Sunday, June 24, 2018

Enchanting Iceland: An Unbeatable Destination for Families

Move over Disneyland - the happiest place on earth just might be Iceland.  
It's incredibly safe (known as one of the safest countries in the world with a nearly non-existent crime rate), exceedingly welcoming to children and a natural playground where anything seems possible.  Reaching the end of a rainbow? Elves and Fairies?  
Floating diamonds? Hidden healing hot springs? Check. Check. Check. Check.

The best part?  I never once had to ask the kids to "use an indoor voice" or "walking feet" or "don't climb or jump or get wet," because there are no rules in the wide open wilderness of Iceland.  Max said he's never felt so free. What an incredible feeling for a kid.

 One other thing I will note as it pertains to kids is that it would've been challenging with our younger boys in tow.  It was a very physically active trip and I don't think it would have been fair to them or to my older boys, who got the opportunity to fully enjoy all the wonders that Iceland has to offer.

And, oh, the other-worldly wonders of this island!  There were times I felt like we were on another planet because the terrain was unlike anything I'd ever seen.  Or in heaven, because it was so beautiful.  We had the chance to count 7 different full rainbows standing in front of one waterfall.  So many moments in Iceland could have been mistaken for dreams. 

And stripping down to the bare necessities shoved into the confines of a single backpack was a great way for us to discover our individual strengths and weaknesses as travelers.  We had an incredible adventure.

Icelandair: MCI - KEF 

Icelandair really stepped up to help us when our connecting flight got canceled.  We weren't supposed to fly direct, but they jumped at the chance to help and we left straight from Kansas City.  Hallelujah!  The boys were handed a little bag full of activities, sleeping mask and headphones the moment we boarded the plane.  And before beverage service started, they gave all the kids on board a snack box full of goodies.  Six hours later we landed at our destination.
I feel like our Icelandair experience was foreshadowing for how children are treated in Iceland...welcomed, respected and understood. 
It's Max!
Reykjavik: the Capital of Cool
We were met with a cool, rainy morning when we arrived.  We didn't check any bags so we walked straight to the FlyBus desk (after a quick/painless process entering the country) and purchased tickets to Reykjavik with a stop at the Blue Lagoon on our way into town.  It was the cheapest, easiest way to get where we wanted to go.  The kids were FREE (a common theme for children throughout our travels here).  
Our flight arrived at 6:30am and our AirBB wouldn't be ready until 3pm, so we had some time to pass.  It was only about 20 minutes to get to the famed Blue Lagoon from the airport.  We had made the earliest reservation we could - 7am - weeks before our trip (definitely make a rezzie!) and were the first ones in the beautiful, healing waters. That alone was a magical experience. 

The silica mask is mud/silt produced by the lagoon and claims to exfoliate the skin and boost collagen. And ladies, keep your hair out of the water if you don't want it to turn into straw.  I protected mine with about a gallon of conditioner and kept it out of the water as much as I could.

Max, however, was not concerned about his hair ;)
Alone in the relaxation room for a much-needed catnap for all of us.
Your first adult beverage or smoothie from the swim-up bar is free, even with the basic entry...which we did and thought it was totally fine.  No need to upgrade in my opinion.  Added bonus?  Kids get in FREE at the Blue Lagoon!  You still need to make a reservation for them, though.
 After about 5 hours of soaking and sleeping and sipping on beverages, we caught the next FlyBus into town (about 30 mins).  We decided to make a quick stop for lunch and stumbled into an incredible pizza joint.  Not very Icelandic, but it's just what we needed.  Sullivan was feeling the effects of jetlag at this point.  Luckily the best-milkshake-ever brought him back to life!
I'm failing you right now by not recalling the name of this place!

We still had time before our place was ready so we explored the city a bit...
Harpa Concert Hall
Lobster Hot Dog?

There was quite a bit of street art throughout the city.
I had a weird impulse and made the boys pose in front of this Anthony Bourdain happened to be exactly one week before his death.  (Would you think it was weird if I told you I sometimes get feelings about things before they happen? Yeah, that's what I thought! :)
Verbud 11 also happened to be an excellent restaurant.
We finally got to check into our AirBB.  It was an adorable little flat near the harbor and close to many fantastic restaurants and cafes.
We stopped at this little coffee shop every morning.
Whales and Puffins and Elves!
Day 2 we woke up to another cloudy day, but the boys were excited to see things they've never seen before! Quick breakfast in our cute kitchen first.
Max slicing tomatoes for our eggs benedict.
Donuts, bacon and Skyr...a yogurt-like Icelandic delicacy.

Tara with Royal Travel & Tours planned our excursions and I'm SO happy I had someone else handle that part.  I enjoy planning a general itinerary, but the process of booking and organizing everything isn't my favorite. They were able to get us some awesome deals too!  The whale and puffin tours were free for Sullivan and half-price (7yrs-15yrs) for Max.
lots of whale and dolphin sightings!
And finally the clouds start to lift for the first time and we begin to actually SEE the beautiful landscape!

After spending a few hours out on the boat, we were starving and wanted to try some traditional food. Reykjavik Fish was right by the harbor and was the perfect quick bite before our "Elf Tour".
This dish is an Icelandic staple called Plokkari (fish and potatoes) I was surprised how much I liked it!  And the bread that comes with it is dense and sweet.  Just that one little dish was 3,000.00 Krona.  To roughly translate to American dollars, move the decimal over two places...$30.00.  And this just a little order-at-the-counter fish joint.  BUT it was definitely delicious.

Up next was our Elf Tour about 20 minutes outside of the city in Hafnarfjordur.  Sibba our tour guide told us the history of "Hidden People" in Iceland. She was an excellent story-teller and the boys were hanging on her every word.

Hear them in there?
Elf hunting:)
We got back to the city via bus and it turned out to be a gloriously sunny, blue sky day.  I was so happy to see the sunshine.  It warmed up to about 65 degrees.  We did a little more exploring on foot, visited Hallgrímskirkja church and found a neighborhood specialty shop to pick something up for dinner.

 The views on a sunny day were incredible.  Entry to the top was, again, free for all kids. 

Picking out dinner!  This place was like a mini Dean & Deluca.

Max and Dad went to bed after our very full day, but Sullivan and I found ourselves energized by the midnight sun. 22 hours of daylight is great when you're a night-owl. So as not to let that sunshine go to waste we went out and found a little hot dog/ice cream stand.  Which, interestingly enough, are two of the most famous things to eat in Iceland

Open until 4am!
The Golden Circle
Royal Travel & Tours also arranged our Golden Circle tour.  We considered self-driving it, but ended up being SO happy we took a tour.  The guide spoke about Icelandic history and pointed out so many interesting things along the way that we wouldn't have noticed otherwise.  I feel like we really got a lot out of every minute of the drive.  
Our tour bus picked us up right outside this burger place only steps from our AirBB.  I was surprised to be so impressed by a burger in Iceland, but Hamborgarabullan lived up to the hype surrounding it.

Our first stop on the tour was Gullfoss

I wished it had been a sunnier day, but the boys loved climbing the rocks and getting drenched in the waterfall spray.

For lunch we ate at the nearby cafe and the boys devoured Lamb Stew, another Icelandic staple.

Our next stop was Thingvellir National Park. Watching the boys climb fearlessly was my favorite part.

Last stop on our 6 hour tour was the Geysir.  We got to see it erupt 5 or 6 times during our time there...

Max and his new little Viking friend taking a snooze back to Reykjavik.
After a long day of fun, we cooked dinner back at our AirBB.  It was nice to settle in, wash some clothes and repack because we were picking up our RV the next morning!  Little did we know we really hadn't seen anything yet!
Beef Bourginion, bucatini, baked brie, Icelandic bread and salad.
Before heading to bed we took a quick walk to Valdis for some ice cream!  It's on all of the "can't-miss" Iceland foodie lists, but we're spoiled in KC with Glace' and Betty Rae's so I'd have to's ok to skip.
RV Adventure
The real adventure lies outside of the city.  While planning our trip and trying decide what stops we should make and orchestrate hotels along the route it started to feel too restrictive.  We needed a hotel on wheels to have the freedom to stop/go as we pleased.  The process of renting an RV was, well, a PROCESS. Although I really can't say enough about Real Value Iceland.  We felt well prepared to hit the road after an in-depth walk-through and crash course on operating this beast.
Billy got the hang of the RV pretty quickly and we made our first stop...the grocery store to fill up the fridge!
Nature/Camping MAD LIBS and postcards. We made good use of our time in the RV.
And here's where our days get a little blurry!  Between non-stop action and the midnight sun, it's hard to remember where one day stopped and another began.  But here are a few things we saw along the way...
that beautiful midnight sun.
Not another soul in sight for miles at a time.
 We finally decided we should find a place to camp for the night.  It was 11:30pm and we still hadn't even had dinner.  We were having so much fun we had literally lost track of time.  It's incredible (even if a little disorienting) when that happens, isn't it?
Pulling in to a campsite in Vik.
Starting to get dusky finally, the boys ran over to the playground while I whipped up dinner in the RV.

the view from the door of our RV.
Ravioli, caesar salad and bread. I didn't mind cooking in the RV, but doing dishes was another story.  I wished we had bought paper plates.
The boys snoozed the morning away, but we hit the road anyway!  That was one of the perks of the RV, we could get moving even if they were still tired.
"Where are we?!" :)

Stopping to hike, swim or eat whenever we wanted...
rock stacking is a new art form for the boys.
Happy Hour and playing cards at Ranga Luxury Resort for a little break.  Eating a bite during HH was an inexpensive way to get a taste of some of the nicer places.

The view from our RV window...camping night 2

Fjadrargljufur Canyon
The mossy lava fields of Eldhraun

Skeiðará Bridge Monument.  This is all that remains of an Icelandic bridge that was wiped out by a combination of volcanic heat and glacial floods.

The boys loved stopping along rivers flowing with glacier water to fill up their water bottles or take a sip straight from the stream.

 This is one of those places that wasn't labeled as a "landmark", it just happened to catch our eye as we were rolling down Route 1. 
you can see our lone RV parked on the side of the road up on the right.
The last tour we had planned (by Royal Travel & Tours, of course!) was an amphibian tour of the Glacier Lagoon.  You can see from the window of our RV that we're getting close!  Those ghostly glaciers...

We were fortunate to get a beautiful sunny day and the color of the icebergs was magnificent. 

One thing I thought was so incredible is that this landscape is ever-changing.  New icebergs are breaking off the glacier and tumbling into the lagoon every day.  They make their way down a narrow channel into the ocean where they're set free.  The shapes and colors constantly transforming here - no two days does it look the same.
a 1,000 year old piece of ice. pure and untouched until now.
and he gave Max the first piece for answering a question correctly!

Across from the lagoon, on the other side of the narrow channel, is known as Diamond Beach.  Here many of the icebergs, mostly melted, wash ashore.  The boys made it their duty to get the biggest ones back out to the water where they could finish melting with dignity:)
The boys got a lot of use out of their North Face waterproof boots!
Black lava sand.

The glacier and the midnight sun.  Old friends, I'm sure.

This island.  She is a such a natural beauty.

Raw nature at every turn. The kind that makes you feel utterly a good and humbling way.  A land scattered with seemingly undiscovered treasure.

Although you can technically do the entire drive we did in under six hours...I don't know why you'd want to!  We did it in four days and we didn't even stop as much as I would have liked. 

The best part (do I keep saying that :)? No waiting in lines for nature.  

And aside from our Glacier Lagoon boat tour we had nowhere to be once we hit the road.

People wait all week for Friday, all year for summer and a lifetime for happiness.   Why wait?  Go now.  And at the time of this entry, direct flights round trip on Icelandair from Kansas City are $349!  That price is so incredible it stresses me out.  Very tempted to go again!
Up Next: Montreal (with ALL four)
This will be quite a different trip since Montreal has many museums and nice restaurants that I don't want to miss...but also don't want to torture my kids with endless tours and fancy meals.  As I'm planning our itinerary, I'm finding a few ways to see what I want to see...but also make it cool for the kids.  Which is why I'm very excited I found this AURA laser light show at Notre-Dame Basilica - I get to see the inside, the boys get to see lasers!!  Win-win.  Yes, I won't get the traditional tour, but hey, we'll check the must-see landmark off our list!

Stay tuned!  And you can follow us on Ista here: Young.Wild.Free.KC

More of my thoughts on traveling with kids HERE.