Wednesday, September 02, 2015

Iceland with Young Kids. Part 1.

We just got back from a trip to Scandinavia with the kids. Whoa nelly, Iceland is amazing.

Halfway through our 8-hr return flight, Chris was already plotting a return trip. Who knew that a barren chunk of rock could be so captivating.

Our itinerary included a direct flight from Seattle to Reykjavik, Iceland. With a 1.5 year-old and a four year-old. Ugh. Let’s just say that Emma isn’t yet the most amazing airplane passenger. Ben is great, no problems. But Em is a force of nature and nature doesn’t like being cooped in a small seat for more than 20 minutes.

But we made it. In one piece and still on talking terms, so that’s a plus.  And I’m so glad we went. We had five nights in Iceland and we spent most of our time in the south of the country. Think massive glaciers, gorgeous waterfalls, bubbling hot springs, and black sand beaches.

Here is a quick geography refresher:

Seattle to Iceland

Here is where we went and stayed.

Key: Airport = yellow, Hotel/House Rental = green, Activity = blue, Activities we wanted to do but didn’t make the final list = purple. 

By the way, those aren’t clouds, those are ice caps. We spent a few days snuggled up against the base of the largest one and I have a new-found appreciation for large chunks of ice.

Here is the interactive version of this map: Iceland - 5 Day Itinerary With Young Kids

Our Iceland Air flight left Seattle at 4:30pm on a Friday and deposited us at 7:30am, local time, on Saturday morning. We picked up our rental car and munched on a few bagels that I’d brought with us.

Our first stop was Iceland’s famed Blue Lagoon, which is conveniently located near the airport. The BL is probably the country’s biggest tourist trap yet the idea of warm water and white mud proved to be too great to resist.

A friend and her family went to Iceland a few months ago and her take was that the BL was overpriced and a bit gimmicky, but in the end, worth the experience. We concurred with her assessment exactly and it proved to be a nice way to shake off the grogginess that too many hours on a plane will inflict on a person.

Plus they had white silica mud that you could smear all over your face and that’s always a draw, right?

It’s worth noting that the BL is not a natural hot springs. In fact, it’s essentially wastewater left over from the geothermal plant next door. Superheated water from a nearby lava flow is used to power turbines for energy. The water is then shuttled over to the lagoon where they then bill its super rich mineral waters as highly restorative and beneficial. 

In writing this, I’m making it sound less appealing that it is. It’s a cool experience and most of the world seems to agree: the BL is currently halfway through a giant expansion phase and will soon open a conference center and large hotel. Hence the cranes in the background of our photos.

Unfortunately we figured out 12 hours before our arrival that kids under two years old aren’t allowed. This must be a very recent change as I’d read blog posts about folks taking their 8-month old out for a BL excursion.

And we’d already bought non-refundable (and expensive!) BL tickets for the adults. Oops.

So we guilt-ally enhanced Emma’s age by a few months. Sorry, Iceland, we promise we’re normally very polite, law-abiding travelers.

Some people spend all day at the lagoon, as there is a restaurant, bar, and massage available onsite. For 45 Euros, you need to get your money’s worth, right?

We showered off, hit up a grocery store, did a quick driving tour through Iceland’s main capital of Reykjavik, and then pointed our car southward.

We were headed three hours south to a tiny cottage on a farm, that was situated between two of Iceland’s ice caps: Mýrdalsjökull and Eyjafjallajökull. Please don’t ask me to pronounce those. I failed miserably at pronouncing anything in Iceland.

It should be noted that Iceland has a population of just over 300,000 (about the size of Anchorage Alaska), making it the most sparely populated country in Europe. About 70% of the population lives in the capital, Reykjavik.

Frankly, in Southern Iceland, there are more sheep than people. It must have been a tough existence being a sheep in Iceland. They have miserably cold winters and our time in the south was punctuated by drenching showers alternating with brief sunny spells.

Here was our cute little cottage: Giljaland. The owners were lovely and the scenery was gorgeous.

Millions of years ago the sea levels were higher and the original coast was set back several miles from the current coast line. Water from the glaciers pours down the mountain and then takes a dramatic fall off the old coastal basalt on it’s way out to the ocean. I’m convinced that every icelander could have their own personal waterfall. Each farm certainly does. 

We spent our first two days exploring Vatnajökull National Park, which included some glacier viewing and a hike up to The Black Waterfall. 

It should be worth noting that summer in Iceland still means warm clothes (and rain gear) for the littles. And the adults.

That’s a tiny portion of the massive ice cap that covers this region.

The black waterfall, named for the lovely black basalt that flanks it.

Our little rain baby. We’re from Seattle, a little rain ain’t no thang. Except for Ben. He would like to move to Southern California.

They also do glacier treks which looked great..but the kiddos need a few more years (or ten) under their belts before we attempt that adventure.

I should say that my camera, my beloved Nikon, is dying a slow death. Or perhaps my lenses are. I’ve had it since 2009 and the telephoto, in particular, has had a rough life. I distinctly remember it hitting the deck of an Alaska cruise ship and my sister-in-law saving it with an awesome soccer manuver as it rolled its way to the edge of the ship. So the fall (not the save) probably didn’t help its focusing ability. Anyway, that is the long way of saying that you’ll notice that many of these pictures are a bit soft.

I’m not quite sure what to replace it with; at this point in my life I’m not prepared to lug around twenty pounds of camera gear, in addition to two whirling dervishes (aka kids). Something light, with a single lens, the ability to do a manual setting, automatic focus, and a lens ranging from 18-300 (or 400!) would be my absolute ideal. Waterproof would also be nice, if we’re asking asking for the moon. ;) Any suggestions?

Following our trip to Skaftafell, we kept heading south/east to Jokulsarlon Lagoon. This small body of water is a relatively recent landscape feature, as it formed 20 years ago due to an increase in the glacier melting rate. As the Breiðamerkurjökull glacier recedes, it drops chunks of ice into the lagoon, which then have a five hundred foot journey on Iceland’s shortest river before meeting the sea.

There are seals and birds to make things extra interesting for the wee ones.

Is it just me or does Ben look like he has to pee?

The beach where the icebergs do most of their melting is black and gritty. It looks, in a word, other-worldly. (Or is that two words?)

How often do you get to ‘drink’ 500 year old water?!

We were awash in glaciers.

Well, we had to share them with the sheep.

It’s a really crowded place, I’m telling you. People everywhere.

My favorite part of the day was our second hike up to Fjaðrárgljúfur Canyon. It was late (8pm) and there wasn’t a single other person on the entire hike. And one of the great things about all of these attractions? They’re all free. Even the national park. There are plans afoot to change this policy but for now everything is well-priced. Well, except food, alcohol, restaurants, hotels, and rental cars. :)

Here’s a quiz for you: How much does a six pack of beer cost? (Answer at the bottom)

Just us and the sheep. Ben tried to go over and make friends but they were having none of it.

Alrighty, that ends Day 2. Now I’m off to herd the cats kids. We’ve all been up since 3am and everyone is having their own personal melt-down. Jetlag sucks. Definitely the downside of traveling halfway around the world with little kids. 



PS: Beer costs for a 6-pack: $18. Ouch.

Here are a few additional posts from our Scandinavian adventure with kids:

Sweden: Stockholm 
Sweden: The Lake House

Iceland: Southern Iceland (Part I)
Iceland: Hot pools and waterfalls (Part II)
Iceland: The Golden Circle (Part III)