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Halkidiki (or Chalkidiki), with its pristine beaches and crystal-clear waters, is one of the most picturesque destinations in Greece. The region is known for its delectable cuisine, scenic villages, and vibrant nightlife, making it the perfect spot for couples and families alike. In summer 2022 we decided to stay in the charming village of Ormos Panagias, located on the eastern side of Sithonia peninsula.

After exploring the beaches along the coast of Halkidiki's Sithonia peninsula, we decided to explore the nearby island of Diaporos, a hidden gem known for its crystal-clear waters and secluded beaches. We rented a boat from one of the local rental companies in Ormos Panagias and set off to explore the Diaropos' beautiful beaches.

Finns love boating as Finland is a country with a lot of lakes and a long coastline along the Baltic Sea. The archipelago off the coast of Finland consists of thousands of islands and islets that are dotted throughout the sea.Boating in the archipelago is a popular activity among Finns. I wanted to offer Jani the experience to ride a boat in Greece as he has never done it before outside Finland. He was such a capable and careful captain!

"Full steam ahead!"

"Aye, aye, captain Jani!"

We were in awe of the stunning natural beauty of the island, which was surrounded by turquoise waters and lush greenery. We found a secluded beach to anchor the boat and spent the day swimming, sunbathing, and enjoying the peace and quiet of the island.

Philippos had a great experience being on a boat for the first time and he felt safe. Learning to ride a boat can be a fun and exciting experience, but it's important to take safety precautions and follow boating rules and regulations. Lots of tourists rent boats to visit Diaporos, so all visitors should follow safety tips as instructed by the rental companies and as common sense dictates.

Some tips for beginners include:

  1. Wear a life jacket at all times while on the boat.

  2. Familiarize yourself with the boat and its equipment, including the steering and throttle controls.

  3. Follow boating rules and regulations, including speed limits, no-wake zones, and navigational markers.

  4. Pay attention to weather conditions.

  5. Keep a close eye on other boats and watercraft in the area to avoid collisions.

  6. Learn how to properly anchor the boat if needed, and how to tie it up securely when docking.

  7. Always have a backup plan in case of emergencies, including having a communication device like a VHF radio or cell phone on board.

  8. Never operate a boat while under the influence of drugs or alcohol.

Our experience was memorable and we safely returned our boat to shore after exploring Diaropos.

Updated: Apr 1

Last summer before my son started school as a first grader, I was looking for a new hobby for him in our neighborhood. I found that Espoo Taekwondo Academy was offering taekwondo training at the gym of my son’s school. After visiting their website, I called master coach Timo Jansson to find out more about the sport and its practicalities. Timo was open and insightful and told me that parents or grandparents can participate in taekwondo lessons together. I thought that was an excellent opportunity to finally find myself a hobby and also spend my time in a meaningful way, while my son is at his hobby instead of only looking at what he does.

The decision to take up taekwondo as a hobby for my 7-year-old son and me was excellent. Taekwondo offers a range of benefits that make it a great option for parents (or even grandparents) and their children (or grandchildren) to practice together.

Here are some of the key benefits of taekwondo for my 7-year-old son and me:

  1. Physical fitness: Taekwondo is a great way to stay fit and healthy. This martial art involves a lot of movement, which can improve cardiovascular health, build strength and flexibility, and increase endurance. We have two scheduled trainings per week yet we can also participate in more training sessions, either theme training, for instance, focusing on kicks, sparring or poomsae. In Taekwondo there is a) sparring and b) poomsae. Sparring is also known as fighting. Poomsae is also known as patterns or forms. In Taekwondo, Poomsae is more of an art form, it looks like a precise choreography where you execute specific movements in certain patterns. Sparring is about scoring points for touching your opponent with power and speed. It is important to note that taekwondo is one of the safest martial arts. While sparring there is a good amount of protective gear and you only score points for touching your opponent not knocking them out or knocking them down. Punches to the face or punches or kicks below the waist are not allowed as well as attacking your opponent with the knee or the head is forbidden.

  2. Self-defense: Taekwondo teaches self-defense techniques that can help both adults and children feel more confident and empowered. Learning how to defend ourselves give us a sense of security. However, always our coach says that in case of an attack, the first thing you should do is walk/run away and not engage in a fight.

  3. Mental discipline: Taekwondo is not just about physical fitness and self-defense. It also teaches mental discipline, including focus, self-control, and perseverance. These skills can help both parents and kids in all aspects of life, including school, work, and personal relationships.

  4. Socialization: Taekwondo classes offer an excellent opportunity for socialization. My son and I have met new people and made new friends. Our coaches are father and daughter duo Henri and Ilona and our teammates are children from first grade to fourth. In other trainings such as sparring and poomsae, there are teenagers and adults. A diverse group of people!

  5. Goal-setting: Taekwondo provides opportunities for setting and achieving goals. Both Philippos and I have trained towards earning belts and mastering new techniques. This creates a sense of achievement and boosts our self-confidence. We have now earned our yellow with green stripe belt and soon we will –hopefully- earn our green belt! There are also many possibilities to compete in either sparring or poomsae and this is important to grow confidence in performing in from of an audience and achieving your goals!

  6. Stress relief: Taekwondo can also be a great way to relieve stress and make us feel more relaxed after a long day of work or school.

  7. Improved strength and flexibility: Taekwondo involves a lot of movement and requires a high level of flexibility. With regular practice, our strength and flexibility have improved and our kicks are stronger and higher.

  8. Balance training: Taekwondo involves a range of balance exercises, such as kicking and footwork drills. These exercises can help improve balance and coordination which is beneficial to people of all ages.

  9. Bonding: Taekwondo can be a great way for a mother and son to bond. The shared experience of learning and practicing taekwondo brings us even closer together as we have a common hobby and goals to discuss and work on.

  10. Lasting memories: Sharing a hobby together with your kid can help connect on a deeper level and create lasting memories.

I would strongly recommend taekwondo to all parents and children and I wish I had thought of it earlier in my life. It is never too late! One day perhaps I could get my black belt. As the coaches, Timo and Kirsi Jansson remind us often is that “a black belt is a white belt who never quit”!

Updated: Mar 30

If you are in Helsinki in summer and the weather is warm, there is a hidden gem you ought to visit: Pihlajasaari island. No wonder this picturesque island with the sandy beaches is beloved by Helsinkians.

On a warm, sunny day towards the end of July our blended family of five (2 adults and 3 children) hopped on a water bus from Helsinki and within 10 mins we were in the lovely Pihlajasaari island.

The lovely Pihlajasaari island seems to be one of the most important summer getaways for Helsinkians, as the ferry was packed with people, especially families with kids. I must say that after 15 years living in Finland, it was my first time visiting and it is now one of the most memorable experiences I have had, so I am definitely returning back. Visitors can find their own spot either on the picturesque sandy beaches or on any of the plenty of rocks on the other side of the island.

Visiting Pihlajasaari island is a day trip and in order to quench your thirst and satisfy your hunger, I recommend visiting the Pihlajasaari Restaurant. It is situated in the western part of the island. Upon arrival at the dock, turn right and keep walking along a sandy path for 300 meters. There stands the charming Pihlajasaari Restaurant in an old wooden villa with an excellent view of the Gulf of Finland. Pihlajasaari is owned by the City of Helsinki and Theron Catering has rented the villa where Pihlajasaari Restaurant is operating in. The building was built in 1883 and has been a restaurant since 1929. We sat at the seaside terrace of Pihlajasaari Restaurant, which is undoubtedly one of the best summer terraces in Helsinki. We enjoyed delicious food in a calm, cozy atmosphere with excellent service by the professional and friendly personnel with a view of a picture-postcard scenery.

The award-winning Theron Catering provides bistro food at Pihlajasaari Restaurant. Island visitors and beach-goers can enjoy simple, familiar, affordable bistro food, while taking a hike, swim or sunbathing. Here you can enjoy salads, soups, fish, chicken, meat and vegetarian dishes.

Our menu consisted of the following mouth-watering dishes:

Ginger-marinated, sesame-roasted country chicken breast on salad bed

Creamy archipelago salmon soup – archipelago bread and butter

Blue mussels ala Pihlajasaari

Butter-fried traditional herring steaks, early potatoes and dill seasoned sour cream sauce

Mini meatballs and fries

We have been satisfied with all dishes in terms of quality, quality and price range (from 14,50€-17€ for adult portions and 7,90€ for the kids meatballs). The eldest of our kids stated that the “salmon soup was the best I ever had!” Also, we -adults – enjoyed a beer and a glass of white wine.

“All the items on the menu have been created by Tero Blom, founder and owner of Theron Catering, himself. My favourite dishes are the mussels, the goat cheese salad and the beautifully-made vegan curry,” explains Viivi Koskinen restaurant manager of Pihlajasaari restaurant that I had a chance to meet shortly as she was busy working.

Bonus points for the freshly baked donuts! They were fluffy, warm and delightful bringing memories of memorable summers at your grandparents' house.

“We have 9 magnificent workers at the restaurant. We also have 2 workers at our beach cafe, which has the best view on the sea”, Viivi explained as I congratulated her on the excellent service and friendly personnel.

Pihlajasaari Restaurant is open daily from 11:30-19:30. It welcomes guests until the first weekend of September (until 6.9.2020). For more information, please visit Pihlajasaari restaurant’s website and Pihlajasaari restaurant’s Facebook page.

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