A Look at Helsinki’s Top Attractions

as published on IVHE.com

Visit the beautiful seaside city of Helsinki and you’ll experience a mix of culture, history and natural beauty.  Finland’s capital is a great city to explore on foot or by bike.  It also offers a public transportation system that’s both reliable and easy to navigate.  Here are a few must-see attractions awaiting you in this Baltic capital.

Fortress of Suomenlinna

This top Helsinki attraction is just a short ferry ride from Helsinki’s harbor.  It was built in the 18th century by Sweden as a defense against Russia.  The fortress is made up of a grouping of six islands.  Learn more about its rich history by taking one of the guided tours offered throughout the summer months. 

Rock Church

Though it’s known as Rock Church or Church of Rock its official name is Temppeliaukio Church.  This Lutheran church is built directly into rock.  As visitors approach this site, the only part of the church that is visible is the top of the dome as the church is built below ground level.  Natural light comes in through the windows surrounding the roof.  This unique church offers a peaceful rest after a day of sightseeing where you can take a seat and listen to its tranquil music. 

Senate Square

Senate Square offers a great vantage point at the top of its steps where you can sit and take in the views of the city.  The square is made up of four buildings, Helsinki Cathedral, Government Palace, University of Helsinki (main building), and Sederholm House offering fine examples of neoclassical architecture. 

Market Square

This is my favorite part of the city.  Market Square is the central square in Helsinki and borders the Baltic Sea.   You’ll be sure to find everything from fresh Finnish food to one-of-a-kind souvenirs, handcrafted by local artisans.  Canal tours around the Helsinki harbor frequently depart right from Market Square and offer an opportunity to explore the local islands during the summer months. 

Central Park

With 1/3 of Helsinki covered in green area, it’s no wonder one of its major sites is Helsinki’s Central Park.  What sets Helsinki’s park apart from other city parks is the fact that Central Park is more wild woodlands than manicured gardens.  The park offers many activities for the outdoor enthusiast and draws some 2 million visitors each year.  Whether you prefer to jog, bike, hike or use the archery range there are an abundance of ways to enjoy this city’s green space. 

Experience the Baltic area as a local by booking your next home exchange with International Vacation Home Exchange.  You’ll be just minutes from city center in this Helsinki flat or chose this luxury flat in Stockholm.  Find out what makes IVHE different from other home exchange options and learn how you can begin enjoying its benefits today. 

College Touring Time: 5 Tips to Minimize the Stress

as published on Today Show website January 17, 2017

I’ve always longed to be a 70’s mom.  You know, parenting in a time when carpooling didn’t exist, moms only needed a general idea of their kid’s whereabouts and everybody smoked.   I could learn to love Avon and down a Harvey Wallbanger or two.

Parenting sure seemed less complicated back then.  What makes parenting so challenging today (aside from the lack of Tupperware) is that our kids are growing up in such a God-awful competitive and stressful time.

As typical parents of a high school junior, we’re putting the finishing touches on our firstborn before sending him out into the world to make his mark.  We’re moving toward the finish line with the ribbon in full sight.   

Crawling counts, right???

If you’re in the same boat then you know why junior year is sadly referred to as “Hell Year.”   With all the academic pressures, SAT/ACT stress, etc..etc…the college tours often add Read more….

Touring LA: A Teen Approved Itinerary

as published on IVHE.com on December 29, 2017


There aren’t many family trips I can take my teenage boys on where they aren’t rolling their eyes or in a boredom induced coma.  In fairness to them, we have dragged them through places like the Hermitage Museum in Russia, a three hour Vatican Tour and a weekend in Bruges, Belgium, which they refer to as “the most boring city in the world.”  I guess I can see where I may have lost some travel planning credibility through the years.  It certainly came as no surprise when I announced I was booking a trip to LA this summer that the reply was, “We’ve done enough family vacations” and, “We’re not sightseeing are we?”  Luckily for them, they have a mom who is super cool (they’ve never confirmed that) and managed to plan a trip that in their words “didn’t suck.”  This is the highest praise a teenage boy’s mom can receive.  Here are some of their top picks:

Up Close to the Hollywood Sign

Cool, right?  We hired a driver to take us on a little known route that only the locals know about.  We parked the car and took a short walk to a spot with a perfect view of this LA icon.  There was limited complaining, they considered it cool enough to even take their phones out to Instagram/Snapchat it, and I think I even heard one mumble “cool,” but I could be wrong.

Warner Brother’s Studio Tour

Even though this would come under the category of “sightseeing” my kids really enjoyed seeing all the behind the scenes stuff from their favorite movies and TV shows.  We saw the Friends actual set and learned a lot about the film industry.  This one was a real crowd pleaser. 

Peterson Museum

Peterson Museum is one of the world’s largest automotive museums.  The museum has over 100 vehicles on display.  We recognized many of them from movies and television.  One of my sons even said this was his favorite excursion we did in LA. 

Fairfax Avenue

If you’re not a teenage boy, then this won’t mean much to you but think teen boy’s version of Rodeo Drive.  This street contains pop up shops featuring all their favorite brands like Huff, Supreme (Okay, I only know two).  My boys loved being there in person and being able to buy a few things from what many consider to be the coolest street in LA.  The only thing they found uncool about being on Fairfax was that they had to walk up and down this hip street with their parents in tow.  As cool as we claim to be, a few of these edgy shops felt the need to alter the music selection when they saw my husband and I walk in.  Most appeared to have a hard time finding a song that would meet parental approval, and one shop owner seemed to go through his entire playlist.  Whatever last bits of street credit my husband and I were clinging to were left there on Fairfax that day. 

My kids also enjoyed Santa Monica Pier (what’s not to love).  They also enjoyed our quick stop on trendy Venice Beach, though by that time it was late in the day and we were reminded that they are moody teenagers by them asking, “Are we leaving soon?” as if I had brought them to a flea market.  Along with these teen friendly sites, there’s always the usual standbys to entertain teens like bikini clad girls, endless sunshine and if all else fails, Pokémon Go.

You can get the full Hollywood starlet experience by booking a home exchange through International Vacation Home Exchange.  IVHE offers many luxury homes throughout the Los Angeles area.  Who knows, you might even end up next door to Pharrell making it the ultimate teen friendly trip and maybe even restoring a little street credit along the way. 

New England: A Year-Round Destination

as published on IVHE.com December, 19, 2016

Having grown up in New England, summer vacations always consisted of road trips to see all the natural beauty that was offered right in our own backyard.  I remember piling in the station wagon, AAA Trip-Tik maps at hand, a quick stop to pick up a few canisters of film and extra flash cubes, and off we were to enjoy the beauty of one of our bordering states. On a road trip in that part of America you would barely finish your first article in Tiger Beat Magazine and you’d already be crossing state line.

Since then I’ve not only married and had a family of my own but have lived abroad for a number of years.  My family and I have traveled across several continents and I was always amazed at how many people around the world have New England on their Bucket List.  I guess I shouldn’t really be surprised, but to me it’s always just been home.  We were traveling in Tallinn, Estonia a few years back and I started chatting with a woman sitting next to me at lunch.  She mentioned that she has always dreamed of visiting Vermont to see the fall foliage and hoped to vacation on Cape Cod one summer.  “Now, is Boston a city or is that a state?”  I would get asked that a lot.  Not only in foreign countries but I was asked that a few times while living in the Midwest.  That’s actually not a joke.

If New England isn’t on your Bucket List you’ll definitely want to include it after reading all the splendor that exists there.  Search the luxury homes offered through International Vacation Home Exchange and plan to spend your next home swap exploring New England.

Maine

Maine offers so much to see and do especially for the outdoor enthusiast.  Acadia National Park is a breathtaking national treasure on the coast of Maine.  Throughout the state there are so many quaint towns and lighthouse attractions to visit.  Offering both great skiing, hiking/biking trails and shoreline communities, there is always plenty to enjoy no matter the season.  We all know Maine is known for having “wicked” good lobster, but did you know that Portland has been making quite a name for itself for all types of cuisine?  The Food Network recently named Portland as one of the top 3 culinary destinations in the entire US.  That might be reason enough to plan a visit.

Massachusetts.

Massachusetts is home to beautiful Cape Cod, probably my favorite place on Earth.  Each Cape Cod town offers its own unique charm.  Whether you walk, bike or relax on the beach, it will be a vacation you won’t forget.  Be sure to add a ferry ride to Martha’s Vineyard and Nantucket to your itinerary.  Visiting the historic sights of Boston is only a short drive away.  Venture a few hours west and you’ll be enjoying all the charm that the Berkshires have to offer.

Connecticut

Mystic Seaport and Mystic Aquarium are top attractions in this New England state.  There you can learn about maritime history and visit the whales, sea lions and penguins on display.  Connecticut offers a few casino options with Mohegan Sun and Foxwoods as well as museums and shoreline attractions.  This small state is packed with something for everyone.

New Hampshire

There’s a mere 18 miles of shoreline offered in this state but you’ll find it full of rich, natural beauty.  Mount Washington offers every outdoor activity imaginable for you to enjoy.  The 71 square miles of Lake Winnipesaukee, located at the foothills of the White Mountains, offer something year round for everyone to enjoy.

Rhode Island

Tour the mansions to see how the other half lives, visit the beaches or take a walk around Newport. Don’t miss a ferry ride to spend the day exploring Block Island.  There are so many attractions offered in the Ocean State.

Vermont

Last but certainly not least of the New England States is Vermont.  Home to the amazing slopes of Killington, Sugarbush and Stowe, among others.  It’s of course, known for its beyond breathtaking leaf peeping opportunities, and there are numerous lakes to enjoy.  There is no such thing as “off-season” in Vermont.  It doesn’t matter when you visit this beautiful state there is always something magical to experience. 

Well, that’s my “How I Spent My Summer Vacation, circa 1976” story.  That reminds me, I need to call my Mom.  Book one of IVHE’s luxury properties today and start making your own unforgettable New England memories.

Country Focus: England

as published on IVHE.com on December 28, 2016

Thatched roofed homes, a picturesque countryside, ancient castles and a bustling capital city are all things visitors to England can be sure to enjoy.  There is so much to see and do throughout England while you take in all the character and charm that this country has to offer. 

London is said to be the most visited city in the world and is considered one of the cleanest and safest cities to visit.  The Tube, the underground public transportation system, is easy to navigate and very user friendly.  It’s a convenient way to get to all the top attractions London has on tap.  On most visitor’s list is a trip to Buckingham Palace to watch the Changing of the Guard, which usually takes place at 11:30am weekday mornings (though the time can vary).  Big Ben, Parliament and the London Eye are iconic landmarks to visit, as well as, Tower of London where the Crown Jewels exhibit is located.  These are just a few of the many sites more than 17 million London visitors enjoy each year.  London is also home to many well-known museums to explore and, as an added bonus, most London museums do not charge an entrance fee. 

Venturing outside of the city and exploring the English countryside with all its alluring character is a must-do for any visitor to this country.  If you head to South Central England, you’ll find an area referred to as the Cotswolds.  This is true quintessential England at its very best.  Known for its rolling hills and meadows, quaint villages and cozy pubs, it holds all the charm that comes to mind when people think of England.  Just outside the Cotswolds is the historic city of Bath.  Bath is best known for its Roman built baths and Bath Abbey.  You can stroll the cobblestone streets where you’ll find a variety of shops and restaurants.  Not too far from Bath you can take a self-guided tour of Stonehenge which is not to be missed on any trip to England. 

Head to the Southernmost part of the country to explore the sleepy seaside towns in the Cornwall area.  If you are a surfing enthusiast, you can “hang ten” in Newquay or any of the surrounding towns known for their impressive waves.  Head north of London to visit the Lake District with its many outdoor activities and breathtaking scenery. 

The Southeastern coastline is home to the White Cliffs of Dover.   It’s here that you will find the iconic chalk cliffs that face the English Channel towards Continental Europe.  On your travels, be sure not to miss any of the famous castles that are dotted around the countryside.  Windsor Castle, Hampton Court Palace and Leeds Castle are among the most famous castles located outside of London.

With so much rich history and breathtaking countryside to explore, you’ll want to put England on the top of your travel list.  Gather up your mates and start making plans for your unforgettable trip to “Old Blighty.”

Uber on Holiday: Much More than Just a Ride

as published on ivhe.com on October 13, 2016

I booked a boatload of Uber cars on my travels this summer and met some really interesting folks along the way.  Uber is one of the best ideas to come along for travelers in a long time.  It’s a quick, convenient, cashless and very economical means to get from Point A to Point B plus it’s a much more personal experience than a traditional cab ride.   Each driver has a story to tell and by the time you’ve arrived at your designation you’ve made a new friend.  If you haven’t yet tried out this service let me give you an amusing little overview of the types of drivers you are likely to encounter. 

The Retired Executive

He’s not in it for the money. His wife wants him out of her hair for a few hours each day and he’s not a golfer.   Uber driving provides a way for him to get out a few mornings a week on his own schedule.  You won’t find him picking you up after a night out on the town, he’s fast asleep by then even though he’s probably napped.  He’s most likely a kind, older gentleman who’s used to being a productive member of society and not ready to give that up just yet.

The Young Girl in Transition

She’s super sweet but a bit lost in life at the moment and usually lost on the roads as well.  It’s probably her first or second day on the job but don’t look for her in the weeks to come as she’ll most likely be on to something new by then.  I find I often take on a mothering role with her by saying things like, “You should finish your degree” or “Don’t accept customers who have below a 4 rating.”  There’s plenty of time for counseling as you direct her to your destination. 

The Professional Uber Driver

This is his main source of income and he has no plans of leaving this vocation.  He’s out to get a 5 star rating.  He appreciates your business and he’ll let you know that several times throughout the ride.  He knows shortcuts to avoid traffic and knows where construction could cause potential delays.  He’s expecting a big tip so give him one, he’s earned it. 

The Nightclub Caterer

He doesn’t mind the late night shift.  He knows there’s an abundance of clients at that time and he doesn’t mind dealing with the “over-served.”  You might even come across one who has a disco ball and strobe light in his car in an effort to keep the party going (true story).  He counts on you wanting to be driven from club to club in search of your friends, knowing that you’re incapable of doing the math.  He’s not out to take advantage of the situation though.  You’ll appreciate the fact you got home safe and sound even if you don’t remember how. 

Uber is widely used in tourist areas and major cities so if you’ve booked a luxury home exchange with a company like International Vacation Home Exchange and you’re wondering how you’ll get around town then I highly recommend Uber.  Not only will they get you to your designation but will also give you some local history and a quick tour of the area unless, of course, your driver is one of these sweet young girls…then you’re on your own. 

 

 

 

I

My Latest Huff Post Article….

hp-website

So excited to have another article published in the Huffington Post!  I wrote this one in honor of my mom’s birthday.  She recently turned 90 and and still manages to lead a fully active and youthful life.

My 90-Year Old Mom’s Secrets To Living A Youthful Life

thumb

I came across a great saying recently that stated, “The idea is to die young as late as possible.” If this is your mantra then taking a few tips from the way my 90 year old mom has lived her life might just help you get there. My Mom, who goes by….

Click here for the full article…

Reliving Barcelona

the-piper-427995_640

I was inspired to write about our visit to Barcelona while listening to the soothing Spanish guitar playing on a CD I purchased from one of their street musicians. Would you believe while searching for stock photography for this post I came across a picture of the artist himself? What are the odds? His music is amazing…well worth the 10 euros ;)) This article I wrote about Park Guelle was recently published by IVHE. Hope your enjoy it and if you find yourself in Barcelona keep an eye out for this performer…he does not disappoint.

Park Guell, Barcelona: What to Know Before Visiting

as published on July 23, 2016 by International Vacation Home Exchange

Easily recognizable by its colorful mosaic architecture, Park Guell is a must-see attraction on any visit to Barcelona. Its whimsical and playful designs left me feeling as if I had just stepped into the pages of one of my favorite Dr. Seuss books. The park is the work of renowned artist Antoni Gaudi whose work is showcased throughout Barcelona.

The park has a rather unique history. It was commissioned in 1900 by Eusebi Guell. He and Antoni Gaudi planned to create a luxury gated community outside of the hustle and bustle of the city. The plan was to build 60 houses in addition to a large square, markets and other services for the community. Sadly the idea was not as well received as the pair had hoped and only two of the 60 houses were actually built. The housing project was abandoned in 1914. It wasn’t until 1922 that the project was turned into a park which is enjoyed by millions of visitors each year.

pg2

Amazing Views
Park Guell is built on Mount Carmel and has some of the most amazing panoramic views of the city. The views alone are worth the trip to this attraction.

Very Crowded
No matter what time of year you visit, the park is sure to be crowded. In an effort to maintain the conservation and maintenance of the park, the entrance is regulated so only…

Click here to read more….

5 Ways to Live Locally While Traveling Globally

photo1Visiting top tourist attractions are most likely on everyone’s travel itinerary. We all want to see the sites we’ve read and heard about over the years. While visiting these sites be sure to make it a well-rounded holiday by spending a little time gaining insight into how the locals of the area live. Here are a few tips to help you do just that.
photo2Use Public Transportation
You might find it easier to Uber or book a car service when traveling around an unfamiliar place, but by doing so you miss out on the real flavor of the culture. Taking the time to learn the local public transportation system is a great way to really immerse yourself in the daily routines of the locals. Don’t be afraid of getting a bit lost along the way, you can always just get off and get right back on again.

photo3Learn the Language
You don’t need to necessarily make an investment in Rosetta Stone (unless, of course, you want to) but it’s a great idea to at least learn a few words and phrases in the language of the countries you visit. It will not only help you get the feel of living locally but it’s also good “travel etiquette” when you’re a guest in another country. If you are traveling with kids then it’s a great way to expose them to another language. We always like to have our kids take turns being in charge of learning a few key phrases for the country we are about to visit. We then will call upon them for a particular phase that’s needed. It’s a great learning experience for adults, as well, as children.
Ask the Locals for Suggestions
One of our favorite “side-line” excursions was on a trip to Ireland while driving the Ring of Kerry. During a quick stop at a gift shop, the owner told us about a little known off shoot of the Ring of Kerry that the tourists don’t know about. He pulled out a map and showed us how to drive onto the ferry and take this recommended detour. He also mentioned an ice cream shop on this route that he said was reason enough to make the trip. So off we went on this mini adventure. With all the research I do before leaving on holiday I would have never found out about that delightful route without chatting with a local, and yes, the ice cream was amazing!

photo4Book A Home Exchange
One of the best ways to truly get the local experience is by booking a home swap, living in local’s home is a great way to experience he local culture. A popular option is International Vacation Home Exchange. They offer non simultaneous home swap to their members, which is a convenient booking option.
Visit the Local Grocery Store
I always love stopping into local grocery stores on holiday. It’s a great way to experience what’s grown locally or to find out about some of the local cultural favorites. You can watch other shoppers for what types of items they are purchasing or ask the owner for suggestions. They are usually more that happy to teach you about their cultural dishes.

I’d love to hear about a living-like-a-local travel experience you’ve had by leaving a comment in the section below. Hopefully these tips will help you add a little local flavor to your next holiday experience but remember that to truly fit in with the locals you’ll unfortunately need to leave your selfie stick at home.

Thank you Travel Writer Lisa Medeiros. Follow her on Twitter @lisamedeiros_

As Published in IVHE.com 8/6/16