Iceland

 

ICELAND

Six days in Iceland started our year adventure off in a spectacular way!

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It was a wise decision to do a slow extended start to our travels…. After a busy week of last minute preparations and a long overnight flight with little sleep, our time in Iceland started with a lazy day of bubble baths and naps in our beautiful airbnb! Our host was a lovely family with two children, ages 7 yrs & 8 mths. We were their first airbnb guests, but I hope not their last… as this place is gorgeous!

It is a 4th floor walk-up, so we’re getting our extra exercise, but that’s probably a good thing! I would share their site, but I think they’ve taken a break from hosting…. but for those looking for an AirBnB in Iceland….consider spots that aren’t right downtown. Driving around is not too difficult (just keep a watch on your speed!)… and even though the AirBnB we found was not right downtown Reykjavik… it was an easy 10 minute drive to get there and an easy departure for other day trips. Also a good lesson in AirBnB searching…. generally it is recommended to only book places with several good reviews… but every place has to start somewhere, so glad we took the chance on this one. We did get our first lesson in AirBnB laundry around the world (many more lessons to come, as I often had to go to google translate to figure out how to work each new machine…. but also that very few places we would visit had dryers and even in the colder climate of Iceland, clothes are hung on racks to dry!)

Our first night we wanted to do a little exploring (and I didn’t want to cook dinner yet)… we made our way down to the harbour area and stumbled upon a steakhouse with the most delicious steak ever… and interesting additions for the kids to expand their tastebuds…. tuna sashimi & whale tataki! We all loved the tuna…. the whale… not so much, but I was impressed that all the kids tried it! I highly recommend Steikhusid – The Steak House http://www.steik.is (and for the grown ups… the Gin & Tonic was amazing too!)

Day 2 started at our “home”, as we adjusted to the new time zone… and I had the kids work on their “homeschooling”. I am still figuring out the best way to fit that in… but I try to get them to do at least a bit every day. Kaelee has fun creating a beautiful multi-course “meal” with play doh!011F30DD-FF3F-4398-AE67-DAED0F44C2DC

We already had a late night tour booked to see the Northern Lights… but since it was such a beautiful afternoon with rain in the forecast for the rest of the week, we decided to try to fit in a visit to the famous Blue Lagoon geothermal spa. Parent travel planner fail…. apparently it is extremely busy and arrival time must be pre-booked… but we made the most of our drive out there. We booked our time for the Saturday morning before we leave Iceland, and then took a walk around the area and did a couple of fun photo stops on the way back into town. IMG_0833

The kids enjoyed exploring the lava rock formations and we even found a little cave to go down under the main ground level. We learned the lava rock is from 800 years ago…. and there are over 130 active & inactive volcanoes in Iceland… however a volcano is only considered inactive if it has been at least 500 years since it last erupted… only 30 active volcanic systems through the island! The country is in the middle of or on top of two tectonic plates! We also learned this area experiences over 100 mini earthquakes every day… but they are 1 or less and therefore rarely felt.

We headed downtown to get dinner and stopped at the Hard Rock Cafe as we have a family friend who collects t-shirts from this restaurant from around the world. I’m sure you’ve heard how expensive everything is here in Iceland… well – our 2 steaks, 1 child’s pasta, 1 app & 1 mojito cost us approximately $200 CND! A reminder that doing as much cooking at our “home” is a better plan! Speaking of cooking at “home”, in our travels I would learn the easiest and least expensive meals… which often meant pizza or pasta for the kids and a simple caprese salad for me… easiest because I didn’t need to translate the directions!C2505E06-3813-4A95-BEF4-23FE95BE6D04

We then drove over to the Gray Line bus terminal to meet up with our tour bus. I researched several different tours… but they all seemed pretty similar and the Gray Line had the best pricing ($57 EURO for 1 adult, 1 youth, 2 CH, kids free up to age 11… and I found a code for 5% off, so ended up $54 EURO!) We took the bus ride out and I had brought snacks and ipads etc… for the kids. I would love if they actually listened to the tour guide, but sometimes it works better to just keep them quiet! When we arrived the guide kept talking about waiting for the light pollution to go away but I just wanted to get off the bus to try to get a picture of the beautiful sunset (AKA light pollution! LOL)

We then got back on the bus to wait for darkness to fall and watch for the Northern Lights. Our guide told us the chance of seeing them was approximately a 3 (on a scale that goes to 8)… but he also said his best viewing in his 4 years of doing this was also on a night with a 3! After 2 hours of feeling a bit like those people who stand in fields watching for aliens and learning that much of the northern lights are impossible to see with the naked eye (those with DSLR cameras were able to get pictures)… we had given up and gotten back on the bus to wait… when all of a sudden there was a huge cry of excitement and we all looked out to witness a beautiful light show that lasted at least 10-15 minutes and visual to all…. Alex was able to get a couple of pictures on his iphone using a special northern lights app but if you ever go, plan to bring a good DSLR camera along with you!

By the way – our guide was awesome & informative… http://www.grayline.is/tours

As much as I’d love “life” to be all the homeschooling they need… I am trying to get through their required curriculum as well. The problem comes when all of us have to spend several hours together without any outside distractions! I appreciate all the comments of what a great mom I am… and what an amazing gift I am giving my kids… but the truth.. it will only be amazing & great if we all survive!!! I’d like to add an “LOL”… but not laughing. Just so no one thinks I am superwoman, true confessions… my kids are NOT perfect, nor am I… nor do they always like each other…and after a long day making our way through homeschool workbooks within the walls of a small airbnb apartment it was definitely time to get out.

We headed to Costco and bought a new camera (24 hours later and Alex already figured out most of the buttons… I still point & click!)

And then we headed downtown to find the best hot dogs in the world (Baejarins Best Pylsur (translation – best hot dog in the world) http://www.bbp.is IMG_0894along with a little shopping and treats at an amazing 4 level bookstore with a Te & Kaffi. The hot dogs were really good (best in the world?? well… maybe – I’m not really a hot dog expert! LOL) Loved the bookstore… but gosh it is so expensive here (saw a cute little backpack for Kaelee… only $180 CND… what???!!!?) And I chatted with the girl at Te & Kaffi… she told me they are considered the Starbucks of Iceland… about 12 of them on the island… but she said she thinks they’re even better… high standards of staff training.. and high standards for all food products… and her recommendation of the cinnamon roll was excellent!! So yes…. as much of a Starbucks fan as I am…. definitely stop at one of the Te & Kaffi http://www.teogkaffi.is locations if you visit Iceland!

So.. back to the true confessions… as we left downtown the kids were back to bickering and picking on each other and I completely LOST IT!!!!!! I told them plans were only confirmed for 2 more weeks and the return flights had yet to be booked and if they could not try harder to get along, I would book our tickets home and send them all back to school! We can’t afford tours & activities every day… and all of us need the occasional “down” day… but my lesson learned was that I’ll have to find ways to give us all a bit of space too!

It took a little convincing to get my youngest (age 6) to go this day… but the boys were quite excited about the planned adventure. Because of Kaelee’s reluctance we got a later start than I had hoped but it proved to be just enough time! We had planned to do the Golden Circle as a self-driven tour. Because we had seen several waterfalls yesterday, I already knew I could skip that traditional 3rd stop…. so we set off with the first destination of Pingvellir National Park Iceland’s only UNESCO World Heritage site http://www.whc.unesco.org/en/list/1152 … and a final stop of Geysir https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Geysir .. and then whatever else interested us along the way!

Both of those stops did not disappoint…. but the surprise bonus discovery was Laugarvatnshellir https://guidetoiceland.is/connect-with-locals/regina/laugarvatnshellir-cave-the-cave-people-in-iceland

A cave that was a home almost 100 years ago and has since been turned into a museum. All the kids enjoyed climbing and exploring around the cave area…. but Tim & Kaelee had a special guided story tour and then came and shared the stories they heard. (insert Tim’s video description) The geysir was of course also a huge hit!

We then made it home with only minutes to spare for me to drop kids off and take off for HARPA to attend the Ella Fitzgerald Tribute concert! HARPA is absolutely gorgeous and for anyone with an interest in theatre or architecture this is a must visit stop…. but the 9 women and 1 man who brought to life the incredibly rich musical history of Ella’s career were superb! https://en.harpa.is I was also blown away with the fashion show…. yes, a bit on the stage with 9 talented female singers…. but especially in the audience! People DRESS for a night at the theatre in Iceland! There were definitely a few more casual, but many with fabulous outfits & shoes… much more so than I am used to seeing any of the performances I’ve attended in North America. And not just beautiful… but also extremely modern and edgy!

On our last day in Iceland we finally made it to the Blue Lagoon http://www.bluelagoon.com . It is a geothermal pool… there are apparently many of them in Iceland and I believe they are mostly free.. but this is the marketed one with facilities, change rooms, showers, café, etc…the cost was not too crazy and as a bonus, the kids were allowed to go with me and they were all free. Whether you have the time to explore and find one of the free locations or visit the Blue Lagoon…. you definitely want to add this amazing experience to your travels in Iceland. Just a few things to note… towels, robes, etc… all cost extra, although you can bring your own. We went on our way to the airport… so we did rent towels, but I brought a ziplock bag for our wet suits, and robes, etc… As noted earlier, you must book your entrance time in advance (especially if you have a specific day or time needed for scheduling!!!) But 2 to 3 hours is plenty of time to visit this beautiful facility and it is close enough to the airport that you can do just this stop on an extended layover… just pack your bathing suit in your carry-on! I also don’t think you need to pay for a tour from the airport (or from the cruise port), although there are many available, it is only 20 minutes from the airport by taxi, or if you’re arriving by cruise ship, you can also just take a taxi or there is a bus terminal a 20 minute walk from the cruise port that will get you there.

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After the Blue Lagoon, we made our way to the airport…. and dropped off the rental car… and on that note… I do not usually pay for extra insurance, but for some reason I did decide to pay the extra for cracked glass insurance, because pebbles and stones are quite an issue in Iceland… lucky me because somehow I did crack the glass on one of the fog lights and it was covered. Another few notes on rentals in Iceland… we rented from SIXT http://www.sixt.ic (but there are many rental car company options)…the two price levels included up to 600 km… or unlimited.. I stayed with the up to 600km which worked out perfectly for us…I also paid for the gas tank to be filled by them instead of having the find my own gas station right before getting to the airport… interestingly.. the car was so good on gas… I never had to top off the tank at all.. and still did not quite hit my 600 km…. we made it safely to the airport and on time to our departure.

Iceland is a beautiful country to visit. It is possible to visit without renting a car, but you will be more locked into doing tours and I would suggest getting a hotel or AirBnB downtown. The tours are great, but when travelling with kids I found we enjoyed the freedom of travelling by car even though it meant more work and research for me. We did meet a super sweet single university student travelling from Germany… if you’re traveling solo than tours are a great way to see everything without the stress of driving (especially if you’re there in the months with more severe weather!) We only spent a week there but I would recommend at least two weeks if you really want to see and experience everything this country has to offer!