Off-beat Europe With Kids

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Summer holidays are a time when you don’t know whether you are better off at home or out vacationing, because a trip with kids can become so much about just the kids that it doesn’t feel like a vacation for you at all! If a trip to Disneyland or yet another beach vacation is beginning to sound like the last 3, consider destinations which are equally exciting for you. Here’s a round up of the places we have been to (during the summer vacations), with kids when they were ages 3 months to 4 years, along with what can make it fun for kids…other than beaches and zoos.

Iceland, Greenland (June 2012):
We tripped for about 12 days across the two. Our trip to Iceland was limited to the southern parts – beautiful waterfalls, majestic mountains and moody landscapes, all in unpredictable weather. I guess it is the combination of the last 2 that leads to the the Icelandic people still believing in mystical creatures such as elves and trolls.
We covered the gorgeous Seljalandsfoss, Skogafoss and Gulfoss waterfalls, drove around in the Vatnajokull National Park and the Skaftafell National Park, admired the glacier filled waters at Jokulsarlon and watched the breathtaking geysers at Geysir.
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Peachy was about 9 months old, which is a delightful age to travel at, as long as you can provide space for the baby to explore. We carried her around in a sling which she preferred to the pram so the breaks to make her sleep were minimised, she would just dose off anytime and anywhere. It was also a blessing that she was good with long drives as we drove around to almost everywhere.
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A day in Helsinki, Finland, on our way back to Delhi
While there wasn’t anything specific that we planned for Peachy during the holiday, she did appreciate the variety of animals, so we’d stop by at lakes and farms and trooped specifically to Black sand beach next to Reynisfjall to see the Puffin birds.
The grown-up stuff that we were bold enough to put her through, went fairly well. So apart from the drives, we took her on a skidoo ride (yes!) and to the Blue Lagoon for a swim.
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Skidoo ride with the Peach, we break for refuelling! She actually fell asleep on the ride back.
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 A dip in the Blue Lagoon. The changing areas were not very kid friendly, but did have baby chairs to plonk the little one in, while mommy/daddy changed.
The Greenland trip was limited to Illulissat. Illulissat means Icebergs in the local language and it is not difficult to see why. The ice fjord visible from town is a UNESCO world heritage site, filled with calving icebergs from the Eqi glacier 35km away. The Eqi glacier is the largest source of ice bergs in the northern hemisphere and the berg that took down the Titanic is thought to have originated here. We went at the time of light all night and it was amazing to watch the sun cruise along the horizon at, well, night, rather than dip away. The view of the glaciers was absolutely gorgeous, and Peachy enjoyed the long hikes and boat rides.
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You would think I’m cold, but I’m fun!
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The sun at 245am
Norway (September 2013) 
The Scandinavian side of Europe has always fascinated me. It just feels like there is whole different culture and beauty there that the rest of Europe just does not replicate. In that sense, Norway doesn’t disappoint at all. Even after having seen the ethereal glacier dotted landscapes of Iceland and Greenland, Norway was gorgeous. Mostly it was the Aurora Borealis – the northern lights, that took our breath away, but the fjord tours, the crystal clear still lakes and lovely hiking trails make it a worth a visit.
The Northern Lights were easily the biggest highlight, for which we had trooped all the way to Tromso and stayed for 3 nights since one can’t quite be sure of catching them on a particular day. There are tours, though, that chase The Lights right upto the Finnish border. We took one such tour, left at 10pm and went around for about 3 hours to catch a glimpse of the phenomenon. Staring into the Milky Way literally made me feel like i had come face to face with the universe and creation itself. Few other moments can make one feel like that, here is a list of mine.
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The Aurora Borealis
Then there is Flam. It is one of the most beautiful villages I have ever had the pleasure of visiting. With colourful little houses that reminded me of Toy-town (of Noddy fame), Flam is surrounded by the stillest lakes which make for fantastic photographs. We stayed at a little apartment with gorgeous views.

 

We spent a week across Tromso, Flam, Bergen and the Sognefjorden area because the northern lights were our main agenda. But In a week you could cover Oslo, Bergen, the Fjords and if you have more time, add in Tromso, Loforen Islands and the Atlantic road.

Norway, by far, is one of the most child friendly countries to travel to. There is child friendly infrastructure everywhere, the restaurants are more than happy to serve customised food and the food in general – soups and stews are good for young kids too. Even their trains had special compartment called Family Coupe which had a play area for kids, yes in a train!

We were well supported for Peachy at the northern lights tour, with the tour company providing us with additional blankets, a car seat in the bus and they even watched over the sleeping Peach in the bus, while we stepped out to view the lights. She was impressed with the ‘dancing lights’ too once she woke up, but the big shadows of the mountains scared her a little. The other fun things for two year old Peachy included a bike tour while being seated behind M, paddle boating at Flam, the troll statues all around, the Oslo Viking ship museum (largely because there was enough space for her to run around) and the trip to the Polaria at Tromso, where she got to see arctic seals and other exotic sea life.

 

Expensive as the country is, we saved money and had fun cooking in our apartment. The saved money went into shopping for chocolates and cosmetics, which wonderfully enough, were much cheaper than in India.
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That’s our off-beat Europe,  and you can read about Brazil here and Russia here.

The other places closer home are Singapore and Hong Kong, more on them in another post perhaps.

So take your pick of destination for this summer and happy trippin!

Amazing Planet

Travel always gives you a new perspective, whether its a new food, different music or a different color of people. And every once in a while, you meet a moment that makes you meet the universe, or something deep inside yourself.

Here is a set of photos from the places that made me feel…wonder, left me awestruck and speechless on different occasions.

Northern lights, tromso, norway              This was 50 km odd drive from Tromso, and we dragged a sleeping 2 year old along to witness the dance of the Aurora Borealis. But it was well worth it. Just the view of the milky way..and then suddenly the ethereal beauty of the Northern Lights took my breath away. It was literally like peering into the entire universe.

Death Valley, Chile
Death Valley, Chile

South America, the whole continent itself feels like a different planet. Everything here is to a different scale altogether, be it the Iguazu Falls (they’re like Niagra on Viagra), or the Amazon river or the mighty Andes. But the view above, of the sun setting over the Death Valley in the Atacama desert was a sight we couldn’t take our eyes off. This was the last photo M took before his camera conked off; which was just as well, because we focused on taking in the beauty with our eyes. I would go there again in a heartbeat, just to see this sunset.

The Salt Flats, Bolivia
The Salt Flats, Bolivia

Yet another one from the continent. The Salar de Uyuni (salts of uyuni) stretch as far as the eye can see. Beautiful hexagons of salt, and a lovely sunrise. The shadows you see are of the raised parts of the salty hexagons, the sun is that low on the horizon. We left at 4am from the camp  and the temperature was a freezing -16*, but it was well worth it. I was wearing all the clothes i owned at that moment and then some, and it was worth it.

A view of the lost city
A view of the Inca city

The last one from South America (for the moment), Machu Picchu. There is a reason its counted as one of the wonders of the world. The ride up to the top itself was like living through the first few minutes of King Kong (the landscape of the movie). We stood in the queue at 4am (yes, my husband likes to travel like that) to ensure we were among the first to reach the top. Once there, a sense of calm descended over me. It was so …peaceful. How could anyone who lived here, not be happy and enlightened. I was willing to settle down right there and live on fresh fruit (and i eat meat everyday, everyday). If i were to ever get anywhere near enlightened, it must have been this moment in my life.

Namib Desert
Namib Desert

Namibia. We spent 4 days in the country and saw…4 people. And then we saw this – the DeadVlei. The trees stand there, just like that. And there is no one around. For miles. And Miles.

Icebergs float in Illulisaat
Icebergs float in Ilulissat

The land of the perpetual sun, OK for 6 months. This is the view from our apartment in the summer of 2012. S was about 9 months old and it was papa’s turn for night duty, so he got this shot at 245 am. Waking up to this view fills you with and awe for the planet.

Petra by night, photo credit http://www.colbybrownphotography.com/
Petra by night, photo credit http://www.colbybrownphotography.com/

The last one – Petra at night. The photo is from another blog because we couldn’t get good photos in the absence of a tripod. The one above is of the lamps lit outside the treasury on Thursday nights. But what struck me more was the walk through the siq to the treasury. A glimpse of the stars from between the walls off the gorge (100m-200m in height) made me feel like we’ve been looking at the world all wrong! It was a river of stars that was flowing and the real meaning of beauty is up there not down here.

No amount of text in history or geography can do justice to seeing The Planet, live.

If you have moments from your travels that left you awestruck, put them on the list as a comment.