Trekking Through the Alps

While our travels in 2020 have not turned out as planned, we decided to go ahead and take a vacation this summer.  While we contemplated several possible scenarios based on the current pandemic situation, we finally settled on a trip that we had planned to take back in June with some modifications.  Thus, we rented an RV and hit the road for two weeks to trek around Switzerland, Liechtenstein and Germany.

Day 1

Our first day was mainly spent driving through Belgium, Luxembourg and France on our way to Switzerland.  IMG-20200725-WA0000Once in Switzerland, we made our way to Bern.  We saw some nice scenery as we made our way in including some huge and dense fields of sunflowers.  I could not get any decent pictures of those but snapped a few of some less dense fields later.

We had a slight mishap (think small, steep mountain road and an RV with nowhere to turn around and no way to continue up), but some nice folks helped us through it.  However, we got into Bern pretty late due to that, so we only had time to get some dinner.  There was a pizzeria near our campsite so we opted for that but went for a Swiss feel by trying Rivella, a popular soda drink there, and some Swiss beer.

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Day 2

Our day began in the capital city of Bern.  We took the morning to walk along the Aare River (it’s a very fast-moving river and people were floating/swimming down it) into the city.

The city was a sort of old-style that was very attractive even among modern amenities.  We saw the parliament building, cathedral and shop-lined streets with fountains running down the center of the street.

One interesting feature in Bern that I have not seen anywhere else was what appeared to be cellar doors lining the street in front of shops.  Most of the doors were closed, but they are actually entrances to shops, restaurants and clubs that are underneath the street-level shops.

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After walking around for a bit, we climbed above the city to the Rose Garden.  There were some nice views of the city from there.

We headed back down to watch the clock tower which was supposed to have moving figures on the hour.  It did, though they were not too exciting.  We did enjoy some nice pastries while waiting, though, which helped assuage the disappointment.

After a return walk along the river to our campground, we loaded up and drove on to Montreux which is situated on Lake Geneva.

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We drove through the Laveux Vineyard area where we had a lot of great views.

We drove around part of Montreux on our way to Chillon Chateau, a castle situated on the water.

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We walked around the outside of the castle and along a lakeside path to a terrace restaurant for a drink (local wine and beer).

Then, we walked back to the castle area where we had a sausage and cheese plate for dinner along with a little Swiss chocolate.  We decided to leave the area and head on toward Zermatt, our next stop.  There were lots of mountain views and step farming style vineyards on the way as well as a castle on a hill.

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Day 3

Our day began with a drive into the resort-style village of Zermatt.  The village is comprised of tons of chalet-style homes, hotels, restaurants and shops as well as a church with a cemetery.

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It is also home to the famed Matterhorn.

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We stopped for a Swiss specialty on the way to a trail leading toward the Matterhorn, zopf-a soft braided bread.

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It was very good and gave us a little boost for our climb up the trail.  The views on the trail were very nice with lots of wildflowers and, of course, the mountains.

After walking up for a while, we headed down to Gorner Gorge to get a view of the glacial water flow.

We walked back into Zermatt for lunch.  We tried Rosti for the first, but definitely not last, time (it is on every menu in a multitude of variations).  It is basically a plate of hash browns and this particular version had cheese and tomatoes.  We also had some schnitzel and sausage and Zurcher Geschnetzeltes-veal with a mushroom and cream sauce along with some local beers.

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We walked around the village a little and went into the church and cemetery before stopping to buy some nusstorte (nut tort), Zermatt Birnenbrot (basically a pastry stuffed with a dried pear and other fruits spread) and some Swiss chocolate.  The nusstorte was okay, the Birnenbrot was not appreciated at all and the chocolate was delicious!

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After leaving Zermatt, we drove through many mountain roads with waterfalls and little villages at the base of the Alps each filled with little chalets and churches.  We also saw deer, mountain goats and sheep along the way.

At the top of a huge mountain climb, we found a glacial lake and stopped for a few pictures before heading down the other side of the mountain to the Interlaken/Jungfrau area and more specifically, Wilderswil.

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After settling into a campground there, which would be our home for the next 4 days, we walked to a nearby restaurant for a dinner of (you guessed it) Rosti, this time with a fried egg, Schnitzel, Cordon Bleu made of local veal stuffed with mountain cheese (did you know cordon bleu originated in Switzerland) and lamb Emmenschtel (a sort of lamb stew in a cream curry sauce).  We also added some local beer to the meal for a nice end to the day.

Day 4

Today, we decided to check out the towns around the Interlaken area-specifically Unterseen, Thun, Oberhofen and Wilderswil.

We started in Unterseen.  It was a really cute town with lots of chalets and the river running through the city in two places, but there was nothing too exciting to actually do or see there.  We tried a few pastries and walked around for a bit before heading on to Thun.

We intended to walk around Thun, but, after driving for a bit without being able to find anywhere to park the RV, we gave up, drove around the town, saw a castle and a cute bridge over the river studded with flowers and then headed to Oberhofen.

Oberhofen was not originally on our list to see, but it was actually a nice little stop.  It had a really cool looking castle on the lake and we found a nice place to stop for lunch.

Today we had (I’ll give you one guess) Rosti with bacon and onion, Schnitzel, Cordon Bleu (are you sensing a pattern here?) and two new dishes-a sausage and cheese salad and Alplermagronen-essentially macaroni, cubed potatoes and bacon in a white cream sauce served with a small pot of applesauce for putting over the pasta (don’t worry, you’ll see this one again).  Of course, we also had to try some local beer.

We drove back on some fun roads along the lake, before having a little downtime in the afternoon.

In the evening we walked around Wilderswil, the town where our campsite was located.  There were a lot of chalets and flower gardens on the way to the train station.  Behind the train station, there was an old bridge over the river which led to a church and cemetery.

The cemetery was really nicely maintained so we walked around it for a bit before heading back to our RV to have our dinner which consisted of cheese from the cow belonging to the owner of the campground and some lamb sausage from a farm in the town.  We also got some bread baked by the campground owner.  We ended the meal with a couple of liqueur-filled Swiss chocolates (one filled with a pear liqueur and the other with Kirsch)-pretty good!!

Day 5

Today we went to Beatus Cave.  We had to climb up the mountain to the mouth of the cave.

Once inside, you could hear the rushing water that flows through the cave.

The best thing in the cave was a really cool mirror pool which gave the impression that the ceiling was repeated one level below.  It was slightly disorienting.

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After the caves, we ate at a small restaurant near our campground.  We had (say it with me) Rosti and Alplermagronen, some of the best we had, and cheese fondue with forest mushrooms.  The fondue was served with bread, gherkins, pearl onions and little potatoes that came out in a small burlap sack.  We also tried a Riesling from a town 20 minutes away on the lake.  We ended the meal with a meringue dessert.  It was all very good.

After our lunch, we drove to Trummelbach Falls.  It was a really interesting waterfall because it was running in and out of the rocks/cave.  We took an elevator up inside the rock and then walked all through the rock and carved out spaces to view different parts of the falls as it made its way down to the river below.  It was a cool example of erosion.

Day 6

Today, was the day I had been most looking forward to- hiking in the Alps with all of the wildflowers and mountain views.  But instead, it decided to rain.  The flowers and views were not at all what we were hoping for, but we decided to make the best of it and tell ourselves that we were getting to view the trails in a different light with hopes that the day after would be sunny.  So, while we had expected beautiful bright flowers and skies, we got a more eerie, misty looking experience.

We began by walking toward a waterfall on a small trail near the cable car station.

Then we took the cable car up to Mürren.  Even with the cloud cover, we had some nice views going up.

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At Mürren, we started the Bluemental trail where we were treated to pretty scenery comprised of wildflowers, waterfalls, streams and cows with melodious bells.

We hiked up to the flower garden where they had information about the flowers of the region and we saw some Edelweiss.

We had lunch at a terrace near the garden.  We had Raclette, a special Swiss cheese that is melted and eaten on top of potatoes, pearl onions and gherkins, as well as some mountain cheese and sausage and regional beers.  We would have never known that there were amazing views of the mountains at this terrace except for a very brief clearing that revealed part of the mountains.

After lunch, we walked the mountain view trail.  We had no mountain views, but we were treated to a lot of wildflowers and cows.  The cows all had different shaped and sized bells which really made the jangling sound very melodic.  As my husband said, “we were treated to an orchestra of cows.”

We came out of the trail through a forest and onto a hill of tons of sleeping cows.  It was a little eerie with the foggy mist and all the cows just laying around staring at us!

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Finally, we walked through Mürren past some pretty flower gardens before heading back down the mountain in the cable car.

We went to the same restaurant from a few days before where everyone got the same thing they previously ate (yes-Rosti, Schnitzel and Cordon Bleu) except for me-I tried the vegetable cream soup which was very nice.

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Day 7

After 3 days of rain and overcast conditions, today was our last chance to see the scenery of the Alps, so we were hoping for a nice day.  It did not disappoint!  Though it was not completely clear, we had sun and views, so we were very happy.  We took a historic train (it has been running for over 100 years) up the mountain to Schynige Platte.  There, we hiked a trail around the rim of the mountain where we had views of the lake below, snowy peaks and a glacier and lots of wildflowers.  We even saw a badger from a distance!  And, of course, there was the music of cows!

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After the trail, we walked around the Alpine Botanical Garden which had a really nice display including more Edelweiss.

We listened to the Alpenhorn players and sat on the terrace to eat Aplermagronen and Shnitzel with regional beer.  It was freezing, so we ate fast and then walked around the botanical garden some more to warm back up.

Before heading back down the mountain, we sat on another terrace and had some apricot kuchen and wildberry cake.  The apricot was only politely received, but the wildberry cake was delicious.

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After returning to the valley, we walked to Interlaken for dinner.  We had Rosti (again!) with bacon and egg, Zurcher Geshnetzeltes (the veal in mushroom sauce) and some regional bratwurst with Rosti.  It was not our best meal.

Day 8

Today, we moved on to Lucerne for a few hours before entering Liechtenstein.  Before leaving our campground though, we had a breakfast of bread baked by the campground owner and cheese from her cow as we did every day that we were there.

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In Lucerne, we began by walking to the Lion Monument which is situated in a park area.  It commemorates the Swiss guard killed in the French Revolution.

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Then we made our way to Hofkirch and the Jesuit Church.  They were fairly plain on the inside but were large.

We walked along Lake Lucerne which was filled with boats and the fast-moving Reuss River and saw a couple of wooden footbridges including Chapel Bridge.  The bridges had triangular paintings running along the rafters.

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We wandered around several of the streets and strolled the Weinmarkt area.  The buildings were really neat, and many had elaborate drawings or paintings on them.  There were also a number of fountains throughout the city.

Finally, we walked up to the Musegg Wall, the old fortification wall, for a quick look before heading for lunch.

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While we, of course, had Rosti (with tomato, bacon, egg and cheese) and Schnitzel, we also tried a Lucerne specialty, Chogel Lipaschteli, which was a puff pastry stuffed with veal.  We tried a wine from Lucerne as well.

Then, it was on to Liechtenstein where our first stop was Balzers and Burg Gutenburg, an old castle.  We could see the castle on the hill as we drove in.  After parking, we first stopped at a really pretty church with a cemetery.  It was a quaint, stone church and it was probably one of the prettiest small churches we have seen.  To the side of the church, there was a vineyard at the base of the castle that we walked around.

We moved on to the campground where we had dinner of bratwurst with Rosti (nope, food in Liechtenstein is not too different from Swiss food), veal with mushroom sauce and Flammkuchen (the thin-crust pizzas) as well as some local beer and wine.  They also gave us a gazpacho type starter to try.

Day 9

Today, we went to Vaduz, the capital of Liechtenstein.  We first walked to the outskirts of the city where there is a wooden bridge spanning the Rhine River which connects Liechtenstein and Switzerland.  We, of course, walked from one country to the other and back again.

Then, with Vaduz Castle where the royal family lives looming over us on the hill, we walked into the center of Vaduz where we saw St. Florin Cathedral.  It was pretty inside and out but mostly was simple.

We walked through the downtown area past several government buildings before finding a spot for lunch.

We had a starter of Vaduzer soup (a white wine cream soup) and then tried a stroganoff pasta, a beef fillet with Ribel (a sort of polenta) and a vegetable ratatouille with Ribel as well as a local and a Swiss beer and some local red and white wine.

After lunch, we walked up the hill to the Red House, a historic landmark, and the vineyards next to it.

We had a light dinner, but as it was our anniversary, we finished the night with a Rosé Spumante from Liechtenstein and some Swiss chocolate that we found in Vaduz.

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Day 10

Today, we hiked the Allspitz/Furstensteig trail.  We started early with an ascent over the valley.  It started to rain on us, but as a result, some animals came out of hiding and we saw marmots, a bunny and some chamois (goat antelopes).  We hiked up a huge mountainside to a foresty area where we reached a summit.

After this, we headed through a rocky area to the Furstensteig (Prince’s Way) trailhead.  The trail itself was very narrow and rocky and kind of fun but for those with a fear of heights, it was less enjoyable.  The trail provided some really nice views of the valley and mountains surrounding the area as well as Switzerland.  Then, it was back down through the forest to the car.

After resting a while, we went to get some dinner.  We had a melon and white wine starter and seafood and vegetable risottos as well as pork medallions.  We decided to try a white wine from the Prince’s vineyards in Vaduz.

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Day 11

We ended our time in Liechtenstein this morning with a hike on the Eschnerberg Trail in Schellenberg.  The trail was not overly exciting, but we did walk to the ruins of a castle from the 1300s and through forested and meadow areas with some nice views.

After the trail, we walked to the ruins of another castle from the 1300s that was a little more intact than the first.

Then, we drove into Germany to Rothenburg.  It is an adorable walled-in city with numerous clock towers, churches, old-style homes with colorful window boxes and fountains which is said to be Walt Disney’s inspiration for the village in Pinnochio.  It does feel like a fairy tale town.  However, while it is cute, it is quite touristy.  It would be amazing at Christmas, though, my friend that lives in Germany tells me that they may cancel all Christmas markets this year.

We had dinner on a terrace where we tried a local cheese platter, some Weizen beers, 3 local sausages with potatoes and sauerkraut and Schnitzel.  It was a nice meal.

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After dinner, we wandered the streets and did some window shopping.

We also stopped in a bakery to get some Scheebollen, kind of like a ball made of fried wontons which is then coated in either sugar or melted chocolate.  It is a Rothenburg specialty.  We tried powdered sugar, chocolate with Nutella filling, vanilla/amaretto with an almond paste filling and a plain chocolate coating.  We didn’t love them, but, spoiler alert, the next day we got a powdered sugar one from a different bakery, and it was very good.

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Day 12

We went back into Rothenburg briefly in the early morning.  It was much quieter then.

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Then we moved on to Otterberg to visit a friend.  They showed us around the town, and we hiked a ravine which was very pretty with a stream, lots of big rocks and trees (including many fallen ones which were perfect for climbing).

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Day 13

On our final day, we went to Cochem in Germany.  There was a lot of nice architecture in the city, but it was much dirtier and dingier looking than Rothenburg, though it was also, obviously, a tourist destination.  There was a cool main square with a fountain and a castle up on the hill that we walked to.  We tried a plum and streusel pastry which was okay, and then we bought some Riesling to take home as Cochem is in wine country.

Finally, we were on the road home.

Now, if you are thinking “this was a long post,” you would be right.  It was a long vacation!  But, I hope reading all of this didn’t wear you out.  Of course, in these uncertain times, this will likely be the last travel post for some time.  So, I hope you enjoyed coming along for the journey, and we’ll see you on the other side when we can explore some more!

First Pandemic Getaway

While I wish that I was posting about the adventure that I was supposed to be having in Switzerland at this moment, the pandemic has made that an impossible dream.  But, we decided that there were still a few things that were 1). allowed by various countries as far as travel and quarantine restrictions go and 2). safe enough for us to get a small getaway in.  With that in mind, we headed to Luxembourg City this past Friday and then to a campground in Malmedy, Belgium for a little hiking for the rest of the weekend, and thus, after months without, I am finally able to post something about our travels in Europe again!

During our couple of hours in Luxembourg, we walked around the upper level or old town of the city and the lower level referred to as the Grund.  Many people in Luxembourg were wearing masks, unlike in The Netherlands, and masks were required to go into the cathedral there.  The cathedral was the only building we were planning to go in, but as we did not have any masks with us, we were unable to.  Nonetheless, it was an enjoyable walk around the city.

The old town and The Grund are very compact areas so we could easily and quickly see many things.  We saw the cathedral, the Place d’arms, Place Guillame II, and the Passarelle Viaduc.

We walked to Place de Constitution and the Palais Grand-Ducal where we watched the guards marching out front before making our way to the Casemates du Bock.

 

There are tunnels under the casemates that were used in WWII but the casemates themselves were closed so they were not accessible.  We did, however, enjoy some great views from the casemates and a nice walk down the Chemin du Corniche on our way to The Grund.

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While in that lower level of the city, we had a short picnic lunch and walked along some gardens and orchards before heading back up to the old town.

On our way out of the city, we stopped at the American Cemetery of Luxembourg where General Patton is buried.

After arriving at our campground and setting up our tent, we took a short walk about the mountain trail that was accessible from the grounds.  There were some nice panoramic views of the area.

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On Saturday and Sunday, we hiked about 25 miles worth of trail both near Malmedy and near Spa.  Worth mentioning, between our campground and the trails, was a small town with some cute little churches and this beautiful gazebo in the center roundabout.

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Our hike on Saturday morning included trail along the river which looked almost like blood because of the red mineral running out of the earth, through a pine forest and some open meadows.

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Roots of a massive, long tree that had fallen over.
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Tree roots covering the ground.

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Mushrooms and moss growing on this tree.

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Our afternoon hike began from our campground so we decided to have an outdoor lunch at the campground restaurant which featured 44 Belgian beers.  We tried a couple of different ones including one that is brewed by the campground itself.

The afternoon trail was bit tough as it had a lot of uphill sections and sections that were a little overgrown and required sure footing to pick your way over all of the rocks.  Nonetheless, we made it through and were rewarded with views of the forest, pastureland, a small castle or manor estate and the largest waterfall in Belgium.  We even walked through a deforested area and a rock quarry before ending up hiking along the river where we saw the backside of a deer retreating into the forest.

Finally, on Sunday morning, we did our final trail which required that we climb along the riverbed crossing it many times over bridges or shallow areas and even walking in a very narrow path along the side of the hills running along the river.  The path also crossed through several forested areas and passed homes on large pastures before ending up running along a larger, fast-moving river.

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All in all, it wasn’t the trip we had planned on taking but it was fun (and tiring) and it felt good (and safe) to finally get out away from home.

 

Adventure in the Arctic Circle

We have just returned from several adventure-filled days in Tromso, Norway where there is plenty of fun (and snow) to be found!

Day 1

Our first day in Tromso was spent exploring the city.  We began the day by stopping in a cafe overlooking the water to try some Norwegian waffles.  They are served with a strawberry puree jam and a cream that is reminiscent of clotted cream.  They are also eaten with a slice of brown cheese, the taste of which is very difficult to describe.  It wasn’t bad, but it wasn’t good either so I’m not sure what it was exactly!

 

As we made our way through a somewhat slippery Tromso, our first stop was the Polar Museum.  The museum had a lot of historical items and information regarding the trapping industry and polar explorations in the region.  I have to say that the trapping information was a bit much for some of us as it was pretty graphic and a little hard to stomach.  After the museum, we walked through the Skansen village area to the bridge connecting the island and the mainland.  The wind on the bridge was insane and we really felt like we were going to be blown away at some points.  On the other side of the bridge sits the Arctic Cathedral which has a rather unique exterior but a fairly plain interior.

 

Back across the bridge, we made our way to lunch where we tried the locally brewed Mack beer, fish soup, torrfisk (panfried fish with potato, veggies and bacon), and reindeer wraps.  And while the thought of eating seal after seeing the information at the Polar Museum was not at all appealing to some of us, one of us, who shall remain nameless, decided to go for it and ordered the seal which was toted as being caught by a 7th generation hunter.

After lunch, we walked to the domkirke and took a quick look inside.  The inside was very plain but the outside was cute.

Next, we stopped at Polaria which is an aquarium.  While they had some exhibits on fish and other sea life from the area, the main attraction was the seals.  There are many viewing points where you can watch the seals swim by and over you.  There was also a feeding and training session that you can watch which was entertaining.  The aquarium also showed a couple of panoramic films about the wildlife and scenery of the area and the Northern Lights and how they are formed.

After the town exploration, it was time to begin the real adventure by going on a nighttime snowshoe hike.  As we arrived for the hike and began suiting up in our thermal snowsuit and snowshoes, it began snowing.  After what seemed like a lengthy process of getting the shoes on correctly and finding the right sized poles, we were off.  Let me just tell you-snowshoeing is hard work!  The shoes were awkward to maneuver and it was really hard to move through the snow.  We got really hot and sweaty inside our suits and the work was exhausting.  After hiking for 20-30 minutes, we stopped in a clearing and our guide made a small fire.  Unfortunately, it was too cloudy to see any Northern Lights.  We headed back to the center and it began to ice which added to the challenge.  At the center, we went to the Alaskan Husky dog yard.  There are 300 sled dogs there.  We got to meet a few puppies and dogs before heading inside a lavvu structure (like a teepee but in this case made of wood with a fire/cooking stove inside) to have some bacalhau (fish stew), hot chocolate and chocolate cake.

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Day 2

This morning, we headed back to the center for some dog sledding.  The day began with another tour of the dog yard where we again got to meet the puppies and more of the adult huskies.  Then, we got to go on an hour-long dog sled ride.  We went two to a sledge with a musher and a team of 9-10 dogs.  During the ride, it was icing and very windy so at times it was very painful being pelted with ice, but mostly it was lovely arctic scenery and a chance to see how the mushers guide the team.  After the ride, we thanked our team by petting each one and then went back to the dog yard where we met a lot more dogs.  After all of this, we headed into the lavvu again for some lunch.  This time we had bidos which is a soup made with reindeer meat and vegetables and more hot chocolate and chocolate cake.

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After the morning in the cold, we decided to stay in our apartment and play darts.  We entertained ourselves like that for a couple of hours before getting dinner at Art Cafe.  We had farikal (a mutton stew which is the national dish), finnbiff (a reindeer meat dish with lingonberry sauce) and fish stew.  We also tried some akveitt (alcohol made from potato) and a couple of different Mack beers (white and dark).  We finished off with some carrot cake.  It was a delicious meal!

Day 3

Today we woke up to huge snowflakes.  We drove to a reindeer center where we began by receiving a food bucket and walking through the herd of 300 reindeer.  A couple of the reindeer would eat from your hand, but most just wanted to stick their head in the bucket.  We later learned that all of the reindeer were pregnant females.  All around the snow-covered field were snowy mountains and water.  While we walked around the reindeer, it began to snow heavily.  It felt like a perfect winter scene!  We then went two to a sled for a reindeer ride.  The scenery was very pretty and we were joined by a few extra reindeer as we moved on the outskirts of the field.

When our sled ride was done, we entered a gamme, the traditional home of the Sami people for a lunch of bidos.  This was the same reindeer meat soup that we had the day before but this one was more of a stew.   

After lunch, we listened to a cultural lesson about the Sami, the indigenous people of the arctic region.  We learned about the Sami way of life, language, and clothing among other things.

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Then it was back to the apartment for more darts (somebody got a bull’s eye twice-me!) before going to get a snack of pancakes with strawberry puree jam and joining our tour group to chase the Northern Lights.

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We were in a small group tour so we were able to drive pretty far to see the lights.  On this particular night, the skies were forecasted to be the clearest in Finland so we began the several hour drive to get there.  Along the way, our guide provided a lot of information about Norwegian culture and legends, the wildlife of the area, the climate and the science and legends behind the Northern Lights.  While we encountered very heavy snow for a lot of the drive, as soon as we got close to Finland, we had clear skies, and once we reached a good stopping place, we immediately had Northern Lights.  Now, I’m not going to lie to you-Northern Lights do not look like what you see in the pictures.  Rather than appearing as a dark, emerald green, they appear more whitish to pale green to your eye.  However, once the picture is taken, you can see the green vividly.  We did get to see the lights dancing, and we also got to see a somewhat rare phenomenon of a flare going up and across the sky.  Our guide told us that it was an above-average display.  While it doesn’t look as amazing as it does in the pictures, it was still really cool and after watching for an hour (in -17C/-2F temperatures), our guide made a fire and we had hot chocolate and cooked reindeer sausage with lompe (potato pancake).  Then it was a long drive back to Tromso; we arrived at 2:30am.

 

Day 4

We woke to heavier snow than any other day but trudged out to get some Norwegian waffles and join our Fjord boat cruise.  We were a little worried as the tour began because the visibility was terrible with all of the snow, but it soon cleared and the scenery was beautiful-snowy mountains, icebergs and an ice field.  We were able to see several white-tailed eagles and watched them fly down to the water to retrieve fish with their talons.  And then, we got to see a beluga whale!  He came to the boat and interacted with the crew.  He swam around the boat a lot and then continued to follow the boat as we sailed off.  Our son got to sit in the captain’s cabin and learned all about driving the boat, the controls and navigating.  Then he got to try fishing with the crew.  It was a great experience and as we sailed back toward Tromso, we had a Norwegian salmon fish soup to top it off.

We were greeted back in Tromso with heavy snow coming down as big flakes.  We went to dinner where the boys had a smoked moose steak appetizer, and then we had reindeer filet steak, pan-fried cod with mussel risotto and some dark Mack beer.

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Day 5

It was once again snowing heavily in the morning, but we went out to get some breakfast of skoleboller (cream-filled pastry), cinnamon buns and a krumkake waffle cookie filled with cream.

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We played a last round of darts before heading to the airport in a heavy, blowing snow.  Unfortunately, we had some flight delays, but in the end, we got to watch the plane be deiced before heading out of the land of ice and snow.

It was a short trip, but it was full of really great adventures, wonderful family time and once in a lifetime experiences.  The arctic promised to be filled with amazing experiences and adventure and it definitely delivered!

Starting the Year in Sunny Spain and Africa

Our new year began with a trip to a few new places-the south of Spain and Morocco.

Day 1: Malaga

On the evening of New Year’s Day, we flew into Malaga and began exploring the next morning.  We began our day in the Plaza de la Merced where Picasso’s birthplace sits on the corner of the square.  The square itself is home to a Picasso statue, several restaurants and is lined by orange trees.

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We grabbed some pastries, which we stopped to enjoy in the square, before heading into the city center.

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We stopped in a small church where they had a small nativity scene set up which was very lovely.

Next, we walked through the center with all of the shops and restaurants to the Market Atarazanas which was a very cool building with elaborate ironwork and beautiful painted glass.  There was a lot of really great produce to be found at the market.

After this, we walked to Episcopal Palace and the Malaga Cathedral.  The cathedral only had a small portion that was free to enter but they had an amazing, large nativity scene set up in that area as well as a manger scene made of plant materials on some stone statues set up outside the door.

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We wrapped up our morning with a trip to the Roman Theater and Alcazaba, a Moorish fortress.  If you don’t know, the Moors were the Muslim people that inhabited and ruled the Iberian Penisula, which Spain is part of, during the Middle Ages.  Inside the fortress walls, there were very lovely tropical plants and floors with beautiful designs made from small stones.

After this, it was on to the beach area.  We walked through a lush park between the shops and the beach and then down to the water.  It was not exactly a beautiful beach area and as the day was a little overcast, the water was not too pretty so we didn’t stay long before going to lunch.

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At the restaurant, we began the meal with some aceitunas (olives) and Malaga sweet wine-similar to a port.  For the meal itself, we had some local beer, Ensalada Malaguena which was a cold salad with cod and orange segments atop a potato salad type mixture, Pipirrana (a tomato, pepper and onion salad with shrimp and octopus), Rabo de Torro (bull tail) and albondigas (meatballs) in almond sauce.  It was all very good!

After lunch, we walked to the bull arena and stopped in a bakery for some molletes (white baked bread) and torta de Aceite (a dry cookie).

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Now, it was time for an uphill climb to Castilo Gibrafaltro-former Moorish castle.  There wasn’t much left to the structure itself other than the outer wall and some garden areas but the views were nice from the top.  And we got to see a really crazy looking Spanish squirrel!

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After all that climbing, we decided we deserved a snack so we stopped at one of the restaurants at Plaza de la Merced for some gazpacheulo (a cream-based fish stew) which was delicious, anchovies on Ceasar salad wraps and melon with ham and bruschetta.

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After resting for a while, we went out in the evening for dinner at Restaurant Picasso where we had calamari, pork knuckle, roasted beef in a red wine sauce, a pineapple stuffed with greens, walnuts and cheese, albondigas, chicken croquetas, and a Spanish omelet.  We also tried two other Malaga wines and some Sangria Malaguena.

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Day 2: Gibraltar

On the next day, we drove two and a half hours to Gibraltar.  Interestingly, Gibraltar is actually its own territory which governs itself, rather than a part of Spain.  However, Gibraltar, having once been a colony of the UK and still under their protection and defense, has a large British influence.  In fact, in Gibraltar, the primary language is English although they also know and speak Spanish since they border Spain.  But aside from knowing these two languages, Gibraltarians have created their own dialect which is a blend of English and Spanish and is very interesting to hear.

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After crossing the border into Gibraltar, we made our way to the water casements market place for lunch.  Here we tried Rolitos which was ham, seasonings and chopped olives rolled inside a thin piece of beef and served with a special sauce.  We also had Huevos de la Flamenca which was a mixture of peppers and potatoes cooked in a sauce with sausage, serrano ham and a fried egg on top.

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After lunch, we took the cable car to the top of the Rock of Gibraltar, which is said to be one of the pillars of Hercules that was left when he broke the mountain between Africa and Europe, to spend the afternoon on the Rock.

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After stepping off the cable car, my mother was promptly attacked by one of the large Barbary Macaques that roam freely on the Rock.  My kids declared this to be the highlight of the trip, though I’m not sure my mother would agree.  The Macaque seemed to be going for her purse, but she managed to wrestle it free, and she and the monkey parted ways.  These monkeys are everywhere, though, and it was a while before my mother felt that she was not going to be attacked by another one!

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After this initial excitement, we headed to the skywalk to take a look at the views and then to St. Micheal’s Cave which is, according to legend, where the Macaques crossed from Africa to Europe.

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After the cave, we tested our ability to conquer our fears when we went across the suspension bridge on the side of the Rock.  I wasn’t too scared, but my height fearing children were pretty nervous.

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Finally, we took the long walk to the Great Siege Tunnels.  We didn’t have time to go very deep into the tunnels, but it was interesting to learn some of the history of Britain’s defense of Gibraltar when the Spanish attempted to regain control in the late 1700s.

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Day 3: Tangiers

The third day of our trip brought our long-awaited day trip to Africa (cue the song from Toto if you are anything like our family).  It was the first time for all of us to go to the African continent.  Our day began very early when the tour company picked us up for a one hour ride to Tarifa, Spain where we embarked on our one and a half hour ferry trip across the Strait of Gibraltar.  Upon arriving in Tangiers, we boarded a bus for a driving tour of the new city which is comprised of quarters belonging to different nationalities such as French, Spanish, American, British and Italian.  The city is comprised of all of the different nationalities because of the many countries that have controlled Tangiers at various times.  On our drive, we drove by some very expensive homes including the home of the mayor of Tangiers and the summer homes of the Moroccan king and the king of Saudi Arabia.  Somewhat surprisingly, Tangiers is very green and tropical.  Our guide informed us that while two-thirds of Morocco is Sahara, the northern parts are very lush.

Our first stop was at Cap Spartel, where the Mediterranean Sea and the Atlantic Ocean meet.

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In this coastal area, we were able to ride camels on the beach.  Our son was so excited that the tour guide allowed him to go on three rides instead of just one.  It was definitely a bit tricky to feel comfortable on the camel as they are pretty wide and quite jostly, not to mention the awkwardness of the moment that they stand up and lay down with you on their back, but it was quite the experience!  While other people in the group (and our son) took their turns, we were able to pet the smaller camels on the beach.

After our camel time was over, we went to the Cave of Hercules which was mainly cut out by man for the purpose of getting rock for use as grinding stones but did have a natural cutout from the water where it is said that you can make out the profile of Hercules.

After the cave, we were taken to the old city or Medina.

Here we walked to our lunch stop where we met a snake charmer along the way, and he did a little display for us.

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Our lunch was overlooking the city and the sea in a lovely space with beautiful light fixtures.

During lunch, some local musicians played traditional music for us.

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Our lunch consisted of Harira (a soup with chickpeas), bread, chicken kabobs, couscous and tajines (a fruit and vegetable mix).  It was all very good and was finished with a delicious mint tea and pastry with honey.

After lunch, we walked through more of the old city including the produce, olive, meat and fish markets.  In all honesty, the meat and particularly fish markets were pretty hard to take.  The conditions seemed pretty unsanitary but the sheer carnage was a bit much even for those in the group who are not normally squeamish.

After the markets, we walked to a large artisan store selling jewelry, pottery, leather and rugs among other things and then to a pharmacy where we were given a demonstration of the many argon oils and other Moroccan products that they offered (we even received nearly ten samples of products).  The pharmacy building itself was quite lovely inside with beautifully carved walls.

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After this, we walked through the streets of the Medina where, unlike the new part of the city, Morocco was everything you imagined with street vendors accosting you in an attempt to sell their wares.  It was quite overwhelming and a little nervewracking at times, and we were there in low season!