Arctic Adrenaline Rush

Our team of sled-dogs whisks us deeper into the Lapland tundra, where mountains drop off into the fjords and wild reindeer roam. We are in Oteren, Norway with Lyngsfjord Adventure, an outfitter that knows how to make the most of the Arctic Circle. We stayed here for two days to catch the Northern Lights, try our hand at dog sledding, soak up tribal Sami culture, and make memories we will never forget.
The Lyngsfjord team picked us up in the arctic capital of Tromsø with a few other guests, some coming to chase the aurora borealis, others to go snowmobiling and ice fishing for the night and those who wanted to pack in multiple adventures with an overnight stay at Camp Tamok. After a 75-minute drive deep into the wilderness, we arrived at camp and got suited up in Lyngsfjord’s insulated bodysuits, boots, and gloves to take on the Arctic.
Our first excursion was something we never thought was possible outside of Christmas stories…reindeer sledding! Reindeer are actually the oldest form of transportation in northern Scandinavia and an integral part of Sami culture. Our leader Roar Nyheim, a Sami tribesman who grew up in Lapland herding reindeer, gave us a brief safety speech, then said, “Sit back and enjoy the view!” Cuddled up in blankets, Mike and I gazed up at the star-filled sky and snow-capped mountains until we arrived at Roar’s favorite spot. He made a campfire and served us tea in record time, all while regaling us with stories of the traditional Sami life and legends.
We returned to camp and were ushered into a Lavvu-style tent for hearty stew and hot drinks. Guests swapped stories from their adventure of choice, then either headed back to Tromsø or got settled in for the evening. For those of us who stayed, we had an exciting night of Aurora-chasing ahead of us. This area of Norway is known for its clear skies and lack of light pollution so the Northern Lights are visible most nights from November to March. We stayed up well past midnight watching green and purple striations swirl between the shining stars.
For lodging, guests and groups can stay in the Wilderness Cabin or Traditional Sami Tent, but for couples, the most romantic choice is the Aurora Chalet. This wooden cabin perched above the riverbank is charming and toasty warm, but its best feature is the skylight–perfectly angled to watch the Northern Lights from bed!

Before our traditional Norwegian breakfast, we had a delightful sauna session. It warmed us to the core and loosened our muscles for the day of dog sledding ahead.
Mike and I got a quick mushing lesson, were assigned to our team of five huskies, then set off into the Vass Valley! We thought dog sledding would be difficult but Lyngsfjord’s huskies are so well trained, they just run and you break and lighten the load, as needed (by jogging behind them on the hills, so fun!). The important thing to know is that once the huskies start running, they don’t hang on!

To see what it’s like to drive a pack of huskies through the snow, watch this clip from our 15-kilometer ride through this Norwegian winter wonderland!
By our second day at Lyngsfjord Adventure, we’d figured out how Norwegians keep from getting cold in the Arctic… adrenaline! Insulated clothing helps, but mushing huskies, riding reindeer sleighs, and chasing the Northern Lights is the secret to feeling warm inside and out.

Anne and Mike Howard are creators of the around-the-world honeymoon blog and Long Term Travel Coaches for anyone looking to travel the world safely, affordably and off the beaten path. You can follow @HoneyTrek on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.

Kyoto’s Greatest Escape

If Kyoto was where Japanese nobility worked for over 1,000 years, Arashiyama is where they played. Thirty minutes out of the imperial city center and up the Oi-gawa river, shogun mansions and historic hot spring inns are perched on the cliffs and tucked into the red maple trees, including the ryokan Hoshinoya Kyoto. The inn’s history dates back to the Meiji period, but in 2009 Hoshinoya hotels updated the space to a new level of luxury. During our visit we were transported into a serene world where nobles play, artists dream, and couples revel in romance.
The Hoshinoya Kyoto experience begins at their boat house. They bring you inside for a cup of green tea and a red bean pastry, then the captain escorts you to the river boat for a beautiful 15-minute cruise to their sublime spot on the cliffs.
Hoshinoya Kyoto feels more like a series of homes than a hotel. The architecture maintains a low profile, letting the beauty of the surroundings take center stage. This rock garden mimics the currents of the river and fades out of sight like a waterfall.
Our suite was so chic with graphic wallpaper, a cloud-like bed, wall-to-wall window seats, and a bounty of unique amenities. In the closet we found their signature leisurewear, in the bar a huge selection of teas, and on the desk a beautiful Japanese calligraphy set to help channel our creativity in this inspiring space.
Then came one of the best meals of our two-year honeymoon. The flavors and presentation of this traditional kaiseki meal were like nothing we’d ever experienced! There were nine courses, one of the most decadent and exquisite being this cocktail of steamed abalone, topped with green apple, fresh sea urchin and caviar osetra.

Presentation in Japanese cuisine is not just how the food is plated but the beauty of the plate it is served on. Each course was served on hand-painted ceramics in varying artful designs. This course of red beans and rice in a charming fish-shaped bowl was off the menu but given to us and all newlyweds for good luck.
We went back to our room to find a honeymoon surprise of sparkling sake wine. The bed and bubbles looked all too inviting.

07_HoshinoyaKyoto-breakfast in bed
The next morning we woke up to the gentle sunlight streaming through our paper shutters and then the soft knock of the chef. He came bearing all the ingredients and cookware to prepare a hot pot breakfast was right in our suite!

So full from our bounty of food, we decided to take a walk to the neighboring hillside temple. The views over the river, the fiery red hills, and Kyoto city were spectacular.

The Hoshinoya ryokan experience is all about immersion in Japanese culture, inclusive not just of style and cuisine, but customs. They offer guests a number of classes so they can try their hand at Japanese arts, such as tea ceremonies and hand-made incense. Here is a look at our incense teacher, teaching us how to pack and sculpt ash into perfect mounds and position the sandalwood for long and fragrant burning.

Though Hoshinoya Kyoto feels a world away, just down stream are some incredible historic sites. The morning we checked out of our little oasis, we went to the heart of Arashiyama to see the UNESCO heritage site, Tenryuji Temple. It was originally a summer home to a retired shogun but has since become a zen temple and gardens.

Kyoto is one of the most spectacular cities in the world with over 2,000 temples, shrines, and historic buildings. We spent nearly one week exploring the imperial capital but found our appreciation for the dense city came to us once we arrived to Arashiyama, sailed up river, slipped into our robes, savored the cuisine, practiced the traditional arts and lived as the nobles did, even just for a few days.

Anne and Mike Howard are creators of the around-the-world honeymoon blog and Long Term Travel Coaches for anyone looking to travel the world safely, affordably and off the beaten path. You can follow @HoneyTrek on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.

The Jewel of the Swahili Coast: Kinondo Kwetu

Kinondo Kwetu is one of those places where the moment you leave, you are already planning your return. You walk into the main space of this former Kenyan home with its soaring thatch ceiling, African chic furnishings, and white curtains billowing from the ocean breeze, and you exhale. In Swahili, Kinondo Kwetu means “home away from home,” and when you feel a wave of calm as you soak in their 13 acres of gardens, beach, forest, and villas decorated to perfection…you’ll know how it got its name.

2. Diani
About an hour south of Mombasa, this ultra-chic glamping destination is set in the beautiful and fascinating cove of Diani Beach. The turquoise tides change dramatically throughout the day but as they recede, members of the local Digo tribe often come out to pay homage to this sacred rock. Paper prayers are left in its crevices and cast out to sea when the spirit moves them.

3. Kinondo Kwetu
The series of cottages and villas are built from coral rock, plaster, and macuti thatch with plenty of ocean-view windows. We stayed on the top floor of this double-decker beauty but a group or family could quite happily rent the entire cottage.

When we weren’t in the ocean, we could be found relaxing by either of the two pools on the expansive property.

The food is incredible, but you don’t need to take our word for it, Kinondo Kwetu just won “Best Cuisine” in The Safari Awards. Even beyond the quality of their super fresh fish and produce, the dining experience is one of a kind. Rather than seating everyone in the same dining room meal after meal, they surprise guests with a different table each night, romantically tucked away somewhere on the property…in a beached boat, atop the water tower, in the tropical garden…you’ll just have to wait to find out.

6.Mama-Ta Villa-
Another thing we adored about Kinondo Kwetu was the familial nature of things. In the evenings, guests meet at one of the various lounges or villas, as if we were gathering for drinks at a friend’s place. With old chess sets, beautiful coffee table books, and a well-stocked bar, the Mama Ta villa was one of our favorite places to get comfortable.

7_Africa Yoga
A few mornings a week, a teacher from the Africa Yoga Project conducts class in the open-air studio and spa. Proceeds help empower inner-city kids through the teaching of yoga. This is one of the many of the heart-warming community projects the hotel supports, in addition to the local Kinondo Primary School and Kinodo Kwetu Clinic.

8. Horseback riding Diani Beach
We aren’t ones to sit still for long so we made sure to take advantage of the hotel’s volleyball net, paddle boards, tennis courts, snorkeling gear, and the Kinondo stable. We explored the beach on horseback watching local ladies gather mollusks, fisherman cast their nets, and kids splash in the waves.

9.Paradise Lost
The area around Diani Beach is just as impressive. Kisite-Mpunguti Marine Reserve is a thriving ecosystem filled with bird life, dolphins, and coral gardens (scuba dive here if you can!). Even closer t the hotel is Paradise Lost, a sandbar island that only emerges at low tide. An hour after finishing our picnic the island had literally disappeared.

10HoneyTrek cocktail
There is no doubt in my mind we’ll be back to Kinodo Kwetu someday but if you get the chance before we do, order a HoneyTrek cocktail (vodka, home-made ginger juice, fresh squeezed lemon, and a splash of Sprite) and toast your new home away from home.

Anne and Mike Howard are creators of the around-the-world honeymoon blog and Long Term Travel Coaches for anyone looking to travel the world safely, affordably and off the beaten path. You can follow @HoneyTrek on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.