It had actually wiped out part of the bridge leaving just a 2×6 board to cross. With our kids tired and hungry, we decided to just have our picnic next to the river and congratulate ourselves on making it this far. It did provide some amazing views:
We ate our sandwiches, I helped an elderly woman cross the river (due to her older children not helping; I seethed about this the whole way down) and loaded Avery into the carrier. It only took us about 30 minutes going down. Likely because we didn’t stop and just had one goal; make it to the bottom. This is how we all felt once we reached the bottom:
Next stop! WATERFALLS! We had to start heading north to our next location so I had three more waterfalls on our list to stop by. The first was Vøringfossen. It is one of the most visited tourist attractions in Norway. It features a 182 meter (~597 ft) fall with a scenic overlook and a picturesque hotel at the top. It was certainly busy when we arrived. Not overcrowded but busy. We first made our way to the outlook that looks up to the hotel. There is a bit of a ledge there…WITH NO RAILING! I did NOT enjoy this part. I steered Avery away pretty fast while the husband and Claire stayed a little longer. Claire found a memorial for someone who had fallen over the edge. And it turns out a handful of people have fallen into the falls. We did not stay in that particular spot long. The official overlook did have better protection and a high fence (thank goodness). It provided a clear view to the hotel and falls.
After taking a variety of pictures, we got some ice cream at the shop located in the middle of the parking lot. It was actually pretty warm (70s°F) so ice cream hit the spot. We loaded up the car and decided to go up by the falls where there was a much more elaborate outlook. And man…it was an outlook. My fear of heights would not allow me to go right up to the edge so many of the photos were taken by my husband. Even he said it was a bit creepy. Stunning…but wowza. That would be a fall.