Petroglyph National Monument

Petroglyph National Monument is kind of quirky. This National Monument is located in the middle of the suburbs of Albuquerque. The Visitor Center has no trails and does not connect to other parts of the park. Oh and there is no museum. Don’t worry. It’s still worth a stop.

You can swing by the Visitor Center to pick up a map or other information before starting your journey. However, everything is available online if needed. We stopped at the Visitor Center first so we could pick up the Jr Ranger Booklets before heading out to the trails. There are 3 canyons to choose from when deciding which route you would like to take. You do have to drive between each canyon area as they are also not connected. I told you it was quirky. We decided to complete the Boca Negra Canyon.

There are 3 trails at the Boca Negra Canyon: Mesa Point, Macaw and Cliff Base. The park service lists the Macaw and Cliff Base as moderate intensity and Mesa Point as strenuous. However the Macaw and Cliff Base were very short trails that can be completed quickly. None of these trails are stroller or wheelchair friendly but they are not difficult. Our kiddos were able to easily complete them.

Petroglyphs were easily viewable from the trails.

Boca Negra Canyon is the only fully developed area at the National Monument so there were bathrooms, water fountains, picnic tables and viewing binoculars. The other canyons do not have water available so make sure to bring your own.

This ended up being just a quick stop but the kiddos learned a lot. The National Monument is so easily located in town that you can visit this place in the morning and still have plenty of time for other activities in the day. Happy Hiking!

White Sands

White Sands is stunning.  The bright white gypsum sands are constantly changing. The winds shift the dunes in all directions and the sunlight makes the view morph throughout the day. We arrived in the rain the first day but were lucky to have time to return the next morning. The morning light made it feel like we had arrived at a completely new destination.

On the first day, we dodged rain drops to complete the Dune Life Nature Trail and the Interdune Boardwalk trail. The boardwalk trail is stroller and wheelchair friendly. Both of these trails are very short, kid friendly and have informative signs throughout.

The rain became more intense as the day moved on. So we completed the Dunes Drive and hiked up to see some views. However, we decided to wait for the next day for sledding. 

When we arrived the next day to sunshine, the view was completely different.

Sledding is the most popular event at White Sands and we had to try it out. 

The kids absolutely loved it. Even the adults gave it a try.

It was cooler in the morning and you could almost be tricked into believing we were sledding in the snow.

The kids could have stayed here all day.

After a fun morning in the sand, we headed out for Albuquerque.

For Your Trip

The White Sands visitor center is located about 20 minutes from Alamogordo. White Sands Missile Range also happens to be in this area. So the road out to the visitor center is sometimes closed due to missile testing. Check the parks website for closure updates while you are planning your visit.

You are going to want to sled in the park. Guaranteed. There are several options when it comes to sleds. You can bring your own from home, buy some at the visitor center or buy them in Alamogordo.  The sleds are just basic circular snow sleds. They are twice the price at the visitor center as they are in town. During our visit, Walmart was sold out but Big 5 Sporting Goods store had them available right by the front door. If you have time I would recommend buying them in town.

The visitor center gift shop used to buy back the sleds and give some money back. However, when we were there they had stopped the buy back program and would give you a sticker or some other small item for bringing back the sled. Since the program changed, some people were bringing back sleds and trading them with other people in the parking lot. Also when we arrived early the next morning before the visitor center opened, there was a sled someone just left outside the gift shop. So if you get lucky, that might be an option. 

A lot of people were asking about the Trinity Site (where the first atomic bomb was tested) at the visitor center. White Sands Missile Range manages this site and not the National Park. The Trinity site is only open to visitors twice a year on the first Saturday in April and in October. You must contact the Missile Range Public Affairs department or the Alamogordo Chamber of Commerce to arrange a visit.

Don’t forget to stop by the World’s Largest Pistachio on your way out of town! Happy Travels!

Carlsbad Caverns

Carlsbad Caverns is one of the most unique National Parks in America. Yes there is Yosemite, Yellowstone, the Grand Canyon, etc and they are all amazing (and you should go visit them). Carlsbad stands out from the rest in that this national park is mostly underground.  It is reported that Will Rogers called Carlsbad Caverns “The Grand Canyon with a roof over it” and I think that is the perfect analogy.

Like most National Parks these days, we had to book our entrance tickets in advance. You can still use your annual pass to get in but you must book an entrance time. We opted for early in the morning as once you are in side there is no time limit on leaving so the middle of the day the cave can get quite crowded. You will check in at the front desk to confirm your entrance ticket (and show your annual pass or pay the entrance fee) and then you are directed back toward the elevator that will take you down into the Big Room. What is unique about the elevator is that it will show you how many feet you are descending. 

You will descend 750ft in total through solid limestone. Another option to enter the cave is via the natural entrance trail. This is a 1.25 mile trail that starts with descending switchbacks all the way down to the first discovered entrance. It is fairly steep so you will have to decide what is best for your visit. Either way you end up in the Big Room and it is stunning.

The most common trail inside the Cavern is the Big Room Trail which is 1.25 miles long. About half way through this trail there is a bailout point which allows you to cut through and make the route shorter. Warning: There are only bathrooms near the elevators. Once you’ve started the trail there is no turning back. We may have had to hustle through the last 1/4 mile as a kiddo really needed to go despite us using the restroom before we started. 

The trail was fairly easy but there are wet spots everywhere. The beginning portion of the trail is wheelchair accessible but you will have to take the shortcut portion to return and can’t do the full loop. Closed toe shoes are recommended. Low lighting is used throughout the cavern which might be a concern for some. 

Besides the rush to the bathroom at the end, the kids really enjoyed being inside the cave. They became absolutely fascinated with bats. 

The visitor center above the Caverns was very well done. There was fun interactive displays and a special area for junior rangers to finish up their booklets.

Overall we had a great and smooth experience at Carlsbad Caverns. But our adventure didn’t end there. We took a short detour over to Guadalupe Mountains National Park.

Guadalupe Mountains National Park

While doing research on our trip to Carlsbad, I stumbled upon Guadalupe Mountains National Park. It is located in Texas so I hadn’t been considering it for our New Mexico road trip. However, it is just across the state line and is actually only 45 minutes from Carlsbad Caverns. We decided we had to go check it out. 

We arrived at the Pine Springs Visitor Center in the middle of a snow storm. In my mind, we were going even farther south and into Texas and therefore it would be hot. Snow was not exactly on my radar. However, mother nature had other plans.

Needless to say, all of our hiking plans were thrown aside. We were able to go into the visitor center but the main part was closed and only a small shop area was open. 

For those of you that arrive when the weather is nice, there is a short Pinery Trail that is paved and is supposed to be an easy hike with kids. The most popular trail in the park is the Devil’s Hall which is 3.8 mile round trip. This trail also starts at the Pine Springs Visitor Center. Another place we were planning to stop was the Frijole Ranch Museum. We were planning to hike the Manzanita Spring trail as well which starts from the Museum. It is only a 1/2 mile trail that is easy for children. A slightly longer and more difficult hike is the Smith Spring Trail loop that also leaves from the ranch area. It is 2.3 miles but there is supposed to be a tiny waterfall and shaded area at the end. But again…..snow.

After having a picnic lunch in the car and realizing the snow was not letting up, we decided to head back to Carlsbad. We didn’t even get to see El Capitan (the most popular mountain in the park) due to the clouds 😦 We did get a small glimpse of the coral reef mountains on the way back into town. Maybe next time Guadalupe!

For Your Trip

  • Don’t forget to book those entrance tickets for the Cavern. The tickets come out 4 weeks in advance.
  • There are guided tours into other areas of the Caverns but those also need to be booked in advance.
  • The bats are not at Carlsbad year round. They are only there from late May to early October. When they are at the cave there are nightly bat programs and an amphitheater that you can watch them leave the cave.  Pretty amazing stuff!
  • There are not a lot of food options for either Carlsbad Caverns or Guadalupe Mountains. I highly recommend you bring all food and water with you….and maybe a roll of toilet paper.
  • The masking requirements are changing frequently so check on the website before heading over to the Caverns.

Happy Trails!

Roswell

The drive from Santa Fe to Carlsbad, New Mexico is long. Empty fields for 4 1/2 hours. The one thing to look forward to is the pitstop at Roswell.

I’m sure you all know the story.  A mysterious object crashed into a field outside of Roswell in the summer of 1947. Was it a UFO? A weather balloon? Spycraft? The truth seems to be a bit muddled but the city of Roswell is sticking with UFO and they have bought into the story 100%.  

Every part of town is Alien themed. That includes the McDonald’s shaped like a spaceship and the local minor league baseball team (Roswell Invaders) sporting an Alien Head in the middle of their team logo. Most of the main attractions are on Main Street, including the spaceship McDonald’s. 

We were a little short on time during our stop so we had to pick between the International UFO Museum or the Roswell UFO Spacewalk. There was an alien autopsy scene at the International UFO museum that I thought might be a little intense for the kids so we opted for the Spacewalk.

The Roswell UFO Spacewalk is this super adorable little place put together by a charming couple. They obviously worked very hard on this blacklight walk through. Entrance fee was very reasonable and you can walk through as many times as you would like. If you have little kids, this is the stop for you. I loved this place, I loved the owners, and I loved that they seemed to do it all just for fun. 

This was a great stop to stretch our legs, do some tacky tourists shopping, and then get back on the road to Carlsbad. 

For Your Trip

You have to get a picture by the Roswell sign. There are signs at 4 different entrances into town and all of them are a little different. Google which one you want to stop at but you need to get that picture. Another random picture you may want to get is a piece of art called Cowboy Ruckus by John Cerney. This is located north of Roswell (about 70 miles or so). 

The cowboys are 18ft tall

Roswell is a good sized town. You could probably spend a whole day there as there are several parks in the area including Bottomless Lake State park and museums including Roswell Museum and a Contemporary Art Museum. The International UFO Museum looks like a great stop if you have older kids. New attractions also seem to be popping up everyday so make sure to stop at the Roswell Visitors Center for the latest info. All the major grocery store chains are in town so stock up before you head out into those open fields again. And don’t forget to watch the skies on the way out of town 😉

Bandelier National Monument

Bandelier National Monument is one of my favorite places. We have been here many times and keep coming back. It is just an engaging park that really draws the kids in and focus their attention on history, hiking, and having some fun. 

Our latest trip to Bandelier was in March 2022. We lucked out with some beautiful, cool weather along with sunshine. Even though March is technically the off season, we still made sure to get to the parking lot at the Visitor Center early to snag a spot. We aren’t the only ones that love this place. The most popular trail is the Pueblo (or Main) Loop Trail that starts directly behind the visitors center. 

This trail is 1.4 miles and is fairly smooth until you get to some sites in which you will want to climb up. There are some very uneven steps, tight spaces and ladders. The ladders are the best part. 

You can go around the step/climbing portion if needed. You can view the cliff houses from the lower portion and then both sections will meet up at the lower cliff dwellings and long houses. I highly recommend going up to the cliff houses and climbing the houses if possible. The views are worth it.

The long houses are interesting as well with some paint still visible.

You can retrace your steps at the end of the trail or loop through via the Nature trail to return back to the Visitor Center. The Nature trail offers more shade and has a little creek running by it. So that is always our choice for the return. 

If you visit in the Spring, I would recommend the Falls Trail to see the winter runoff. The falls can dry up in the summer. This trail is more difficult and honestly I wouldn’t recommend it with small children. Also check for ice or snow on the trail due to recent weather. This trail starts near the visitor center so you can decide if the conditions are right for you after you arrive. 

For Your Trip

Its important to note that Bandelier is an extremely popular spot. In the off season, you can drive down the canyon to the visitor center and park but get there early. In the summer, you must take a shuttle if arriving between 9am and 3pm. The shuttle starts at the White Rock Visitor Center. This is located 20 min away from the Bandelier visitor center and you will most likely pass it first if you are coming in from Santa Fe. So check your watch when you are in White Rock to save yourself a long trip into the canyon and back. 

Bandelier is 1 hr from Santa Fe. There are limited services during parts of this drive with basically nothing between White Rock and the entrance to the Monument. I recommend checking your fuel gauge and bringing some snacks/packed lunch. There is a cafe at the Bandelier Visitor Center, which had lovely coffee. However, this place can get crowded. There is also a lovely patio just outside this cafe with picnic tables that you can sit and have your lunch or finish up your junior ranger booklets.

If you can’t make it to Bandelier this year or just want a sneak peek before you go, their website also offers a virtual tour. You can also check there for closures due to weather or fires (which unfortunately happened recently).

Bandelier National Monument is an absolute must. Add it to your bucket list and I’m sure you will be coming back again after that first visit. 

Murano and Burano

During our quick trip to Venice, Sara and I got the chance to hop out to the outer islands of Venice. The islands of Murano and Burano were well worth the trip.

On the way to the water taxi, we stumbled upon the Chiesa della Madonna dell’Orto. Venice has so many hidden gems.

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Murano is a small island known for glass blowing. Working with glass requires very high temperatures, which posed a major threat to the island of Venice. Therefore they decide to move all the glass-makers to one island to mitigate that risk. There are glass shops lining every street, canal and walkway in this town.

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After a quick lunch, we hopped on the next water taxi over to Burano. The island of Burano is known for the lace that is made there. However, it is becoming a more popular tourist attraction due to the Instagram-worthy colorful houses.

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I mean come on! This place is just beautiful and so much fun

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Random side note: We also found Coca-cola with coffee here. It was actually delicious.

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If you have time during your trip to Venice, the islands are worth a visit. They give a different feeling than the main island (though the overflowing tourists are still there). The water-taxis to the islands are included with the Venezia Card, making it worth the purchase.

In 48 hours, Sara and I were able to hit all the main attractions in Venice and both islands. It was a perfect, quick, girls trip and we checked a bucket list item off the list. Thanks for the memories Sara!!

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Venice

Sometimes in life you just have to say “yes”. You have to jump on an opportunity when it presents itself without thinking too hard about it. Now if you know me, then you know that isn’t my personality. I am an over-thinker and planner. However, when my friend Sara said she NEEDED to see Venice before she moved back to the States. Oh and by the way we need to go in the next couple weeks. I said “Ok. Let’s go!”

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Venice is only a 1-hour plane ride from us and we had 48 hours to try to see it all. As soon as we got there, we hopped on the water taxi and headed to the center of town.

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We went to check out all the major sites like:

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Saint Mark’s Basilica

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Doge’s Palace

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Campanile di San Marco

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Bridge of Sighs

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Rialto Bridge on the Grand Canal.

We also decided to do a Vino and Cicchetti tour. Cicchetti is basically Venice’s version of tapas. We hopped around from bar to bar with 10 other people and a tour guide.

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The food tour was nice in that it got us into back neighborhoods and bars that we probably wouldn’t have gone to on our own. We also met a family of 6 Americans on the tour that we kept seeing around town and even had dinner with them one night (By complete accident we ran into them at a restaurant). That always makes for a good time and great stories to tell.

Oh and we randomly ran into this guy playing the piano while being lifted out of a boat and into a party venue. You can’t make this stuff up.

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And that was just our Friday.

On Saturday, we decided to tour the outer islands around Venice. (I will do a little blog post on those beautiful islands in a bit.) But first we had to do a gondola ride. I know that a gondola ride is an expensive, gimmicky tourist thing but come on! We are in Venice. Take our money already.

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The gondola ride price is set by the city and you have to pay cash. The price is the same for up to 6 people on the boat. So find some friends and bring some Euros because you have to have a gondola ride in Venice.

Before we had to leave Venice, we made sure to stop by Saint Mark’s Square at night. Everyone says it is a different experience and it truly is unique. Everything was lit up and there was a five-piece band playing outside a restaurant. It was a great way to finish our quick trip.IMG_4960

Venice is such a beautiful place but a fair warning to those who are planning to visit. We went at the end of March. We had beautiful weather and it was not nearly as crowded as it is during the summer. However, it still looked like this at the main square on a Saturday afternoon.

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I cannot imagine what it is like in summer. However, Venice is always a good idea and she will reward you if you decide to come see her.

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Happy Travels!

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Christmas Markets and Prague

Christmas is such a magical time of year all over the world but I must say that Europe does it best. My absolute favorite thing   (that I have become a bit obsessed with I must admit) is the Christmas Markets. They are just such a joy and really put you in the Christmas spirit.

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When you see pictures like this, you can understand why the markets are so amazing. This is the market in Heidelberg, Germany. Some of my friends and I have started a little mission to see as many different markets as possible before our time overseas is up. We have managed to see almost all the local markets so we have started setting our eyes on the most famous markets in Europe. And that is how our little road trip to Prague started.

Prague is about a 5 ½ hour drive from us and has a very famous and popular Christmas market. We dropped the kids off at school Friday morning, said “Good Luck” to our husbands, and we were off. The halfway mark between here and Prague is Nuremberg, Germany. Nuremberg is home to another very famous Christmas market so we stopped off here to get this Christmas party started.

The Nuremberg market is HUGE.

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This is the only market I have been to so far that has a separate international section and a kids’ section. All of this is set up in front of Nuremberg’s Cathedral.

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Most of the Christmas markets in Germany are known for the glühwein that is sold, which is a warm spiced wine. The Nuremberg market is actually known for serving a warm beer (glühbier). When I think of warm beer, it is not usually happy thoughts. However, this is a citrus flavored beer with Christmas spices and it was actually really good. I may even like it better than glühwein!

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You pay a fee for the mug when you get a drink. You can choose to return the mug and get your deposit back or keep the mug. I have quite the collection of Christmas mugs. We had our drink, ate some yummy food and got back in the car to finish the trip to Prague.

We spent the next day exploring the city of Prague. We came to the Christmas market just as it began to snow. It was that beautiful snow where you can see the actual snowflake pattern when it lands. It was magical.

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The largest market was in the Old Town Square so of course we also checked out the famous Astronomical Clock.

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It had just been renovated and repainted over the last year and was looking in excellent condition. On the hour, the clock rings and a parade of Apostles come spinning out and staring down at you, judging your worthiness apparently. Also, Death rings the bell ….. so yeah….. that’s comforting.

The Christmas Market was the big draw for us to Prague but we couldn’t come to Prague without seeing the other major sites. So we headed over to the Charles Bridge.

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There were so many great views from the walk along the river and over the bridge.

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On the other side of the river is where you can find Lennon Wall.

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Apparently, the day after the murder of John Lennon, someone painted a picture of Lennon on the wall. The graffiti took off from there. The wall and its art are supposed to be symbols of peace and love, but it also became a symbol of rebellion during the communist days. The art on the wall is always evolving so every time you visit it will look different.

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We enjoyed our short little girls’ trip. On the way home, we swung by the Bamberg market, which was excellent (another mug for the collection). We also saw a car explode in front of us on the Autobahn (no one was hurt) but that is a story for another day.

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Santa Park, Finland

Just down the road from Santa Claus Village is Santa Park.

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Santa Park is kind of like a Christmas amusement park that is tucked into an underground cave. Not even kidding.

Santa Park is only 1.25 miles (2 km) down the road from Santa Claus Village but it is the bus stop right before Santa Claus Village. So if you take the bus from Santa Claus Village to Santa Park you have to ride all around town before getting back there. The reason I tell you this is to explain why we decided to walk, 1.25 miles (2 km), with 2 young children……in the arctic cold.

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Now 1.25 miles is not bad, except it was absolutely freezing. This is what it looks like after you arrive to Santa Park from this walk in nature.

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(Suggestion: Take a taxi)

However, it was worth the effort. This place was lovely. It was also nice that everything was indoors and we could check our jackets at the door.

As you enter the cave, you walk down a long tunnel and there is the noise of elves working with their tools preparing everything for Christmas. I got so excited just walking through the entrance!

Some things to see inside the Park:

Ice Bar

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It was absolutely freezing in here. We had a quick drink and got out of there. Then as we were walking out we realized they have free coats for you to borrow. They are just located across from the entrance to the bar and are easy to miss. We felt so silly. Ha!

Sleigh ride

There is a cute little sleigh ride that takes you around the elves workshop and a winter wonderland. It had a very “It’s a Small World” ride feel.

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Crafts

There were several craft areas around the park. In one location you could make your own Santa/Elf out of wood, felt and cotton. Next to this area was a play dough design area. There was also cookie decorating available.

Elf School

This was the absolute highlight for O. It was a super adorable program that ran for about 20-30 minutes preparing children to become elves. It was done by 2 elves with one speaking English and one speaking Finnish throughout.

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It was highly entertaining and in the end each kiddo got an elf hat and a certificate. The certificate is in Finnish, which makes it a great little souvenir. The hat also says “Santa believes in me”. I mean, come on. You can’t get any sweeter than that.

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Entertainment

We happened to swing by the main stage just in time to catch a performance. We had no idea the theme and just happened to snag a seat as it was starting. Then this amazing acrobat/gymnastic performance began. The actors were elves making a present for Santa but they performed amazing flips and jumps all over the stage. It was completely unexpected. After the “story” was over, one of the performers did a handstand on 2 poles. Then she took a bow and arrow with HER FEET and shot down a balloon on a target on the other side of the stage. I wish I had a picture of our faces. We sat there just completely stunned. The kids were also enthralled by the performance and didn’t move an inch when watching it. It was incredible!

The admission fee for Santa Park includes 2 days at the park. So we made sure to swing by the next day as well to catch all the fun. Side Note: The tacky Christmas sweater game is strong here. Bring your best!

 

Santa Claus Village and Santa Park took up the majority of our trip to Finland. We did visit the Arktikum museum, which has some kid friendly exhibits and a northern lights simulation.

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After all our fun around the Arctic Circle, we hopped back on the train (read about that adventure here:   Overnight Train to the Arctic) and headed back to Helsinki to catch our flight home.

Helsinki Harbor greeted us with this view on our last day in Finland.

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Finland is a beautiful place. Go visit them!

Santa Claus Village, Finland

We started our Christmas season a little early last year and headed up to Finland over the Thanksgiving break. Rovaniemi is the “official” hometown of Santa Claus (though I know some people in Alaska who may disagree with this comment). If you love Christmas, this is the place for you!

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We stayed in a cabin at Santa Claus Village so we could be as close to the Man in Red as possible.

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There were also lots of fun attractions nearby so we didn’t have to travel far.

Arctic Circle

Right off the bat we had to cross off one bucket list item. We stood on the Arctic Circle.

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Random fact, the Arctic Circle actually moves every year. So there is a nice little permanent marker in the picture, but we walked all over the village to make sure we actually crossed the line.

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Plus you get a fancy certificate to prove that you were, in fact, crazy enough to bring your family up to the Arctic Circle.

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Reindeer Sleigh Rides

The one thing I wanted to do more than anything else on this trip was to go on a reindeer sleigh ride. There is something about the idea of sitting on a sleigh and gliding through the snow being pulled by a reindeer. If that doesn’t scream “Christmas” I don’t know what does.

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Mother nature decided not to provide us snow for this trip, so we were not able to take a longer ride through the woods. However, they did set up a small track with snow to allow for shorter rides. It didn’t matter. I was so beyond happy to just even sit there. Gavin made a wonderful Go Pro video of this adventure, yet I have no idea how to share it. So instead here is us before we took off on our ride.

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It makes me smile just thinking about it now. Love it!

The Big Event

If you are going to Santa Claus’ hometown, you better pay him a visit. You also must get a family photo with the Man in Red after traveling all this way. However, having 2 small children look toward a camera while meeting the official Santa Claus, is no small feat. In order to get that one in a million photo, we actually went and visited Santa multiple times. The final result is this.

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We look like an absolute hot mess, but everybody is looking forward. I am going to take that as a win.

Santa’s Salmon Place

After all of this running around in the cold, we needed to refuel. Now most eating establishments around the Village are more tourist oriented, fast food type places. An exception to this rule is Santa’s Salmon Place.

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Inside this small little Teepee, fresh salmon is cooked to order.

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You have to get there early to get a seat, as the place is tiny. There is also a bit of a wait due to the whole “being cooked in front of you on an open flame in a Teepee” thing. It is absolutely worth all the hassle.

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(I’ll take one please)

Extra Info

There is also a Husky park at the Village. Again, because there was not much snow, there really wasn’t much to see here at the time we went. They do provide husky sleigh rides, which sounds like great fun.

There is a small petting zoo tucked in the back of the village. The family that runs this “zoo” (more like small farm) were unbelievably nice. We were one of the only families there when we visited and they pretty much gave us a private tour of everything. We got to feed the sheep, try out cross-country skiing and hug trees (Halipuu). Hugging trees is supposed to be healing and bring you closer to nature. I totally hugged a tree. Randomly, the only picture I have of this place is this one.

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There were lots of different excursions that you could book from the hotel and other companies. Some of the most popular ones were Northern Lights expeditions and snowmobiling. We did NOT get to see the northern lights. Bummer! Gavin went on an Ice Floating adventure. More on that experience in a future post.

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We had a great time at Santa Claus Village and in Finland. Next post will be about Santa Park. See you then.

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