Category: Family & Friends

Denmark Days 6&7: The Wedding & the World Cup Final

The wedding day finally arrived. We took a taxi from our hotel to the church for the ceremony. Most things are walkable in Copenhagen, but this church was 30 minutes by foot even in comfortable shoes, plus it was sprinkling.

Filips Kirke Church, Copenhagen

Just as in the US, it’s customary to arrive 15-30 minutes before the start of the ceremony.

Playing with the plastic animals
Jeff & Amir

The ceremony was conducted entirely in Danish. I had to escape out the back door about three minutes in after #1Toddler started fussing and shouting “No! No! No!” I heard a few guests quip that she was objecting to the marriage, so I figured that was our cue.

There was a break between the ceremony and a canal boat ride that lead up to the cocktail hour. Given the weather and the fact that someone needed a nap to achieve the important act of staying awake until the dance floor, we opted to skip the canal boat and take a family ciesta to recharge.

Ciesta time before the reception and dancing

The cocktail hours started at 5pm, and we arrived at 5:30. The venue is located at Langelinie Pavillion near Kastellet, with 180 degree views of the water.

The bride and groom took photos by the sea port

Nadja gave me a heads up on a few of the unique Danish wedding traditions. For starters, the dinner is five hours NOT including dancing. The Danish are famous for giving speeches. All guests are invited to toast the bride and/or groom. Sentimental or a roast, anything goes. But the speeches are formal and preplanned. Those wishing to speak must sign up with “the Toastmaster” ahead of time to be added to the schedule of speakers.

One of the quizzes asked attendees to raise a flag, US or Danish, to vote for whoever a given clue was true for. Someone enjoyed waving the flags indiscriminately.

After the promised five hours of toasts (which sped by) and a delicious steak dinner with pickled celery root and herb potatoes, the dancing began.

The main course
Making news friends
Oddities of the gift table
The silver accent stones are actually chocolate

The cocktail hour space which later became the dance floor

We had a goal of making it to the dancing which we were told would start around midnight. To our amazement, no one on our team needed a nap, and everyone powered through and made it to the dance floor to let loose.

At 1am we called it a night. We left impressed by the attention to personal detail displayed in every aspect of the wedding – the sentimental speeches that helped us get to know both Jeff and Nadja better, the thoughtful icebreakers and translations back and forth between English and Danish, and the exquisite food. Amir and I both decided we will RSVP yes to any Danish wedding invites from here on out.


Day 7

To say we were moving slowly this morning is an understatement. Coming up on noon, #1Toddler began to get antsy and request to go to “da park, da park!” So she and I headed out on a solo walk in search of the famous trampoline sidewalks.

She of course fell asleep in the stroller just five minutes into the walk, so I took the opportunity to stop for an Aperol Spritz and cheese plate while she slept.

Enjoying my orange

She awoke just as I was paying the bill and packing up to move us to our next destination. She didn’t miss the ice cream sign on the way out.

Decisions, decisions
Copenhagen Harbour

We walked just three blocks past Copenhagen Bicycles where we rented our family bicycle on Day 5 of our trip and found the Trampoline Sidewalk. Friends on one of my online mom boards recommended this one for kids.

Still working on jumping with two feet at the same time

After the trampoline sidewalk, we headed back to the hotel to reconnect with Amir who was resting and tackling a migraine.

Danish architecture focuses heavily on clean lines
The National Workshop for Arts is seen across the harbour
Amaliehaven Fountain
Gefion Fountain featuring the Norse Goddess of the same name

St. Alban’s Church, 1887

The only other must-do item on the list for today was watching the Women’s World Cup Final between the USA and the Netherlands. We figured being in Europe where futbol is king, we’d have no trouble finding a spot to watch the game. To our surprise, we walked two miles and stopped by 8 pubs before finding our viewing home at the Happy Pig. In fairness, The Dubliner Irish Pub did have the game on, but it was standing room only and not toddler friendly.

USA! USA!

On a random side note, Amir and I couldn’t help but notice the hundreds of discarded nitrous oxide cartridges that litter the streets in some hot spots of the city. In doing a little Googling, it seems whippets are the favorite drug of the young crowds here in Copenhagen.

In some areas discarded silver N2O cartridges are more numerous than cigarette butts

After the glorious futbol victory, we made our way to Sticks & Sushi, a favorite restaurant of Jeff & Nadja, and also the place where we cancelled our reservation after an exhausting day on the bike and too much soft serve. I’m so glad we circled back and made it there. Commence the food porn.

Spicy miso soup with salmon, seaweed and tofu
Kids “sticks box” with chicken meatballs, white rice, edamame, carrots and peanut sauce
Shrimp tempura

Sister sushi box
Lemon sorbet, white chocolate creme with raspberry glaze, coconut rice pudding with passion fruit compote and a pistachio chocolate torte

Everything we ordered was unforgettable. We both agreed we’ve paid twice as much for meals we’ve liked half as much, and for sushi, the pricing was very fair given the quality.

The last two nights have brought the best meals yet. I can’t wait to see what we can eat tomorrow.

Amir, Jeff & Nadja

$3 IKEA cups FTW again, this time during the speeches
We may have snuck in a raspberry popsicle
Downtime in the hotel room

Traveling with a Toddler – Crete, Greece: Kissamos & the Cave Church of St. John

Unfortunately the forecast our last day in Crete called for severe thunderstorms. Given the treacherous nature of the roads even when dry and sunny, we opted not to stray too far from home.

Roadside church with resident goats

We drove to Kissamos, a small town on the coast just north of where we are staying. There’s an Archeological Museum, seaside walk and plenty of restaurants. Unfortunately for us, while the sign outside said it should be open, the caretaker for the Archeological Museum decided to take the day off, and the museum was closed.

Ornate ceilings inside the small church at Kissamos Square
The town square in Kissamos features plenty of outdoor cafe seating

After lunch we walked in search of the local fire station. Despite our start to the trip, we’ve otherwise seen no signs of a medical system. I’ve yet to see a hospital anywhere, and have seen only one ambulance back in Athens. Public services have been scaled back over the years as the Greek economy struggled.

The Kissamos fire station has tanker trucks but no ambulances
They had three of these vehicles

We continued walking towards the beach and passed by the Bishop’s Palace by the seaside.

The Bishop’s Palace, Kissamos, Crete

At first glance, I thought it was a municipal building or home of a celebrity. It was only then I noticed the crosses topping the flagpoles that I realized this was a religious-affiliated building.

Lifeguard stand at Kolpos Kissamou, Greece

We hit the jackpot when we rounded the corner and saw a large public playground with slides, swings and monkey bars. Greece has a fair number of public playgrounds. We’ve run into one at almost every tourist destination.

Two slides but the left is just much more appealing
Church next to the fire station

We opted to drive back early to Villa Irene as we didn’t want to get caught in the rain. As we exited Kissamos, we were able to make a quick stop at a small church built inside of a seaside cave called Cave Church St. John.

Saint John Damialis Church & Cave
Altar inside the cave

The church was built in the 10th century. There’s a natural rock formation that provides a dramatic ceiling for this special church.

A structure sits to the left, and on the right within the cave are multiple altars
While we were alone, multiple candles were shining brightly
Water drips through the porous rocks and from the ceiling of the cave
Gilded figures line the walls

I entered the church with the black and white floor carefully. The floor was wet and slippery and the whole area dark.

Confessional booth within the church
Religious icons
Looking out at Kissamos Bay

We made it back to Villa Irene just before the thunderstorm unleashed torrents if rain, wind and lightening on the coast. Our instinct to get home before the storm was on point. Driving in the storm would have been dangerous and nail-biting.

Tonight I’ll start packing up for the flight back to Athens tomorrow. It’s hard to believe our trip is coming to a close.

Venetian Fortress of Kissamos, 1579-1582 AD.
#1 Toddler was tired after the playground
Kissamos Beach

Traveling with a Toddler – Crete, Greece: A Snaily day close to home

So it’s 6:30pm here in Greece, and we’re drinking champagne and eating peanut M&Ms. That’s been the theme of the day – slow and casual. We started the day with no clear plans, but not for a lack of trying.

Mr. Snail taking his time

We started the morning playing in the yard, swinging on the swings and appreciating the small gifts from Mother Nature. There are tons of snails and millipedes here at Villa Irene. Amir was drying out his bathing suit yesterday,and when I shook it to bring it inside, 4 millipedes fell out. Ooopfff.

Despite it being winter, the rose garden of Villa Irene still offers some jewels

We drove a short way to nearby Keramoti Beach easily visible from Villa Irene. It’s a pebble beach, consisting of rocks ranging in size from sand to boulders. I thought of the rock tumbler I’d begged my parents to buy when I was twelve. Here I was standing on the biggest crop of polished quartz, marble, slate and other gems. A natural rainbow.

Rock rainbow at Keramoti Beach

#1 Toddler enjoyed the tactile experience of picking up and throwing the rocks into the water then watching for a splash. Many of hers fell short, but her dad staved off her disappointment by skipping rocks for a solid meter.

Skipping rocks on the beach at Keramoti

There was one Kandylaki on the shore at this beach. Atop a large boulder, I couldn’t see inside to appreciate its inspiration.

Seaside Kandylaki near Villa Irene
Sponge and seashells washed up on the shore

She loved throwing rocks a tad too much and ended up getting soaked. Amazingly she wasn’t cold or pouty given that it was only 60 degrees out.

On the drive down to the beach, we spotted a small cave with a trickling stream. It was the cave that initially caught my attention and beckoned my camera, but as I approached, I realized there was a Kandylaki here in this special place.

Roadside cave with a stream and Kandylaki

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The glass is fogged, but you can still appreciate the wine and other offerings

After the beach, we headed home for a change of clothes since some of us were soaked. We looked online briefly for an alternative lunch spot, but ultimately we returned to Kochilas since we’d had such an amazing meal there two days ago.

Goat cheese and tomato purée on toast
Shrimp spaghetti, simple and delicious
She napped through the first half of lunch

After lunch we hopped back in the car to explore the nearby Monastery. Unfortunately the interior closes from 1-5pm daily, so we were limited to the exterior tour.

Μονή Παναγίας Χρυσοσκαλίτισσας
Exterior of the monastery
I wish I knew what was behind that closed door

While the monastery being closed was certainly a disappointment, it did satisfy one desire for the day – to see more sheep or goats.

On the drive home, we stopped at the Church Agios Theodoros to take a closer look. We drove past it two days ago on our drive to Elafonissi Beach but didn’t stop.

Ageos Theodoros
The altar inside Ageos Theodoros

After returning home, I had the sudden urge to go swimming in our heated pool. Tomorrow’s forecast is for 100% chance of rain, so we may just enjoy the storm from inside the comfort of Villa Irene, or if the roads aren’t too bad, we might check out the Archaeology Museum in Kissamos.

Splashing in the heated pool at Villa Irene
Another Kandylaki from today’s travels

Traveling with a Toddler – Crete, Greece: Salino Kastelo in Paleochora & Roadside Kandylakia

This morning we awoke to #1 toddler attempting to catapult out of her crib. She still sleeps in a baby crib at home since she seems perfectly happy there. I’m thinking it’s about time to pull the toddler conversion kit down from the attic when we get home.

Amir did some research last night and selected today’s destination. Paleochora, a seaside town featuring Salino Kastelo (Castle Salino), was just a 1.5 hour drive from Villa Irene in Livadia. The only catch, zigzagging the roads that traverse the many mountains in between.

Yes we went up that and then back down

As we’ve been driving these narrow roads in Crete, I’ve noticed all these little roadside shrines, which I now know are called Kandylakia. Most are small shrines dedicated to different saints that serve as street signs to denote that an Greek Orthodox Church is close by, as most are not visible from the road. There are also no street names, so these little landmarks are helpful signposts.

Kandylaki dedicated to a loved one
Neglected Kandylaki filled with trash

A Google search also incorrectly stated that most are dedicated to lost loved ones, but this is just a false assumption by tourists. There are certainly some that serve this purpose, but most are signposts for larger churches.

Kandylaki with brass chalices and a photograph
Kandylaki outside a café
This Kandylaki has solar-powered lights inside

Contents of the solar-powered Kandylaki

We reached Paleochora (Pah-leh-oh-hor-ah) with little difficulty. We parked easily, strapped #1 toddler into the Baby Boba, and climbed a trail of stairs to reach the top of Salino Kastelo.

There wasn’t any signage to guide you through Salino Kastelo, so we weren’t quite sure what was what when we were there. After reading at home, the castle was destroyed and rebuilt multiple times since 1257 AD, which explains why it seemed to be composed of every natural material imaginable. Marble, granite, limestone, gravel, terra cotta – it’s all there.

It’s worth a trip for the views alone, but I recommend reading up on its history before you go.

Evangelistria Greek Orthodox Church in Paleochoro
Mosaic stepping stones outside Evangelistria Church
Bell tower of Evangelistria Church

There’s a vast selection of seaside taverns and cafes in Paleochora. We opted for Olympus Pizzeria for a change of pace, plus we knew pizza would satisfy everyone.

Olympus Pizzeria, Paleochora, Crete
Chef Pizza
Red house table wine by the glass
“Meatballs” and potatoes served with Roquefort and mushroom sauce

After pizza, as if we weren’t stuffed, we headed to a nearby family café for dessert. Baklava and vanilla gelato called our names, along with a cappuccino for me and a latte for Amir.

Baklava with vanilla gelato

After the drive home from Paleochora, somehow we were all there filled with energy. Mind you at this same time yesterday my co-travelers were both taking 3 hour naps.

We opted for a brief walk from our house towards the sea. The first night we arrived, there were goats grazing throughout this area. Yesterday they had completely vanished, but today they returned. We went for a visit.

Sleeping in the Boba

Before we made it 20 feet, #1 Toddler was fast asleep in the Boba carrier. She didn’t miss any great encounters with goats or sheep. We could see them in the distance and hear their bells, but with the sun silhouetting them, there wasn’t much to see or photograph.

Chapel St. Anthony visible in the lower right

While we didn’t find many goats, we did find a hidden gem carved into the seaside cliffs, St Anthony Chapel. Unfortunately we weren’t able to get closer to it, not for a lack of desire, but because we are not rock climbers. There’s no clear path. I’m still desperately wondering what’s inside. A Google Maps search did provide a close up photo from a much more adventurous traveler than I.

Chapel St. Anthony near Villa Irene in Livadia
Olive groves everywhere
Seaside olive groves

We made it home in time to watch the sunset from our Villa while enjoying a glass of local red wine. We still need to plan tomorrow. So I’m off to search Google Maps via satellite view to see what hidden places we can explore.

Local red wine is like a light port
Snow capped mountains are visible from Kastelo Salino
Village along the way

Traveling with a Toddler – Crete, Greece: Elafonissi Beach

This morning we awoke around 8am and slowly started our day. We’d stopped at a small market yesterday on our drive here to get some essentials for the house. As I mentioned, Villa Irene is beautiful but remote, with only a few restaurants nearby that are open since it’s off-season.

Our only alarm clocks were the sunrise and #1 toddler

We spent a bit more time this morning playing in the swing set while Amir planned navigation for our drive to Elafonissi Beach. We’ve learned to take screenshots of Google Maps and save them to your smart phone to ensure you have a map even without internet or cellular service.

Along the way we met some sheep. #1 Toddler was happy to place the “bahhhh” sound with the real thing.

Seaside chapel

Elafonissi Beach is world famous, a usual player on those infamous Top Beaches in the World lists. Its pink sand and crystal clear water are unique. In the summer it’s quite crowded, but today it was just us and the kite surfers.

The beach was warm but super windy. I can’t imagine it’s this windy year round or you’d never be able to keep your beach blanket in one place.

After watching the kite surfers do some flips, we walked the beach and collected a few shells. The wind was getting the best of us and threatening to knock over #1 Toddler, so we decided to wrap up. We took a last survey of our private beach and headed to the car in search of lunch.

Kochilas Tavern near Elafonissi Beach

Our AirBnB hostess, Maria, gave us lunch recommendations. We opted for Kochilas Tavern due to its proximity to Elafonissi and robust menu of fresh seafood.

Elderly Greek men sit and enjoy drinks and conversation

We picked a table near the window. There’s a lovely patio open during the high season. The waitress greeted us and was immediately smitten with #1 Toddler. She brought her a toy truck and a high chair. Everywhere we’ve gone, the people have been so welcoming to a toddler. We’ve not once felt put out, even when she’s spilled or dropped things.

Monster truck and seashells, the perfect toy combination

Amir and I always like to divide and conquer a menu. He selected the fresh fish, while I opted for the grilled octopus. We knew chicken souvlaki would be a hit with you know who. We went 3 for 3. Winning.

Grilled local fish, vegetables and hand cut fries
Grilled octopus, vegetables and hand cut fries

To drink, I ordered a Fix beer and Amir a Greek soda called Gazoza – think Sprite meets bubblegum flavor.

We ate everything on our plates, but I was craving just a little something sweet. We asked our waitress (who by the way turns out to also be the chef and owner) about dessert. She mentioned something about yogurt and glaze, and returned 5 minutes later with 3 plates – Greek yogurt with sour orange topping and Kataïfi, a straw-like filo pasty with walnuts, honey and spices. Oh, and two shots of raki. This woman was my new best friend.

Raki and Greek yogurt with fruit topping
Kataïfi

We settled up and headed back to Villa Irene. The drive back was beautiful but uneventful. My two other travelers both took 3 hour naps while I caught up and wrote yesterday’s post. We had planned to take an afternoon walk to explore the area right around Villa Irene, but the day got ahead of us, and the sun was soon setting.