This Summer our big European trips were still on hiatus due to the pandemic, but I was itching for a getaway since it we hadn't traveled since before Covid. Between the craziness of having 3 of the 4 of us working all Summer (the kids are old enough to work now, I had a big Summer of selling real estate, and only hubby has the Summers off) we were able to fit in one weekend getaway and it was on short notice. My husband suggested a weekend in Vermont at a tennis resort...but I had bigger ideas...
Friday afternoon we drove to Logan Airport in Boston, and after a quick 5 hour flight on Icelandair, we landed in Reykjavik on Saturday morning. At that time, Americans were welcome to Iceland with proof of full vaccination. (That's one more bonus to getting jabbed - you get to travel!)
So we'd been lucky enough to have traveled to Iceland previously, on our way home from Europe in 2013 through the Icelandair Stopover Program, when we visited our dear Icelandic family based in Hvolvsvöllur in the South. On that trip our cousin Christina drove us all around for 3 days to show us all the sights: the waterfalls, the geysirs, the Westman Islands to see the puffins, churches, the president's house, the historic sites, Thingvellir National Park to walk between the 2 continents. She taught us about Icelandic culture, food, and made us chocolate soup. It was magical. Here are some photos from that first visit...look at how little the kids were!
|The basalt columns on the black beach at Vík|
|Cozy in a parka and all smiles at Gulfoss|
|Christina invited us to help stitch the Njálurefull Tapestry, which tells their local saga|
|On the ferry arriving in the Westman Islands for an incredible day|
|On our way to see puffins in their habitat|
|My little vikings in 2013|
Back to July, 2021. It was early Saturday morning and I had planned for us to explore a new area for us, up to Snaellsfellsnes Peninsula on the West coast for the day before heading to Reykjavik to settle into our hotel apartment. This area is often called "Iceland in miniature" as it has so many great features in a small geographical area...perfect for a quick visit that also packs a punch of adventure!
An hour's drive brought us over the bridge to the bakery café Geirabakari Kaffihús in Borgarnes at the base of the peninsula. (Click on the link just to see the view of the mountain from inside the café!) It was packed with Icelanders and the first thing we noticed was that NO one was wearing masks. It was so liberating. Our cousin had told us that everyone was vaccinated and there were no cases, so no masks! We sat outside overlooking the water and the mountains around us, and savored incredible fresh sandwiches filled with ham, camembert & greens on hearty rolls studded with seeds & grains. While I quietly sipped my cappuccino in awe of the views, Scott power-napped in the car and the kids went shopping for Icelandic woolen hats in the nearby equestrian center. (Keep in mind we had come from a heat wave to pretty chilly weather for us, but some locals were out in t-shirts, which was impressive!)
|Modeling their new hats outside the café|
The drive was spectacular, sunny and warming up, and several times we felt compelled to stop at turn offs to get out and breathe it in. It was our 2nd or 3rd stop that really drew us in for a hike towards a gorgeous lake and another moonscape field, when Scott discovered the sound of running water and called us over. Hidden in a green canyon was a lush green waterfall we hadn't expected to find! Have you ever had one of those moments, where you recognize how amazing and special that moment is, and you just want to pause and let it sink in? This was one of those moments.
|Taking a quick break|
|There was a small parking area to stop and hike|
|...and finding this unmarked waterfall|
Charlotte wanted to see a particular black church, which we managed to find and once we arrived we discovered it was near paths that lead to a beach, which we explored. It was magnificent view after magnificent view...studded with sheep and ponies, mountains and water. We even saw seals at our next stop!
Eventually we made our way to Reykjavik, to our hotel located right in the center of the central district, the Hotel Ódinsvé. I had booked a sweet apartment through the hotel just a few steps away in the square. When we can, we always stay right in the center so that we're within walking distance to everything, and apartments mean we all have a little space. We set out to see Reykjavik for the first time, and walked up the street to the shops, cafés and cute Scandi houses. My love of all things real estate fully extends to these sweet timber framed Icelandic-style colorful houses in the old city! We also saw the Hallgrimskirkja cathedral, and the waterfront, and more cool restaurants. We got some light groceries to bring back to the apartment, and the kids rented Zolo motorized scooters to zoom around on...although Scott spent more time on them than Charlotte did. (It's a super fun way to get around the city by downloading the app and using it to unlock motorized scooters.)
It's funny how when it's light out, it's hard to tell what time it is, but Charlotte and I headed back to the apartment sometime around 10pm to rest, while the boys stayed out exploring. It was a Saturday night and the locals were starting to come out and our son met a group of boys his age playing basketball and they ended up at a bookstore that turns into a nightclub, and had a blast. It was still light out when he got in, which made it feel a bit safer being out so late.
Sunday our plans were to meet up with some of our family and then in the evening I'd made reservations at the new Sky Lagoon, as recommended by my friend Stephanie who had just been there and raved about it.
We started the morning with pastries & coffee, exploring the waterfront area of Reykjavik and when we stopped to see the famous Sun Voyager sculpture, we ran into a group of young photographers we'd met at the car rental office! We found a nature preserve right on the water and watched birds and walked on the beach. We had also pre-booked our Covid rapid tests in order to be able to fly back to the US (required of everyone flying into the US) and that was so quickly and efficiently done. We had our results on our phones just hours later.
|Selfie at the Sun Voyager|
|The pastries and cappuccinos were excellent.|
We met up with Christina and Gylfi, and Klara, David & Maron for a delicious brunch of special breads & cheeses, juices & coffee at Klara & David's adorable house. They live in one of the wooden houses that was brought from Sweden to house the people affected by one of the volcanic eruptions. It looked like it should be in a magazine. Klara had finished her maternity leave and David was on his paternity leave to take care of Baby Maron. So progressive!
|Ice cream at the Perlan Center with Christina|
Christine & Gylfi took us to experience Fly Over Iceland, which is a ride like Soaring at Disney, and it was awesome. After that we went to a very cool modern building called the Perlan Center for 360 views of Reykjavik. They have activities and exhibitions, but we went to the top floor and had Icelandic ice cream! That's where we got Christina to share her recipe for chocolate soup with us, which we plan to make for the rest of that side of our family here in Connecticut.
It was time for us to head to Sky Lagoon, which we had only seen a few photos from but sounded amazing. It was so much more than we had imagined. Seriously, we all can't wait to go back. We paid a bit more for "the ritual" and it was worth every penny. It was a 7 step treatment ritual and you could take as long as you liked with each step. We started out with just being awe exploring the lagoon, which is heated by geo-thermal heat and is an infinity-edged lagoon over the ocean, with mist rolling, and turf and mountains and rock and a bar, plus the turf house with the treatment rooms and back inside the restaurant and fireplace...it all feels so surreal and so luxe! It was so cold when you first walked out of the building to step into the water and then it was pure bliss. It wasn't even crowded, which was wonderful, plus it seemed to be a lot of locals. Our reservation had been for 5:30pm and before we knew it, it was approaching 9pm and we realized we might be missing out on a chance to catch dinner!
|Entrance...just look at that turf!|
|My moment of zen...but also planning our return trip|
By the time we got back dressed and downtown near our apartment, most of the kitchens were closing, but a kind maître-d' recommended a tapas restaurant by the waterfront, Tapas Barinn which was still open. The tapas was a fusion of Spanish & Icelandic, and it was phenomenal! We ordered a bit too much (if that's possible with tapas?) and the boys were adventurous, trying minke whale with sweet mashed potatoes and malt sauce, smoked puffin with blueberry sauce, and duck breast in malt-beer and orange sauce, while we had plates of serrano ham, and small bowls of boeuf bourgignon rich with mushrooms.
Charlotte and I were tired and full and found our way across town back to our apartment to call it a night. Julien was the last one home, making friends with a group of Dutch tourists to hang out with a go dancing again in a different part of the city. He certainly has his father's gift of making friends everywhere he goes!
Monday morning...with a half-day still left ahead of us, we decided we did not have enough time to hike to the actively erupting Fagradalsfjall volcano, so we headed to Thingvellir National Park. Turns out we were not in the same part of the park we had visited years earlier, and so we drank in the sunshine, saw new areas, new waterfalls, new lakes, river, and new rock formations. There is so much still to see! A quick sandwich picnic and we made our way back to Keflavik.
So...we had 2 and a half glorious days back in Iceland. Would I go again for another long weekend? In a heartbeat! There is so much to see that it deserves a much longer visit, but repeat visits are nice... especially now that Sky Lagoon is open and I can't wait to do it again! I'd still love to go whale watching out of Akureyri and to Húsavik (thank you Will Ferrell for making Eurovision Song Contest: The Story of Fire Saga!) Yes, it's expensive, but the people are amazing, the sights are incredible, and it's such a beautiful & unique experience. What an incredible way to spend a weekend together making new memories.
My quick Iceland travel advice:
- Especially now that rules are constantly changing, find out what is needed for you to travel BEFORE you go. I had done my homework and found out what paperwork we needed to get into Iceland, and what documents we'd need to get back into the US. We witnessed other Americans having meltdowns at the airport because they "didn't know" they needed forms and testing.
- Bring an empty reusable water bottle. All the tap water in Iceland is amazing...high mineral content and a pH of 8.4. There's no reason to buy bottled water in Iceland.
- Pre-book your rental car or transportation ahead of time, but still be prepared to be patient and wait.
- Buy any alcohol you might want to drink at the duty-free shop at the airport. It is crazy-expensive to buy it elsewhere.
- Don't be intimidated to travel because of the language barrier. Everyone in Iceland speaks English! The Icelanders we met (besides our family) were kind and funny.
- Pack warm jackets and waterproof shoes even in the Summer! We travel with L.L. Bean Primaloft packable jackets that fold up into a pouch, and we spray our hiking shoes with water proofing if they're not already water proof. Our first trip to Iceland it rained for most of the days we were there!
- If you don't have a lot of time to visit, make a loose itinerary to make the most of your time. Make a list of what you really want to see or do - a little planning will pay off, but keep it loose because there will be amazing & unexpected things you'll want to stop to see!
- Take advantage of all of those hours of daylight! You can sleep on the plane home.
Special thanks go out to our Icelandic family for welcoming us and spending time with us again. It's always so special to see them!