Adventure #11 - Exploring Cuba

We are now back in a snowy Sweden after a very fascinating 3 week trip to Cuba. This was the perfect ending to our adventure year! It was difficult to find internet connection, so this blog post will summarize our trip. Want more details? Just get in touch and we'll tell you more!

We had booked flights and the first two accomodations, in Havanna and in Playa Larga. We had an idea of the route we planned, but no more details booked. And it turned out to be extremely easy to travel in Cuba. Everyone is friendly and helpful, so there was never any problems in finding a place to stay or getting transport to the next place. And staying in people's homes (casa particulares) was the best decision - we met so many interesting, fascinating and caring people.

This is how we travelled:
Havanna - Playa Larga - Cienfuegos - Trinidad - Santa Clara - Varadero - Havanna - Vinales

The fascinating capital of Cuba! We started our journey here and returned for a couple of more days later during our trip. Lot's of interesting places to explore. The highlight was wandering around the alleys of Old Havanna and observing the lifes of the people in Havanna.

View from our casa particulares

Playa Larga
A small village at the Bay of Pigs, with a small and charming beach. We were almost alone at the beach, even though it is high season for tourism in Cuba we seemed to select the more desolated places. Here we stayed at our favourite casa particulares - Casa Frank. We ate all meals here and the casa owners took great care of us. We loved sitting on the terrace and just watch the village life on the street below.  Lot's of sounds - roosters, salsa music, horse carriages, vendors shouting "banana" or "pan"...

A French colonial city "The Pearl of the South", not so many tourists and lot's of well maintained houses and old colonial buildings. Highlights here were a trip to the beach Rancho Luna and the mojito on top of the Palacio de Valle. Also very helpful casa owners, and luckily for us they spoke English! We got some great advice from them that helped us during the rest of the trip. We ended our stay in Cienfuegos with an interesting taxi ride to El Nicho, a beautiful waterfall, and then continued on to Trinidad. Our taxi probably broke down around 15 times before we finally reached Trinidad.

A relaxed town which is easy to like! Colorful buildings, lot's of Cuban music and nice restaurants. Trinidad is included on most tourists' agenda, so there were more people here. On Christmas Eve we spent the day on the beach Playa Ancon. Otherwise it is no problem to spend time in Trinidad. As always, just walking by foot and observing the town is our favourite thing to do. For the first time in Cuba we found a restaurant that served really good vegetarian food, so our vegetarians were happy!

Santa Clara
The main reason to visit Santa Clara is to see the Che Guevara monument, and that's why we stopped here for a couple of days. We liked the atmosphere in Santa Clara, even though there is really not much to do apart from the monument.

Varadero was not on our planned route before we left. But after visiting busy cities we wanted to spend some days at a beach. And the casa owners in Santa Clara recommended Varadero. We thought there were only all-inclusive resorts there, but it turned out that it is also a "real" city in Varadero with plenty of casa particulares. So we took the bus here and found a nice place to stay not many meters from the beach. The beach is over 20 kilometers with beautiful white sand, blue water and palm trees. And not that crowded! At least not the part of the beach where we spent our days.

Our final stop was east of Havanna in the tiny town of Vinales, one of our favourite places in Cuba. Unfortunately it rained a couple of days here, but we still got to explore the fantastic landscape around the Valle de Vinales. We hired a taxi for one day and visited all the mandatory sights, with the Santo Tomas cave as the highlight. Every other house here is a casa particulares, and our casa was great! The owners helped organise everything we needed, "No problema" was their standard answer!

All in all, this was an amazing trip! Would we do anything differently next time? Yes, I would study some Spanish before leaving - that would make things a bit easier. Otherwise, we can definitely recommend Cuba for a different experience! Viva Cuba Libre!


Let the Cuban adventure begin

We’re in Cuba!

Instead of spending Christmas at home with snow and cold weather, we have escaped to Cuba. Why Cuba? Well, because we are fascinated by this complex country and its people. We wanted to learn more and at the same time have a relaxing vacation.

We arrived in Habana on a Saturday and were greeted by Isabel at our Casa Particulares, which is like a hostel. The Cubans have for some years now been allowed to rent out a couple of rooms in their home for tourists. It’s a great way to stay in Cuba, you get to know the people and the casa owners are helpful. The Casa in Habana was clean with nice rooms and a friendly casa owner who spoke English. None of our four family members speak Spanish, so that was a bonus.

We started with two days in Habana to get a feeling of the city and to get used to the Cuban life. Habana is like no other city we have visited before. It is a relaxed feeling, salsa music from every corner and people everywhere, bu t no one seems to be in a hurry. The houses around our area where we stayed in Centro Habana are old and in desperate need of renovation.

On the first day we took a walking tour together with David, a guide who found us at one of the squares in Habana Vieja (Old Habana). He was amusing and informative, so we had a nice walk around the alleys in Habana Vieja, exploring museums, cathedrals, stores, hotels and residential areas. Very fascinating!

One thing you notice in Habana is the lack of stores. There are no supermarkets, goods are sold in different small markets, on the street and “hole-in-the-wall”-stores. There are tourist stores, but they don’t really sell much either. I guess there are many reasons for that, but one major reason is of course the US embargo.

On our second day we focused on understanding the Cuban history, politics and the revolution. We visited the Museo de la Revolucion and the Museo 28 Septiembre de los CDR. Very interesting, of course “mucho” propaganda, but Cuba definitely has a complex history and a complex present as well.

After a couple of days in Habana we boarded the Viazul bus to Playa Larga, a small village by the sea. It is one of the two beaches at the Bay of Pigs where the US invasion attempt took place in 1961. This is not a fancy resort beach, but more a small beach with a cheap resort and some bars. We stayed in a great Casa Particular “Casa Frank” in two big rooms and with a great terrace and our own bar. Not bad! The weather was a bit cloudy, but we spent a couple of days relaxing, swimming in the ocean and just watching the village life from the terrace and by walking around. We ate all our meals at the casa, nothing fancy but big portions and well prepared food. You don’t go to Cuba for the food, but we really enjoyed the meals at Casa Frank.

Now the plan is to catch a bus tomorrow to go to Cienfuegos. Hopefully our casa owner here in Playa Larga will help us find a nice place to stay tomorrow. And hopefully the bus will not be full when it arrives here. But we’ll see – that’s part of the adventure! We’ll be back with more when we find Internet connection again!

Christmas adventure in Cuba

Our adventure year is coming to an end, but we have one final adventure left. We will leave the snow in Sweden and spend 3 weeks around Christmas in Cuba. Cuba seems like the ultimate destination for us, easy to combine different interests. Relaxing on the beach, hiking in the mountains, exploring the cities, learning about politics and history, meeting fascinating people...

We will start in Havanna with three nights at a Casa Particulares, a guesthouse in the centre of Havanna. After that we only have a rough idea of what to do next. We have made an itinerary with some cities and places we would like to see and visit. But we haven't booked anything more, so we will decide the plan step by step when we are in Cuba. Hopefully we will get some ideas from people we meet along the way.

We leave next weekend, so right now we are making the final preparations. According to the guidebooks it is not easy to find internet access, so we have downloaded books, games etc to be able to access off-line. I am a bit worried about the teenagers having withdrawal symptoms from internet, so we need to find other things to occupy them with. We have packed the mahjong game, Scrabble and cards so hopefully we'll be fine!

This will be such a great adventure! Just spending time together, but also exploring a different culture. I'm not sure if we will be able to blog while we are there, it depends on the internet access. But we'll try to share some stories if we can. We would love to hear any recommendations for places to visit!


Adventure #10 - Fumble After Dark Geocaching

Now we have completed our 5th Fumble After Dark geocaching event and our 10th Light My Fire Adventure. As always, FAD was a great experience!

It has been a tradition in our family to spend a few days each fallbreak with the kids to travel down to the Gothenburg area to attend the Fumble After Dark event. Since the event took place closer to home this year we changed the tradition and just made it into a daytrip. We also made the day a bit more "teenager-friendly" by not attending the day part with lectures.

So, we arrived about an hour before the evening part started. Just enough time to feel in the atmosphere, mingle and get into the right caching mode. Around 17.00 we waited in line to load the coordinates for the evening caches into the GPS. That part went very smoothly, not an easy job to help 800 geocachers get ready! We got some instructions about the evening and a folder with maps and all the caches. An hour later we were released into the night with our headlights on!

Getting ready
The caches during FAD are mainly temporary caches that you cannot log online. The event is more about the experience rather than the statistics and number of logs. For beginners I think this was a bit confusing, you don't find a cache with a log book as you normally do. We helped to explain that to several cachers that we met during the evening. Next year I think I will write a "Beginner's guide to FAD" to explain the whole concept better before the event.

Our plan for the evening was to focus on the caches that were different and fun. However, it's not that easy to know exactly which caches are fun, but usually the "mystery caches" are the ones that are more elaborate. This year Groundspeak (the company that runs has also launched a new type of cache - Labs. It's a cache that is only available during an event and that you can actually log online, so we wanted to find some labs caches as well.

There was a heavy mist during the evening which helped to enhance the Halloween theme

In the middle of the woods...

One of the Lab caches - Freaky Christine!

We did find some fun and unusual caches and enjoyed the Halloween theme that we could see on many of the caches. Since this was our fifth year we recognised quite a few of the caches that we had seen before, so this year we were not as impressed as the first years.

We appreciate all the effort that the organizers have put into this event. Thank you so much! Next year the event will move to Skåne in the south of Sweden. We'll try to make it - but maybe it's time to leave the teenagers home next time!

Time for Mega Sweden - Fumble After Dark

We have been geocaching since 2007 and have logged over 6000 caches with our alias Team Vildmark. It has been a great family activity where we have explored many interesting places. We have geocached in our own neighbourhood and also when travelling to other places. We have logged geocaches in 20 countries. We have seen places we would never ever visit otherwise. We have met people from all over the world. So - it is a hobby that has really worked well for our family.

One tradition for us is the geocaching event Fumble After Dark. A bunch of people get together to talk about geocaching during the day. Then when the night falls everyone puts on their headlamps and run out into the woods to geocache in the dark. The geocaches are always elaborate with fun puzzles that all of us, also the kids enjoy. The last couple of years the event has grown and passed 500 attendees two years ago, making into a Mega event. I don't know how many people that will join this year, but there are 640 logs already (with some logs representing several people).

This year Fumble After Dark has moved from the West coast to the East coast and will take place today in Södertälje. For us this will be the 5th year that we attend. During the day there are lectures, exhibitions and other activities. The main event starts in the evening when the coordinates for the geocaches are released and the night hunt begins. So, right now we are getting all the gear together. Headlamps, UV-lamp, geocaching coins, warm clothes and boots, first aid kit, water bottle, batteries, GPS, Swiss Army knife, paracord bracelets - and hopefully happy teenagers :-)

Here's a taste of what can happen during FAD with some photos from previous years.

Getting ready for the night activities in Tjörn 2010

Climbing trees

Of course there's a bar in the woods

Teamwork required, this is from Lerum 2011

Hints can be found everywhere
Looking forward to a great evening in the dark! We'll be back with a summary of this years's Mega Sweden Fumble After Dark.

Adventure #9 - Kolarbyn wilderness experience

One of our absolutely favourite places in the world is Kolarbyn, known as Sweden's most primitive hotel. It is an amazing place where you sleep in small wooden huts and cook your own dinner over an open fire. We discovered this place about 5 years ago when we signed up for a "family survival weekend" with Andreas, who is now the owner of this place. Since then we have been coming back here once a year for a retreat in the wilderness.

Kolarbyn is about 2 hours from Stockholm where we live, so it is convenient for a weekend trip. We left home early on Saturday and made a lunch stop in Ramnäs to do some urban exploration. Urban exploration is something that we have been fascinated with - exploring old ruins that have been left to decay. We have explored old military bunkers, forts, factories, amusement parks and this time an old saw mill. This old mill was located by a really pretty lake, so we got to do some exploration and then have lunch at a beautiful place this nice fall day.
View from our lunch 

Then we headed straight to Kolarbyn where we were greeted by Andreas. There are 12 forest huts and one small cabin, and this evening all the beds were booked. When we arrived we chopped wood, started a fire and made coffee over the open fire while talking to some of the other guests. The teenagers took a nap in their sleeping bags while the adults went for a walk along the shore of the lake Skärsjön. Since we always need to complicate things, we went out to a small cape in the lake through a moss that fortunately wasn't all that wet right now. We relaxed with a beer and just enjoyed the view.

Swedish version of a djungle

Back at Kolarbyn we woke up the kids and started preparing dinner. We made hamburgers and soya burgers over the fire place. And the excellent Swedish dessert "Gino" - which is sort of standard on our wilderness excursions. There is a bigger hut where you can have dinner indoors, but we had such a great evening with a starry sky so we spent the evening outdoors.

At Kolarbyn you sleep on wooden beds with a sleeping mat and sheepskin, which makes it quite comfortable actually. Each hut has a stove and candles, so it gets both cosy and warm. I had to remove my long underwear during the night since it got too warm!

We slept really well and didn't wake up until about 9.30 when most of the guests were ready to leave... But we took a slow morning, made breakfast and enjoyed the silence and wilderness before leaving and returning back to our normal busy city life.

So we made it to Kolarbyn this year as well - let's see if we can get the teenagers to join us next year or if we will make it into a romantic weekend without kids next year :-)


Adventure #8 - Draisine cycling in Gullspång

Time for a new adventure - cycling with draisines along a disused railway line in Gullspång. A draisine is a sort of railbike originally used by railway personnel for maintenance of the railways. There seems to be several types of draisines and several English words for similiar type of vehicles, like handcar, railbike, inspection trolley... Anyway, in Sweden it's a popular tourist attraction and there are several disused railways where you now can ride a draisine instead. We tried this a couple of years ago in Vansbro and we all enjoyed it, so we decided that it would be a nice adventure for our Light my fire Adventure year.

This time we invited a 4-year old cousin and her mom to join us. We started on Friday with a picnic halfway to Gullspång at Skantzen, an outdoor museum in Hallstahammar. The museum was closed when we got there, but the surroundings were nice and it was a good place to spend an hour. It is right next to a canal with a lock, and there is a nice playground with a copy of the canal. It was a great thing that we had a 4-year old with us so that we had an excuse for playing there!

We stayed at the youth hostel in Gullspång which is right by the train station where the cycling begins. After a good night's sleep we had breakfast at the hostel and inspected our bikes. We rented three bikes, which meant that we were two on each bike. We then took turns riding the bike, one cycling while the other one could just relax and enjoy the ride. Our 4-year old was a bit too short, but she managed to ride the bike for some short distances.

Train station in Gullspång

Lunch with hamburgers out in the woods

This is not a very action filled adventure, it is more a slow trip passing through woods, farmland, lakes and a few houses. When the railway crosses a road you need to jump off the bike and walk over the road. That's the most excitment you get! Well, then there's the chance of meeting another draisine coming the other way. Then you need to lift the draisines off the track to let the other's pass.

We took the route to Torved a 40 km trip in total which was perfect for a day trip. We still  had plenty of time for breaks and also a stop by the beach for some swimming before returning to Gullspång.  There were rest areas on several places along the track. It was a hot day so we soon ran out of water. Fortunately, we met some nice people outside a house that let us borrow their pump to get some fresh water.

Suddenly the tracks ended and we had to turn back

There are lot's of geocaches along the railway, but we didn't have the time or energy to stop for all the caches. But we logged a few that were located at places where we stopped to rest. Our teenagers don't really think geocaching is fun anymore (mostly embarrasing), but the 4-year cousin loved to go treasure hunting!

One of the geocaches we logged along the way
I think everyone was quite happy about the trip when we returned to Gullspång for some ice cream. It is really a nice family adventure, which gives you lot's of time to just chat, relax and enjoy the scenery. However, if you need more adrenaline filled adventures maybe you should try some other sort of cycling like downhill or mountain biking instead ;-)

Adventure #7 - Island hopping in the Stockholm archipelago

The August adventure with our teenagers took us to the Stockholm archipelago and a bit of "island hopping". The Stockholm archipelago with 30000 islands is one of our favourite places. And it is also quite easy to reach many of the islands even without your own boat, since there are plenty of ferries going to the islands. This time we chose three islands in the southern part of the archipelago - Rånö, Utö and Fjärdlång.

We started our trip from home, first with the bus and then a commuting train for one hour to the harbour in Nynäshamn. We took the boat to the island of Rånö, it's a journey of about 50 minutes. When we got to Rånö we were greeted by the staff at the cabin rental to pick up our luggage - great service! So they transported our backpacks while we walked a kilometer to our cabin.

There is a small shop and a restaurant on the island, so before dinner we spent a couple of hours playing cards at the restaurant and drinking the local beer made in Nynäshamn. We then made tacos on our Primus kitchen for dinner. The location was absolutely amazing - we sat on the cliffs all by ourselves with a beautiful view of the ocean.
Coffee on our way to Rånö
Walking to our cabin
Geocache found!

Our home for a night
Making tacos on our Primus kichen with an amazing view
Ålö and Utö
The next day we took the morning ferry to the next island Ålö, which is only 10 minutes from Rånö. Our first idea was to spend the day walking 13 km to the hostel at Utö (the two islands are connected). But we changed our minds and instead we walked about 5 km to the beach Utö Stora Sand. The beach is located within a military zone, but thankfully there were no shootings planned for this weekend so we could enter the area. We were almost alone at this wonderful beach - so we had a great day! This year there was a bus going from the beach up to the north of Utö, so A and the teenagers took the bus while CJ ran instead.

We checked into the hostel where we were staying and went for a walk around the small village. Utö is one of the more popular islands in the archipelago with several shops, restaurants and bars. But we were not there to party, so instead we spent the evening at the hostel making dinner and playing mahjong. We bought a travelsize mahjong in Hong Kong which is great to bring on our adventures!

Walking to Utö Stora Sand
Great beach!
The hostel at Utö
Mahjong game in progress
The next day we explored Utö a bit more. Or actually, the teenagers got to sleep in while the adults explored Utö. We met a charming geologist at some cliffs who was preparing a guided tour, apparently Utö has a very interesting geology.

The last stop was the island of Fjärdlång. We rented a small cabin on the top of a hill next to the hostel. We had bought smoked salmon at Utö which we ate for dinner at the dining room at the hostel (this was the first chilly evening on this trip so it was nice to be indoors).

The next day we found some cliffs by the ocean and left the teenagers there (sleeping, listening to music, relaxing). We then followed a trail around the northern part of the island. This was a great trail, we can really recommend it for a day trip from Stockholm. We walked through woods and pastures with sheep and then passed several sailboats. We went up to "Tysta Klint" which is the highest point on the island. After about 3 hours we returned back to our hungry teenagers.

Our youngest made salmon pasta on the Primus kitchen for the teenagers. The adults were on a fasting day (experimenting with the 5:2 intermittent fasting diet) so we only had some salad and coffee...

The hostel and cabins
Nice cup of coffee!
Logging a geocache at the highest point on Fjärdlång
Relaxing on the cliffs

The grand finale of this small adventure was then the boat ride from Fjärdlång all the way into Stockholm city. It is a 3 hour trip and passes through beautiful scenaries and also some impressive houses at the more fashionable parts of Stockholm.

We had a great time - and we will definitely try to visit some other islands next year. It's better than therapy to get out into the archipelago with the ocean, the views and the silence.


August trip to the Stockholm archipelago

After a sunny summer with plenty of adventures, we are now getting ready to go back to work and school. But we have time for one more microadventure before returning to our everyday life again. This time, we are taking a long weekend to go "island hopping" in the Stockholm archipelago.

Photo from another trip out into the archipelago a few years ago

The boat company Waxholmsbolaget has an island hopping pass which is quite inexpensive (420 SEK for 5 days) which makes it easy to travel around on the islands on different boats. They have also prepared some recommended island hopping routes that we used for inspiration. We decided to go on the Southern route and spend four days out in the archipelago.

From Waxholmsbolaget 

This is our plan:
Day 1: Train to Nynäshamn, ferry to Rånö, stay in cabin
Day 2: Ferry to Ålö, hike to Gruvbryggan Utö, stay in hostel
Day 3: Ferry to Fjärdlång, stay in cabin
Day 4: Ferry to Dalarö, bus and then train back to Stockholm

There are plenty of shops and restaurants out on the islands, but we plan to make most of the meals ourselves. So, tonight we are planning all meals and making sure we have brought the essential things. And at the same time keeping the weight as low as possible for the backpacks. Actually, we are only planning one day of hiking and the rest of the days we will not have to carry the backpacks for any long distances. So I guess it's okay to add some extra weight this time.

The Stockholm archipelago is really a beautiful place and it looks like we will have nice weather - so looking forward to a nice weekend. More info coming soon!


Adventure #6 - Hiking in the Tatra mountains

Our Light my fire adventure for July took place in the south of Poland, in the Tatra mountains. We wanted to go hiking this summer, and we wanted to find some place different. After a bit of searching online we decided on the Tatra mountains on the border between Poland and Slovakia. We booked an apartement in Zakopane, and also added a few days in Krakow.

Now we're back at home and ready to summarize this adventure. In fact, this holiday contained lot's of different elements. The hiking was the highlight but we also had time for some sightseeing, history, culture, geocaching, shopping and of course enjoying the Polish cuisine.

So, what about hiking in the Tatra mountains then?

On the plus side:
The views are spectacular. The trails are clearly marked and well maintained. There are plenty of refuges/chalets to visit for a meal or a drink. The mountains are easy to access with minibuses going to all the main entrances to the mountains. It is great for day trips, staying in Zakopane.

On the minus side:
It is crowded!! This is basically the only mountains in Poland, so it seems like all Polish people looking for a hiking holiday goes to the Tatra mountains. We did one hike on the Slovakian side as well, and that was not at all as crowded. But it is possible to get some solitude if you choose some more distant trails. For example, we walked from Chocholow to Zakopane for half a day without meeting a singe hiker.

One odd thing that we realized was that Polish hikers don't seem to wear the same things as we're used to... We always walk with walking boots and with clothes suited for hiking (breathable, waterproof). But here most people looked like they were on a Sunday stroll, wearing jeans, t-shirts and sandals. The hikes were not that advanced, but still quite steep and rocky at places so it must have been a challenge to walk in pretty gold sandals and a hand bag over the shoulder...

We had four hiking days, and I'll add more information and photos from each hike later on in separate blog posts. But here's a summary of the hikes we did.

Kuźnice - Murowaniec - Czarny Staw Gasienicowy
Very popular route, with magnificient views of the Tatra mountains. After an hour or so climbing up through the woods the trail comes into the open with a nice walk along the slope of Skupniow Uplaz. A bit too crowded for our taste, but we had a great day with lunch overlooking the beautiful lake Gasienicowy.

The trail to Murowaniec
Steep descend and as you can see we were not alone

Kuźnice - Schronisko Kondratowa - Giewont - Gronik
Another popular route, but actually not as crowded as the Murowaniec route. The first part went through the woods and then a quite steep ascent to mount Giewont. We actually decided to skip the final ascent to the peak, both because of the fact that there were plenty of people but also to save our knees. The views from "nearly the peak" was actually really impressive, so we were quite content anyway. We took another route down from the mountain to Gronik, and a mini-bus back to Zakopane.

A long line of hikers going up the mountain

Nice view from our lunch stop
Chocholow - Grubalowska 
The teenagers got the day off and the adults made another type of hike, this time on the grassy slopes opposite of the Tatra mountains. We took a taxi to the charming village of Chocholow and walked about four hours from there back to Zakopane. We could admire both the landscape of the valley and the Tatra mountains on our walk. This trail was not as clearly marked as the others, and it seems like not many people find this trail. We didn't meet a single hiker all day, not until we reached Grubalowska. After admiring the views from a bar in Grubalowska, we took the chair-lift back down to Zakopane.

The main street through Chocholow
Grassy slopes and high mountains in the background

Tatranska Kotlina - Chata Plesnivec (Slovakia)
Hiking on the Slovakian side of the mountains was just as easy. We parked the car in Tatranska Kotlina and went to the refuge Chata Plesnivec (Edelweiss). This day was mostly a hike in the woods, but with some places with nice views. This hike is on the outskirts of the White Tatras and you can see many traces of the big storm Tatranska Bora which in 2004 destroyed about half of the forested area in the Slovakian part of the Tatra National Park.

Easy to find your way on the trails

The White Tatras with broken trees from the big storm

Another beautiful place for lunch

We had a great time and everyone enjoyed the hikes (yes, the teenagers as well). The Tatra mountains are definitely not for those looking for solitude and desolate mountain trails, but it is a very accessible place easy to hike even if you are unexperienced.  And Zakopane is a touristy but charming place with some shopping and nice restaurants. To make the trip even better, we added a few days in Krakow as well. We spent some time exploring the city and also learning about the horrible history of the genocide that took place here and in nearby Auschwiz during the Second World War.

All in all, a good mixture of adventure, culture, history and just pleasure and relaxation.


Hiking with teenagers

We have done some hiking trips with our children, mostly in the Swedish mountains. We started doing short day trips when the kids were 6-8 years old. When the kids grew older we hiked longer distances, like two years ago when we walked on Kungsleden ("The King's Trail") from Nikkaluokta to Vakkotavare. We have tried to make the hikes not too challenging, since a teenager in a bad mood is not the best company. Soon enough they will decide to stay home and not join us during our hikes anyway...

On our way to Kaitumjaure from Singi

Enjoying the views
 We have planned the hikes so that we can stay in cabins and buy supplies as we go along. That makes the packing a bit lighter, we don't have to carry tent and sleeping bags and not too much food. Along Kungsleden there are cabins to sleep in, and they also have supplies to buy in several of the cabins.

One thing that we have tried to do is to always make a proper dinner. Yes, freeze-dried food is practical but not that exciting. You don't really have that much to do while hiking, so you have plenty of time to spend on making dinner. For lunch we typically just have freeze-dried soup, maybe with some Swedish crisp bread, that's easy to eat even if the weather is bad. But for dinner we try to be a bit more creative.

Last time we went hiking we dried our own food. We dried lot's of vegetables like carrot, onion, zucchini, mushrooms and peppers. We also dried ground beef. Together with different spices and the additional supplies like pasta, noodles etc that you can buy along the way you can make some really nice dinners. Drying food has been fun, and I think we would like to experiment more with that.

Great dinner with dried vegetables, sweet chili sauce and noodles
This year we wanted to try something different, so we are going hiking in the Tatra Mountains. The Tatras are located between Poland and Slovakia and is part of the Carpathian Mountains. We have rented an apartement in Zakopane on the Polish side and will only go on day-trips and return back to the apartement in the evenings.

For some types of vacations it is okay to be spontanous, just get a flight ticket and see what happens. But when hiking with teenagers you want to be prepared. What are the best trails? How difficult are the trails? Any interesting landmarks? Any geocaches? Beautiful scenery? The kids don't like walking too long on gravel roads, they prefer smaller trails, so I try to avoid roads as much as possible.

So, we have been spending some time reading blogs, tourist sites and the book The High Tatras to come up with a good plan. Actually, the challenge in Tatra is how to escape from the crowds. It seems like a very popular place for Polish people to go hiking, so it can sometimes be queues up the mountain... Not really what we wanted. But we have tried to find some good trails a bit away from the most popular areas. We will also try some of the trails on the Slovakian side of the mountains.

Any of you blog readers that have been to Tatra and can share some good advice?


Adventure #5 - Kayaking in the Stockholm Archipelago

Our family adventure for May took us to one of our favourite places in the world - the nature reserve at Östra Lagnö on the island Ljusterö. We left early on Friday and took the car-ferry to Ljusterö. Our first stop was at an old and forgotten military fort. Since CJ is very interested in military history, we often end up visiting bunkers and forts on our adventures... But actually the whole family usually enjoys these excursions, which often involves "urban exploration", exploring abandoned buildings. This fort was in the middle of the woods and it has been sealed off by the authorities so you can't go inside. But there was plenty of things to discover anyway. And of course there was a geocache there!

Underneath this articificial rock (concrete) is the fort of Lagnö
After lunch at the fort, we drove to Östra Lagnö. This nature reserve is very well maintained, it's also accessible with wheel chairs. Nice paths, informative signs and plenty of picnic tables. There is only a short walk from the parking place to Brännholmen, which is where we wanted to stay the night. So, this time we didn't really pay much attention to packing light.

Map from Skärgårdsstiftelsen
The weather was great, finally the summer has arrived to Stockholm after a really long winter this year. So, we spent the afternoon bathing in the ocean, relaxing on the cliffs and just enjoying the amazing views of the archipelago.

For dinner, we made Spagetti Bolognese on our Primus kitchen, this time in two versions since we have a vegetarian in the family. Maybe this cooking is a bit too advanced if you go on a longer hike, but this time we had the time and we didn't have to worry about carrying too much weight. Not only did we enjoy a nice main course, we also had Gino for dessert! (Gino = warm fruit covered with white chocolate)

When we went to bed in our two tents at eleven, it was still warm and light outside. The Swedish evenings in June are really amazing! After a good night's sleep we got up early and had breakfast out in the sun. When you live in a country where you spend 8 months freezing you really appreciate having breakfast outside in the sun wearing sunglasses!

Preparing lunch
Then the main attraction for this adventure was to try kayaking for the first time. We met our instructor Joel from Hemviken Kajak in the morning. It turned out that Joel actually went to the same schools when he was young as our kids go to now, what a coincidence!

We spent a couple of hours on the ocean with Joel, getting to learn the basics. Since we haven't tried kayaing before, we really wanted to get a good start so that everyone felt safe and wanted to try this again. And we had such a good time, this was a perfect first time for us. Joel took great care of us! After our introduction we had lunch and then spent some more time paddling by ourselves on the ocean.

This was our first time kayaking, but definitely not the last. There are plenty of places around Stockholm where you can rent kayaks, so we well try to do this again a couple of times this summer. We really need some more practice before really feeling confident out on the ocean. For example, Joel demonstrated how to do a kayak roll, but that seemed a bit too advanced for us beginners... We'll be back for his advanced training session!

Getting ready for kayaking

Today on June 6, it is the Swedish National Day and we have beautiful sunny weather here in Stockholm. Our National Day was "invented" in 1983, and is not really a big celebration in Sweden. We are spending the day relaxing at home, going to an outdoor concert to listen to one of our neighbours sing songs by our local celebrity Ted Gärdestad, and then we also will do some planning for our next adventure - kayaking.

We are not really "boatpeople"... And we have actually never gone kayaking before. We borrow a "Canadian canoe" sometimes, for scout hikes and just canoeing on the small creeks in Sala. But kayaking seems more challenging and difficult...
Canoe trip in Sala 2011

So, going kayaking is definitely an adventure for us! It looks like something we would really enjoy, so now it's time to find out. In order to make sure that this will be a nice experience we have booked an instructor for the first hours, at Hemviken Kajak. I am hoping that will make at least me feel more secure!

We are going to go to the northern part of the Stockholm archipelago, to the island Ljusterö. It is actually one of our favourite places in the archipelago, since it is easily accessible even if you don't have a boat. On the northern part of Ljusterö there is a nature reserve at Östra Lagnö which we have visited several times before. The plan is that we go there, have dinner at a cliff overlooking the ocean and then sleep in a tent the night before. It looks like we will have great weather so it sounds like the plan will work!

Adventure #4.2 - Cityweekend in Moscow

While half of Team Vildmark went west to Dublin, the other half went east to Moscow instead. When going to Moscow, doing all the preparations is almost an adventure in itself, as you can read in our previous blog post.

To maximize the adventure we of course had to choose the Russian airline, so we went with Aeroflot from Stockholm to Moscow. The sky was clear and we could see the ground all the way. We landed at Sheremetyevo airport and from there we took the aeroexpress train to a Moscow Metro station and then on to the hotel.

The Moscow metro was one of the best Metros we have ever used. Clean, inexpensive and very effective. We never had to wait more than a couple of minutes for a train. However, it is not that easy to find the right station to get off at since all the signs are in the cyrillic alphabet. Before we left home we printed the metro map in both English and Russian, so we had two versions which helped us find our way.

We had selected a perfect hotel, Mercure Arbat Moscow (thanks all you reviewers on TripAdvisor!). It was quite new with good, clean rooms, wifi and an excellent breakfast. But the best was definitely the location, close to the area Arbat and within walking distance from two different metro stations.

Moscow is a huge city, with lots of things to do and explore. We spent a lot of time just sitting at some café and watch people pass by. Very fascinating! We lived close to the pedestrian zone Arbat so we walked there for dinner each night. It was a bit of a challenge since no one spoke English, but at least most restaurant had English menus.

Hmm, what to get?

We didn't do much shopping. It is quite expensive in Moscow, and to be honest we didn't really find much we wanted to buy...

The first day was dedicated to the big Victory Parade, which is an annual tradition on May 9 to celebrate the victory over Nazi Germany in the 2nd World War. It was impossible for us "simple tourists" to get to the Red Square this day, but there were plenty of other places to stand and watch the parade. We waited together with loads of Russians to see all the military personnel and vehicles of all types.

If you want to get an idea of what the Victory Parade is all about, you can watch the "official video".