by: Heidi Bloomer
We ate well… very well. A lot of restaurants are closed for business on Sundays. Businesses that remain open typically break mid-day between lunch and dinner. This is something to note especially if traveling with children, or partners who like to eat on schedule. Darjeeling Express is number one on my list to highlight. Chef and Owner of Darjeeling Express, Asma Khan, was the first British chef to feature in Netflix’s Emmy nominated Chef’s Table. The restaurant offers three eight-course dinner tasting menus, lunch a la carte and Sunday brunch. Reservations highly recommended to secure a coveted spot. We were able to visit on a special “Supper Club” evening, where Ms. Khan spoke to the patrons – it was very rewarding!
For an authentic and upscale British dining experience, try the “Fish and Chips” at Gillray’s Steakhouse. We came upon this gem because it was conveniently attached to the Marriott where we stayed, but also came recommended by the concierge as the perfect place for pre-theatre dining. Gillray’s had instant menu appeal because of their commitment to using locally sourced farm ingredients. Diners also enjoy a quick and quirky history lesson via original satirical political cartoons displayed throughout the restaurant. James Gillray, the restaurant’s historical namesake and “father of political cartooning,” created these cartoons.
My daughter and I saw Mamma Mia. The whole family saw Wicked. (This was the second time seeing Wicked for my daughter and I because we love the story so much!) My ten-year-old son loved the London Eye. Maybe because it reminded him of the Navy Pier Ferris Wheel back home in Chicago. We booked a “tour guide” through Tours by Locals (Elizabeth) from 9 am to 3 pm one day. She was knowledgeable and kind. She went at our pace and took time to understand and highlight the things we were interested in. My son asked at least 100 questions. I’m quite sure he learned enough to cover History/Social Studies for at least a semester. The world is truly our classroom.
We stayed at the Marriott County Hall – and if given the chance, I would be happy to stay again. This hotel has family rooms as well as spacious king and double rooms. It appeared recently remodeled but maintained the integrity and vibe of the historic building. The location and proximity to an array of famed attractions can’t be beat.
Safety and COVID restrictions
Compared to other trips I’ve taken out of the USA over the last year, this one was a breeze for COVID with easy-to-navigate COVID protocols. That doesn’t mean I didn’t check daily leading up to the trip to verify I hadn’t missed something. I typically check the airline info page as well as find a local government page for the country and specific area we are visiting. This time all countries on our itinerary, as well as the transit city (Amsterdam) accepted our (USA) proof of vaccination cards and didn’t require COVID testing. We voluntarily tested the day before we left just to be respectful – and we tested the day before our return to the USA per protocol. The USA accepts an antigen test – so we tried the “self” kit that is proctored this time. This promotes increased flexibility by allowing us to take the test on our own instead of having a local agency come to our hotel or going to a local facility.
Next on this itinerary: Finland!
Piercing blue skies. Untouched white snowscapes contrasted by patches of majestic pine forests waiting for visitors to lay the first snowmobile tracks. Air so clear we could see Russia in the remote distance.
The inspiration behind our trip to Finland came from the fact that my daughter’s BFF from our ‘Shanghai Days,’ lives in Helsinki. (My family previously lived abroad in Tokyo, Japan & Shanghai, China.)
These two besties last saw each other in January 2020 and never got a proper goodbye due to our abrupt move back to the US. They have been diligent at staying connected despite the time zone difference and social calendars of two teenagers. They schedule calls, prioritize check-ins via text, and just generally make a beautiful effort to stay friends. It was such a joy to be able to reunite them in person. They are already planning their next reunion in the US.
I love the concept that travel can turn someone’s ordinary into your extraordinary. Friendships like this one are beautiful examples of that.
All I’ll say is that we tried Reindeer (their main source of protein/meat in Finnish Laplan) and it was delicious!
We met Heather, the owner and operator of Heather Helsinki’s Tours for a history/food tour. We lucked out again with another knowledgeable and sweet soul. We like to include some element of “formal” learning in all of our travels with the kids, so they have a richer appreciation for the places we visit.
Then we headed to Kakslauttanen in Finnish Lapland, north of the Arctic Circle. This was definitely a once in a lifetime bucket list experience. I hate the chill of winter and even I was able to get lost in the surreal moments and forget about the cold. We met many local families and business owners, enjoyed delicious local food, snowmobiled, went dog sledding, went for a reindeer sleigh ride and slept underneath the stars in a glass igloo.
If you know my daughter, you’ll know she did her research on the care of all the animals that work for these experiences – including the reindeer, huskies and horses. These magnificent creatures are all so beautiful and well taken care of. Unfortunately, we didn’t see the Northern Lights this trip (bad timing and uncooperative weather), but this just gives us an excuse to visit and try again!
Apart from the arctic resort, we stayed at the Hilton Airport Hotel Helsinki which was beneficial due to being an airport-hotel location. Rooms and food were what you would expect from a convenient stay with a reputable commercial brand. We also stayed at the Hilton Strand Helsinki a couple of nights which offered great location, solid dining options and rooms that were on the small side but nice and met our basic needs.
Our hearts (and minds) are full of wonder given the new experiences, massive history lessons and family time over this Spring Break vacation.