Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Lapland 2014 - Where do I start?

We arrived home from Lapland on Sunday night and I'm still trying to get my head around the whole trip. With so much packed into such a short space of time it really leaves you spinning.
I had no idea what to expect before we left, so if you are planning a trip to Lapland or curious to know more, here's a (not so little) bit about how our trip went...

One overnight stay and hours of fun to squeeze in means that it inevitably needs to be an early start. We stumbled bleary eyed into Cork airport at 5am ahead of the 4 hour flight. I had expected adults and children alike to be tired and crotchety but in fact the excitement takes care of all that. We travelled with Sunway and from the minute we waited to check in to The North Pole we were taken care of. A goody bag for the kids with activity packs and selection boxes went down a treat.

The flight passed very quickly thanks to iPads, iPods and a super entertainer that travelled with the group. 

As the plane touched down in the snowy wonderland I for one was overcome with the excitement of it all. How the kids managed to stay in their seats I'll never know.

We exited the plane to a blanket of silence covering the land. Once through the airport we were met by our lovely 'elf' Snowball who would be our guide for the next 24 hours. We all piled onto the coaches and took a 10 minute trip to a warehouse area where we queued for snowboots, snowsuits, hats, gloves, scarves and even socks. The whole process was completed really quickly, but even so darkness had already descended.

Once we were all kitted out for the subzero temperatures it was back on the coach for another 10 minute journey to our Winter Wonderland. We were lucky that the temperatures only dropped to -1 as it's been known to reach -40. Brrr.

Once there it was over 4 hours of snowy delight ahead.

We started with a snowmobile ride where you can either choose to drive or get pulled along in a sleigh. As we dashed across the fields singing 'Sleigh Ride' fireworks began to go off in the distance. The first of many magic moments. Unfortunately one of the sleighs in our group got stuck halfway into the ride so we had a bit of an unscheduled pit stop, but after a bit of pushing and pulling they were free and we were off again, icy wind blasting our faces and snow flying past our ears.

From there it was onto an overdue lunch in a woodland cabin. Hot chocolate, cookies, chips and curry were gobbled up in hungry silence.

All the activities within the Winter Wonderland are within walking distance of each other which gives plenty of opportunity for the kids to go rogue with snowball fights and woodland disappearing acts.

Some clever parents had arm bands of flashing lights attached to their children making it easier to find them when they inevitably wandered off. With all the kids dressed in the same snow suits and constant darkness all around it's very easy to lose track of them - although they were never too far away. However there was more than once that I was deep in admonishing one of my three only for me to realise when they looked up that it wasn't in fact my child at all. Oops.

The husky rides were one of the highlights for me. Each family boarded a low sleigh together and off we went with the driver standing behind. It was only a short circular loop but so amazing to see them madly barking and pulling to get going and then the sudden silence once they got to 'work'.

My daughter loved the cookie decorating that we got to do inside one of the tepees dotted around the woods. A nice little rest and recuperate before moving on to the next activity.

After some snowball fights with Snowball and some warm berry juice to heat us up it was time to visit the big man himself. We queued outside his snow covered cabin until our names were called.

The door peeped open, the warm light flooded out and we stepped inside. I think we all audibly gasped, and I swear that at that moment I was star struck for the first time in my life. Santa Claus is truly alive and well. After some photos and a little chat he bid us all adieu. But not before reminding the kids to tidy their room. Thanks Santa!

With the darkness and reflective flashes it was tricky getting any decent pictures - but this dodgy camera work shows a little of Santa, the huskies and Baxter (6) riding his own snowmobile.

From there we spent a glorious half hour sliding down a big ice slide again and again until exhaustion set in.

Next it was time for one of the best moments of the trip. We chose a reindeer, hopped on his sleigh and then set out alone through the woods. Silence descended, the night closed in, and we looked up at the snow covered fir trees and bathed ourselves in the magic and moonlight. A-maz-ing.

Our day came to a perfect close cosied up in a tepee around a blazing fire as a reindeer owner in traditional Sami garb told an old tale in Finnish that Snowball translated to our upturned beaming faces.

Tired and happy we climbed back on our coach that finally brought us to our Hotel in time for a quick change, a basic dinner and some overpriced drinks.

The next morning we packed up, donned our snow suits for the final time and set off on the coach to Santa's Village, a short drive away. Here you have the option of purchasing extra rides on reindeer sleighs and snowmobiles, as well as wandering through the many gift shops.

We spent our time climbing snow hills, sliding down ice slides and having snowball fights. We also managed to send some hurried postcards to friends back home - marked with the all important Arctic Circle stamp of course. 

A sad farewell was then bid to the wonders of Lapland as the coach glided through the snow to return our suits and deliver us to the airport.

We were homeward bound laden with memories that felt like a dream. 

Huge thanks to Nana and Gramps for taking us all on the trip of a lifetime.

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

The Seekers

The skies are grey and dull. The dark evenings creep in earlier and earlier. The school run is a whirl of wet raincoats, cold fingers, soggy school bags and frayed tempers. 

Is it any wonder I'm dreaming of sunnier times and climes?

This time last year we were in Spain enjoying the longest holiday of our lives. Although the kids struggled with Spanish school, the rest of the experience was a wonderful one. 

Room with a view

During our time there we became The Seekers - hunting out adventure around every corner. We were swimmers, explorers, snorkellers, divers, hikers and friends. 

We took on challenges we thought we could never do. We joined in crazy Spanish street parties, celebrated ancient Spanish traditions, and shed clothes at every opportunity....

We made new friends, ate new foods, got lost amidst the cobbled streets, walked barefoot over smooth warm rocks, and said yes to every new experience on offer.

All that sunshine forces you to live life outdoors - which is exactly what we want in a family holiday.

Being outside in a sun kissed world with your kids immediately makes you a better parent. Gone are the impatient dashes through the cold streets to pick up the forgotten milk, and in come the arm in arm meandering strolls through the village stores.

Gone are the bickering afternoons stuck indoors watching telly, and in come new adventures down unknown paths.

Our dream holiday?

A little sunny corner of the world to call our own for a short time where we can once again become The Seekers.

The Seekers

This post is a lovely trip down memory lane and is also my entry to the Mark Warner Blogger Ambassador 2015 competition. 

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

48 Hours in New York - What to do.

48 hours in New York and about 48 thousand things on your to do list? I know that feeling.

After our star studded première on our first night in New York my sister and I two days free to do as we pleased. Or as much as jet lag allowed us anyway.

So what did we get up to?

First thing on most people's New York list is shopping. And we are exactly like most people. So after a traditional pancakes and maple syrup breakfast at the swanky and perfectly located Hudson Hotel we set off for Macys - about a half hour walk away through the fabulous streets of the city.

But the problem with shopping in New York is, well....the shops. There's just too many of them. Having popped into the first store that took our fancy along the way the very evil helpful shop girl told us we should take a right and just head straight down 5th Avenue to get to Macys.

Like I said, Evil.

I'll let you into a little secret here. Strolling down 5th Avenue is the ultimate test in shoppers restraint.

And as it turned out we had absolutely zero.

Six hours and countless 'we'll just pop in heres' later we arrived at the famous Macys - biggest department store in the world.

It's just a pity that at that stage I was completely shopped out and the thought of joining throngs of others on the escalators of despair made me wanted to vomit up all the dollars I'd already spent just getting there.

So instead I sat outside people watching and admiring their gorgeous window displays. 

One of Macys festive windows with New York reflected in the background

After braving the Subway back (and not getting lost I might add)...

...we had time for a quick jet lagged induced nap before heading out to the West Village for dinner. There were loads of gorgeous bars and restaurants there all decked out with fairy lights and Christmas trees - we really were spoiled for choice.

Top Tip: If you're not sure ahead of time when \ where you want to eat when you are in any city like New York (and who likes to be tied down to dinner plans these days?) then Open Table is a fantastic app that allows you to put in the time \ area \ type of food you are looking for and they will tell you all the places that match your search terms with tables still available. They even give you the times left that you can book at. A fabulous and extremely useful service for flaky tourists such as ourselves.

After dinner the rest of our evening was spent taking directions from good natured but clueless New Yorkers as we tried to find a band \ music \ gig venue. In the end we learned how not to hail a cab on a busy street (sorry nice man whose taxi we almost stole), got cold and gave up.

Day 2 on our brief New York stay consisted of cleansing our dirty shopped out souls by heading to Central Park for a bike ride. One dodgy deal and two more than adequate bikes later we were off.

Just look how happy this fool is...

Of course I was far more restrained

We passed Lewis Carroll, iconic monuments, ice skaters, chestnut sellers and saw the city from a whole different perspective.

At the end we strolled around the lovely Central Park Christmas Markets and did some feel good shopping. Clean crisp air, blue skies, chats with foodies, artists and creatives - beats a six hour hike to Macys any day.

With just enough time for lunch we followed the (secret) directions for the (secret) burger joint in a (secret) hotel we had heard about close by. Having found the very posh hotel our doubts set in as to whether the burger joint was actually secret or in fact non existent. We walked through the huge revolving doors, past luxury couches with luxury tourists drinking luxury coffees and through the grand cast iron gates to the lobby.

A man in a suit stood sternly in front of thick red velvet curtains as we tentatively asked if there was a burger place nearby. He pointed up a little corridor behind the curtains and there it was.

The Secret Burger Joint NYC

A small queue had formed in the corridor but when we got to peek inside it was even better than expected. A dirty burger joint where menus aren't required.

Well of course we did

Our final port of call was a quick massage and manacure before grabbing our bags and jumping in our luxury Merc back to the airport. Ah how the other half live.

48 hours in New York. Worth every second. 

Huge thanks to Netflix for flying us to New York, putting us up, putting up with us, and generally giving us the time of our lives. 
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