Sintra – Quinta da Regaleira

After having our fill of Portugese Tarts, we drove to Sintra where we were taken to the amazing gardens of Quinta da Regaleira.

This place is almost indescribable, Wikipedia tries to describe it as follows:

Quinta da Regaleira is an estate located near the historic centre of Sintra, Portugal. It is classified as a World Heritage Site by UNESCO within the “Cultural Landscape of Sintra”. The property consists of a romantic palace and chapel, and a luxurious park that features lakes, grottoes, wells, benches, fountains, and a vast array of exquisite constructions. The palace is also known as “The Palace of Monteiro the Millionaire”, which is based on the nickname of its best known former owner, António Augusto Carvalho Monteiro. The land that is now Quinta da Regaleira had many owners over the years. It belonged to the Barons of Regaleira, a family of wealthy merchants from Porto, when it was sold in 1892 to Carvalho Monteiro for 25,000 réis. Monteiro was eager to build a bewildering place where he could collect symbols that reflected his interests and ideologies. With the assistance of the Italian architect Luigi Manini, he recreated the 4-hectare estate. In addition to other new features, he added enigmatic buildings that allegedly held symbols related to alchemy, Masonry, the Knights Templar, and the Rosicrucians. The architecture Manini designed evoked Roman, Gothic, Renaissance, and Manueline styles. The construction of the current estate commenced in 1904 and much of it was completed by 1910. The park also contains an extensive and enigmatic system of tunnels, which have multiple entry points that include: grottoes, the chapel, Waterfall Lake, and “Leda’s Cave,” which lies beneath the Regaleira Tower. The “Initiation Well” connects to other tunnels via a series of underground walkways.

I will try and describe it better with lots of photos. 

This is how big it is:


This is how much the kids loved it:


This is the walk to the entry and the main palace:


This is one of the initiation wells, it was really awesome. Ari counted 123 steps inside and 142 in total.



This is the chapel:


The grottoes and tunnels were some of the coolest things but some were pitch black inside and hard to photograph:


And here are so many more photos:



Neither the description or the photos do it enough justice. This was one of the best places we have ever been.

Posted in Christmas 2015, Portugal | 3 Comments

First Priority – Portugese Tarts

Everyone at home lucky enough to have tried them knows that Rute’s Portugese Tarts are amazing!

They are known in Portugal as Pastéis de Natas.

Rute and Filipe took us to the most renowned maker of these tarts and apparently the only place able to call them by their alternative name Pastéis de Belém.

The history is that at the beginning of the 19th century in Belém next to the monastery Mosteiro dos Jeronimos there was a sugar cane refinery attached to a small general store. As a result of the 1820 liberal revolution all convents and monasteries in Portugal were shut down and in 1834 the clergy and labourers expelled. In an attempt at survival someone from the monastery offered sweet pastries for sale in the shop, pastries that rapidly became known as Pastéis de Belém. In 1837 the baking of the Pastéis de Belém began in the buildings attached to the refinery following the ancient ‘secret recipe’ from the monastery, passed on and known exclusively to the master confectioners who hand-crafted the pastries in the ‘secret room’ and this recipe remains unchanged to the present day.

There was a big queue and a constant flow of customers as testament to the fame and success of this place.


They really were fantastic! But between us, we think Rute’s are a little better 😉 

Posted in Christmas 2015, Portugal | 1 Comment

Lisboa (Lisbon) – Portugal

Since we left home on 14 December, whenever we got on a bus, train, plane or taxi, Tess’s first question was usually “Are we going to Luana’s now?”, she has been so busting to see her friend in Portugal that it was a big relief for all of us to finally be able to say “Yes!” as we boarded the plane to Lisbon.

It was an amazing opportunity we couldn’t pass up to meet our good friends and their families in their own country and they really went to great lengths to look after us, including driving 300km from Porto to meet us.

We landed in Lisbon about 6:40pm on 02/01/2016 and were greeted at the airport by four very happy faces, we collected a hire car and since it was already dark, our hotel was right in the old centre of town and there was a big Lisbon v Porto football match on, Rute and Filipe thoughtfully offered to drive us in the two cars rather than me jumping straight in the deep end. This was a good thing because as it turned out there was also a music concert near our hotel and the Police had closed some roads, so it was tricky to find.

Filipe had booked two really cool apartments with a bar and restaurant attached, so we went to dinner, checked out the view from the roof terrace and I think we all headed to our rooms around 12:30am with the kids still on their highs.

We had a bit of a late start the next morning and Filipe and Rute had lined up some amazing things to show us, which each deserve their own post, so for now here are some pictures of our short time in Lisbon.

So happy to be together:

Dinner with friends:



Our cool apartment:


The views from the building:


Some Lisbon sights:


Posted in Christmas 2015, Portugal | 1 Comment

Sweden – Malmö

On New Years Day we caught a train in the afternoon across the border to Sweden, to the town of Malmö.

It’s a lovely old place first mentioned as a town in the year 1275! And it received its own coat of arms in 1437.

We were only there for a few hours, most places were closed for New Years Day, but long enough for a wander around to see the main town square, the town hall, some statues and spend time in The King’s Park.

It was about 3C but with no wind, so far more pleasant.

Here are some of our pictures.







Posted in Christmas 2015, Malmo, Sweden | Leave a comment

Tivoli Gardens

So, when I said it’s not as fun in Copenhagen for the kids after days of playing in the snow, that is with the exception of the Tivoli Gardens.


The Tivoli is the second oldest amusement park in the world, opened in 1843, and it’s fantastic, especially at night. It’s just 500m from our hotel. 

On Wednesday 30/12 we entered the park at 11:30am and didn’t leave until 9:30pm, that’s 10 hours of rides and food. We bought all day ride passes for all of us and made the most of them.

There are many rides from very tame to fairly extreme, and the kids had a go on pretty much everything their height limits would allow.



 At night, the whole place is lit with thousands of coloured lights. We had dinner in a fantastic Italian Restaurant and then went back for more rides.



Skye and I left one of the best rides til last. The Star Flyer, it’s the second highest carosel in the world at 80m (we have been on the highest previously at the Prater in Vienna which is 117m), it was windy up there and so we got blown around a bit, made our stomachs churn a little.


The Tivoli is really awesome!

Posted in Christmas 2015, Copenhagen, Denmark | Leave a comment


Happy New Year!

We are spending the New Year in Copenhagen.

It’s a beautiful city. 

Last night there were non-stop fireworks from around 5pm til after 1am, people were setting them off left, right and centre. We didn’t go out for the midnight celebrations with the kids, but we could see the fireworks from our room and Ari and I had a sauna at around 8pm which had windows overlooking the lake and city so we could watch the fireworks from the heat of the sauna.


We had expected the city to be covered in snow but apparently they have only had one snowfall this winter a couple of weeks ago, so none to be seen now. It’s not as exciting for the kids here after days of snow filled fun in Finland.
It is between +3C and +4C, so much higher than Finland, but there is a constant strong biting cold wind that makes it feel much colder than Finland and we are really feeling it, especially the kids, we have been dressing them in their ski pants because they are wind proof and rugging them up a lot, but Tess has started coughing quite badly here and her cough had not bothered her at all in the colder snow.

Yesterday, New Years Eve, we spent the day exploring some of the sights around the city and so here are some of our pics.




Buying ‘Glogg’, mulled red wine, to warm us through.


Kastellet Copenhagen.



St Albans Church


The Little Mermaid


The Marble Church


Amalienborg Palace



Other things




Happy New Year

Posted in Christmas 2015, Copenhagen, Denmark | 1 Comment

Arctic Ice Hotel, Glass Igloos and the Aurora Borealis 

After leaving the Santa Village on Boxing Day we moved to the other side of Rovaniemi, to a slightly more remote location, to stay at the Arctic Snow Hotel.

First built in 2008, the hotel is built every year for the Christmas season, open in December and January only. Construction starts in October/November when they cut the ice from the Lake to build the main structures of the hotel, sauna’s and restaurant including tables and chairs, they then make 30,000m3 of snow by machine to finish the structure before the natural snow caps it, after which they just maintain it through the winter. It’s below zero inside the hotel. It’s quite a process to sleep in the ice rooms, you need to strip down in a common change room to thermals and boots, leave your clothes in a locker, take two sleeping bags to the room and bunker down for the night like a caterpillar in a cocoon. If you need the toilet you need to go back to the change room to get dressed and go outside to the main building in -10C or less, if someone yells out ‘The Aurora’ you also need to rug up and go outside if you want to see it. You get a certificate to state you ‘survived the night’.

In 2014 they built the first glass igloos, by contrast they are super comfortable, they have heated floors, ensuites, different lighting options to reduce reflection in the glass roof, an electric Aurora Alarm, glass roofs to see the Aurora from and fully motorised beds so you can just press a button and tilt yourself to the best viewing angle without even getting up!

We opted for the glass igloo!

I do want to come back and sleep in the ice rooms when the kids are older though.

You do get a tour of the whole hotel on arrival.

There are also ice saunas and outdoor spas but they are split into short 1 hour separate male and female use at 9pm and 10pm only.

The Ice Bar. This bar is only open for two ‘happy hours’ at 5:30 and at I think 9:30.



The Ice Hotel. Some rooms, the suites, are quite elaborate, with coloured lights and ice sculptures, the standard rooms are less elaborate.

The Glass Igloos. Ours was No. 20 in a great position at the back corner so it was not surrounded by other igloos and had no one else in the view.








The Ice Restaurant. There are three restaurants at the hotel. The log restaurant specialising in glow-fired salmon, the restaurant in the main building and the Ice Restaurant in the snow building where everything is made from Ice, including tables and chairs and even the desert plates. You need to pre-book your restaurant choice before you arrive and even pre-book your choice of meal, so they can cater for everyone. 

We chose the Ice Restaurant and between us we had all the meal options, Elk, Salmon and Vegetarian. It was an amazing experience and the food was fantastic. It was funny when Ari knocked over his glass of water and within minutes it just became part of the table top, no need to clean up!




The main intention for us coming to the Ice Hotel and staying in the glass igloo was to try and see the Aurora Borealis – Northern Lights. It’s a hit or miss type scenario. The conditions were perfect, it was cold at about -14C and the sky was clear. We were all asleep by about 9pm. At 11:02pm we were woken by the buzzing of the Aurora Alarm and looked up to see faint green light hazes moving across the horizon, it slowly intensified and we saw some swirls of green higher in the sky. By 11:20pm it was fading away again never to return that night. I think we were extremely lucky to see the lights considering we had only one night in the glass igloo. We never would have seen them elsewhere as we couldn’t sit out in the cold for hours with the kids keeping them awake til almost midnight. Unfortunately I didn’t take the time to learn how to use our DSLR on long exposure so the only photos I got were on my IPhone. I am not sure how they look on a computer screen, if you can see the lights at all.


The next day we also spotted some colours in the sky.



The kids made a lovely friend at the Ice Hotel, from Holland, they actually first met her at Snowman World, they went off touring the place together for ages and have vowed to become pen-pals.

Lastly, there was also a resident reindeer at the hotel.


Posted in Aurora Borealis, Christmas 2015, Finland, Rovaniemi | 3 Comments