Active family holiday in Eilat

November is not the greatest month to be in Finland. So Eilat seemed like a welcome change and a perfect place for a family holiday. About 30°C temperature and 10-15 apertures more light (in photography terminology) makes a big difference.
Eilat is known as the destination for beach-life lovers and divers, but my latest working trips showed me how much more the city and the surrounding region can offer to the visitor. So I thought that it could suit us all, as our group consisted of twelve people – ages 1-60…
Direct winter flights from Helsinki to Eilat take less than 5 hours and are very affordable!Eilat The underwater observatory marine park in Eilat is a great place for kids and adults alike. You get an idea how it looks down there under the waves, even if you never put a diving mask on your face. The underwater wonderland with all its creatures and corals will mesmerize you.
A 20€ ticket will give you access to all parts of the observatory, including the multi media cinema.
It is located a few kilometers south to the city and you can easily reach it by taxi from the northern beach hotel area for about 10€.Family trip to Eilat Israel Family trip to Eilat IsraelA jeep safari is a fantastic experience for all who can stand some dust, bumps and at times some scary hill slopes. The truth is, that some of the asphalt roads in the mountains are very beautiful too in terms of the landscapes they cross, yet I think that with a jeep you can get into the guts of it all.
Prices 160-180€/4 hours per jeep.
Family trip to Eilat IsraelFamily trip to Eilat Israel Family trip to Eilat IsraelThe “Red Canyon” is an easy and beautiful trek that suits families. Our youngest hikers were ages 8, 5 and 2.5 and they enjoyed the place as if they were in an amusement park. The easy path takes 1.5-2 hours to walk. Early afternoon is preferable time for this family outdoor activity. Drinking water, hats and maybe some energy snacks are recommended.
You should follow the coloured signs back to the starting point or you will find yourself on a much longer trek. This time of the year it gets dark already at five o’clock in the afternoon, and you wouldn’t like to wander in the desert after sunset.
Family trip to Eilat Israel The restaurants around the hotel areas are mainly Mediterranean and Asian style. I especially like the “Fish Market” for their atmosphere and fresh fish. (10-15 min. drive by taxi south of the city center) The Giraffe Restaurant on the beach promenade was great too. You will find it when you walk east along the northern shore boulevard. Barbeach on the southern beach, near the diving and surfing center.
Eilat Typical Israeli breakfast served in Barbeach.Eilat Local drinks. Goldstar beer and Limonana, a sweetened refreshment made with fresh lemon and sweet mint crushed with ice.
Family trip to Eilat IsraelEilat Bird-Watching Park is located just north to the hotel area. About 40 min walk or a short taxi drive. The place is open 24/7 and free. Yet it is strongly recommended to take a guide so you get a better idea what the place is about, how they operate and some facts about bird migration habits. Finns are known for their sympathy for these little creatures and annually many birdwatchers come to participate voluntarily in the park’s activities.
EilatHai Bar wildlife reserve is located near Kibbutz Yotvata about 35 km north of Eilat. Some of the animals that once roamed free in this region can be seen there. It is like a mini safari and sure worth a visit once you are in Eilat.
EilatThe “Top 94” action park in Eilat offers many activities. The carting part is managed by Timo Hirvi, originally from Finland
EilatWatching the sea and the surfers from the many beach restaurants and bars is a nice “after action” time. The water pipe is optional…
EilatAnd if you are absolutely in need for some off road bicycling, you will find many marked trails around the city.
Family trip to Eilat Israel2 weeks before our arrival Eilat was flooded. The whole annual amount of rain, just over 30mm, fell in 3 hours.Family trip to Eilat Israel Family trip to Eilat Israel Family trip to Eilat Israel There is no holiday for me without some off road moments.
Mount Shlomo is located just west to the city. You will see the sunset just behind it every evening. The trek to the summit and down takes about 4 hours and is not too hard. Yet, if you have the fear of heights you might find it challenging at places.
A taxi will take you from the hotel area to the starting point at Har Yehoram on road 12 for about 13€. First follow the Black/White marks and just before the summit the Blue/White marks.
The way down (tread carefully, it is very steep) will take you to the finishing point at Shlomo valley on road 12. There you can call a taxi to take you back to the hotel.
You can also do this trek starting and finishing in the same place (road 12 and Shlomo valley crossing) see the map below. But this way you will climb the whole way and will miss the most beautiful views that you could see when starting from Har Yehoram.
Remember: Hats, long sleeve shirts, sun protection, good hiking boots and a lot of water! Gloves protect hands from the rough stones and walking sticks can help your balance.
Family trip to Eilat Israel Family trip to Eilat Israel Family trip to Eilat Israel har-shlomo-trek Family trip to Eilat IsraelMy good old Keens have seen a lot of off road terrain.

Hurtigruten – the world's most beautiful sea voyage

I spent recently a long weekend – in Norway! And Oslo wasn’t the destination but Hurtigruten which is said to be the world’s most beautiful sea voyage.
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Our journey began in Tromsø which itself would have been worth exploring in depth but unfortunately we had only one afternoon in this Northern city. We had lunch at the local Scandic hotel (excellent food and special thanks for the wonderful dessert buffet where I completely forgot my sugerfree diet and had to taste all the wonderful chocolate and marzipan cakes and the hand made pralines as well and you can guess the results… ).
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On our city tour we visited the famous landmark of the city: the Ice Cathedral built in 1965 which window mosaic is very impressive.
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In the evening it was our turn to check in MS Kong Harald which had departed days before from Bergen. I got good travel company from my colleague and friend Henriikka Fingerborg who also runs a lifestyle blog.
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I guess you don’t need words to describe this. The sunset seen from the deck somewhere near Lyngen.
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The food was very_good! This is my first course, cod fish with lingonberry mousse. Even the buffet was excellent. Fresh fish and other local products were brought into the ship from villages nearby while anchoring. There was homemade buckthorn berry jam and soft porridge, wonderful full grain crisp bread from a local bakery and cheese from local dairies.
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Do you recognize the symbol on the flag? It is the Norwegian Post Office. Hurtigruten, the fast route in Norwegian, was originally a means of transportation. Still one can get on the boat in a harbor and out in the next one. There are also commuters on the boat. You can also visit Hurtigruten when you spot one in a harbor where it makes a long stop. In some places the ships serve also as lunch restaurants as it can be the only restaurant of the village.
Most of the people cruise for 5-6 days but some come stay on board the whole voyage from Bergen to Kirknäs, near the Russian border. It means sailing 12 consecutive days!
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The absolute highlight of our trip waited for us at the harbor of Honningsvåg, on Magerøya island. There we jumped on a bus that took us to Europe’s Nothernmost tip.
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Campers in some of the most exotic corners of Europe.
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We were extremely lucky with weather: three days of sun! It is common to have such a heavy fog in North Cape that you can hardly spot your own nose. Often even in good weather too the view point at a hight of 300 meters might be covered by a cloud but it can disappear in seconds. Then you get awesome views on the Arctic Ocean.
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This was a nostalgic trip. I visited this place for the first time year 1998, that time by car and I continued to Lofooten islands that time.
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I met this cute Sami man Nils. The beautiful Gaba is 4 years old.
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If there is something I have learned to appreciate in my job, it is a professional guide. The South African born Clinton Smith was just like that. He moved to Norway five years ago but he spoke already a fluent Norwegian. He had been a safari guide for all his life and took care that we didn’t only listen but also absorbed the stuff he taught us. It was funny that a South African origin man told us about the Sami customs and how the raindeers are transferred to the island.
By the way, did you know how you recognize a married Sami man? From the ribbon on the right side of his hat. And a single? From a left side ribbon naturally.
We also learned that you never ask a Sami the number of his raindeers. That would equal to asking the balance of a bank account.
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It was wonderful to return from a windy trip to a cup of hot chocolate and juicy apple pie.
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King crab is the boat specialty. This creature was held by the boat chef Roy Kristensen. He has been working on the boat already for 34 years but he says that he doesn’t get fed of the scenery and for reason.
He recommended us to taste another specialty, the torsk ice cream, cod ice cream (!) but I felt a bit sea sick and had to leave it to the next time.
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Ellinor and Ailu Ultsi from Kjollefjord village told us about the Sami culture and offered us angelica tea. We got to try their resin cream which healing qualities are well known.
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Small, sympathetic harbors. Here we are in Mehamn.
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Hurtigruten Winter expedition Foto Ørjan Bertelsen
Photo: Hurtigruten/ Ørjan Bertelsen

I said before that the highlight of our trip was the visit to the North Cape but I have to admit that there was something equally impressive!
It is possible to order a Northern lights alarm to one’s cabin. I kept my outfit next to my bed and when I hear on the loundspeaker “Ladies and gentlemen, beautiful Northern lights are now visible on the left side of the boat” I rushed out of my bed, dressed up in 30 seconds and ran to the deck.
There equipped with my feather coat, a thick woolen hat and scarf and gloves I spent two unforgettable nights watching the sky. I sat on a deck chair also after the crowds went back to sleep and admired the incredible night show the nature provides some lucky ones.
The excursion to  Hurtigruten was organized by Airtouch in co-operation with  SAS.

Little pieces of Åland

This summer our traditional ”Getting lost in Finland” road trip took us to the beautiful archipelago of Åland. It is a bit of an oddity, an autonomy between Finland and Sweden. It is a Finnish territory although swedish is the official language. Luckily visitors get along just fine in English as well.
Last time we visited these islands was 33 years ago! So it was about time to explore this place again.
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As the ferry from Turku to Mariehamn leaves early in the morning, we decided to spend the evening before in Turku and save a morning rush.
That was a smart move! Just another wednesday evening and so much going on. Within a few hundred meters along the Aura river bank there was a gathering of hundreds of motorbikers, an impromptu dance floor in the middle of the street with live music, mainly Tango that so many Finns love and practice, a very good rock band on board an old merchant ship and even live jazz music in a bar.
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An old cruiser Bore is nowadays serving as Hotel Borea. So we got into the marine atmosphere right on our first night.
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Amalia guest house in Lemland is a cosy place to stay. It has a small lemonade factory in the yard. Amalia Lemonades can be found all over Åland in cafes, restaurants and supermarkets. Rebecka Sjölund works in the Factory shop in the summer.
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St. Andrew’s church in Lumparland. First built in 1540, but the present building is from 1728.
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The local beer brand, stallhagen beer, is sold and served all over the islands. We just had to pay a visit to the brewery and found out that the beer was indeed very good.
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The idyllic old boat houses in Käringsund, Eckerö we remembered from our previous visit. But the hunting and fishing museum close to the Eckerö guest harbor is relatively new. It gives the visitor a good idea of the often very tough conditions in which the island people made their living in the old days. The building itself has been designed in a most considerate way to suit the landscape.
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Christiansund guest house
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Friday evening in Eckerö. We could not find any open shops around. Driving back and forth in the country roads looking for something to eat we finally found a Thai take away restaurant. Their fresh made Spring rolls were huge and very tasty.
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The gigantic fortress of Bomarsund was built by the Russians in 1832. The battle with the British-French navy was short and destructive and very little of this huge construction is left to see now. Yet a new trek of about 4 km is taking the visitor around, and useful information boards complete what the eyes cannot see.
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Everywhere you go you will see the old wooden wind mills.
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We paid respect to the famous writer Anni Blomqvist. Her archipelago stories and her own tragic life has left a mark on so many people in Scandinavia.
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Mari Kokko-Tidenberg and Arto Tidenberg live in Helsinki, but every summer they run the charming Bomans guest house in Vårdö. We ended up staying two days in their friendly care. The place can host up to 70 people and besides breakfast they also serve dinners.
It is quite unusual for Finns to own property in Åland, so we were curious to know how Mari and Arto ended up in there. Mari told us that in 1984 her mother Sirkka-Liisa came to work in the Kastelholm castle, which back then served as a prison. She then met and married Magnus Boman and they lived together in his family’s dairy farm. In 2000 the farm was transformed into a guest house. When Sirkka-Liisa passed away in 2014 Mari got to be the co-owner of the place, taking care of the business with Magnus, who still lives permanently on the farm year around. Mari, however, after tourist season returns to her profession, working as a doctor in Helsinki.
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Short fishing trip with Magnus Boman was an extra treat to our stay in Bomans guest house.
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5 whitefish and 1 perch.
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Road trip means hours of sitting in a car. It is a welcome idea to take a few hours hike in the nature. One beautiful trek you find in Getabergen in the northern part of the main island. It offers great views and impressive rock formations. In there I spotted one of the rare orchids growing in Åland, the Orchis militaris.
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When it comes to coffee breaks, we always look for an interesting, rather off the main road places. Marskogens Lamm is a lamb farm. In their café they sell not only good coffee and the traditional pancake but also many other local delicacies like cheese and their own lamb meat products. Friendly Ann Sunberg serves home made buns and pastries and I just loved her table decorations with the wild flowers.
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I just had to stop and take this funny picture.
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Åland’s photography museum in Pålsböle is sure worth a visit. Olle Strömberg has collected thousands of cameras and other items that cover more or less the entire history of the technology of photography. Olle, originally from Sweden, fell in love with a local beauty in Åland. He moved to the islands and did a 40 year photographic career working as a commercial photographer and cooperated with almost all local museums as well. Now retired, he runs this amazing museum and its charming coffee shop with his wife.
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Simskäla is the very northern part of the island of Vårdö. Seals were once hunted for food. Nowadays some fishermen hunt them to avoid destruction of their nets.
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Kurt Eriksson was a seaman and globetrotter who traveled the world for many years. He had the will and skills of learning many languages of the places he visited.
Now retired, he is running his wood workshop and a summer café, Anna’s Shop, in his home village Grundsunda in Vårdö. He welcomes and entertains his visitors with endless stories in 6 different languages. And of course the very famous Åland pancake.
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Åland’s pancake.