Turtle discovery – spending a night on the eco reserve in Ras al Jinz, Oman

We’ve been practising quiet voices for months, not very successfully for some of the smaller members of our adventure crew. It wasn’t just to generally keep the volume down (that would be an added bonus), but in preparation for our adventure to see the turtles near Sur in the Gulf of Oman. When researching Oman as a possible holiday destination I had discovered that they have a protected area of beach where a number of species of turtles including the Green Turtle and Loggerhead turtles come and lay their eggs and return to the ocean. Most days of the year a turtle can be found, however July is turtle season. Both in terms of the Mummy turtles laying their eggs and the babies hatching and making their journey to the ocean. Our quiet voice practice was in anticipation of being lucky enough to do a beach walk and see a turtle. I had some concerns that this little adventure crew would disrupt the annual breeding of this protected species. I need not have worried, the wonderment on the children’s faces when they witnessed the incredible sight of a Mummy turtle laying her eggs in the darkness of night and returning to her ocean home the next morning ensured the quietest of whispers.

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Wonderment

Situated on the coast, near the city of of Sur, Ras al Jinz Turtle reserve is a functioning research centre that seeks to protect the turtles and educate people on how vulnerable the population is.

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Three excited adventurers about their journey ahead

Turtles don’t come on the beach during the day due to the heat of the sun. So you need to either join one of the guided tours around 8/9pm at night (check with the reserve on their timings). Or if you stay over you get to do the night time guided walk and an exclusive sunrise walk only for those resident in the facility.

Leaving the Muscat area we travelled for around 2.5 hours (plus a stop in the marvellous Burham Sinkhole) down the coastline to an area called Sur. The mountainous landscape transformed to sandy desert areas into a raised coral reef with crystal clear blue waters along the coast.

Upon arrival at Ras al Jinz, we checked in and experienced a fast speed golf buggy up to our tented home for the evening. Beautifully kitted out with two glorious king sized beds, an air conditioning unit, and adjoining full bathroom with hot water, we were able to relax. Within the complex there were 12 similar tents situated on a cliff above the beach. There are hotel rooms within the research facility as well.

After unpacking, we headed back to the main centre to visit the educational museum that informed us all about turtles, their species and the perils that they experience. With handy audio guides the children were engaged in listening to all the information shared. At the end of the museum there was a little tank, with a tiny turtle that had got lost on his journey to sea, swimming there – he was going to be returned to the sea following sunset that evening. The children were enthralled with him or her, delighted that we had already seen our first turtle. There was a small additional charge for the museum visit. It was a little run down in places, but there was plenty of information and well pitched for the children.

We had time to sample the buffet on site, before preparing for our first accompanied walk in darkness to see if there were any turtles. Some external visitors joined this trip, however we were divided into on-site guests and others. On-site do seem to get priority access, remember your room key as it’s the access to the reserve instead of the ticket.

Following a briefing, about the need to be quiet and not using flashes on cameras due to the impact of confusing the turtle. Our guide led the 10 minute stony route walk to the beach, and as our eyes adjusted to the starry seascape, we began to see a number of turtles working away, digging their holes and preparing to lay their eggs. At first, I thought there was one, but quickly realised that there were numerous stretching across the beach. Incredible.

The guides ensured that visitors paid attention to the guidelines and were particularly keen to make sure that the children had a good view and knew what was happening. In the darkness, the guides used some red lights (not as harsh as the white light) and explained the behaviours of the turtles. There were two groups and it was carefully managed so that people were quiet, respectful and not shining lights. There’s no flash photography allowed and of course there were one or two who used it despite the guidelines. I was pleased to see that their phones were confiscated by the guides. In some of the reviews I had been concerned about too many people and not well managed. That was not the case for us at all.

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A mummy turtle working on digging her hole

We learnt that the turtles come on shore, and dig a large hole of around 3 metres. First we saw a turtle working on her hole, spraying sand around us she dug until she had created a large circle of around 2 meters. Next they dig down deep to create an egg cavity, a smaller little nest to lay their eggs.

 

Quietly the guide called us over in small groups and shone his torch through the darkness. Incredibly, we witnessed a turtle laying her eggs into the cavity. Up to 100 can be laid in a small amount of time. Glisining in the moonlight, the brilliant white eggs were carefully covered by the mother turtle. Burying them deep, she then set to work, creating a second hole a few metres in front of this one. This is the ‘fake hole’, amazingly it is a distraction for predators, hoping that the foxes dig in the wrong place.

There are a wide number of predators including birds and foxes, not to mention the possibility of humans trying to take the eggs hence the protection in the eco reserve. The researchers told us that only 2 or 3 out of each 1000 eggs successfully hatch and make it to the ocean. Incredibly low statistics of survival.

 

The sex of the baby turtles depends on the temperature of the sand. If the eggs incubate at temperatures of 27.7 degrees Celsius and below then the babies will be male and if above 31 degrees Celsius then they will be female. If the incubation happens in between these then some may be male and some female. Suddenly we were able to realise the crisis that is climate change even more – there will be even less male turtles.

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As we looked around the beach, in the reflection of the stars on the sea, we could see countless shapes of turtles working away on the beach. Tired, but with our minds alive of the wonder of it all, we returned to our tent and straight to sleep for a few hours, before rising at 4am for a sunrise adventure.

 

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Three tired little people ready for the morning adventure

 

This guided walk was only open to hotel guests, so at 4.20am with the day beginning to appear on the horizon, a more select number of us made our way back to the beach. It was a little colder, and very peaceful as the bleary eyed small group returned down the stony path. In the pre-sunrise brightness, it becomes quickly apparent just how many turtles had been working all night at the beach. We could also see the marks of the predators widespread with foxes footprints galore.

First we were brought over to watch one turtle dig her way out of the hole she was in. It was incredibly slow work, moving the sand to get over the ridge and return to the ocean. She looked exhausted, flapping the sand out of her way. I was struck by the sheer size of her as she looked me in the eye as she worked away. Suddenly with a few powerful movements she made it over the edge and started on a much quicker descent down the beach to the sea. With the powerful movements, she made it rhythmically down before the only remaining sight was her taking a few breathes before she dived into the Ocean deep.

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That is the last time that Mummy turtles do anything with their offspring. Job done – imagine that! When the little babies hatch they make their perilous journey across the beach and into the ocean running the high number of risks along the way. As we stood, watching other turtles appearing out of their nesting holes and making their way down the beach in awe, the researcher called us over, to see a baby turtle on his or her way. I had thought it was a difficult journey for the Mum, but then I saw this little thing with incredibly fast moving flippers working hard down the beach. He even fell into a footprint one of us had left behind and it took a lot of work to get back out again. Birds circled, but with humans watching they didn’t come near. How easily disoriented these little guys could be at night. We named him Lucky, and he made it to the waters edge. A wave came in and suddenly he was upside down, he righted himself and off he went on his lifetime adventure.

 

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Incredibly, the researchers told us that they have put trackers on many turtles over the years and learnt that they travel wide, they have picked up Omani beach turtles off the coast of Australia, around the Malaysian coastline and towards America too. When they reach around 37-40 years old and are ready to have their own babies, they come back to their beach of birth to lay eggs. Isn’t nature amazing?

 

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We stayed and watched the rise of the sun, all amazed in the wonderment of what we had witnessed. Three little minds exploding with all the information they had learned, and determined to do things diffierenlty when we get home to keep their oceans cleaner and work at stopping the rapid pace of climate change. When it was time to leave the beach, we reluctantly wandered up to the reserve, now that it was fully light, we realise that there were many little baby turtles who hadn’t made on their journey, either their eggs had been opened by predators, or one little guy seemed to go in the wrong direction and when the sun came up he didn’t survive. Cue tears from little middle adventurers, devastated to see the reality of the dangers and adversity they experience. I wonder, in many years to come whether she will be there rescuing the little turtles and ensuring they make it to their destination?

 

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We arrived back for a well needed buffet breakfast, and began to contemplate the amazing sights we had witnessed. I’m not normally emotional about much, but as we reflected on our morning and previous evening activities I was struck by the incredible planet we live on and how nature works. I’d really recommend this experience if you ever go to Oman. It was one of those unforgettable and ‘once in a lifetime’ experiences that I’m sure the children will remember for a long time. I’d really encourage you if you go to Dubai, to take the adventure, go a bit further, explore Oman and get to visit the turtles. Let us know if you make it that way!

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We booked through booking.com although you can book directly and do chose one of the tents (well worth a few quid extra in my opinion) and booking was inclusive of the two tours on the beach and a lovely buffet breakfast afterwards. Prices are between £160-300 for the night depending on party size and time of year.

 

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Arabian nights- Camping in the desert with kids.

Travelling towards the desert area during our Oman road trip, suddenly the landscape seemed cloudy and overcast with poor visibility. From inside the car looking out it felt cooler, however the temperature gauge was increasing steadily. The wind picked up slightly and we realised that the cloud was indeed sand. We were in a sandstorm.  Thankfully not a big or long lived one, but amazing to see how the whole sky transforms. 

Our desert adventure began on the petrol station forecourt,  as all good adventures do, learning how to deflate your tyres before driving across sand dunes. A necessary step to ensure we did not get stuck en route. We met some fellow explorers on the way to our camp so set off in tandem or perhaps in caravan is the way to describe. Much like driving in snow, Daddy the driver declared. Though I’m not sure how much we take that seriously since he also declared upon arrival at our camp that, and I quote, ‘there’s more sand in the desert than I expected’. Hmmm the Geography degree may need revisited. 

Anyway we journeyed first through what seems like a sandy road but then quickly were directed up a steep sand dune and off road we went. This is why I hired the 4WD. There would be no chance without it, you would be stuck. A 14km journey took about 30 mins through the spectacular  red sands of the Wahiba or  Sharqiya Sands as it is known. Dunes after dunes, red sand as far as the eye could see, with a few hardy desert bushes and trees thrown in. A few solo camels wandered past and we found a few families of them at various routes. Nestled in the flat plain surrounded by dunes either side we arrived at our destination the Sama Al Wasil Desert Camp. If you are feeling a little more cautious or don’t have a 4WD you can arrange that the camp meets you at the nearest town and transports you. 

Sama Al Wasil – our home for the night

We were met by friendly and helpful staff who showed us our room. We had a little house, with 2 bedrooms and a bathroom and the all important air conditioning. We would not have survived the 47 degrees centigrade temperature otherwise! The camp is set up with small houses surrounding a central tent for relaxing. There’s some tents further back and dining tent. All meals are provided with the fee. It’s well set out, clean although as it’s situated in the desert there are some creatures that appear at night. The children were not fans of the large beetles that scuttled across the floor. We were given bug spray in our room but didn’t need to use it and no one seemed to get any bites. 

We headed off up the sand dune to witness the sunset. It was hard, hot work clambering up. The two little ones didn’t make it the full way to the top. There was a handy rope provided to help pull yourself up. I discovered Miss 10 is much fitter than me! Roasted, soon the winds picked up and a small rain shower cooled us down. It was strange to see and feel the large raindrops coming down the sand dunes. As quickly as it started it ended. Standing at the top of the dunes, all you can see is sand dune after sand dune across the horizon. The silence and the emptiness struck me, other than the sight below of our little desert camp. The view of the sunset was spectacular- the golden sun reflecting over the red and golden sands. The most fun part – running down the warm sand with my feet sinking in up to my waist.

The darkness dropped quickly, and we retired to get ready for our evening meal in a Bedouin styled tent below a tapestry of stars. Traditional Omani fare, the children enjoyed experimenting with grilled camel, curries, bread and rice. There was plenty to choose from, and the little adventurers got stuck right in. Mr 5 declared the camel delicious (tough as anything it was). Miss 7 tried it, and since the camel ride the following morning has now become a half hearted vegetarian. The Bedouin people are nomadic desert dwellers who have travelled across the region. With modernisation and urbanisation, there are concerns that this way of life is eradicating. Little bellies full, and tired after our drive, and our desert exploration we headed to bed before an early start.

We stayed in the family accommodation, a two bedroom chalet with comfy beds and a good bathroom. It was clean, cool and perfect for our requirements. The little adventures slept well, with dreams of nights and the stories they have heard.

We were up not long after sunrise, to meet our new travelling companions, three camels and their young guides. First, the fascinating prints of all the nocturnal life of the desert was evident around the camp. We wondered and guessed who had been exploring, David Attenborough eat your heart out! Mr 5 and I went together, and the girls had their own camel each. It was a jerky transition from sitting to standing, but we were off. We went on a 30 minute ‘safari’ around the flat plain, then across some sand dunes. Again muscles that are evidently not used regularly made their presence known as I gripped on. Skinny Mr 5 declared a sore bottom after a while, and Miss 7 delighted beamed throughout. Thirty minutes was long enough for most of us, I think Miss 7 and her camel could have continued under the sweltering sun for much longer.

We worked up a healthy appetite for breakfast, and returned to our tented dining area for delicious and filling buffet breakfast. We said goodbye to our desert friends, and set off to the next destination in our road trip, with pockets and shoes unintentionally full of seemingly half the Wahiba desert that we continued to find for days afterwards, and our hearts full and memories a plenty of our magical escape in the middle of the desert.

There are other activities you can arrange for the desert including dune bashing for extra costs. There are a number of other camps in the area, with different degrees of luxury. As summer is not peak tourist season there were not many operating. We would recommend Sama Al Wasil, they were very attentive and made it a memorable experience. If you go to Oman, do not miss out this experience, it is something you and the children will never forget.

Practical tips

  • It’s very warm in the desert, bring long sleeved light clothes to give you as much coverage as possible. We used our head scarves that we had bought early on in the trip which protected the children’s heads and necks.
  • Book your camel ride for early in the morning before it gets too hot. We found 30 minutes plenty, I think any longer would have been too much.
  • Hire a 4WD car, and do some research into desert driving. Go to a garage just before you go off road and get your tyres deflated. Remember when you come back from the desert to re-inflate them. If you are not feeling so adventurous, then request someone to meet you and guide you or pick you up from the local garage
  • Sama al Wasil is situated near Bidiyah in Oman. It’s a 2.5 hour drive from Muscat, but we came from the turtles in Ras al Jinz. Route coming soon to the blog.
  • Pack a small overnight bag with your essentials for the night – you can safely leave everything else in the car.
  • We didn’t need to use it, but insect repellant could be necessary at other times of the year.

Harry Potter in Scotland – the Ultimate Muggles Guide

Harry Potter’s Scotland

While many parts of the United Kingdom try to claim that they have influenced the writing of Harry Potter, there is no doubt that Scotland holds an important influence, and indeed homes the actual cafes were pen was put to paper by JK Rowling . As you probably know if you have seen any of our blog, we are big Potterheads. Miss 10 leads the current charge, but her mother is more than happy to follow suit, still being a big fan and remembering her first readings of each book. This year has been a Harry Potter filled year, we saw the exhibition of JK Rowling writing in New York Historical Museum, and we have stayed in London in a Harry Potter themed hotel, and watched the Cursed Child in our Magical weekend. We’ve also previously adventured to Studio Tour outside London, and last year been to Universal Studies for some Harry Potter wonderment! Phew, it has been magical indeed. 

Anyway, Scotland holds some wonders in Harry Potter themed adventures that you can take. Here are the highlights for us!

Glencoe and the Scottish Highlands

Exploring the dreamy Scottish Highlands it feels like you could be anywhere in a Harry Potter Movie. Glencoe is just that, Harry Potter’s Scotland. Not only the filming location for Hagrid’s Hut, you may also recognise it as the place where Hermione punches Malfoy and the moment when Xenophilius Lovegood calls the Death Eaters on Harry, Ron, and Hermione in Deathly Hallows Pt. 2. Spellboundingly magical. 

Harry Potter Walking Tour Edinburgh

We joined Jonny in the free Harry Potter walking tour around the sights. You book the tickets online for free, then at the end give  a donation on what you feel it was worth. All 5 of us enjoyed a hot (for Scotland) afternoon, exploring and listening to Jonny tell us all the magical tales.  Starting  on the Royal Mile, you can see JK Rowlings handprints in the ground at City Chambers!  

Victoria Street 

Victoria St in Edinburgh is what inspired Rowling to create Diagon Alley. A claim quite a few streets of the UK have made, including in London and in York. As we stood on the diagonally (get it?) set street up a hill, the rainbow of colours stand out amongst the older traditional Edinburgh landscape. There’s plenty of coffee shops, magic shops and Harry Potter souvenir shops. We enjoyed seeing the joke shop nestled at the end of the street-just like going into the Weasley’s Wizard Wheezes. Some happy purchasers enjoyed their shopping adventure. 

The Elephant House 

We finished our walking tour nearby the ‘birthplace of Harry Potter’ and rested the weary legs with a bun and coffee afterwards.  It is claimed that JK Rowling spent most of her time writing her first Harry Potter books in this location and therefore is an essential rite of passage for any Potterhead. It is a bright cafe, full of elephants statues in all shapes and sizes. The food went down well, but the highlight is the bathrooms. Covered from floor to ceiling with graffiti crafted by other Harry Potter fans. Apparently at the start they used to paint over the graffiti, but finally gave it and let it stay. So many quotes and jokes inscribed over every inch of the bathroom, hopefully we’ve not inspired a graffiti phase for these three! 

When Rowling needed some peace to finish off the final Harry Potter book,  she checked into the Balmoral Hotel, apparently the afternoon tea is worth a trip! 

Find Tom Riddle’s grave

Located in the eerie Greyfriars’ Kirkyard is the real grave to Thomas Riddle Esquire. Apparently, JK Rowling used to stroll through the graveyard and gated inspiration for some of her characters from the gravestones. Along with Tom Riddle’s grave, you can find graves of Elizabeth Moodie, William McGonagall, James Potter and the tomb of Peeves the Poltergeist. Happy grave hunting!   You can also peek through the gates at George Heriot’s School – a prestigious primary school, that has a certain Hogwarts feel around it? 

Now for the big excitement and a bucket list trip for me……..

The Hogwarts Express, otherwise known as the Jacobite Steam Train

Miss 10 (and me too if I’m being honest) have dreamt of getting our Hogwarts letter, running through Platform 9 3/4 and taking off on the Hogwarts Express this is the closest any muggle will get. Commencing in the gateway to the Highlands, Fort William, we  boarded the Jacobite Steam Train and spent 2 hours through the scenic countryside to Hogwarts, or actually the fishing town of Mallaig. From Mallaig we headed on our wonderful Isle of Skye adventure. The magic of this steam train is that it crosses the Glenfinnan Viaduct – from the actual Harry Potter movies. Amazing. On board, when asked if you want anything from the trolley, resist the urge to scream ‘we’ll take the lot’ and content yourself with a Butterbeer Hot Chocolate or chocolate frog. These tickets sell out fast – so book  months in advance at West Coast Railways. It was such an adventure. Sad faces to arrive in Mallaig and not Hogwarts , but Haggard’s Alley Shop cheered everyone up once again.

Another recommendation is to see the train cross the Glenfinnan Viaduct.
In our case, we sent the husband on to be our official photographer of us crossing! It’s about a 10 minute hike from the viewing station to get the perfect view, and there’s quite the crowd so get there in good time to get your picture perfect stop! 

There you have it, our guide to a wonderful Scottish Harry Potter Adventure. Enjoy! 

Isle of Skye – Top things to do with kids (or without them)

Isle of Skye is the land of magic, nature and wonder. It has sparked the little imaginations, and we’ve enjoyed learning to hike and explore the countryside more. To the extent, they all want the proper gear, and are ready for their next walking adventure, Irish mountainside here we come. It takes its name from the old Norse sky-a, meaning ‘cloud island’, a reference from the Vikings due to the oft mist covered Cuillin Hills. It’s the second largest of the Scottish Islands, 50 miles in length. Since we met doing Geography degrees, it was the perfect adventure – the children are much preferring the folklore stories regarding the landscape formation than their parents tales!


We enjoyed a 2 night trip to the Island in the Easter Holidays. We were totally spoilt with the weather, it was warm, no need for a coat and we all got a tan! However, be more cautious I do think it is more common to experience some (a lot) rain and wind. These are our top suggestions for an adventure with kids (or indeed without but in that case I’d add some distillery experiences for sure!

You can arrive in Skye by Ferry or by bridge, we did one each way, which brought with it adventure and exploration. Book the ferry in advance from Mallaig with CalMac.

The Fairy Pools 

Nestled in the Cuillin Mountain range, and down a long single track windy road, past the numerous breath taking views, and two waterfalls,  is the hike to the magical Fairy Pools.  It’s about a 30 minute hike (well at our pace) from car park, to the pools, and up some  hills. Little legs were tired along the route but as Miss 6 said herself, it was more than worth the hike at the destination. It’s not a difficult at hike, but we saw someone carrying a pram back – not to be recommended at all. Through stream crossings, and over bumpy terrain it was perfect adventuring. 

At your destination, there’s crystal clear pools, with some waterfalls and it’s easy to imagine the magic of fairies playing around them all. All three enjoyed dipping their toes in to the freezing cold water and splashing a little. With the sun beating down, the water sparkled blue, and we relaxed taking in the incredible scenery around us.  When they were finally plucked away, they running through the gorse back to the valley, before the steepest climb back up to the car. Little tired bunnies by the end, and glad to rest for the drive to our accommodation. 

Note there’s no visitor centres, or toilets. It is a very popular spot and you can swim so bring a towel, your swimsuit and water/ snacks that you need for a couple of hours. Enjoy it is pure magic. 

Sligachan Bridge

This is a famous bridge with the Cuillin Hills in the backdrop. The Cuillin Hills are Britain’s most spectacular mountain range. There’s an alpine nature in the landscape, with steep knife edged ridges, naked rocks and scree-filled gullies. It is very picturesque and there’s many an instagram photo from the area. We enjoyed exploring through the rocks, and climbing over the stream. It’s a good starting point for more adventurous trip up the mountains , not for us, we are a bit wee yet for such adventures. There’s a hotel right beside it, with a wonderful pub and traditional Scottish restaurant called Seumas Bar – I enjoyed my vegetarian haggis!

The Fairy Glen – near Uig

Exploring the magical Fairy Glen

Nearby where we were staying was the Magical Fairy Glen. It is situated on the Trotternish Peninsula, but for some reason not that many people venture there. I’m really not sure why, as I think this ranks as one of my top things to do in Skye. There’s lots of fun hills, and valleys to explore, and lots of little stone circles – the kids were enthralled. I was mightily impressed by the just married couple, who where up the top of the rock in full wedding dress (plus hiking boots) getting their photos taken. It was a lovely day, they are going to get some great footage from the drone they had flying overhead!


Quiraing – is situated close by on the way across to the Staffin area. It is a fascinating basalt formation. There’s a 4.5 mile hike to get up close to the cliffs, that is recommended – unfortunately it was a bit much for us this time with all the other things we were doing. Something for next time!

Portree

The main town of Isle of Skye – with the postcard picture along the seafront, we visited for a few hours to get some supplies in the shops, enjoy a fish and chips on the shore, and purchase some lovely artwork for our house! As we enjoyed our fish and chips, a man pointed out the Golden Eagle circling above our heads- amazing!


Old Man of Storr

A short drive from Portree is the picture postcard iconic view of the Isle of Skye, with the spiky pinnacles of rock set up against rolling green hills. We didn’t get to hike up to it, but it is a strong recommendation for a visit if you can manage it.


Kilt Rock, Mealt Falls and Brother’s Point

On further from Old Man of Storr towards Staffin there’s some spectacular coastal scenery. From the viewpoint, if you look north to see Mealt Falls and Kilt Rock, then look south, the scenery is almost as beautiful and you can see Rubha nam Brathairean (Brother’s Point) off in the distance – there’s another interesting easy hike to Brother’s Point.

Staffin Dinosaur Museum

Nearly by Staffin, there’s a really interesting little museum- Staffin Dinosaur Museum. The kids were fascinated with the fossils and history of the dinosaurs of old in Skye. They even have tours to find the often difficult to find dinosaur footprints in Staffin Bay. It is an excellent collection well worth a stop.


Claigan Coral Beach 

This beach is another contender for my favourite location on Skye. A short hike (of around 1 mile) and through the now typical Skye coastline and you come across this beauty. It’s not really coral being in Scotland after all, it just looks like it! Fascinatingly it is made from crushed bleached skeletons of Red Coraline seaweed. It makes the water look tropical blue when the sun shines and has a finely crushed white beach. Full of wonderful shells and on a low tide day you can cross over to Lampay island on a causeway! Pure magic!

Dunvegan Castle

On the way to the coral beach you can find Dunvegan Castle and Gardens. There are good reviews about it, due to the gorse fire, we didn’t have enough time to spend to justify the cost! However, would be a good rainy day activity if you need inside for a while.

Also in this general direct is Neist Point – thanks to the fire we didn’t make it this far, but it is recommended as a nice place to visit if you are in the area.

Accommodation in Skye 

We stayed near Uig in the wonderful Clouds B&B which has a perfect space for a family room. The details were incredible, it was comfortable, with a delicious simple start breakfast of cereal, yoghurt, breads, cheese, fruits, juice and coffee, and spectacular views especially  of the epic sunsets. The little details like toys in the bedrooms, a record player, outside swing and slide set, and comfy blankets made us feel perfectly at home. The family were welcoming and informative. An excellent find – do check it out. 

In terms of planning your route, coming from the boat from Mallaig, towards Uig, Sligachan Bridge, and the Fairy Pools are close by each other, and the Fairy Glen is nearby Uig. Dunvegan Caste, Claigan Coral Beach, and Neist Point are the same side of the Island. From Portree the Old Man of Storr is en route to the Staffin area which has Mealt Falls, Brothers Point, Kilt Rock and the Dinosaur Museum. Out of the whole Skye trip, we didn’t pay anything other than £5 for the Staffin Dinosaur Museum.

We ended up with an unscheduled change in our plans when we came across a road closed due to an ongoing gorse fire! It was significant, and there was considerable smoke in the area. Some panic from some nameless little people, the adults were very interested in the whole situation. The next day you could see vast areas scorched. A common problem in summer but apparently this was early on in the season for one!

We had a magical stay, and would really recommend it for those with kids (and indeed anyone!) We will be back! Thank you Isle of Skye.

Oregon Girl Around the World

Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious – fly away with a wonderful Mary Poppins themed afternoon tea at the Shard

Much like Mary herself, we flew into London on a blustery day (with a rather bumpy plane landing). Smart shirts on, and even smarter manners ready, off we headed  to a story book afternoon tea extravaganza at The Shard, Mary Poppins style. A mirrored menu was shared with us all, any special dietary requirements consulted. 

We began with a choice of fruity teas, coffee or proper hot chocolate. Adults could choose from some medicine bottles full of champagne. Solo in charge of these 3 for the afternoon I didn’t partake, tea it was.

Napkins tucked in, the first course arrived. Miss 6 was delighted with the delectable crumpets and smoked salmon, Mary’s choice of course. A selection of classic English sandwiches- cheese and pickle, crab and cucumber, ham salad and egg mayonnaise served on a range of breads. 

Mary Poppin’s bag itself arrived, and from it fresh hot scones appeared. We all smothered them in fresh jam and clotted cream. Delicious! 

Then, a wonderful cake stand floated in to the table, standing on Mary’s boots and topped by a wonderful umbrella, three layers of delicious sweet treats. We enjoyed a ‘strike me pink’ sponge, Mrs Corey’s gingerbread star, a ‘back to front zoo’ golden syrup tart and Mary’s cherry filled chocolate mousse hat with an edible flower on top. Practically perfect! 

Finally, when it was nearly time to descend from the epic citywide view from the 32nd floor of the Shard in the AquaShard restaurant, freshly spun raspberry candy floss. Our ever smart waiter offered everyone who wanted a second candy floss stick. 

The children made a good go of the full range, I was beat! So a little doggy bag came away with us. The views from the aqua shard across London are fabulous. Miss 6 was taken with the bathrooms and the fancy sofa. The attention to detail was fabulous. A pricey but special treat enjoyed by my 3 who had strangely impeccable manners throughout!! 

Mary Poppins Afternoon Tea

Broadway Disney Theatre Tour and Broadway shows – the home of bright lights and dreams

NYC with kids

If you’ve had any sort of a look at our blog or insta you will know that we are big theatre fans in our house. Musicals are life for the kids (maybe a bit for me too!) So getting to see Broadway was high on the list. In fact, Miss 10 birthday cake was all about the shows. 

Times Square ready to explore Broadway

I came across the Disney on Broadway walking tour on Viator, so signed us up. We met our wonderful guide Jocelyn and off we headed (we were a small group of about 8 which was perfect) around the different theatres in Broadway. Broadway is the name of the street in Manhattan which has become the world leader of theatre entertainment. As we walked the streets, we learnt about the first NYC stage in the 1700s in Massau Street. Standing in the midst of Times Square look down at your feet and you will see a handy map of all the theatres in the area. The 2.5 hour walking tour is pitched just right, enough history about the growth of Broadway in 1800s, the impact of the Great Depression, and the more recent growth again. It was active, and seeing the range of the theatres kept the interest, even on a cold NYC morning. A good balance of history and modern day knowledge pitched for all ages- perfect. 

Then, what Miss 10 had been waiting for, a visit to New Amsterdam Theatre, where Aladdin is currently showing. We got a VIP tour of the beautiful and majestic theatre, then got taken to the stage to stand, look out at the lights and dream of being on Broadway. Well for Miss 10 anyway. She was totally taken with seeing how it all worked and getting that backstage view after her summer performances with the touring company of Evita in the Grand Opera House in Belfast. We were then taken to a room and shown a fantastic array of the props from a range of Disney shows  including The Lion King, Mary Poppins, Aladdin and The Little Mermaid. We got to try on the costumes, learn all about the props and take lots of photos. It was a fantastic, inspirational morning! I strongly recommend it for any one with a love of Musical Theatre and of Disney, and if you love both like us it is a dream come true. 

Since we were staying a few days in NYC, we used the opportunity to ourselves experience the wonderment, excitement and spectacle that is Broadway. 

Frozen the Musical – just ‘Let it go’ and enjoy the show

Miss 10 was obsessed with Frozen a few years ago, now a big 10, is a little past it, but still was keen to see the show. Frozen is a story inspired by Hans Christian Andersen fairy tale The Snow Queen of two sister princesses, one with ice making powers. They are close until Elsa accidentally hurts her younger sister Anna while playing. Anna’s memory is erased by some trolls, and the two are separated by their parents. Tragically like many a Disney story, their parents die, and Queen Elsa is crowned. Overwhelmed by her magic Elsa turns the town to ice, and takes off. Through an icy kingdom, Anna seeks out her sister accompanied by iceman Kristoff and Sven the Reindeer. Elsa learns to ‘let it go’ and sisterly love saves the day. It’s different than the traditional male prince saves the day storyline.
It was a good show full of music, dance, likeable characters and lots of ice and snow. It was transformed to the stage well, close enough to the movie and with some extra songs thrown in. Miss 10 enjoyed it, was engaged with the music and impressed by the set design. A perfect introduction to Broadway theatre for any little Disney fans, and a good adaptation of the movie that will engage older kids (and adults too).


School of Rock – super talented kids

Miss 10 was super keen to see this one, anything with kids on the stage makes her want to get up there too! We had great seats in front row of the dress circle, and we were so impressed by the talent of the children in the show. A great energetic production, telling the story of Dewey, a musician recently banished from his band. Living with his long term mate Ned and his wife Patty, Dewey is told to get a job and pay rent or he’s being kicked out. Desperate, Dewey poses at Ned to get a job as a substitute teacher at a posh private school. No idea what he is doing, he uses music to get his way through preparing the pupils for a battle of the bands competition. The kids are phenomenal and steal the show – amazingly talented.

Phantom of the Opera – a classic

This one was my choice – I saw it in London years ago and loved it so was keen to introduce Miss 10 to it and see it on Broadway.  It’s based on the classic novel by Gaston Leroux, the story of a man born with a horribly deformed face. He hides in the bowels of a Paris opera house where he torments the occupants. However, when he hears Christine Daae sing he dedicates himself to nurturing her talent. Soon the Phantom is overtaken by his desire and love for her, and he becomes reckless. He reveals his love for her, and she responds well to him until she sees his face. She then falls for Raoul, resulting in the Phantom declaring war on the Opera house. The music, the staging, the fantasy, hopes and dreams draws you in. It is a stunning production, totally and utterly engaging, even for a 10 year old. She was transfixed throughout.

Anastasia – fantastic Russian spectacle

Set in the beautiful and grand Broadhurst Theatre, Anastasia and her royal family are captured by the firing squad of Romanov, who kills her entire family. The girl is said to be dead, but the truth is that Anastasia survives. However, she has lost her memory, and is wandering the streets of St. Petersburg. Her grandmother, who left to Paris before the family murder, offers a reward to anyone who finds Anastasia- so she becomes a living legend without any awareness. Many a girl pretends of be her, and two tricksters, Dmitry and Vlad are plotting a scheme to secure that money. Through this these meet Anya (Anastasia’s name now) and finally realise that there are memories there that she did not know she had. It is enchanting and the set design feels truly Russian and French. The costumes are fantastic, and the music enthralling. A wonderful musical, that is well worth seeing. Miss 10 loved it.


Top tips to getting Broadway tickets 

Tickets for shows are never cheap. You need to weigh up are you happy to go with what is available and on offer, or if you have certain things in mind you may need to prebook. Super popular shows like Hamilton and The Cursed Child are sold out for months ahead. Many of the Disney ones such as Frozen, the Lion King and Aladdin will need pre-booked. I’ve outlined other tips to get discounted tickets.


1. The classic visit to TKTS (Under the red stairs in Times Square) 

The classic way to get discounted tickets is to wait in line, on the day of the show at the TKTS booth under the red stairs in Duffy Square (47th Street and Broadway). Most are 50% discounted. However, there’s also two other booths in the city – one at Lincoln Centre’s David Rubenstein Atrium which is only 15 blocks away from the original one , and South Street Seaport. Generally the earlier you get there the better, and often less queues in the non Times Square ones, so head that way. You can buy up to 6 tickets, and fees are around $5-$6 per ticket. 

2. Online 

Rather than standing in a queue, you can get discounted tickets from your phone from TodayTix.app up to a month in advance. There’s discounted ones alongside regular priced one. There’s a few other websites too  New York Show Tickets (it’s a membership one costing $4 per month). Good discounts can be also be found at BroadwayBox, TheaterMania and GoldStar, and there are even some discount deals Time Out New York Do shop around these options – but there are online ticketing fees of around $10 to $15 which you need to take into account. 

3. Rush and lottery tickets 

Many productions offer same day rush tickets – which can be the only way to get reasonably priced tickets for shows that are otherswise sold out. Sometimes they are as little as $20 a piece. You need to get to the theatre for 10 am (Sundays 11am) on the day of the performance for them. School of Rock is a good one for Rush tickets. Wicked holds a in person lottery but most others have digital lotteries – you can sign up online for them. Hamilton offers 36 $10 seats per day, and Harry Potter and the Cursed Child has the Friday forty. Playbill and Broadway for Broke People has the full line up. 

4. Buy at the box office 

If you are trying to see a popular show right now, you probably won’t get a discounted ticket. However you can save a few dollars by buying at the box office and not having to pay as much in fees and you might get good seats. 

For us, we were quite particular about what we wanted to see so pre booked Frozen and School of Rock. We kept an eye on numbers of tickets available, and bought Phantom of the Opera a few days in advance from  Broadway Box, and Anastasia on the day. 

A Wizarding Weekend – a Harry Potter magical filled 3 day London itinerary

We’ve just returned from the most magical weekend in London, perfect for the biggest wizarding world fans. Miss 10 is a big fan of everything J.K Rowling has created, and in essence of our continued gifting of experiences not stuff, she received some tickets for Christmas this year. Together we’ve designed a magical other worldly itinerary for any wannabe witches or wizards in London Town!

Day 1

Start the day with a wonderful walking tour exploring all the actual and inspirational places for the Harry Potter movies. We toured with Tours for Muggles accompanied by Ellie Lovegood (Luna’s cousin of course). We went around many of the key sites from the movies- learnt about the challenges in filming in central London with all the crazy potterhead fans. Starting around the Tower Bridge area we saw the Borough markets (a good spot for lunch even if the Leaky Cauldron doesn’t quite look the same) we explored the area. Now experts on the range of bridges and the inspiration for Azkaban (well the English inspiration in Clink prison anyway), we took a tube to Westminister and retraced Mr Weasley and Harry’s footsteps on the way to the Ministry of Magic. A dander (walk for all you non Northern Irish) through Trafalgar Square to the inspirations for Diagon Alley and Knockturn Alley before ending near Leicester Square. Ellie was able to answer all questions, and full of great wizarding knowledge.

An afternoon well spent is at the Potion Room in Soho’s Cutter and Squidge. A magical interactive afternoon tea- with potion brewing (I make a mean galaxy drink), a crackling cauldron to blow your head off, and a full spread of very English magical inspired savoury and sweet delicacies. Dressed in robes, in the beautifully adored basement, seated at school desks, our potion making class was delivered by a fabulous in character wizard. Full to the brim, we ended with a lovely treat from the sweet trolley! Great fun, immersive and delicious- a great afternoon out.

 

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Reading Harry Potter in the Wizard Chambers at the Georgian House Hotel

Then to retire to the Wizard Chambers in the Georgian House Hotel. Situated near Victoria station, the hotel has dedicated a number of rooms to detailed wizarding theming. Through a secret bookcase, we came up to our magical room, with potions, brews, old style furniture and lighting we were transported to a different time. There was even a secret passageway to the Ministry of Magic down the toilet if you dared! A comfy 4 poster bed meant for a good night’s sleep after walking all those steps! Sweet magical dreams.

 

 

 

Day 2

Next morning, following a delicious wizarding breakfast (included in the stay) head for the Palace Theatre in the West end for the enthralling Harry Potter and the Cursed Child. It is split in two parts – we did them both in the same day, some people choose two consecutive nights. Tickets must be bought well in advance, but there’s also the weekly Friday Forty when 40 tickets are released for the next week’s shows for the total price of £40.

E0C1F759-22C0-449E-80C8-4FA4C055E9FCThe play is absolutely mind blowing, a full day in the theatre went in a flash! Keeping to the #keepthesecrets we won’t say too much. Other than go go go go!!! A little scary in places perfect for Potterheads aged around 8 plus! Miss 10 did jump out of her skin a few times but was totally spell bound! The end leaves you ready for the next part instantaneously!

There’s a few hours gap between the two performances- we grabbed a pizza and had time for a visit to the House of MinaLima. A wonderful exhibition of the graphic artwork of two of the main designers on the Harry Potter movies has been curated in a 3 story building in Greek street just around the corner from the theatre. Free to enter, and lots of wonderful prints to purchase should you desire. It covered all the movies including the more recent Fantastic Beasts. Lovely way to pass a little time.

Back to the theatre, for the second splendid part. Gripped throughout, the magical performances, wizardy set design, spell binding music, Harry Potter and the Cursed Child lives up to the high expectations. A new production, that my theatre loving one now has in her eye for future treading the boards! In our case, a short wait at stagedoor resulted in some lovely chats, magical memories and the important signed merch for the theatre wall at home! What a day- time to rest those weary legs (a different type of weary from all the sitting today).

 

Day 3
(Caveat we didn’t do this part this time, but did go 2 summers ago, but would make a perfect part to a 3 day magical weekend).

Up early and off to the famous Warner Brothers’ studios to see The Making of Harry Potter. We caught a train to Watford Junction (about 1 hour outside of Central London but easy on public transport), then we jumped on the themed double decker bus and in no time we were transported to the magical studios.

ADFFCAC1-598B-48F9-A396-4247C95C2911After seeing Harry’s under the stairs bedroom, we inspected the table settings in the Great Hall and took in the sights of the sets, props and costumes from the movies.We wandered along the cobbles of Diagon Alley, gazed at Dumbledore’s bookcases and saw many videos of the making of the movies. After a lovely cool butterbeer, we headed to peer through the windows of number 4 Privet Drive and a quick photo with the Knightbus.

A highlight for me was the model of Hogwarts itself. Built to 1:24 scale, it was used in the exterior shots for the first six films. The attention to detail is incredible- more than 3000 fibre optic lights fitted inside and turned on as the night sky darkens.74FB211D-9477-4AA5-AA10-9C919EEEF957

We met some fantastical beasts including buckbeak, flew across London on a broomstick (well with the help of a green screen), and saw Dobby in model form.

Incredible, detailed, and perfect for Potter fans of any age. The gift shop is pricey, but the chocolate frogs went down well! A great day out.

Other ideas:

We arrived into Kings Cross station on our train from the airport which was perfect for a quick search for platform 9 3/4. You can queue up for a photo- it can be super busy so go for early in the morning, or later at night. The Harry Potter Shop takes photos that you can buy inside, but we were happy snapping on our phones! Quick browse around the gift shop for any other purchases too.

Primark in Oxford street has a dedicated Harry Potter section- perfect for some cheaper inspired purchases.

77F2871A-6ECD-4940-99DB-B7653ED20A0BThere you have it, our recommendations for a magical wizarding weekend in London! Let us know what you think and if you give any of it a go.

Tickets for the cursed child, the potion room, and rooms in the Wizarding chambers all book out in advance. The WB studios also can book out so get that sorted too. So if you are planning a wizarding weekend get those reservations in place, otherwise you will be staying with the muggles in the rest of London.

Theatre with kids – review of Les Miserables, Bord Gais Energy Theatre, Dublin

les mis

We are big musical fans in our house, there’s always a performance ongoing with the 3 dramatic ones, so any opportunities of a ‘big show’ in Belfast or Dublin and we are there. When I saw ‘Les Mis’ was coming over the Christmas period to the Bord Gais Energy Theatre, I knew Miss 10 was just about ready. She’s been learning ‘Castle on a Cloud’ at singing  lessons for the last few months and this recently resulted in a brave moment whereby she sang for her class- even making it on to the school website. A big step for the usually shy one in class. We decided to make it an intergenerational adventure with an overnight, so Granny, Mummy and Miss 10 set off for a Dublin adventure. 

Equipped with the soundtrack, we were excited for the musical adaption of Victor Hugo’s novel.  Set in 19th centenary France, ‘Les Mis’ is the story of Jean Valjean, a French peasant, ready for parole after serving nineteen years in prison for having stolen a loaf of bread for his sister’s starving child. Valjean breaks his parole, and starts a new life after a bishop inspires him through a tremendous act of mercy, however his journey to a new existence, is relentlessly hampered by a police inspector, Javert. Based during the revolutionary period in France, we witnessed young idealist students attempting to overthrow the government and all the devastating consequences of such a struggle.

Killian Donnelly is fabulous in his role of Valjean as he follows a righteous path through decades of war, suffering, themes of death, prison, prostitution and poverty. There are of course parts that are a little ‘adult’ in content, such as the ‘lovely ladies’ for sale. I fielded a couple of awkward questions about it on the drive home.

With fantastic musical numbers, we journeyed through the suffering and passion of little Cosette, her hardworking mother Fantine, and Miss 10 was particularly impressed with the young performers and more generally with the vocal ranges in the show.

I enjoyed the clever use of projected images at the back of the stage gave nearly cinematic feelings at times. It is long, but even Miss 10 was gripped throughout. She barely moved and we have been hearing the songs performed since!

A wonderful show.

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We followed it by a delicious ‘Les Mis’ themed meal in the The Marker Hotel in Dublin. It is a perfect location for a pre  or post theatre meal. Often with some theming of a set menu. We previously enjoyed a ‘Mary Poppins’ inspired meal when that musical was in town a few years ago, and the tasty food and attention to detail is still discussed by the two girls. We stayed in the Clayton Hotel in Cardiff Lane. Both  The Marker and the Clayton are right beside the Bord Gais theatre.

Undoubtably a wonderful classic theatre musical. Do I recommend it for kids? I think they need some maturity. For my 10 year old, it was perfect, she enjoys musical theatre, we’ve seen most of the more child aimed shows, she was familiar with some songs,  she could process the notion of war and any more risqué aspects went over her head. I would have more caution for the younger ones, and I will be leaving it a few years before bringing the two little ones in our house. Perfect post Christmas afternoon out, with the three generations.

Lapland -magical winter wonder

I’ve always really wanted to go to Lapland for Christmas time, even more so once I had kids. So last year, when we hit the perfect age for magic, wonder, awe and amazement aged 9,5 and turning 4 we planned an adventure.

Not being one for package holidays, I of course explored the DIY options. As regular travellers, I wasn’t too worried about any possible challenges, and when I compared the costs I was definitely sold. Price details below, but basically we got 8 nights in Lapland including the full length excursions we wanted for the same price as it would have been to do a day trip from Belfast. Utter madness. Book DIY I tell you, it’s so easy.

A total surprise for the kids, we prepared in stealth many months prior, buying ski suits in the summer sales. Since we met studying a Geography degree, no-one questioned when with authority we declared that it was predicted to be a very cold winter this year. Our kids know that they get the geographical answer to all weather related questions. Suitcases packed, we picked the kids up from school went on an adventure. After check in in Dublin, they worked out the surprise, we were off to visit Santa. Excitement levels through the roof.

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Ready to go on the adventure

The flight with Finnair was very straightforward to Helsinki. It was a little delayed and we had a very short gap between our next flight up to Kittila near Levi. Before the flight ended, the gates for short connecting flights were announced and we were given priority to get off the plane. Cue a quick run across the airport, they waited for us, all aboard to Lapland. Our luggage even made it too! Christmas magic at work!

We arrived very late at night into Kittila and got a taxi to our cabin in Levi, and straight to sleep before up to explore in the morning. Little eyes woke up, peered out the window at the winter wonderland and they couldn’t believe their eyes. So much snow! It was pure white, incredible, really deep snow.

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I’ve never seen this much snow!

Up quickly, suited and booted up ready to explore. We quickly found the kids land near the Levi Ski resort. A free snowy play ground, perfect for little explorers. We bought a few sledges from the local supermarket, and spend the day up and down the toboggan run, breaking for cups of steaming hot free berry juice in the little cabins. The snow, was soft and fluffy and quite dry – quite different from our snow, and didn’t make snowman in the same way at all! More geography lessons complete! We explored around Levi resort, checking out the Tourist Information, the ski school, cafes, restaurants and shops.
Temperatures were very cold, at the lowest we saw -28 degrees Celsisus. Well wrapped up the children rarely complained. It could be a bit harsh on little faces, we’ve more top tips coming soon in a blog post about how to help with those issues.

Levi Ski Resort 

Levi as a resort is perfect for all needs. It’s a ski resort, so cafes, restaurants , ski equipment are all easily available. We enjoyed exploring the resort, the free Sledging at Kidsland, warming up with free hot berry juice afterwards, taking the ski lift up the mountain, and a day in Levi Spa swimming pool. The outdoor warm hot tub in the freezing temperatures was a hit. Plenty to keep us busy and active. The girls enjoyed trying out skiing and took to the slopes well, although it was our coldest day at -28 degrees C! There was more than enough to keep us busy.

We stayed in a cabin that had a drying cupboard and sauna in it. Perfect for warming up after the cold days. We were a 5-10 minute walk from the ski slope, and bought sledges to pull around the kids when legs got tired. We had access to laundry facilities, and the supermarket was across the road. We had a few meals out, but found that with the lack of light, the children thought it was much later than it was, and with the active nature of the holiday they were in bed early. Great for some mulled wine, a sauna and relax with nice food picked up in the supermarket.

Winter wilderness with huskies

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True love

Our middle little adventurer is obsessed with husky dogs. Her dream is to be a musher. So going to visit the huskies and experience a sledge ride with them was top of her bucket list. We went with Tundra Huskies for a 5km ride. Initially we were given a safety and information briefing all about the dogs, and sledging with them. Then off we went into the darkness across a frozen lake. The kids went with the owner in his sledge and led the way. We took turns in driving our one. It was harder than it looked. They are powerful, focused animals. Gazing up at the pitch black sky on alight with the stars is something I will never forget. We then got to meet the dogs, and Miss 5 dreams came true. Following this we warmed up in a little hut with sausages cooked over the fires (well that was everyone bar Miss 5 who spent all her time with the dogs!) We also learnt why you don’t play with yellow snow!!

Winter sleigh ride

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After our tundra horse journey, needing to warm up.

Little man turned 4 during the trip, and enjoyed a sleigh ride with the black beauty horse on the frozen lake on his birthday. It was fast paced through the frozen tundra forest, no sign of lights nor any sounds over than us cutting through the snow. Cold but magical! Heated up afterwards in a warm hut learning all about the Lappish culture.

Northern Lights Hunting 

We saw glimpses of the Northern Lights from around Levi, but Miss 9 and I decided to head away from the light pollution to see if we could get a better look. We booked transport with a local tour company in Levi, and headed about 20 minutes outside the town to a frozen lake. We were appreciative of the igloo with a heater that meant you could wait in it at times to warm up. The lights came out to play! The photos don’t really capture the magic of it, and I think you really need more than a smartphone to truly capture them. Nonetheless wondrous, magic for both me and Miss 9. She’s now an expert on the aureolas borealis.

Santa Claus himself

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The day we had all been waiting for a visit to the big man. We visited him at Santa Claus Levi and it was the magic we had been hoping for. We got picked up at Levi Tourist information, and dropped off at the end of the snowy forest lane met by an elf.

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Guiding the way to Father Christmas

Our elf guided our way, past some reindeers and horses until we found a little opening with some houses. They divided us into two groups to go around the activities separately. We enjoyed just our family with our own personal elf. We didn’t even see the other family until the journey back to Levi.  First, we attended elf spy school to find out all about how they learn to be secretive and spy, then we crept across to try and spy on Mrs Claus. She spied us, and invited us in for warm berry juice and ginger cookies. We learnt all about how they have lived there for 700 years, and that Santa works hard with the elves to prepare the gifts to deliver across the world. We saw Santa’s writing desk where he reads all the letters, and we learnt all about Mrs Claus looks after him. Santa was resting.

Then we met the main man himself, the one and only Father Christmas. The children could barely speak they were so taken with it all, he knew their names, chatted to them about life and school, told them all about Lapland and told them stories of the antics of the elves. Everyone got a hug with him, as many photos as we wanted. Then a small gift of a Lapland elf was given to each of the children and has been greatly cherished for the past year. It was magic!

After our special meeting, we attended elf school, learnt some Finnish, saw the elves at work in their toy factory, and learnt how baby elves come from wishes into pine cones – we even wished a few ourselves and put them in elf nursery for next Christmas. We then got to meet the reindeers, and experience a sleigh ride with them. We learnt all about what they like to eat, how they survive in the harsh winters and warmer summers, and what they like to eat on Christmas Eve.

We ended the visit with playtime in the snow sledging with the elves, and a snowball fight back to our pick up point. It was authentic and magical. We never felt rushed nor part of a commercial experience. All elves, Mrs Claus and Santa took all the time in the world with the children, and we came away awe that we had met the real one!

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Lapland is much more than Father Christmas. It is a winter wonderland of scenery, adventure, culture and relaxation. We enjoyed the Finnish experience, and for our first Winter holiday has given us a flavour of skiing and snow that we will undoubtably do more of in the future. For us, it was a once in a lifetime experience for the Santa aspects, but I would consider a Winter or even Summer return to see what else Finland has to offer. Thanks for all the magical memories Lapland.

The kids thoughts:

Miss 5 – ‘The huskies were really cute. Riding on the sleigh with the huskies was the best thing ever. It was very cold.’

Mr 4 – ‘I liked seeing Santa Claus in his house. I loved turning 4 in Lapland. I liked the cutie pie huskies. I was so cold I wanted to jump into a house sometimes.’

Miss 9 – ‘It was great fun because of the snow. I loved seeing that much snow. Seeing Santa and skiing were my highlights. It was one of the best holidays ever!’

The booking details

  • Dates were 15th December to 24th December 2017
  • Dublin to Levi via Helsinki with Finn Air – these flights cost £700 for all 5 of us.
  • Cabin in Levi – booked through booking.com £700 for 8 nights included a sauna and wonderful fire.
  • One nights accommodation in airport hotel – we had a late arrival into Helsinki and early flight to Dublin on way home. We could have sat in airport, but thought with 3 little people and arriving home on Christmas Eve it was £150 well spent.
  • We booked 3 excursions through Levi Tourist Office – Santa Visit, Husky trip and Horse Sleigh – it cost £800 for them all for the 5 of us

Other costs:

  • Private ski lesson and day ski hire for the girls  £120
  • Northern Light Hunting tour – 2 of us did this as late and cold-  £50 in total through local company in Levi

Total: £2520 for 8 nights arriving home on Christmas Eve compared to £500 per person for the day trip! Easy win for the DIY. Message me if you have any questions. Go, you won’t regret it! Pure magic.

Disney disney disney…. a Paris

Disney Disney Disney. We are big Disney fans in our house and this year went to Florida for some Disney fun (blog posts coming soon) . A Disneyland Paris trip was not part of the travel plans (nor indeed the budget). However, Miss 10 got an offer too good to miss to go to Disneyland Paris to perform with her musical theatre group in the Let’s sing Christmas show. Of course, we couldn’t let her go all that way without her support team! So a pre Christmas, celebrate our 12th wedding anniversary and Mr nearly 5’s birthday trip was planned. 

Having had a good Disney fix this year we were quite relaxed about this one, just booking a couple of meals in advance but nothing like the scheduling of the summer in Florida. We booked on the same flights as the performers from Belfast International Airport, and headed to Charles De Gaulle in Paris. My timing is always impeccable (as you will probably see over time), so we arrived in the weekend of the ‘gilets jaunes’ protests (it’s a theme – ask me about my Argentinian protests experiences sometime!) Thankfully we managed to hop on the last train to Disneyland Paris without any issues (and apparently without paying accidentally) and we arrived. Miss 6 had been a bit unsure up to this point, I’m not sure what she was expecting, but as we arrived, she squealed with delight and shouted ‘oh it’s not a fake Disney, it’s actually really big!’. Sorted, adventure on.

We stayed in the New York Hotel while Miss 10 hung out with her performer buddies in Santa Fe. Mr nearly 5 got ever so confused, had he been brought to New York like his sister a couple of months earlier. Geography lesson complete, we settled in our room on the top floor with a great view, after a late night visit to the Rainforest Cafe of course.  The New York Hotel is getting a little tired, an exciting update is planned, in a Marvel themed way that will be open in 2020. Anyway for us, it was grand as we say in Ireland. We got a super deal for our not planned or budgeted trip. A little hint for booking- with the help of rusty GCSE French and Google translate I booked through the French website and saved a few hundred euros! 

This was our 3rd trip to Disneyland Paris. The first when Miss 10 was a little 2 and our first Disney experience with kids. It was magical and wonderful. Then we celebrated little man’s first birthday there four years ago (how tiny are they all in the pictures below!). I thought after our Florida adventures this Summer we were past Disneyland Paris, but I was wrong. We had a super wonderful weekend.

Our highlight was of course seeing the fabulous ‘Let’s Sing Christmas’ Choir. They did 4 performances over the Saturday and Sunday to a full house in the Videopolis in Discoveryland. Seeing  your daughter, singing her wee heart out on stage, with Mickey, Minne and Pluto, sure it would draw tears from a stone. They did a fabulously great job – check them out.

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We were the loud over enthusiastic support club! The performers enjoyed a workshop on the Saturday morning, their 4 performances, then got time to hit the Parks which they did hard! I’ve never seen as tired a bunch of kids at the airport on Sunday night.

Minus Miss 10, who was showing us glimpses of the future with her ditching us to hang out with her friends, the wee ones and us set off to explore. We caught the Christmas parades.  Miss 6, ever the adrenaline junkie enjoyed Big Thunder Mountain, and there was high completive battles with Buzz Lightyear Laser Blast.  Peter Pan’s ride over London was a hit once again,  and of course It’s a Small World after all, now all sing together……..  We had a lovely dinner in Cafe Mickey before enjoying the fabulous Disney Illuminations Show. Mr nearly 5 and I had front row viewing, while Miss 6 hung out under the Christmas tree for her preferred slot. We celebrated our 12th Wedding Anniversary in style by hanging around until park closing to try and get some good nighttime shots!