Category Archives: travel

Visiting Ireland: The Cliffs of Moher and Aran Islands (with kids)

I can’t believe we waited over a year to see Ireland’s #2 tourist spot, the Cliffs of Moher.

The #1 tourist spot in Ireland, by the numbers, is the Guinness Storehouse. Tourists have their priorities!

As much as we enjoyed the Guinness Storehouse, the Cliffs of Moher just might be my favorite spot in all of Ireland. So far.

When visiting the Cliffs of Moher, most people will home base out of the city of Galway.

I wrote about visiting Galway here. It’s not a big city, so you can hit all of the high points in a day, maybe a day and a half. That leaves plenty of time for excursions like the one we took to the Cliffs of Moher and the Aran Islands.

Since we do not have a car, we booked a one-day guided tour with Galway Tour Company.

We selected them based on careful research luck of the draw, in all reality. They had availability for the sites we wanted to visit on the day when we could visit and a coupon code. I do love a good coupon code! They have absolutely no clue who I am, but we had a great experience.

If you’re curious, we booked this specific tour for the Aran Islands and the Cliffs Cruise.

TRIP HIGHLIGHTS:


Riding The Ferry to the Island of Inisheer (Inis Oirr)

(ferry image courtesy Doolin Ferry)

After leaving Galway, our first stop of the day was in the small town of Doolin where we took the Doolin Ferry over to the island of Inisheer.

While the boat does has stabilizers, whatever that means, you are traveling over open ocean. It was a bit rollercoaster-ish, which added to the excitement. It should be noted we were traveling on a relatively calm day!

The good news, if you are prone to seasickness, the ride is only 15 minutes on the express ferry. Otherwise, it takes about 30 minutes.


Inisheer (Inis Oirr)

In terms of land mass, Inisheer is the smallest of the Aran Islands. In terms of people, it is the second smallest. The permanent population on the island is approximately 260 people.

Our ferry had 190 passengers, which means in the course of a normal day, tourists will definitely end up out-numbering the locals.

I couldn’t help thinking about how much I complain about Amazon deliveries to Ireland. I can’t even IMAGINE living on an island where everything they consume has to be ferried over. I saw restaurants, but I did not see a grocery store, so I don’t know how that works.

As soon as you get off the ferry, you will be asked by many different locals if you want to rent a bike (they have kid bikes and helmets too) or take a horse and carriage ride. Either of these activities are 10 euro per person. Make sure you have cash!

I wish we would have rented the bikes because the island is only 3 km wide. It would have been easy to cycle around and see the sights in our allotted time of about 2 hours on the island.

However, we were starving. Okay, it might have just been me, but it was either eat at noon on the island or wait until 3 p.m. for a late lunch. 3 p.m. is like my snack time, people. Not lunch. There was no way me and my stomach the kids were going to survive in good spirits until 3 p.m. for lunch.

So we headed to the pub. Yes, kids can go into pubs in Ireland.

After that, we did some exploring around the island.

Inisheer has a really lovely swimming beach.

I managed to snag a picture without any humans in it, but yes, people were actually swimming on this grey day.

In addition to a beach, the island also has a cemetery, an abandoned church, a small castle, a fort, a lighthouse and a shipwreck you can check out.

The shipwreck is also visible from the ferry just before you dock in Inisheer.

You can see a glimpse of the castle and fort on top of the hill in the below picture.

If jumping on rocks and playing on the beach is not your kids’ thing, there is also a nice playground right behind the beach.


Cruising Along the Base of the Cliffs of Moher

After a couple of hours on the island, we boarded the Doolin Ferry, but instead of heading straight back, we cruised along the base of the Cliffs of Moher.

We had quite a few Princess Bride fans onboard our boat and they were VERY excited to see the Cliffs of Insanity!

I was too! I knew it was going to be cool to stand on top of the cliffs, but seeing them from the Atlantic Ocean just completed the entire experience.

The captain will get you as close as is safe to the cliffs. Parts of the cliff break away periodically, so in the interest of safety, they don’t get too close.

Unfortunately, my youngest kiddo did start to feel a little seasick during this cruise, which lasted about an hour. Thankfully, he returned to normal just minutes after we reached dry land.


Visiting the Cliffs of Moher

After a quick stop for a late lunch for the rest of the tour group (we went to the chocolate shop instead – who are the smart ones now?!?!), we headed for the Cliffs of Moher.

The nice thing about going on a guided tour is that your admission to the various attractions are all included in your tour price.

I think we had about 90 minutes to explore the top of the cliffs.

We felt safe enough taking the kids along the northern cliff route toward the round tower.

It was well fenced, with a (mainly) paved path and steps. It’s about a 5 – 10 minute walk to the tower.

You can pay an extra 2 euro to climb the 25-foot tower. I felt 700-feet above sea level was plenty high, thank you very much.

The views were – I don’t have adequate words – spectacular.

This below photo is looking back at the south side of the cliffs. Those black specks on top of the cliffs are people.

As you can see, it was a relatively calm day and the water was exceptionally clear. I felt incredibly lucky that we had some blue sky during our visit. That doesn’t always happen here!

Our tour guide told us the south side of the cliff walk was more dangerous and without railings, which is why we started our hike on the north side.

Since our kids did a good job of not going completely crazy hiking responsibly, we told them we would hike up a little way on the ‘dangerous’ part if they held mom or dad’s hand THE ENTIRE TIME.

Well, the first part of the cliff walk on the north side is completely fenced in with rock slabs, so that was safe enough.

There was a point when people jumped the fence and were hiking on the wrong side of the path though. The unprotected side. The side that occasionally breaks off and drops 700-feet into the Atlantic Ocean.

I probably would not have done that even if we didn’t have our kids with us.

It was a good lesson in, if your friends jump off a cliff hike on the edge of a cliff, would you do it too?

NO! Because your mama will find out and ground you until you are 107!

We did get a lovely family picture while at the top of the cliffs.

Yes, I was sporting the always glamorous wind-whipped look.

And my precious son. He was sporting the ‘tongue sticking out of his mouth at the camera’ look.

I did not notice this until much later.

So no, we will not be sending out Christmas cards this year! At least not normal ones where everyone is smiling at the camera.

There is a neat visitor center at the cliffs. It’s built into the earth just like something out of Lord of the Rings. That in and of itself is cool!

There’s also a cafe, gift shop and restrooms.


Coast Road and The Burren

After we finished hiking around the Cliffs of Moher, we boarded the coach for the 2-hour ride back to Galway. We took the coast road back to the city and I had my eyes glued to the landscape the entire time.

You will travel through a region called The Burren. Burren means great rock and I’ve never seen anything like it! I’d like to go back and explore The Burren National Park.

In total, our trip lasted 10.5 hours. We left Galway at 9 a.m. and returned at 7:30 p.m. It was a long, but amazing day. If you were taking a Cliffs of Moher tour from Dublin, you would probably leave around 6:30 a.m.


GUIDED TOUR TIPS:

We’ve been on a couple of guided trips while in Ireland. Both times our kids (ages 7 and 10) have been the only children on the trip, but no one seems to mind and the tour groups almost always offer a child discount. If your trip says kids go free, you still need to book them a spot. Otherwise, they might not have a seat on the bus and you won’t be able to go on the tour. If you have any questions about this, call or email the tour company to confirm your reservation.

The great thing about a guided tour is that your day is completely planned out for you. You don’t have to think about where you are going or how to get there. Just sit back and enjoy. The flip side of this is that you and the kids have to go with the flow and your schedule is not your own. That’s why I always pack water, lots of snacks and plenty of things for the kids to do while on the bus. On a day like this one, you’re going to be on the bus for over 4 hours, so make sure that is something your kids can handle.

A guided tour means the tour guide is going to be talking while you’re on the bus. When the guide is talking, the passengers need to be quiet so everyone can hear the information. If your kids aren’t at a stage where they can do that, you might want to wait before taking one of these tours.

Don’t be late! You’re sharing a bus with 50 other people. Don’t be the person that returns to the bus 5 minutes late. Not only is it rude, but it throws the schedule off for everyone.

These large coaches usually (not always) have a small restroom on board, so keep that in mind and plan accordingly.

Don’t switch seats on the bus when you get back on after a stop. People get really irritated by this. Also, your driver will let you know if you can leave items on the bus and if it will be locked.

If you are booking back-to-back tours with the same tour company, they usually offer a discount, so don’t be afraid to ask!

Last, but not least, take layers! Irish weather – I don’t care what the weather forecast says – is unpredictable. Be prepared for wind, rain, sun…did I say rain? All of those.


Our day spent exploring the Cliffs of Moher and the Aran Islands was even better than I imagined it would be. Partly because we were going to an amazing place and lucked out with the weather, but also because we had a great tour guide who was funny and informative.

All in all, I’m so happy we finally visited this iconic spot in Ireland. Without a doubt it is a true treasure not just for the people of Ireland, but for the world. Be sure and put it on your bucket list!

Visiting Ireland: Galway (with kids)

Over the past year we have spent long weekends here and there visiting different parts of Ireland.

Every place we visit is new and exciting for our family – it’s a perk of moving to a new country!

Our kids are 7 and 10 and they are definitely becoming seasoned travelers.

Last weekend we finally made our way from Dublin over to the beautiful city of Galway.

Galway has a population of approximately 80,000 people. It is also the home of National University of Ireland Galway (NUI Galway). Approximately 17,000 students attend university at NUI Galway each year.

LOCATION

Galway is located on the west coast of Ireland. The River Shannon is located to the city’s east. To the west is Galway Bay, which opens into the Atlantic Ocean.

Galway is a 2.5 hour train ride from Dublin’s Heuston Station. It is a great hub for tourists who want to visit the Cliffs of Moher (to the south) and Connemara (to the north).

(map)

TOURIST HIGHLIGHTS

Galway is not a big city. In a long day (or a day and a half), you can see all of the major tourist attractions in the city itself. After that, you’re going to need a car or a tour bus to see the sights outside of the city.

For a PDF of a Galway city map with attractions, click here.

Here are some places we visited:


Galway Cathedral

Galway Cathedral is not an old church, but it is impressive.

The church is located along the River Corrib and is free to visit. They do ask for a 2 Euro donation.

This was a good place for my kids to:
1) Practice their inside voice.
2) Not drink the holy water.
3) Not play with fire from the why were there so many?? hundreds of lit candles.

The cathedral also offers a unique opportunity to teach kids about sound and acoustics. In particular, what happens when you make fart noises in an echo-y building. The wrath of God mom. That’s what happens.

The part my kids most enjoyed was the beautiful mosaics on the walls. We had an interesting whispered discussion about how mosaics are made. At least, that’s what I think we were talking whispering about.

By the time our 20-minute visit was over, I was wondering why the tour hadn’t included any communion wine.


Eyre Square

Eyre Square is a park smack in the middle of Galway and half a block from the train station.

There’s a playground, green space, benches and statues/sculptures.

There was also a water fountain around the base of one of the sculptures that would have been  a TON of fun to play in if I had brought a second pair of shoes for each kid, towel, change of clothes, sunny weather, etc. I really dropped the ball on that one.

Eyre Square gave me one of those “thank God there’s a playground” moments though. We can offer kids all sorts of fancy experiences, but simple is usually best.

Look! There’s a swing and something dangerous to climb on! Go have fun while mom and dad figure out where the heck we are and how we are getting to the next place (in peace).

Everyone wins.

The copper sculpture at Eyre Square (above) represents the red sails of the iconic Galway Hooker boats, which are unique to the area.

So, now my kids know what a hooker is!

My work here is done.


Fishery Watchtower Museum and River Corrib Path

Galway has a beautiful path/sidewalk system along the River Corrib. You can walk from the NUI Galway campus down to Galway Bay on these paths. It’s fantastic! Truly.

Plus, if it rains (it will) there are plenty of trees to duck under for a little protection.

Along the way, you’ll be able to see evidence of the fishery system – past and present.

Random fact: the city can let 1 million gallons of water through that dam (below) in 4 seconds!

Be sure and visit the teeny, tiny Fishery Watchtower Museum. Your dining room might be bigger than this museum, but it’s probably not as tall. The watchtower was an actual place from where officials kept track of the salmon count in the river and of any illegal fishing activity.

The museum is free to enter no matter how many questions you ask the staff. I asked a lot! They were so helpful.

Also along the River Corrib Trail you will see poetry plaques such as this one…

The poetry plaques were erected by the Galway Civic Trust and the poems all refer to Galway and its waterways.


City Museum

The free museums in Ireland are really top-notch and Galway City Museum is no exception.

The museum does a fantastic job of explaining the history of the Galway area – including the significance of the Galway Hooker. Much to Handy Husband’s disappointment, we raced through all of those parts and made our way to the hands-on Sea Science section.

Science for the win! But in all reality, our museum visits go much better when I don’t have to say “DON’T TOUCH” 50 gazillion times.

Also, there are decent bathrooms in the museum that don’t cost 20 cents to use. Knowing where free bathrooms are in a new city is super important! I don’t want anyone to have a situation!

(image)


Spanish Arch

The Spanish Arch, one of 4 built in 1584, is right outside of the Galway City Museum.

All you’re going to do is walk through it, maybe do a little parkour if your parents aren’t watching.

It takes 4 seconds.

There is history and significance to the arch though and you can read more about it here.


Latin Quarter and City Centre

I’m not exactly sure where the Latin Quarter ends and the rest of the City Centre begins in Galway. I’m not even sure why it is called the Latin Quarter. Clearly, my knowledge base has limits.

Regardless, there is plenty for the eye to take in while visiting Galway.

There are a ton of shops (department stores and speciality shops) and restaurants (pretty much any type of cuisine you can imagine) in this area, which is mainly a car-free zone.

And tourists too. So. Many. Tourists. In. August.

When it rains, they will scatter…usually into a pub.

Our favorite restaurant was the Pie Maker.

We ordered our savory pies for takeaway since the restaurant has approximately 2.5 tables. Be sure and check out the copper ceiling…it took 60 hours to install.

If your kids don’t like savory pies, I can pretty much guarantee they will enjoy the apple pies!

There are also all sorts of fun alleys and side streets to walk down in Galway’s City Centre.

I usually tell the kids we are taking a shortcut when I spy an interesting looking side street/alley/crack between the buildings.

Sometimes that ends up being true…


Walking and the Salthill Promenade

Galway is a walking city. Be prepared to lace up your shoes and hit the sidewalks and promenades.

Try to wait until the weather is ‘nice’ though. Walking some of these stretches on a oh no we are going to blow away blustery day isn’t quite as enjoyable.

If you walk down the Salthill Promenade, there is a small amusement park and an aquarium. We did not visit this aquarium because while it received great reviews, we’ve visited a lot of amazing aquariums in the past couple of years. We were on the hunt for something different.

At the very end of the Salthill Promenade there is a diving board. Even on a “cold for everyone else, but warm for Ireland day” there will be people diving off the board into the bay.

I think my kids would have done this. Me? No. Way. No way. Brrr.

(image via Irish Times by Andy Newman)


River Cruise

If you need some time to CHILL and would like to see some scenery too, then I’d highly recommend the Princess Corrib cruise up the River Corrib.

You can sit inside or outside on this boat, so weather should not be an excuse for skipping this excursion.

The peaceful cruise is narrated by the captain (who was driving the boat in his stocking feet), so you can’t help but learn a few things along the way. About the river, not the captain’s feet.

One of the things you will see on the cruise is Menlo Castle.

It has quite the story behind it involving a fire and a missing body.

I was just blown away by how beautiful ivy looks on an abandoned castle.


OTHER HANDY TIPS

Luggage Storage: If you need a place to store suitcases, there are lockers at the train station. However, we used the ‘Left Luggage Facility‘ at Big-O Taxis. It’s right around the corner from the train station and across the street from Eyre Square.

Hop On, Hop Off Bus: We hopped on this bus tour when we first arrived. It was a spontaneous decision and it was SO helpful in getting our bearings on where everything was in Galway.

Train Tickets: If you are traveling with kids, make sure you buy (or at least price out) a family ticket on the Irish Rail site. Sometimes that option takes a little more searching, but it does exist

Food on the Train: These longer train rides do serve sandwiches and snacks from a food trolley. They aren’t the greatest or the most affordable. Dublin’s Heuston Station has great options for buying sandwiches, salads, sushi, etc. to take on the train. The train station in Galway does not, but there is a Starbucks. I’d recommend buying food from Marks and Spencer, Tesco or Dunnes before boarding the train in Galway for the return trip to Dublin.

We definitely enjoyed our visit to Galway! I’m going to follow up this post with another one about our excursion to the Cliffs of Moher, which might be my new happy place.

If you have any questions about Galway, please don’t hesitate to ask. I can’t promise the answers you are looking for, but I’ll do my best!

Living in Ireland: Back After a Month in the U.S.

It’s flat out STRANGE to visit the United States after living in Ireland for a year.

I tried to put my finger on why exactly.

In part, I think it’s because I’ve changed. Evolved, shall we say? How could you not after moving to a foreign country?

But when I went ‘home’ I realized how much HADN’T changed. There is something comforting in that though.

I also realized that I’d gotten used to being slightly uncomfortable ALL. THE. TIME. while in Ireland.

You can try to look and act local in the face of constant new experiences, but as soon as you open your mouth you see a flicker of “you’re not from around here” pass across someone’s face.

This is especially funny when someone asks me for directions. I take it as a huge compliment that the poor soul assumes I’m a local. Fake it ’til you make it! But then I have to respond to their question and I can visibly see them trying to decide if I REALLY know what I’m talking about. Don’t worry. I mostly do.

When I’m in the United States, I’m not special at all.

Oh, we all know I’m SPECIAL, but what I really mean is I fit in. When I was back, I noticed I fit in, which is a weird thing to be acutely aware of.

That lady at Panera just assumed I’d been in her restaurant quite regularly because I was quick to order. I always get the same sandwich though.

The guy at the gas station just assumed I’d remember what zip code the credit card I hadn’t used in a year was attached to. I did…after a long, awkward pause and a quick prayer.

And the lady at the rental car company…well, let’s just say she should have asked me how long it’s been since I’ve USED my driver’s license, not if I have a valid one or not. Rest assured, I surprisingly remembered how to drive.

Our visit to the U.S. went by super quickly. I’m beyond grateful that I have this quirky blogging job that allows me to be home with the kids and gives me the freedom to work from anywhere. Even from a farm, 10 miles from civilization with slow-as-molasses internet. Talk about roughing it!

I was worried the kids would not want to return to Ireland. Not because they don’t like it here, but because it’s fun being with friends, cousins and grandparents. Thankfully, they were ready to go home. They missed daddy and all the things they normally play with.

Apparently, the neighbor’s cat missed them too. We call her Mittens. I’ve stopped wondering what her actual name is.

(In case you are wondering what my daughter is doing in inside-out pajamas, she is painting her LPS to look like Warrior Cats from her favorite book series. It’s a messy activity best done outside.)

I was a little concerned the kids were having a hard time adjusting when they announced they were going outside to play ‘cold weather survival.’

It was 62 degrees Fahrenheit.

Definitely not my idea of summer temps, I’ll grant them that.

We also needed to stock up on food because Handy Husband’s idea of stocking the refrigerator does not include food things like fruits and vegetables.

I’m teaching the kids how to ring up the groceries because I have dreams of one day just giving them a list and sending them to the store. These are important help your mama life skills.

Now, folks. Jet lag is real and it can whoop your behind. This happened to me the last time we did the 8-hour time change.

I’ve figured out what works for me though. The magic formula is to stay up all day and then sleep for 14 hours straight.

I kid you not, it works every time!

Handy Husband’s idea of overcoming jet lag is to go for a 4-mile hike the day after we land.

He’s so helpful.

I told him the 14 hours of sleep had me feeling pretty good, but no, no.

A hiking we did go!

We did get to see some awesome views of this lighthouse though.

Meanwhile, can you spot which kid and husband are mine?

Finally, we eased back into Irish life by going for a bike ride and discovering my favorite thing of all time a carnival.

This is what happens when I let the kids ride ahead of me.

But!

Here’s the good news. I think.

My boy, who has a healthy fear of these death traps, decided to get on that big sky swing.

If he showed even the slightest sign of being scared, I was prepared to go all mama bear on the entire carnival to shut that ride down, but my concerns were not warranted.

He had a fantastic time. Funny how you blink and they’ve done some growing up on you.

All in all, I’m so glad we had the opportunity to spend time in the U.S. this summer.

The place of your birth has a strange tug on your heartstrings. I realized this when I got teary-eyed listening to the national anthem being sung at a rodeo. Legit tears in my eyes, people.

Someday I’ll be back, but until then I’m happy to be home in my own bed in Ireland.

 

Always Take The Trip

I read an article recently where the author shares the best parenting advice she ever received was to “always take the trip.”

Here’s an excerpt from Annie Reneau’s article:

“My friend Kelly has three stellar kids who are a bit older than my own three. I consider her and her husband to be model parents, so one day I asked her for her best piece of parenting advice. I thought she’d say something about love or discipline or consistency, so her answer took me by surprise.

Always take the trip,” she said. “When you question whether or not you should go on the vacation, just do it. Spend the money. Take the time. You only have a limited number of years together as a family before your kids get busy with lives of their own, and building memories and having new experiences together are things you’ll never regret.”

I took that advice to heart. And now, when I think back on my 16 years of parenting so far, the times we’ve traveled as a family stand out the most. It’s not just about “being on vacation,” but about the various positive ways travel affects us, both individually and as a family unit.”

Yess-ity, yes, yes, YES!

I never received this advice, but I have to agree with the thought process.

In large part, it’s why we decided to move to Ireland when given the opportunity.

For our family, travel means time for bonding and shared experiences. Travel means exposing all of us to cultures, experiences and ways of life that we might not otherwise see in our day-to-day routines. Travel means broadening our world view and gaining understanding of how interconnected our world is. With travel comes empathy, resilience, flexibility, confidence and fun.

I don’t always equate travel with vacation – especially with young kids in tow. But, I think we’re reaching that point. I hope. HA!

Let’s talk reality though.

Travel might seem impossible for some given life stage, finances, circumstances, etc. We’re all adults here with real responsibilities and sometimes that sucks.

I remember just starting out in life and not having two nickels to our name. Or not having paid vacation time.

I remember being a kid and hardly ever taking a trip because someone had to milk the cow(s) and feed ALL the livestock and how do you find a house sitter to do that? I’m sure finances played a role too, but let me assure you, farm life is not for those with wanderlust in their souls.

It seems to me the SPIRIT of ‘always take the trip’ does not mean you have to spend your life savings and a year traveling the world. A big chunk of people don’t have money saved for even a small emergency, let alone a trip.

Here are some alternatives to spending thousands of dollars that I think help achieve or start you down the path of achieving what the spirit of “always take the trip” means. Mainly these alternatives are through the lens of cultural experiences, as that’s what we are currently most interested in with our two kids.

  • Day trips to a place new to you – city, park, tourist attraction, etc.
  • Hike and picnic in a park or national forest.
  • Go to a festival or fair.
  • Visit a museum. Many museums off free or reduced rates on special days during the summer. Reciprocity membership agreements between museums can be a fantastic way to save money too.
  • Watch a travel show together to learn about different parts of the world.
  • Go to the library and check out books on different countries.
  • Practice charting routes on a map. Google Maps is great, but there’s something special about unfolding a paper map. How many different ways can you get to a dream destination? How long will it take? What can you see along the way?
  • Spend a night or weekend camping. Or sleep under the stars in your backyard.
  • If camping isn’t your thing, try house swapping for the weekend. Here are some tips on this practice by Rick Steves.

  • Start learning a new language. Listening to music in a foreign language can be a fun way to learn too.
  • Try cooking food from different regions of the world  – maybe corresponding with those books you checked out from the library.
  • Visit a church different from your own religion.
  • Host a foreign exchange student.
  • If you don’t normally take public transportation – try it! Try taking a bus or train and let your kids help figure out schedules and tickets.
  • Spend an afternoon volunteering as a family. Volunteer Match is a site that helps you find volunteer opportunities tailored for particular age groups: kids, teens, etc.
  • Start a family saving jar where you can put money aside for a trip.


Bottom line? Whether you are in staycation mode or vacation mode, you won’t regret the times you unplugged and spent time with your kids.

If you have more ideas to add to my list, please let me know! I’d be so happy to hear how you spend time with your kids in the spirit of “always take the trip.”

That Time I Was SURE I Was Going to See a Unicorn

Most of us are never far from a camera. It is 2017 after all.

We can document the fantastic and the mundane all we want. I can’t tell you how many pictures I have of the inside of my children’s noses just because they used my camera phone for 4.7 seconds while I wasn’t looking. I especially love the videos they make of their noses when they think they are taking a picture.

Don’t worry. I won’t show you pictures of that. How about a nice sunset instead?

Ahhh….


Here’s a story of a recent time I wished I had a camera, but didn’t. THE HORROR!!!

Over Easter we visited family in Florida for what can only be described as an epic week of fun and relaxation. We rented paddle boards to use in the early mornings while the ocean was as clear and calm as glass. We also used them when the water wasn’t clear and calm as glass. You can imagine how that worked out.

Wet. Very, very wet.

We didn’t have fancy dry bags with us to protect our phones – clearly a necessity. Time on the water was just that – time to enjoy, truly enjoy, being on the water. Emphasis being ON the water, not IN the water. If we were lucky.

The first morning out, Handy Husband and I were paddling up the coastline just inside the swim bouys and I thought I saw a fin. EEK!

Turns out, I saw TWO fins. DOUBLE EEK!!

Thankfully, they weren’t shark fins. Were you worried?

They were dolphin fins.

The dolphins were taking a leisurely swim up the coast. So leisurely that Handy Husband and I were able to catch up to them and follow their journey for about 15 minutes. They’d dive under the water and several seconds later surface. Each time we could hear them blowing the air out of their blowholes.

At one point, as the dolphins started to swim farther out to sea, we passed them and they were probably 8 feet from our boards.

SO CRAZY CLOSE!


We weren’t trying to get that close. It was just hard to keep track of the dolphins when they went underwater. I have no doubt they knew where we were, but they didn’t seem particularly concerned with us.

Pretty much that entire 15 minutes I kept saying out loud, “I can’t believe this. This is amazing. I can’t believe this. This is AMAZING!!!!!!”

Except I was yelling it so that Handy Husband could hear me over the roar of the ocean. He just kept nodding, like “Yeah, I get it, I get it. You can calm down now.” AS IF!

I’m not easily impressed anymore. Perhaps I’m even a bit jaded, but this experience…words – even those shouted across an ocean – don’t do it justice.

The next morning I practically poured the coffee down Handy Husband’s throat to hurry him out the door to the beach. I was pretty sure our next paddle session would be a bit of a letdown compared to yesterday’s, but I had to get out there to see what the ocean had in store for us.

HAD. TO.

I was hauling my board toward the again calm water when a couple walked past me and said, “There’s a manatee out there, if you hurry, you can catch up to it.”

SAY WHAT????

No. Way. No WAY. No way!

Basically, there’s no way this was happening again and no way I was going to a) catch up to a manatee and b) find a manatee in this big, vast ocean.

But, people, that’s exactly what happened. Honestly, it was even cooler than seeing the dolphins. And we all know how I freaked out over the dolphins!

We caught up to the manatee, which was also taking its sweet time swimming up the coast. It would surface and dive similar to how the dolphins did. We paddled behind it for awhile and then we lost it. It was gone.

Just after I was sure that was the last I’d seen of my new friend, the manatee, I paddled over a really long, wide, dark shape.

HOLY SEA COW!!!!!!!

Yep. I paddled right over the manatee. There aren’t enough exclamation points!!!!!!

I almost peed my swimsuit.

Then, the manatee surfaced literally 3 feet behind my board. I could see its whiskers!

I didn’t know what to do. I’m yelling at Handy Husband to make sure he’s seeing this. He is, but what can he do? Nothing. Nothing but watch the spectacle unfold.

The manatee went under the water again and I was so scared it was going to come up under my board, that I dropped down to my knees to hold on. That probably wouldn’t have helped, but it seemed prudent at the time.

Manatees are gentle, plant-eating creatures, but I’m confident I don’t want to fall on top of one in the wide open ocean. I don’t even like it when seaweed touches my leg.

After a few seconds of “WOAH, WHAT’S GOING TO HAPPEN” the manatee surfaced far enough away from me that I felt comfortable getting back up and resuming my paddling.

I think the manatee and I made a connection after that encounter. A bond, if you will.

As if saying so long suckers goodbye, the manatee surfaced one more time within a paddle’s distance of my board, causing me to freak out again, before disappearing into the ocean and swimming away.

At this point, we were a 30-minute paddle away from our beach house and I rode that adrenaline high all the way home.

And for the second time in two days, I returned to the house yelling “BEST DAY EVER” to all of the groggy-eyed adults and kids present. I think they secretly liked it when I woke them up this way. We all love smug exercise people before we’ve had our morning coffee, don’t we???

Did I wish I had a camera with me both days? Oh, you bet I did. I was so glad Handy Husband was with me. No one would have believed me otherwise that we had two incredible encounters in two days with sea creatures. Plus, I really wanted to share the experience with my kids! Now all I can say was, “you had to be there” and “the early bird gets to see dolphins” and “Na-nana-naa-nah!” and other annoying things like that.

On the third day out, I was pretty sure the only thing left to see was a unicorn. I’d already been incredibly lucky right? How much luckier could one person get? Unicorn lucky.

But, alas, my luck had run out. For the remainder of our trip there were no unicorns, no dolphins, no sharks, no turtles, no manatees. We didn’t even see a fish! And I thought to myself every darn day, “Why do people paddle board? My arms are ACHING! This is hard!” Oh, right…Mother Nature…gorgeous views…be happy enjoying the great outdoors…good workout. Sure, sure. But I wanted to paddle with the dolphins and the manatees! I hadn’t seen a unicorn yet!  *insert a toddler-sized foot stomp here* 

I’ve had time to reflect on this whole paddle boarding experience. It’s an interesting metaphor for marriage. Didn’t know I was going there? Me either when I started writing this post.

Hear me out. The totality of this paddle boarding experience, much like a healthy marriage, was not perfect, but it is something you’d never want to miss out on.

Of all the people on the planet, I was out there with the one person I’d chosen to spend my life with. The one person I continue to choose and who chooses me back. Sometimes it’s exciting and sometimes it’s routine. Sometimes it’s hard work and the wind is blowing against us. Sometimes disaster strikes and we have to figure out how to survive. Sometimes we’re giddy with excitement because we can’t believe THAT just happened.

Even if I could document the experience with a camera, it would never capture the whole story. That’s why comparing our lives to someone else’s is just silly. I can tell you about it, and you can probably relate, but you won’t ever really get it. Because it’s unique to us. You weren’t there. And every day, without any guarantees of what lies in store, we choose to get up and do it again.

I know I am incredibly lucky and blessed. I daresay, unicorn lucky. More and more, I realize it is not stuff or status or the trappings that matter. It is the moments, the experiences, the relationships that I value the most and that make me the happiest.

Travel: Belfast with Kids

When we were considering a move to Ireland last year, we took a bus tour through Northern Ireland. Our bus stopped in Belfast for approximately one hour. Long enough to grab a sandwich, but not much else.

Earlier this month we took a long weekend and headed north to spend more time in Belfast.

GETTING THERE FROM DUBLIN:

It is approximately a 2-hour train ride from Dublin’s Connolly Station to Belfast Central Station. I recommend booking your tickets in advance if you are traveling with a group. This just saves you the headache of finding a seat all together. Plus, the kids get to see their names above their seat (that’s how you know it’s reserved).


These type of trains have a food trolley, a bathroom and outlets to charge iPads. In other words, my kids have no reason to ever leave… or look up when mom wants to take a picture.

You can also take a bus from the Dublin airport to Belfast. Buses leave regularly outside of the arrivals terminal and you can buy a ticket when you arrive.

WHERE WE STAYED:

We stayed at the Radisson Blu in the Gasworks District. We didn’t have a particular reason for choosing this hotel other than we had points to apply to the stay, breakfast was included in our rate and we could walk to the hotel from the train station.

This is the view in front of the hotel:


What was great about the Radisson Blu for kids? Well, let me tell you. The kids got a welcome packet when they arrived with “jellies.” Jellies are gummy bears or fruit snacks. The packet also included an activity book and a scavenger hunt. Their favorite part of the packet was the vouchers they could use in the bar to buy popcorn and hot chocolate.

Yes, kids are allowed in bars in Ireland and Northern Ireland. Hotel bars are pretty tame by bar standards though. In this case, you have to walk through the bar to get to the breakfast area.

This was the first time my kids spent “money” by themselves at a bar/restaurant. They did not want me to go with them, so I watched from the lobby. It took an extra long time because 1) my kids are shorter than the bar and 2) the bartender thought the kids were with the other patrons who were ordering drinks.

But they accomplished their mission and were completely tickled with themselves. It was a good life lesson for them in being polite, how to order food, waiting patiently, etc.

And no one seemed to find it strange that the kids were alone. In the bar.

When in Northern Ireland, I guess…

As for a negative, the hotel restaurant had good food, but the service was slow. They seemed either unorganized or understaffed the night we ate in. Also, if you want to stay in the heart of downtown Belfast where a large number of restaurants and shops are steps away, this hotel’s location is not going to be as ideal for you.

NOTE ABOUT CURRENCY:

The Republic of Ireland (Dublin, Cork, Limerick, Galway, etc.) uses the euro. Northern Ireland is part of the United Kingdom, which includes Great Britain, Scotland and Wales. The  currency in the U.K. is the pound.

EXCEPT. In Northern Ireland, banks can print their own bills. So, there might be 6 different 5 pound notes in circulation. Different colors, different sizes. It’s confusing. All of the pound notes from all of those different banks are accepted at retailers, attractions and restaurants in Northern Ireland.

The only caveat is if you go back to London. Only the Bank of England notes are accepted there. You can’t use money you got from an ATM in Belfast back in London. But you can use the money from an ATM in London in Belfast. Like I said, confusing.

Many attractions will quote you prices in pounds and euros. Also, some places will accept euros, but will give you back change in pounds.

Here’s more about that situation.

WHAT WE DID:

Remember, this is a post mainly about traveling with kids, so keep that in mind. 


W5 

W5 is an interactive discovery centre or as I like to call it, a hands-on science museum for kids. The W5 stands for who, what, when, where and why. Clever, right?

The museum features a really cool climbing attraction – a sort of 3-D climbing sculpture. This was my 9-year-old daughter’s favorite part.

There are hands-on learning stations on different levels of the museum with a big emphasis on architecture and motion.

We built cars that moved, we built forts and buildings with blocks, we learned how to fly a plane in a simulator and so on.

There is a cafe in the museum, but you can exit the museum and reenter during your visit. The museum is located inside a mall-like space called Odyssey Pavilion. I don’t remember any shops, but it had several restaurants and a movie theater. It was nice to be able to leave our coats and backpacks tucked away in a locker in the museum while we went to lunch.

Considering we spent close to 6 hours at W5 (I know, CRAZY) , we feel we really got our money’s worth out of our less than €36 family admission fee. I would recommend starting your visit as soon as the museum opens to avoid crowds and school groups.

W5 Website


Titanic Belfast

Visiting the Titanic museum is reason alone to go to Belfast – even if you don’t have kids.

(You’d probably get more out of it if you didn’t have kids in tow, frankly. Or that could just be my experience with 6 and 9-year-olds. I’m sure yours stop and patiently read every display.)

Titanic Belfast is broken into 3 visitor experiences:

1) The Titanic Belfast museum experience: Walk through displays covering the building of the ship, what the ship looked like, what went wrong and the search for the sunken ship. This includes an amusement park ride (it’s not fast or scary), which was my children’s favorite part.

While the museum is fairly interactive, to get the most out of the museum experience, you have to be willing to stop and READ. That part tested the limits of my 6-year-old’s attention span, but the rest of us really, really enjoyed it.

This video will give you the best overview of what’s there. (Hopefully the link works.)

2) SS Nomadic: The SS Nomadic was, among other things, the Titanic’s tender. The vessel has been preserved and sits in dry dock next to the Titanic Belfast museum.


Touring the Nomadic was quite interactive for my kids. In other words, there were plenty of things they could touch! The self-guided tour illuminates the experience you would have received 100 years ago on board the Nomadic while being ferried to the Titanic.

You’ll also have the opportunity to learn about the work the ship performed in the decades after the Titanic sank.

3) Guided Discovery Tour: This is a one-hour guided walking tour (much of it is outside). You’ll learn about the drawing offices where the plans for the Titanic were designed. You’ll also learn about the hidden meanings and metaphors behind the museum’s design. The thought and care that went into constructing this museum – not just as a tourist attraction, but as a memorial – was astonishing.  My kids were fairly attentive for 3/4 of the guided tour – mainly because they got to wear headphones.

If you want to do the Discovery Tour, you need to book your tickets in advance. We purchased a combo pack that included all three experiences. It included 2 souvenir photos and an activity packet for the kids. Considering those souvenir photos were the first family photos we’ve had taken in a long time, it was totally worth it. Cheesy, but worth it.

If your kids are toddlers, I’d wait before spending money on the Titanic Belfast. They (and you) will get so much more out of it if they are just a little bit older.

We ate in one of the museum’s cafes and had a great meal. The Belfast Baking Company is right across from the museum (really good scones, by the way) or you can walk over to the W5 building to eat in a restaurant there.

Titanic Belfast website


River Lagan Towpath (Walkway)

If you’d like to walk along the River Lagan, there is fantastic paved trail through the heart of Belfast. You can walk from the Botanical Gardens to the Titanic Museum and beyond. Bridges cross over the river at several points to get you back and forth to various tourist attractions.

Depending on when you’re out walking, you might see something like this:


Ulster Museum and Botanical Gardens

We walked through the botanical gardens, but it was raining and February, so we did not get the  full experience. We also did not go inside the Palm House, which is part of the gardens. Mainly, we were on a mission to get to the Ulster Museum.

The Ulster Museum is free. They ask for a donation, which we were happy to give because it was truly a great museum – especially for a free one.

The museum offers a little bit of everything: natural history, art, science, geology, animals, native people and history.
My kids had fun exploring the exhibits, touching animal pelts, looking at rocks, trying on masks and more.
I had a teary-eyed moment reading about The Troubles. That is what Northern Ireland refers to as the 30-year period of conflict beginning in 1968. There was so much tragedy. So much loss.

I was in my early 20s when the peace accord was reached. All I really remember were the bombings all over Belfast. I didn’t understand why people were driven to do what they did.

Understanding the “why” is important in preventing such unrest from happening again or something like it from happening elsewhere. Ulster Museum helped me understand the “why” and refreshed my memory on the facts as they happened chronologically.

My kids didn’t fully understand this part of the museum and for now I’m okay with that. Let them be little.


Victoria Square

If you like to shop, Victoria Square is a good place to visit. It’s mainly indoor with an outdoor vibe. We popped in there to pick up a cord from the Apple Store. The mall has sit down and fast-food restaurants if you need sustenance. I’m not going to say the restaurants are all authentic – there is a TGIFridays after all. Crazy, I know. No, we did not go there.

You can also take tours of the glass dome, which shows off views of the city.

Learn more.


The Big Fish Sculpture

Along the River Lagan is The Big Fish, which was commissioned in 1999 to commemorate the regeneration of the River Lagan. The skin of the fish is made out of ceramic tiles, which show historic images of Belfast. The sculpture is approximately 30-feet long, so it makes for quite the photo opportunity!
I still don’t know why she wanted to kiss the fish. My kids have very robust immune systems.

Learn more about the fish.


Beacon of Hope Sculpture

Also along the River Lagan is the almost 60-foot tall Beacon of Hope Sculpture. It was built in 2007 and the lady in the sculpture stands on a globe representing peace, harmony and thanksgiving.

The sculpture’s artist, Andy Scott, said of the sculpture, “I hope that the figure is adopted by the people of Belfast as a symbol of peace and reconciliation, and as a shining beacon of modernity and progress.”

Learn more.


We had 2 1/2 days to spend in Belfast. It really was not long enough – especially since we spent most of our time at W5 and Titanic Belfast. We barely scratched the surface on things to do and explore in the area, so we’d love to go back!

I am happy to have had a second chance to explore this city and highly recommend you include it on your Travel Bucket List.

To learn more about things to do in Belfast, click here.

A Day in Malmö, Sweden with Kids

During our New Year’s trip to Copenhagen, Denmark, we were able to spend a day in Malmö, Sweden.

Being able to easily visit two countries in one trip is still a novelty for us and we were thrilled for the opportunity.

Getting There

Conveniently, Malmö is only a 20-minute train ride from the Copenhagen Airport.

If you’ve been traveling around Copenhagen on the Copenhagen Card, you will need to purchase a separate ticket to Malmö at a kiosk in the airport. Kids go free. Keep your Copenhagen Card with you though because on the return trip, you’ll likely need to show both tickets.

When you board the train to Malmö, there is a quick identification check as you enter the train platform, but you won’t get a passport stamp. Oh, well. They also did not want to see the kids’ passports when we were there, but better safe than sorry.


Getting Around

Don’t worry about needing a car. Malmö is completely walkable – especially if you are only there for a day.

If you’re traveling with bikes or a stroller/pram, you’ll find navigating the streets and public transportation with those items convenient as well. I mean, as convenient as lugging around that stuff can be!

By the way, I have no idea what’s going on in the below picture, but my blonde-haired, blue-eyed girl fits in nicely in Sweden, don’t you think? She is of Swedish descent.

I take her pose to mean walking in the freezing cold is loads of fun!

Museums To See

Malmo Museum and Castle (Malmö Museer)

This is a little confusing, so go along with me. On the grounds of Malmö Castle is a natural history museum, an art museum and an aquarium. Across the street from the castle grounds is the science and maritime museum. One entrance fee covered both museums and I think it was 4 bucks/euros per adult and kids were free. Such a good deal.

The aquarium is all indoors and I found it very well done for a smaller aquarium. There is plenty for the kids to see, learn about and engage with.

Like being eaten alive by a shark…

I don’t know where they get their dramatic flair.


The art portion of the museum with it’s paintings and antique furniture was good exposure for my kids (ages 6 and 9), but not their favorite. Just keeping it real.

The natural history portion of the museum was more up their alley…not quite as interactive as the aquarium, but plenty for them to learn about and nothing they could hurt.

The below exhibit pretty much made me fall in love with Sweden. I was ready to pack up everything and move right then and there. Anybody have a job for us?


The museum’s cafe had my children’s favorite kids’ meal of all time. Pancakes for lunch!


My husband had Swedish meatballs and I had some sort of sandwich. I’m not sure what it actually was, to be honest, but it was delicious.

The museum’s cafe was the one time when I felt our lack of language experience really failed us. On the other hand, it showed us how kind the Swedish people are to foreigners.

The cafe’s menu was in English and Swedish, but they called out the completed order numbers in Swedish. The cafe was quite packed that day and I quickly realized I didn’t know how to say “28” in Swedish. We were in trouble. My husband was frantically googling how to say “28” in Swedish, so we’d know what to listen for. Google’s robot’s voice was slightly helpful, but definitely not the same as hearing a 19-year-old waitress shouting out a number in a very noisy cafe. Finally, I said to myself, ‘This is dumb and we are going to starve.” I can be quite melodramatic when I’m hungry. I asked the elderly gentleman who had taken a seat at our table  with his wife if he spoke English. He did – quite well. I explained our predicament and he graciously told me he would let me know when our order was ready.

Bless him.

The man’s wife sat next to me and she was clearly blind or near-blind. The gentleman cut up his wife’s food into bite-sized pieces so if would be easier for her to eat. Then at the end of the meal when her plate was almost clean, he fed her the last few bites that she wasn’t able to see to get on her own fork. I have no idea what they said to each other that entire meal, but they carried on a lively conversation. They could have been talking about the dumb Americans next to them for all I knew! It didn’t matter though because I was almost moved to tears witnessing his adoration of this woman and his absolute compassion and respect for her. Talk about relationship goals. Wow.


The Science and Maritime House (Teknikens och Sjöfartens hus)

When you leave the castle grounds, you’ll cross over the moat and walk just a little way down the street to enter The Science and Maritime House. One entrance fee pays for both the castle and the science house, so don’t lose your “I paid” sticker like my husband did. I think they are used to husbands losing these stickers, so they gave him another one.

This museum was my kids’ favorite part of the whole trip. In fact, just yesterday, they asked if we could go back there. As if going to Sweden is no big deal.

Inside the museum they could partake in science experiments like powering lights with a bicycle.


They could climb inside a train, a boat, a fire engine and an actual WWII submarine.

This submarine was one of nine built in the middle of WWII that were small in scale and of full Swedish design.


It was a tight squeeze for the adults, but we made it through the submarine too. I swear I hit my head and bruised my knees climbing through this hatch. Then I turned around and took Handy Husband’s picture. He smiled like it’s no big deal, but I’m pretty sure he hit his head too.

I can’t even imagine living in this small space for days on end. I’d need a few throw pillows or something.


My kids learned some Swedish words while inside the submarine.

Can you see which one caught their eye?

I can’t even tell you how proud I am…

Then we went downstairs in the museum to see all of the motor vehicles on display.

Yes, my life flashed forward 10 years when I saw my kids in the van. Right after I snapped this picture they threw me the peace sign and then invited a whole group of kids in to party play.


The below picture is pretty epic.

Remind me to never get this child a motorcycle.


My kids’ favorite part of the museum though was the indoor playground for the 10 and under crowd.

There’s nothing like hearing your kids yell out from the top of the replica wooden ship “the Vikings are coming, the Vikings are coming” to a room full of Swedes.

The little kids my children were playing with had not learned English yet, but little details like language don’t seem to matter when you can run, jump and climb to your heart’s content.

It’s these type of travel experiences that we really value our children having while they are forming opinions and beliefs about the world. I hope when they are adults facing adversity, they can look back and remember a time when they found common ground with people with different languages, backgrounds, beliefs and cultural values.

Museum Etiquette

I mention museum etiquette only because there’s one quirk about the museums in Malmö that  is not something I’ve commonly experienced in the United States, the United Kingdom, Germany or Ireland. When you are traveling, sometimes just being prepared for the little things can make or break your experience. So, here’s a little thing!

When we arrived at the castle, we were told coats and backpacks were not allowed in the museum. We had to put everything in a locker, which was fine. The museum cashier loaned me a coin to use to release the locker’s key since we had not gotten any cash for this trip. We had Danish kroner, but not Swedish. Yes, they are different.

If one of these policies is mentioned to you, inquire whether you need to put a placeholder coin in the lock to release the key.

At the science and maritime house, we did end up carrying one of our backpacks with our valuables, but that was only because all of the lockers were full. They had huge coat racks set up at the entrance where everyone stowed their outerwear. Everything, including our snack bag, was right where we left it when we returned!

Some of the museums in Denmark had similar policies, as well.

Parks and Outdoor Art

Malmö is full of parks! I wish we had visited in the summer so we could thoroughly enjoy the parks in this city – especially the ones along the ocean.

Kungsparken is located next to Malmö Castle. It was full of walking trails and gardens. We found the Castle Mill, also known as the Slottsmöllan.


Near Malmö Live, a concert hall and event center, is a brand new art installation.

It’s called Passage by Maha Mustafa. Learn more about her sculptures and art installations here.

It was quite striking to see Passage in person and it made for a good photo opp!

Overall Impressions

Malmö is a city we’d like to return to and visit during the summer months. It was an interesting mix of old and new in terms of architecture, but the overall vibe seemed young. That makes sense partly because we were surrounded by kids all. day. long, but also because almost half of the area’s population is under the age of 35.

With only a day, we barely scratched the surface of exploring this town, so this is by no means a comprehensive review. For our kids, we crammed just the right amount into our 7 hours. They were happy and tired by the time we boarded the train back to Copenhagen. As parents traveling with kids, you have to know when less is more. We hit the sweet spot and would love the opportunity to go back and explore more of the area and the rest of Sweden too.


P.S. We travelled to Sweden in January 2017, be sure and double check all information before your visit as things change and experiences differ. Learn more at VisitSweden.com.

Travel: Copenhagen, Denmark With Kids

One of our goals when we moved to Ireland was to use our time here to explore as much of Europe as possible.

We were able to visit two countries during the holidays: Denmark and Sweden.

Since we spent the bulk of our time in the Copenhagen area, that will be the focus of this post.

GETTING THERE

Thus far, we’ve had good experiences finding relatively inexpensive airfare on the budget airline, Ryan Air. All 4 of us were able to fly round trip between Dublin and Copenhagen for less than what we have been used to paying for one roundtrip ticket on most any of our travels in the continental U.S. Airfare is so much more affordable in Europe for some reason.

It’s fairly common in Europe to board the plane on the tarmac – from the front and the back. It does make boarding and deplaning much quicker, but it can be a little chilly in the winter!

Off we go!


This isn’t our plane, of course, but this is the view when flying into Copenhagen on a grey, winter day. We found the immigration screening process to be quick and public transportation out of the airport, at least the trains, were easy to find and use.

There are kiosks at the airport for buying train tickets for travel around Copenhagen. There are separate kiosks for buying train tickets to Sweden. Everything is clearly marked in English.


We arrived in Copenhagen around 8 p.m. on New Year’s Eve. Denmark loves to celebrate New Year’s Eve with fireworks. I don’t know when they started, but I can definitely say fireworks were going off all around the city between 8 p.m. and 1 a.m. I fell asleep after that! It was a special way to start our visit to this amazing country.


PLACES TO VISIT IN and AROUND COPENHAGEN WITH KIDS

National Aquarium Denmark 

This was one of the best aquariums we’ve ever visited. Not quite as spectacular as the Georgia Aquarium in Atlanta, Georgia, but close.

We watched the sharks being fed, walked through an undersea tunnel, watched seal otters play in buckets of ice and got up close and personal with sea life in the touch tank.

As is typical of my children, their favorite part of the aquarium was the outdoor playground. Even though the water had been turned off to the playground for the winter and the temperature was 37F, that didn’t stop my kids from playing outside three different times.

And yes, he does have a coat. And gloves. And a hat. And a strong stubborn streak.

In regard to children’s meals in the cafe – fish and chips was the most kid-friendly option. They did have juice and chocolate milk. The chocolate milk came in a can, so that was a fun, new experience for my kids. And I told my son the fish was chicken. Everybody was happy.


Hans Christian Anderson Fairytale House

The famous author, Hans Christian Anderson, was from Denmark. Did you know that? He wrote some works that you may be very familiar with: The Little Mermaid and The Emperor’s New Clothes, among others.

In the fairytale house you can listen to condensed versions of Anderson’s most famous fairytales. The displays were mainly static with lights and sounds adding to the dramatic effect, but my kids seemed to enjoy it.

The below scene is from The Emperor’s New Clothes. Don’t worry…the buns were as risqué as it got and we all had a good chuckle over it. Especially me. We are that mature in this family.

You’ll spend less than an hour in this attraction. It is located across from City Hall and in the same building as the Ripley’s Believe It or Not attraction.

Guinness World Records

My kids are obsessed with the Guinness Book of World Records. They got the 2017 book detailing the most recent records for Christmas. When they realized there was a Guinness World Records attraction, well, there was no dissuading them from including this in our itinerary.

Honestly, I was prepared for a completely lame experience. I was pleasantly surprised to find I was wrong. (It does happen from time to time!) There were interactive activities for the kids and adults around every corner. We probably spent 90 minutes there – at least.

We did get the double admission ticket to the Guinness World Record attraction and The Mystic Exploratorie. The Mystic Exploratorie would be too scary for young children. It’s dark, creepy, a little disturbing and there are things that jump out and make scary noises. It’s also not something that I would pay admission for as a stand alone attraction. It’s a short and sweet thrill experience.

You should know that both of these attractions are affiliated with the Ripley’s Believe It or Not organization and you can buy a combo ticket to Ripley’s, Guinness, The Mystic Exploratorie and the Hans Christian Anderson Fairytale House.


Tycho Brahe Planetarium

If mom and dad need a nap break in the middle of the day, let me recommend a stop at the planetarium.

We watched a fascinating IMAX show about the planets. I only understood a dozen words during the entire show, since it was in Danish. Three quarters of those words were the names of the planets. Uranus is still a funny word – even with a Danish accent.

While you can purchase headphones that will translate the show into English for you, my kids didn’t seem to mind watching the show in Danish. My husband didn’t mind either because he was recharging with his eyes closed and missed most of the show.

There are also quite a few other science and space-related activities for the kids to enjoy before and after the IMAX show. We learned how much objects weigh on the different planets, we tried to launch a satellite and make it land in the correct spot and we got hands-on with other experiments too.

Maritime Museum of Denmark

The Maritime Museum of Denmark is one of the most gorgeous museums I’ve ever visited. It’s built into an old dry dock and the museum’s architecture in incredible.

However, this was more of a ‘stop and read about things’ museum instead of a ‘touch everything’ museum. The two things my kids (ages 6 and 9) really enjoyed were climbing on this upside down wooden boat…


…and drawing sailor tattoos on their arms.

Don’t worry. My son did not want the tattoo of the busty lady.

Neither did my daughter.


If you have older kids or kids who are really into maritime history, this is a museum to visit. If your kids do better in an environment where they can get hands-on with their learning, then skip this attraction.

The museum does have a cafe. The kid-friendly option on the menu is a fish cake served with a side of raw parsnips and cucumbers. One of my children had this meal. The other one ate a chocolate muffin and chocolate milk.

Just keeping it real…

Kronborg Castle

Seeing a castle while in Denmark is a must. There are a bunch of them. Kronborg Castle is right next to the Maritime Museum of Denmark and happens to be a UNESCO World Heritage Site because of its importance as a Renaissance castle in Northern Europe.

You can walk through the castle and see a little bit of what life might have been like several hundred years ago. You can also go underneath the castle into the casements…kind of like the castle version of a basement. It’s dark, creepy and awesome.

Krongborg Castle is also known as Hamlet’s Castle because it was, to quote Wikipedia “immortalized as Elsinore in William Shakespeare’s Hamlet.”


This is the view from the very top of the castle at the town of Helsingør. I wish we had had more time to explore this little town. We did stop in at the cafe at the base of the library to have hot chocolate for the kids and a latte for the parents, but I was ready to see more!

Unfortunately, our kids were tired, it was brutally cold and my son had tripped on some stone steps inside the castle, so we cut our losses and caught the train back to our hotel.


National Museum of Denmark

The National Museum of Denmark is the country’s cultural museum. The primary reason we visited the museum is that it has an entire section devoted just to kids.

My husband went off to explore the main part of the museum while I hung out with the kids in the Children’s Museum.

There was a full scale replica of a Viking ship. There was a section devoted to medieval history where the kids could dress up like knights, complete with wooden swords. There was also an old-fashioned school room from the 1940s where the kids could get hands-on with learning and playing. There was a room where the kids could sit down and color pictures then hang their artwork on the wall for everyone to admire.


The Children’s Museum also had an entire section devoted to Pakistani culture. I was surprised about this (in a pleasant way) and I asked one of the museum staff why Denmark’s cultural museum would devote such a large and permanent part of the museum to Pakistan. She told me, in perfect English, that they want all children who visit the museum to feel welcome and to learn about the world around them. I did a little Googling while my kids were playing and as of a few years ago, Pakistanis made of the 5th largest group of immigrants and descendants to Denmark.

The Children’s Museum was staffed with employees who engaged the kids with the different parts of the museum. They explained how a Pakistani market was run or how the Vikings sailed in rough seas. They also were around to make sure the kids didn’t get too rowdy with the wooden swords.

Keep in mind the child in front of the counter hasn’t learned English yet. My kids don’t speak Danish. They are playing in a Pakistani grocery store. And everyone had an amazing time. It is possible to overcome our differences, folks. Kids are proof of that.


Other Places to Visit

There are other kid-friendly places to visit that we did not get to because they were either closed for the season, the weather wasn’t conducive to the experience, or we just ran out of time.

Tivoli Gardens
Legoland Denmark
Copenhagen Zoo

For a full list, check out: VisitCopenhagen.com



SHOPPING, FOOD AND PLAYGROUNDS

We don’t typically go shopping, other than stopping in a souvenir shop, when we are traveling with kids, but sometimes we walk through shopping areas on the way to various attractions.

What I liked about Copenhagen is that we stumbled on multiple playgrounds scattered throughout the city during our explorations. Perhaps it was our good luck, but you need a bit of that when traveling with kids.

Below is the famous pedestrian street Strøget.


We did stop in at the Lego store on Strøget Street – mainly to look – because Legoland is closed during the winter.

This was a pretty underwhelming experience. I didn’t find it to be any more special than any other Lego store. We opted not to buy anything because we can find most of the Lego sets at home for less money. The store was also packed to the gills with shoppers. The security people were friendly though. Ha!


Every once in awhile I like to be the fun parent, so when I saw these chocolate covered waffles on a stick at a shop on Strøget Street, well, we had to stop.

See? I can be spontaneous!

My kids look so, so tired in this picture. I guess that’s what happens when you travel and then try and stay up late to celebrate New Year’s Eve. Sugar should fix that!

Also, I now need a waffle maker. And some melted chocolate. You can keep the sprinkles.

In general, we found food to be WAY more expensive in Denmark than what we are used to spending. Especially when it came to eating in restaurants. It was not unusual for us to spend 80 dollars/euros on lunch during this trip. And I’m not talking about a two martini lunch at a fancy restaurant either. I’m talking about kids meals and salads. That’s INSANE.

We found it was more affordable to buy prepackaged salads and sandwiches from grocery or convenience stores. 7/11 is super popular in Denmark. Yes, THAT 7/11, home of the slushy. But it’s not the convenience store like you are used to in the United States. They sell plenty of freshly made, healthy food in addition to chips and sodas. My kids are pretty content to eat peanut butter and jelly, so we also bought a loaf of bread at a grocery store and ate sandwiches a few nights. We are super glamorous that way.

If your hotel room rate includes a free breakfast, definitely consider that option. I know that by opting for the combo deal, we definitely saved money.

BIKES

Bikes in Copenhagen are everywhere. I can’t emphasize this enough. By and large, bike lanes are as wide as car lanes. It seemed like we saw more bikes crossing an intersection during rush hour than we did cars.

On pretty much every corner and outside every office building you could find bike racks packed with bikes.

This is a terrible photo showing how prominent bikes are, but I just liked all the bricks. The bikes are off to the side. Squint and you can see them.

If you’d like to try cycling while in Copenhagen, your hotel most likely offers bike rentals. Ours did and some of the bikes had child carriers attached. I’m not certain what the helmet laws are in Copenhagen, as I saw most people riding without helmets.

Often times I had to remind my kids that where they were walking was a bike lane, not a sidewalk, so they needed to be careful and watch out!


PUBLIC TRANSPORTATION

Transportation is always a concern when traveling to a foreign country. Copenhagen’s public transportation system was, by far, one of the nicest we’ve experienced so far.

Trains leave directly from the airport, which makes getting to your hotel a breeze.

This is Copenhagen Central Station, which is right across the street from Tivoli Gardens and near other attractions. Not all of the stations are this way, but this one had multiple fast food restaurants and coffee shops, including Starbucks. It also had an organic grocery store which was handy when we picked up dinner to eat back at the hotel.


My son is obsessed with trains and pretty much ALL of his 6-year-old dreams came true when we, by chance, got to ride on a double decker train.


There isn’t always a place to scan train tickets at the train station – especially if you are traveling on a tourist card – so be prepared for train employees to come around checking your ticket during your ride.

If you are traveling with a stroller or a bicycle, there are special spots in the train cars where you can park these bulky items.


THE “MUST HAVE” WHEN VISITING COPENHAGEN

The thing you MUST GET when visiting Copenhagen is the Copenhagen Card.


This card covers admission fees to over 70 attractions plus ALL of your public transportation in the greater Copenhagen area.

Plus, KIDS are FREE with the card. So, kids 12 and under get into attractions for free and ride on public transportation for free. This saved us so much money. I wish we had something like this in Dublin.

We were in Copenhagen for 5 days and purchased two 120-hour cards for our family of 4. Our total was approximately 225 euros, which is roughly the same in U.S. dollars. The only attraction we spent money on was the Guinness World Records place and we received a discount on that because we had the Copenhagen Card. Everything else I detailed above we did not pay extra for. For everything we did and the number of trains and buses we rode on, this was a heck of a good deal.

Just beware – we were not able to purchase this card at the airport because we arrived late in the day and the tourist office was closed. We ended up buying the Copenhagen Card the next day at the Central Train Station.

Learn more about the Copenhagen Card here.


We thoroughly enjoyed visiting Copenhagen. Even in the dead of winter the city was a vibrant place. Everyone we met spoke perfect English and it made getting around, ordering food, etc. much easier. We are so happy we rang in the New Year in Copenhagen and we would love to go back when it is a wee bit warmer.

If you’d like to see more photos, arguably better photos of our trip, check out my Instagram feed.

Adventure Awaits

There has been a frenzy of activity behind the scenes of this little blog.

This happened.

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Then this happened.

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That’s right! We are moving! Again. Ha!

Handy Husband accepted a new job with his same company and a transfer to Ireland!

IRELAND. As in that foreign country that’s really pretty and green with a pub on every corner. That Ireland.

Even though I am mired in all of the moving details, it still sounds unreal when I say it out loud. This has been a collective dream of ours since college, but even more so after we had children.

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We want our children to grow up considering themselves to be global citizens with a broad world view.

While thinking about how I could articulate my feelings on this topic, I ran across this definition of a global citizen from the IDEAS for Global Citizenship organization.

A global citizen:

  • is aware of the wider world and has a sense of their own role as a world citizen
  • respects and values diversity
  • has an understanding of how the world works
  • is outraged by social injustice
  • participates in the community at a range of levels, from the local to the global
  • is willing to act to make the world a more equitable and sustainable place
  • takes responsibility for their actions.

If our kids embrace even half of these attributes, I think our world will be a better place.

Today we are leaving to join my husband in Dublin. He started his job at the beginning of May. I stayed behind with the kids so they could finish out the school year. Then we traveled to Oregon to visit family while our household belongings took the slow boat across the Atlantic.

We do not have a permanent residence in Ireland yet.

*Deep breath* No big deal, right?!?

We start house hunting this Thursday. Homes in Ireland are much different and smaller than those in the United States, so this should be a fun challenge for me.

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I don’t know how long we will be in Ireland, but probably at least two years. I am incredibly proud of how hard Handy Husband has worked and how respected he has become in his industry. I’m confident big things are in store for him. And us.

For now, we are going to make the most of this opportunity. It’s equal parts scary and exciting. Making a home in a new country with two young children is sure to be one of the grandest adventures of our lives and I hope you’ll come along for the journey! I’m sure I’ll have a lot to share as we continue on our quest to make a pretty darn happy home no matter where we live.

 

Collecting

Generally speaking, clutter freaks me the heck out.

That’s why my kitchen counters look like this – minus the flowers right now.

It was just too much. 😉

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Since I don’t enjoy clutter, you’d think amassing a large collection of something would be on my “things to never do so you don’t have to dust it” list.

By and large, that is true. But just to keep things interesting, I have an exception to the no-clutter rule.

It started back in college when I went on a Jan Term trip to England and Scotland. I think it was the first and only time I packed light since everything I needed had to fit in one large backpack.

That left me with a conundrum of what to bring home? I could have gone the classy route with shot glasses. Too predictable. Instead, I chose to pick up a couple of decks of cards. One from Sherwood Forest and one with the map of London’s Tube.

The cards were practical, useable and a commemorative souvenir of my trip overseas.

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Many, many years later (but let’s not start counting) I’ve accumulated a basket full of cards from our travels. They remind me of places we’ve been. Experiences we’ve shared.

Occasionally, someone will bring me a deck of cards from their travels. That’s always fun!

Were I to start over with this collection, the only thing I would do different is put the date of our visit somewhere on the cards. The ol’ brain is not what it used to be.

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Over the years, this basket of cards has been a fun talking point when guests come over.

Surprisingly, even with having this basket at the eye level of babies and toddlers, we’ve played 52-card pick-up only a handful of times. Knock on wood.
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What I like most about this collection is that it can be used and enjoyed. Ironically, we don’t play many cards games in this household. So, um, there’s that.

If I was to collect anything else (besides shoes and nail polish), I’d collect world globes. Whenever I see a grouping of world globes in someone’s home they always look so bright and happy.