Finland: The Generation Game
Our top children's trip
Sunday 18 December 2005
Some images stick in the mind. For me, it was our party entering McDonald's in Helsinki in search of reindeer burgers. My daughter was fed up with a diet of lingonberriesso, at her command, our driver stopped the car and he and Riikka, (our guide, swathed in furs) and myself followed my 10-year-old into McD's. I think Riikka was more used to accompanying heads of state, but she had been hired to look after us for these two days and she was up for anything.
The four of us lined up at the counter and Madame Riikka did the ordering, I did the paying and Matti, our driver, held the door open as Miranda swept out again. When we got back to the car, he saw her inside and we continued our journey to Hvitträsk, home of the legendary Finnish wife-swapping architects Gesellius, Lindgren and Saarinen.
I'd booked to do this trip with my wife as we share a love of Sibelius, Jugendstil and Finnish design but domestic events had meant that my daughter went instead. This led to raised eyebrows when we arrived at our first hotel in Turku. "Mrs Mourby" was clearly not old enough to be married to this man. However, the Finns are a tolerant nation - and flexible too, so we were able to rearrange our visit to nearby Naantali. This 19th- century spa town sits on the tranquil south-west coast of Finland and contains Kultaranta, the summer residence of the Finnish president. I'd originally planned to take a tour of the grounds, designed by the great Romantic architect Lars Sonck, but Miranda was keener to see Moominworld, which lies on an island opposite.
Having boarded the Moomintrain, we puffed along the causeway to Moomin Island. There, we saw unemployed Finnish actors walking around in white hippo costumes. They tried to hug us - which I thought was a bit too moomin' much, but Miranda lapped it up. In fact, the feyness of Moominworld worked for her in a way that our visit to Finnish National Opera the night before hadn't.
The thing about cultural tours is that they are, of necessity, very specific. If you want to visit the spot where Babylonian was first poked into clay, there's no point going with someone who wants to hear the Schubert lieder. Even if Miranda hadn't been 10 she would probably have been left wondering what so excited me about gloomy fin-de-siècle architecture or the chilly orchestrations of Sibelius' symphonies. So, each day we tried to find one thing that also appealed to her. In Turku, we played soldiers in the castle. In Helsinki, we went shopping. And at our hotel, Miranda had her first pedicure.
She also discovered Finnish television, in particular, The Bold and The Beautiful - the worst soap opera I'd ever seen. Surprisingly,it was a favourite of the stately Riikka whocould update Miranda on every episode.
Like most holidays, it was a compromise. The one thing Miranda couldn't adjust to was the food, hence our McDonald's trip.
The tour was good for father-and-daughter understanding. I found my child had an inexplicable love of vertical white hippos while she came to realise that she didn't have to like everything that I enthused about. The trip had two long-lasting effects. To this day, Miranda avoids opera and, after discovering she'd eaten a Bambi- burger, she became vegetarian.
Emagine UK (0870 902 5399; emagine-travel.co.uk) organises travel to Finland for groups, families and individuals. A five-day itinerary costs from £585 per person. It includes return flights and b&b. The services of a guide and driver cost €578 (£412) per full day
Take them on a special tour of New Zealand to see where The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe was shot. Bridge & Wickers (020-7483 6555; bridgeandwickers.com) has put together a 13-night trip that visits some of the locations that appear in the film. The trip costs £695 per person, based on a family of four sharing, including 13 nights' accommodation, transfers .and transport. Return flights cost from around £820 for adults and £655 for children.
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