The latest Jafarian adventure was 3 weeks in Europe.
We visited 4 countries over a 23 day span including Norway, Germany, Italy and Greece. It was a full adventure with beauty, chaos, fun, stress, sprinkles of peace, and a lot of quality family time.
I recorded a podcast episode to summarize most of the experience.
Here’s the full recap –
Chapter 1 – Norway 🇳🇴
We chose to start our adventure in Norway. This is a country high on Gabrielle’s list and I hadn’t been there in 20+ years. We were equally excited to see some of Norway’s natural beauty and share it with our children.
Our first stop was the city of Bergen located in Southwest Norway.
We stayed in the historic Bryggen area for 2 nights. This is a scenic area facing the North sea. It’s often described as a medieval wharf with colorful, wooden-clad boat houses. It ended up being a beautiful place to start our journey.
Aside from the beauty, we were instantly blown away by the quality of Norwegian breakfasts! Unlike “contintental breakfasts” in the United States, Norwegian breakfasts are the real deal. They offered a buffet of hot food, breads, cheese, spreads, fruit, cereal, juices and various coffee drinks. Everest and Sepia particularly enjoyed pancakes with Nutella.
We quickly learned that our ideal diet in Europe would be a full breakfast, a light dinner, and some fruit or snacks in between. Lunch was not needed with our schedule and morning fuel.
One of our favorite parts of Bergen was the Fløyen area.
This was a high point in the city designed around nature. We took a 5-minute tram up to the area where the kids were greeted with an awesome playground. Then we took flight into the woods and found a troll forest. After meeting several trolls, we climbed around a treehouse and then hiked through a plush forest. It was a great few hours in nature where Jafarian’s always thrive.
Later that evening we walked along the Bryggen boardwalk and enjoyed some fresh fish and chips for dinner. The sun was still in full force around 8pm due to Norway’s northern exposure. During June they only have darkness from 11pm-3am. This took some getting used to, especially with our severe jet lag, which lasted a few days.
The 2nd night we all woke up around 1am. Everest’s exact words were, “Mom I can’t sleep and I don’t know what to do!” Sepia woke up shortly after. Instead of trying to give them tips on how to fall back asleep, we decided to have a family jet lag party in our bed. This involved coming up with funny names for each letter of the alphabet, which was a lot more fun than reading or counting sheep.
A full 24 hours was enough time for us in Bergen. It’s a beautiful city but we were ready to see some of Norway’s unique landscape. The next morning we would rent a car and head Northeast into the fjords.
Our second stop in Norway was Gudvangen. This is a beautiful area 2 hours Northeast of Bergen in the Naerfjord region. Naerfjord is world renown for its fjords and waterfalls, which we experienced first hand. This landscape was simply amazing. We found a few awesome hikes, experienced multiple waterfalls, took a scenic train ride and met some goats.
We also found a cool micropub to sample Norwegian beer! For the record, Norwegian IPAs are quite weak compared to American IPAs. In fact, I am yet to find any place in the world that delivers IPAs as strong as we have in Colorado. I say that as a bit of an expert having tried hundreds of IPAs across 10+ countries. IPAs have sorta been my thing since moving to Colorado. 🍺
Gudvangen ended up being a great fit for our family. 48 hours was the perfect amount of time for us to get into nature and experience the fjords. We even ran into another family from Boulder, Colorado at our hotel! We also enjoyed the viking culture that’s still preserved in fun ways. A few of the towns we visited included:
We even found a beach in Aurlandsvangen. Yes, a Norwegian beach. The water was equally cold to Colorado mountain town water, which can only mean one thing for Jafarians… cold plunge! The kids and I dropped to our underwear and did a few dips to shock our system while Gabrielle enjoyed watching us freeze. 🥶
Our last stop in Norway was the small town of Voss. This is a popular area for European tourists and Norwegians to take holiday. It offers a lot of outdoor activities like biking, hiking, kayaking and skiing in winter. We found an awesome waterfall hike plus some rest and sunshine there before heading back to the Bergen airport.
Some quick notes on Norway:
- The landscape in Southwestern Norway is very scenic.
- The people are friendly with high English proficiency.
- The highways are easy to drive with clearly marked signs and lots of tunnels.
- The lodging, food and general activities are as expensive as you’ve probably heard. It is not a budget friendly place to visit, so get ready to blow some dough.
Chapter 2 – Germany 🇩🇪
The 2nd leg of our trip was 3 days in Germany with my dad, who currently lives in Dusseldorf. We flew into Frankfurt and took a train into Dusseldorf to meet him. The kids were excited to see Grandpa and he was equally anticipating our arrival. The pandemic has not made it easy to visit Europe in previous years, so this was our first time visiting him since he moved to Germany in 2019.
The kids made the most of their time with grandpa, including:
- Great food, pastries and lots of ice cream
- Taking over his apartment and jumping around his rug showroom
- Helping him keep his plants watered
Dusseldorf is the 7th largest city in Germany and a nice place to spend a couple days. We explored the main city area (Allstadt), walked along the Rhein river, had some fantastic food and experienced the only craft beer bar in town! Dusseldorf offers a lot of diversity in terms of culture and people.
We also spent a day in Cologne, which is about 30 minutes North of Dusseldorf. This city is a bit larger than Dusseldorf and offers the same diversity with its own twist. I would say Cologne is a bit more modern in comparison.
While in Cologne we explored their famous cathedral, the Lindt chocolate museum, a fun outdoor water area for the kids and a bite + beer in the bier garten.
Some quick notes on Germany:
- German cities are very diverse. I learned from my dad that they currently host over 70 million citizens, yet the country is only slightly bigger than Montana. I observed a lot of nationalities during the 3 days we where there.
- Germans are still very precise. I appreciate their clear rules, advanced trains and straight forward culture. You don’t get much fluff in Germany.
Chapter 3 – Italy 🇮🇹
The third and longest leg of our trip was Italy. This was also the impetus for our trip to see my childhood friend, Ryan, get married. Ryan and I grew up together in St. Louis and attended college together at Mizzou. He then pursued an international lifestyle living in various countries as he worked for the Peace Corps and [now] UN World Food Programme (WFP). He met his fiance, Sarah, while working in Rome during his latest station. They decided to host friends and family for a wedding in Orvieto, a smaller town an hour outside of Rome.
Gabrielle and I had already seen most of Italy on a previous trip including Rome, Florence, Venice, Naples and Cinque Terre. So my plan was to find somewhere new to visit before the wedding for a few days. My main criteria was somewhere with unique access to nature. This made it easy to choose the Dolomite region.
The Dolomites delivered with world class mountains, hiking, food and lodging. We stayed in the town of Villa De Gardena (Selva) and explored the neighboring towns of Ortisei and St. Christina. It was nice to have normal daylight again with some beautiful Italian sunrises and sunsets.
The views in this region are simply stunning. The dolomites offer a unique mountain landscape not found in other parts of the world. While I love my Rocky mountains in Colorado, I was certainly in my happy place during this part of the trip. I could hike those mountains for weeks!
The pinnacle of our time in the Dolomites was a 10+ mile hike with Gabrielle up Mt. Seceda. This is a famous peak in the region due to its unique form and location. It’s surrounded by other mountains and beautiful landscape, which make it a popular place to hike and mountain bike. It’s also a popular ski area in the winter.
The hike we chose offered amazing views from start to finish. It also included a 3,000+ foot elevation gain. It was both a gorgeous and challenging hike. We took some great photographs but they still don’t do this area justice. You have to experience it in person to fully appreciate the awe.
I’m also incredibly proud of my wife, Gabrielle, for tackling this hike. I hike regularly at altitude in Colorado, and I hike at a pretty aggressive pace. She was with me the whole time and we finished at an impressive time just over 6 hours. So major props to her for keeping up with her mountain goat husband. 😉
Outside of hiking, we also enjoyed some great Italian food, wine, gelato and plenty of pool time! I chose to lodge at Hotel Granbaita during our time here to take advantage of their top rated pool and sauna facilities. I don’t typically choose 5-star hotels, especially when traveling with the entire family, since we spend most of our time away from the hotel. However, we really enjoyed our time there and are grateful for the kind and helpful staff. They certainly delivered on a 5-star experience.
After 4 nights in the Dolomites we felt well rested and recharged for the main event – Ryan’s wedding!
The train from Bolzano to Orvieto was about 7 hours, so we got an early jump and departed around 7am. We had a midway stop in Florence and then reached Orvieto around 1:30pm. Then we jumped on a shuttle to our lodging for the wedding – Agriturismo El’ Amo.
This place was very charming. It was originally built in the 18th century, which was healthy contrast from our last hotel built in 2020. It was located in the Italian countryside where you could see grape farms and rolling hills for miles. There were a variety of fruit trees around the property and my dad was quick to spot some fresh cherries!
The first evening kicked off with a welcome barbeque, overdue hugs and a lot of smiles. I caught up with Ryan and our other childhood buddies known as the “Willowbrook crew.” This is named after our elementary school in St. Louis (Willowbrook).
The six of us grew up in close neighborhoods, attended the same primary schools, and also played on the same St. Richards sports teams from age 5-13. We also attended Mizzou together later during the college era. I don’t see these buddies as often now that I live in Colorado, so it was very special to hang out and catch up. 😊
The next day would be Ryan’s wedding day. I rose early from the chorus of birds right outside our window, so I decided to get a quick run in before my family woke up. Then we headed to breakfast and enjoyed some time by the pool. If there’s anything that optimizes a trip for young kids it’s certainly a pool. My kids love pools at least. I also recall loving pools as a kid when we took family vacations. So I think it’s safe to say kids love pools. Period.
Later that day I found a nice hike with a few buddies while my family took a noon siesta. Everything happens later and slower in Italy. You wake up later, you eat later, you nap longer and you stay up later. You also spend a lot more time enjoying meals. So with a wedding at 5pm, there wasn’t room for anything else after the hike. It was time to get dressed and head to the ceremony!
The venue Ryan and Sarah chose was serene. It could easily be the type of venue you see in movies. We walked up steps to a tree covered area built of beautiful Italian stone. The sun was starting to set and the trees provided a natural canopy to only let the perfect amount of light in. We took our seats and then some lovely music started as Ryan and his 2 year old daughter, Aya, came down the aisle.
I think the plan was for Aya to join her grandparents but she did not approve that plan. So she waited with Ryan as Sarah was escorted by her Father. Then we experienced a lovely ceremony with a poem read by our buddy Jeff, a unique Celtic knot tying tradition, and a sky full of bubbles. I was holding back tears as I experienced a great friend in a beautiful moment.
Shortly after we headed through a courtyard to have pre-dinner orderves and drinks. This was hosted on a beautiful patio overlooking the countryside. We took some pictures and mingled until it was time for dinner.
Then we experienced a full 4-course meal. Italian wedding dinners should be a sport, no joke. This was the most intense meal I’ve had in a while. Each dish was spaced 15-20 minutes apart and plated with just enough food to give you a taste but leave you hungry for more. The food was fantastic and the dinner toasts put a nice cherry on top of the meal. We also squeezed in a game of old fashioned “Telephone,” which was sparked by Everest. This is where you start with a phrase at one end of the table and then whisper it to your neighbor in effort to see it reach the other side. It was cool to see people off their phones and engaged in [real] communication. One side of the table actually completed the phrase as well!
After dinner it was time to cut the cake and hit the dance floor. The live band played some nice tunes as we mingled and moved our bodies late into the evening. It was a special day with special people.
The next day we would sleep in and take our time with no strict agenda. The only thing planned was a dinner barbeque at 7pm so we decided to explore the old town of Orvieto. This included a unique cathedral built in the 18th century for the pope and some very unique underground caves. It’s a great town to spend a day in and absorb some of its history.
Later that night we attended the barbecue and enjoyed some final time with friends. Tomorrow we would depart for Greece!
Some quick notes on Italy:
- Italians take their time. Everything is later, more spread out, and there is no rush whatsoever to do anything.
- Italians love food. They can spend hours eating. It’s quite fascinating that they can maintain decent health with how much time they spend taxing their digestive system.
- Italians also love children! They were so welcoming to our kids, especially Sepia (5 years old). There are playgrounds everywhere and children are certainly prioritized.
Chapter 4 – Greece 🇬🇷
The last leg of our trip would be Greece. This is a country we’ve never visited and Gabrielle has a bit of Greek heritage. We were excited to experience the beaches of Greece and this was arguably the hardest part of the trip to plan given how many islands there are in Greece.
Given our limited time there (4 days), we chose the smaller island of Agistri. This is only a 60-minute ferry from the port of Pireaus, compared to longer ferries or plane rides to the farther islands.
We flew into Athens from Rome and then lodged overnight in Pireaus, a large port city west of Athens. Piraeus is one of the major ports that Greek ferries operate from. This allowed us to break up the travel and be fresh for the first day in Agistri.
The next day we took a late morning ferry which landed us in Agistri just past noon. We started our island time with a hot 30-minute walk to our hotel. This was one gap in my planning due to multiple ports and the proximity of our hotel. Basically, I didn’t realize there were 2 ports on the island so we ended up getting a solid sweat in. 😅
This primed us for some immediate pool time once we reached the hotel. Gabrielle and I ordered a couple margaritas and we instantly felt ourself at peace with island life. Shortly after we walked a hundred feet out of our hotel and found ourselves on the beach. Agistri offers crystal clear water with mixed blues and greens just like you see in the pictures. It also has a few nice beaches to choose from. We enjoyed our first day in the sun and then chose a nice restaurant with Greek seafood for dinner. It was a great transition day.
The next morning I woke early and took a short hike into one of the greener areas of the island. This included some light trails, beach cliffs and dramatic views. I also passed by a nude beach where people found seclusion and pitched tents for overnight camping. It’s cool to see things like this where humans can exist without many rules or regulations.
When I got back my crew was ready for beach day number two! Today we would head to a gorgeous area named Aponisos where the water and views were magical. We were one of the first in the sea for swimming. We also put on our goggles to enjoy some tropical fish spotting. There was a good variety of marine life to experience.
After a few hours at Aponisos we were scorched. It was time to get out of the sun and head back to the hotel. We spent a little more time by the pool and then grabbed another great dinner. However, this particular dinner offered some specific sweet treats. So we let the kiddos order waffles with ice cream and chocolate!
Something I’ve learned about family vacations – it’s okay to let go of your normal routine and rules. Sure, ice cream for dinner is far from healthy, and so are the many sodas we let our kids enjoy on the trip, which we never have at home. However, being on vacation is a special time that we’ll all remember. So letting loose feels like a healthy pattern interrupt when we’re traveling.
I’m also a big fan of sunrises. Any time I visit a new beach or water front destination I make an effort to see the sun rise at least one day. I think sunrises are one of the most beautiful examples of nature on this planet. Here’s a few shots of Agistri at sunrise. ☀️
The next day would be our final day in Agistri which included some more beach and pool time around our hotel. We really enjoyed our time here. It was a perfect ending to a full trip, but we had one more stop before heading home.
The final day we would catch a morning ferry back to Athens. Then we took a taxi to our hotel, dropped our luggage off, and headed to the Acropolis. This was the final activity for our adventure and it was a sight to see. I love visiting ancient ruins and the Acropolis didn’t disappoint. It’s uniquely positioned on a hill above the rest of the city with fantastic surrounding views. It was a very hot day with no shade but I think the kids also enjoyed our short time there.
We snapped some pics and then headed to the Hard Rock Cafe for our final meal. Yep, the all American Hard Rock Cafe! After tons of authentic meals in Europe we were ready for some burgers, fries and chicken tenders. Simple and fulfilling to tie a bow on our experience. Later that evening we strolled the Kaledio gardens and let the kids play on one final playground.
Some quick notes on Greece:
- Greeks are very friendly and family oriented. We felt the same warmth towards children that was present in Italy.
- The Greek language is incredibly different than English, Spanish and German. I attempted to learn a few words but most Greeks were totally fine speaking English. It’s a very interesting language.
- Greek beaches and water are mesmerizing. I didn’t realize how beautiful this part of the world was. I’ve visited pristine beaches in Thailand, Costa Rica, Mexico and Florida. The beaches we experienced in Greece were world class.
A sense of completion
Laying in bed that evening I felt very complete. We just executed a 3-week family adventure to 4 countries with virtually no hiccups or issues. Sure there were times of stress and things we learned about traveling far with young kids (more on that below), but the overall experience was pretty flawless as Gabrielle said. It was well worth all the planning, decisions, coordination, money and energy that went into creating the experience.
Now it was time to head home.
Some fun notes that also happened while we were traveling:
- Everest lost one of his front teeth!
- Sepia got her first bee sting!
- I was attacked by a seagull when foolishly getting too close to it’s nest!
- The Denver Nuggets won the NBA championship!
- Gabrielle and I celebrated our 9th wedding anniversary! ❤️
Below are some key insights and learning from the adventure.
Let’s start from the beginning with the planning.
It’s also important to note that I did not plan this alone! Gabrielle and I have a nice system where I do most of the initial planning and ideation, and then she reviews or spot checks my work. This works really well for us and is also how we execute trips. I plan and design, she makes sure the details are in order. 🙂
This adventure was an investment in different ways.
Traveling with Children
Now let’s discuss what most people assume is the most obvious – traveling with young children was challenging.
Quality Family Time
The last and most important point I want to make is around the quality family time we created on this trip.
With quality time in mind, I made a few commitments before leaving for this trip, including:
Disconnecting from work
I told my team members I was using this time to disconnect (no work). So I did a lot of upfront preparation before I left and agreed to check a Google doc once per week for 15 minutes to field anything critical that they truly needed me for. They held things down in my absence which I’m always grateful for. I also paused all client coaching, podcast production and other miscellaneous projects. This was my version of a 3-week sabbatical.
Only using my phone for GPS navigation, location search, picture taking and Instagram sharing
I intentionally choose to share my pics on Instagram as we travel because I want to inspire other people to see the world and create similar experiences for themselves. I did not view or use any other social media during this trip. The main purpose of having my phone during travel is to help us navigate and take pictures. Otherwise, I would honestly consider keeping my phone off.
Prioritizing my children’s experience
I created cute little travel journals for Everest and Sepia to write and post pictures in. I also brought a small portable printer so we could add pictures as we traveled. Above all, I was receptive to their wants, needs and perspective of the experience. This wasn’t easy at times but I went into this trip wanting them to have some choice and voice along the way. This type of intentional parenting is something I attribute to Front Row Dads, the community that’s given me so much since becoming a father. I shared with my FRD brothers that I was proud of what I created here and I couldn’t have done it without them.
I believe that when you create an experience for your family, small or large, you have a choice on what you want to create and how you want to show up.
Your intention and commitment to this is what makes the experience. In that light, I will leave you with this…
The point of an adventure [for me] is to disconnect from normal life, change my environment, experience new things and feel alive.
I like to mix some fun, silliness and challenge into the mix as well. You cannot experience the full benefits of an adventure unless you commit to being fully present. It’s an intentional practice, and it’s hard.
The most valuable benefit of an adventure is the quality time created with people and yourself. It’s the new stillness, the new images, the new moments and the new learning created when you commit to being fully present in everything you experience. I believe these are the memories we’ll cherish and share when people ask about what we did in our lifetime.
This is why I love adventures and I hope this one inspires you in some way.
Ali is a father, husband and serial entrepreneur with a deep drive to create. He writes, records, codes and builds things to inspire the artist in all of us.