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Iceland Day 7 and and a little bit of reflection...

Our last day in Iceland was more time in Reykjavik and then an evening at the Blue Lagoon, including dinner at the Lava Restaurant. Reykjavik is such an interesting and colorful city. It’s the capital of Iceland and the country’s largest city, at only around 123,000 people. There are museums, fantastic restaurants, a booming nightlife, galleries, and shops. It is ranked as one of the safest, greenest, and cleanest cities in the world. The word Reykjavik translates to “smoky bay”, referring to the steam that rises from the hot springs and geothermal vents. It is the only Western European capital without a McDonald’s or a Starbucks (another reason I love this place).

Our Airbnb near the airport and Blue Lagoon was perfect. We chose it to be close to everything our last couple of days and have a quick trip to the airport the morning we flew out. For breakfast, we went right back to Braud and Co bakery for the best cinnamon rolls ever. The ones we make at home don’t even compare. Sorry Pioneer Woman. We walked the city just taking it all in and wishing we had more time in this country. I went to the top of the famous Hallgrimskirkja church to get a fantastic view of the city.

Most of the street art in Reykjavik is part of a project called Wall Poetry. The project was organized in 2015/2016 and was a collaboration between music festival Iceland Airwaves and Urban Nation. It pairs together street artists from around the world with musicians who are playing at the festival. The artists are tasked with creating a mural inspired by one of the musician’s songs. My favorite is of a girl playing a cello, surrounded by birds and a music partition. The words read, “Isn’t it Our Job as Humans to be Collecting Great Moments.” The artist, Herakut collaborated with Kronos Quartet, an American string quartet based in San Francisco. The detail is incredible.

In the evening, we had reservations for the Blue Lagoon, which is home to one of the 25 wonders of the world. Yes- the water is as blue as the pictures show. We treated ourselves to dinner at the Lava Restaurant, overlooking the lagoon, and it was excellent. They even serve you rye bread that is baked by geothermal heat.

The warm seawater in the lagoon is rich with minerals such as silica, which do wonders for the skin. Since water is continually streaming into the lagoon, all of the water renews itself every 48 ours. We enjoyed complimentary silica mud masks and spent about 2 hours relaxing in the waters. It was the perfect way to spend our last night in Iceland. Of course, Iceland treated us with a pretty grand sunset to finish our time there. On the way back to our Airbnb, we had to pull off because the colors were stunning! Check out those mossy lava fields.

*** I have so many things I could write to sum up this adventure we took as a family. I wanted to share some last minute thoughts. I’m not really sure how to put it all in words, but I’ll try. Brian has spent 24 years on active duty in the Navy. In less than a year, he will retire and we will begin a new phase of life for our family. I never could have imagined when I was a young 23 year old bride from Michigan marrying a Navy guy that our lives would be filled with this much adventure and opportunity to see the world. I was raised in a small town in Southwest Michigan and never moved once as a child. I had the same address all through elementary, middle, high school, and college. Our kids, on the other hand, have moved many times, changed schools, and have lived in a foreign country. I’m not saying either way is better, but definitely drastically different.

So in the early years of our marriage, travel became something that we both realized was a healthy and beautiful benefit to this military life. When the kids came along, we moved stateside to many different places form the east coast to the west coast, but it wasn’t until we were relocated to Yokosuka, Japan that we truly started embracing the opportunity to travel and see so many different places in the world. We agreed early on that traveling as a family would become a priority for us, and no matter how crazy or busy our lives would get, we would always save time and money for travel and new experiences. We’ve learned that if you want to go somewhere or experience something, you can always make it happen. It may take some time and planning, but if your heart is in it, go for it, and you will be rewarded.

Our hope is that we instill in them a love for adventure, different cultures, and different beliefs. We’ve never wanted fear to get in the way of them experiencing something new. I believe the only way we can strive for a more peaceful world is to recognize differences and embrace those differences. Seeing new sights and exploring new places widens our perspective past daily routine and pushes us to realize that the world is so much bigger than our backyard. Traveling has helped us see how others live, how we can live better, and how leaving the comforts of home is good for the soul. It also gives us quality time together, which doesn’t really happen back at home amidst the rush of our daily lives. When we travel, we spend A LOT of time together. No matter where we go, we always come away with some great stories and memories- not always perfect and pretty, but memories nonetheless.

As the Navy chapter closes, we certainly look forward to new adventures and continuing to explore new places, even though for the time being, we won’t be moving away from our little peaceful part of New England.

After all…. “Isn’t is our job as humans to be collecting great moments?”

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Iceland Day 6

Our apartment in Akureyri was just awesome! Laekjargata Apartment was in the perfect location, and it was like an art museum. Each room had art displayed throughout . I couldn’t resist taking pictures of it all. I kind of want to redo my entire house in lots of color now. I love the clean lines and decor in Iceland. It just makes me happy!!

We let the kids sleep while we went out in the early morning to check out the town. I love everything about Akureyri. It is located on Iceland’s northern coast, surrounded by hills that are popular for skiing, hiking, and horseback riding. Lining the streets are brightly colored buildings, cafes, storefronts, and museums. We grabbed coffees and pastries at Kaffi llmur on the main street and got some to go for the kids. They really love their baked goods in Iceland, and they are really good at making them!

After we returned to our apartment, we woke up the kids and just enjoyed our place for a few hours before checking out. Then we headed back to the downtown area. By that time, things were bustling. We walked into the Akureyri Art Museum, and the lady at the front desk encouraged us to buy tickets to see the exhibit. We are so glad we did. It was a really cool collection of work by local artists. We were there for over an hour, and all the kids loved it too.

Once we were done at the museum, we went straight to Akureyri Fish and Chips. We absolutely loved the decor and everything about this place. The fish and chips were some of the best we’ve ever had. Seriously, if you make it to Northern Iceland, you have to go here.

I could have spent more time here, just exploring, but, we needed to head back towards Reykjavik, and it was a five hour drive. On the way out of town, we stopped to get a photo of another turf house. We also stopped at Glanni Waterfall off of Ring Road. The kids were done with waterfalls by the end of the trip, but I couldn’t get enough. They compared it to all of the shrines we use to take them to in Japan.

It was a long drive back to Reykjavik, but we stopped there to grab an icelandic hot dog at Baejarins Best Pylsur. So so good, especially with the crispy fried onions and the fresh onions. Yum!

We then grabbed ice cream in town and went out to see the sunset at the Grotta Island Lighthouse before heading to our Airbnb for the last two nights in Iceland.

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Iceland Day 5

We woke up on Day 5 and realized it was Commerce Monday- a holiday in Iceland. Many of the restaurants and stores were not open. We wandered down the street from our Inn after checking out and made our way to the little bar where we had been with Patrick the night before. The sign outside said Kaffi (coffee) and Crepes, and it was open. The man behind the bar was super friendly, and the place has such a cool vibe. He said due to the holiday, he wasn’t going to open, but changed his mind. Lucky for us! We asked him if he was serving breakfast, and he told us he didn’t have any fresh crepe batter, but if we waited 20 minutes, he would whip some up for us. Of course, we waited. While waiting, he brought us some fresh baked beignets to have with our coffee and hot cocoas. We found out he was a Frenchman from Paris who had lived in Iceland for over 40 years, and he was the co- owner of this bar/restaurant. At night, it turns into a bar, and it is run by his co-owner. He was super friendly and an amazing cook! Our crepes were delicious with all fresh ingredients.

We ended up staying at the cafe for quite a while talking with him about his life and experiences. So we got a much later start than anticipated. Our final destination of the day would be Akureyri in Northern Iceland. It was about a 4 hour trip with no stops. The plan was to leave Seydisfjordur and drive the Myvatn area and spend about 3 hours there.

Sometimes we just don’t stick to our plans, and this time, I’m glad we didn’t. I had seen some pictures of Studlagil Canyon, and we all agreed we wanted to try to find it and hike there. We had a very difficult time finding the parking to the canyon. We had to stop along the side of the road at a small cafe (in the middle of nowhere) and a nice man at the desk drew us a map. Have I mentioned how friendly and helpful they are here? We went south of rt 923 off of Ring Road, and we eventually found the farm where we needed to park to begin our trek to the canyon. The hike is about a 4 km hike that leads to an incredible basalt canyon. About 2 km in to the hike, there is a waterfall called Studlafoss Basalt Column waterfall. We continued on the path, through private farmland, and came across a few other making the trek.

The canyon is stunning. I really can’t describe it. I understand why it is one of the most hidden gems of Iceland- it’s breathtaking, but not easy to reach. The pictures of the kids show how very small we are standing against the basalt columns. For a long time, the river, Jökulsárlón a Bru was so treacherous to cross that it divided the surrounding areas and cut off communication between them for centuries. At some point, a hydroelectric plant was built and the water flow in the river was greatly reduced. It affected the sources of this previously very powerful river, and it turned into the clear and turquoise spring fed river that it is today. When the water level was reduced, It eventually revealed the beautiful basalt columns. We easily spent about 2 hours there, climbing the rocks down to the river and admiring the columns and the color of the water.

Once we made it back to the car, it was late afternoon. We were hungry and tired, but we still had about 2 hours to go until there were places to stop to eat. We had some snacks and eventually all of the kids sacked out. Vogafjos farm and guesthouse is located in the Myvatn area and is a farm that has been owned by the same family for over 120 years, passed down from one generation to another. It is a highly rated farm to table restaurant, and it is located right off of Ring Road. We stopped, and although we didn’t have a reservation, we were able to wait for a table. It was delicious. Everything was so fresh and beautifully prepared.

We completely ran out of time to do anything in the Myvatn area besides eating dinner. Lake Myvatn is surrounded by an area of lava fields, geothermal activity, craters, and basalt pillars. It reminded us so much of Yellowstone. While we would have loved to have spent time there, we simply could not do it all. The unexpected journey to Studlagil canyon was so worth it though.

It was getting late, but we still managed to get to our final sightseeing destination before dark- Godafoss Waterfall. It’s a pretty impressive waterfall to see. While we had hoped to see it at sunset, it was a cloudy day, and there was absolutely no sun. The water of the river falls from a height of 12 meters over a width of 30 meters. We were so late that we were the only people there, so we had the whole place to ourselves.

An hour an a half later- about 10:45 pm, we arrived in Akureyri, Iceland’s second largest city next to Reykjavik. It was sparkling with lights as we exited the tunnel that took us right into the city. More tomorrow….

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Iceland Day 4

We got a good start the morning after we slept in our cabin in the middle of nowhere. We all slept so hard. We drove along the coast heading North towards our next destination- Seydisfjordur. We were making good time, so we took route 95 North to Egilsstadir. It was definitely a different terrain- very rugged, dirt roads, and jagged cliffs. By the time we arrived in the town of Egilsstadir, we needed coffee and breakfast. Nielson Restaurant was the perfect spot. It was in an old house built in 1944 by a danish man. We all enjoyed Icelandic waffles (thinner, but so tasty) with fresh fruit and creme. We also stopped at Bonus- a grocery store similar to Aldi or Trader Joes. We stocked up on great snacks for our hike and to have on the road. The black licorice and chocolate combo candy bar is delicious. We also discovered balsamic vinegar potato chips, which are highly addictive.

We decided to hike to the Hengifoss waterfall because it was still early, and our final destination of the day was only an hour away. Hengifoss is the third highest waterfall in Iceland. It is striking because of it’s red clay and black basalt patterns of the cliff face. It was a three hour round trip hike with beautiful views of Lake Lagarfljot on the way down. We didn’t go all of the way to the falls in order to go behind them, but it was still worth it.

After our hike, it was time to make our way to Seydisfjordur- the town I was anxiously awaiting to see. The road there, 93 East, is the road that Walty Mitty skateboarded on in “The Secret Life of Walter Mitty.” We had a lot of fog in the mountains, so the views weren’t great, but once we arrived to the town, we came down from the mountains, and it was clear. The town of Seydisfjordur is quaint, colorful, friendly, and filled with local artists who take pride in their town’s booming art scene. Less than 700 people live here. If you visit only one town in the Eastfjords, this should be it. The town is made up of colorful wooden houses and surrounded by snowcapped mountains and cascading waterfalls. It is as friendly as it is beautiful.

In the center of town, a rainbow path leads directly to the colorful church. Our guesthouse/inn was located right on this little path. Maggie, the innkeeper, met us at the front door and welcomed us to the Vid Lonid Guesthouse. We looked right down over the little rainbow road and the shops and restaurants. Dinner was at Kaffi Lara right across the our Inn. We enjoyed some really good burgers on homemade sourdough rolls.

About an hour and a half Northeast of Seydisfjordur is a tiny place called Borgarfjordur Estri. The tiny village has only about 100 inhabitants. While apparently the area is a hiker’s paradise, we discovered that is is also famous for the puffins that reside there on a cliff from June until mid to end of August. Since sunset wasn’t until 10:15 pm, we left our Inn at around 7:30 and drove through fog and windy gravel roads, but eventually made it to the cliffs at around 9:15 pm. It was absolutely worth it to see the puffins. We were so close to them, and they are fascinating to watch. Basically, we were the only people there, and it was the highlight of the trip for Olivia. We also saw a cute little red-painted turf house in the village there. Lindarbakki is a privately owned turf house and one of only a handful of turf houses in Iceland which is still inhabited. It is one bedroom and only 30 square meters. The lady who lives there only lives there in the summertime. They call her Stella, and she has been in the house every summer since 1979. She maintains the house with the help of the local people. One part of maintenance is to mow the roof!

We made our way in the dark back to our Inn by about 10:45 pm. Worth every bit of the time we spent on this adventure!! While the middle and youngest stayed back at the Inn, we took the oldest across the street to hang with the locals for a little bit. He was having such great conversation with some local Icelandic guys and some fishermen from Faroe Islands that we left him and went back. I felt completely at ease doing this in Iceland, the safest country in the world! They told Patrick that they couldn’t even comprehend the violence that happens in the United States. The same day we arrived in this idyllic town, we had also just heard about the two mass shootings within 24 hours back home. My heart hurt after hearing this news. YES- we can do better in America. Here’s something to ponder…

While the two countries are very different in size, with Iceland being sparsely populated compared to the United States, I still think we can learn something.

The fact is that Iceland is actually a gun loving nation, but the gun laws are strict. The annual murder rate in Iceland is 1.8. There have been years without a single homicide. The police do not even carry guns. They don’t need to. And… they also have a high rate of mental illness. Just something to think about. It’s impossible not to think about it sitting at the foot of the mountains surrounded by fresh air, nature, and colorful buildings completely enveloped in peace. We can do better!!

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Iceland Day 3

Day 3 was an EPIC day!! We had a traditional Icelandic breakfast at our hotel. Yogurts, breads, cheeses, waffles, meats, granola, oatmeal- very typical to a US breakfast. We then drove to Fjadrarljufur Canyon, which was absolutely incredible. Justin Bieber recorded his video, “I’ll Show You” at the canyon in 2015. Since then, over a million visitors have come to the fragile canyon. It is a natural wonder that was not meant to be populated, so they have had to rope it off to visitors. It was still amazing to see it. I completely understand not being able to hike the area. The moss could be ruined by so many people who don’t follow the rules to stay off of it.

About an hour down the road, our next stop was just by chance that we pulled off on a side road near Skaftafell. It led us to a glacier (unfortunately we don’t know the name of it) where we got out and actually walked around the whole area. It was beautiful. The glaciers are a beautiful blue. It was massive and looked to go on forever.

We found a great little place along the side of the road before the Jokulsarlon Glacier Lagoon where we stopped to use the restroom and grab a lunch. They had the most delicious ham and cheese baguette sandwiches and pastries. We got our coffee fix for the road and headed to the Jokulsarlon area and Diamond Beach. Diamond beach is a strip of black sand located by the glacier lagoon. Here, the icebergs which fill the lagoon wash up on the shore and seriously look like sparkling diamonds of all sizes, especially because they stand in stark contrast to the black sand. We walked the foggy beach for at least 3/4 of a mile.

Across the street from Diamond Beach is Jokulsarlon Lagoon. It’s still blue waters are filled with icebergs from the surrounding glacier. These icebergs are massive, and the pictures just don’t do them justice.

We made our way to Hofn for dinner that evening. We ate at Pakkhus, and it was absolutely delicious. It had a beautiful view overlooking the harbor. After dinner, we drove back to the west about 20 miles to the Hoffelll Hot Pots to relax a bit before making our drive to our cabin in Djupivogur. The hot pots are in the middle of no where surrounded by mountains. Truly a unique experience for all of us.

We are not quite sure of the significance of the red chair along the side of the Ring Road in, but it made for a fun instagram photo, so why not??

It was late by the time we got to the Bragdavellir Cottage, but we all slept like babies.

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Iceland Day 2

We woke up and headed out on Day 2 towards the Southern Coast of Iceland. We stopped at this yummy Gudni Bakari along the way and then made our way to Seljalandsfoss and Gljufurafoss. They were both packed with people, so we didn’t stay long. None of us are fans of crowds. You can walk behind Seljalandsfoss, so it is extremely wet. I opted not to take any pictures for fear of losing both my phone and camera. You can go a 3/4 of a mile further and reach Gljufurafoss, which is pretty awesome. You go inside a cave to view the waterfall. AMAZING!!

After leaving the falls, we continued south and came across this really cool turf cave along the road called Steinahellir cave. After reading the sign next to it, we learned that the cave was used by farmers to house sheep. In 1818, the cave actually became the area’s parliamentary assembly site and remained so until 1905. There are apparently many stories of supernatural happenings and enchantments connected with the cave. One tale warns not to pick the enchanted ferns which grow in the cave as bad luck will befall anyone who does. It is now a protected archaeological site. We stopped to get some pictures, but didn’t pick the ferns! Our next stop was Skogofoss. We could see it from the road, and we could see that there were a lot of people and the parking lot was full. Of course, the kids convinced me that we didn't need to stop because we would find something even better with few people. Of course- they were right.

We continued on and decided to veer off onto a side road (rt 221) off of route 1 towards the Solheimajokull Glacier. We parked the car and walked for a bit. You can also walk on this glacier with a guide. I think this place would be absolutely beautiful in the winter (but so cold).

Next stop was Dyrholaey where we were excited to see puffins. Unfortunately, we could only view them with the binoculars. Olivia was still very excited to see them. We didn’t spend a lot of time here because we were getting hungry and still wanted to get in a hike before settling into our hotel in Kirkjubaejarklaustur.

We stopped in the adorable town of Vik for a nice lunch at Suder Vik before we found this amazing hike. Before we ate, we had noticed a pull off on the right side of the road right before the town. We basically were the only people on the hike, which took about 3 hours total. From the top, we could see Reynisfjara beach (black sand), and the views were incredible. We met up with many sheep and one cyclist the entire time. It was well worth it for the views and lush green landscape, turquoise water, and jagged cliffs.

We continued on the coast and made our way towards our hotel for the night. On the way, it was getting late and we went through an area where both sides of us were total moss lands. You can not walk on the moss in Iceland because it will destroy it. The was one point where we were able to pull off and get some pictures. Incredible!! We had dinner at Hotel Laki- our hotel for the night in Kirkjubaejarklaustur.

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Iceland Day 1

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Iceland Day 1

We arrived at the Keflavik airport early in the morning and made our way to Blue Car Rental . If you plan to visit Iceland, driving the Ring Road is a great way to see the country. Blue Car was so accommodating to us and our experience was nothing but positive, so we highly recommend them. We made our way to Reykjavik from the airport, which is about 40 minutes. We parked the car and walked a little bit before we found Braud and Co, an amazing little bakery that has the best fresh cinnamon rolls. They were so delicious. We walked across the street to Reykjavik Roasters to grab some coffee. Once we were filled up on coffee and baked goods, we walked around the city for a little bit. We knew we’d be back at the end of our trip around Ring Road, so we didn’t spend long. What struck me the most was all of the color all over the houses and the buildings.

We then left Reykjavik and headed towards the area in the Golden Circle where we would be staying for the night. On our way to our guesthouse, we stopped at the Kenio Crater. The kids walked all the way down and said the water was crystal clear. We had a 1:00 reservation at Fridheimar Farmhouse, where they grow tomato plants in a greenhouse, powdered by the geothermal energy. We enjoyed all you can eat tomato soup and fresh bread. It was the perfect lunchtime treat after a long overnight flight.

It was then time to check into the Heradsskolinn Guesthouse for the night in Laugarvatn. When I booked the vacation, I made sure to include a different type of lodging for each night we were in Iceland. I really wanted us all to experience all of the different types you can stay at while traveling. We checked into our historic guesthouse and crashed for about 3 hours. Good thing we packed our sleeping masks. The hostel was so clean and a unique experience for us. We had to share a bathroom with everyone on our floor, but they were so clean. The guesthouse is set in a 1920’s former school building and offered both private rooms and dorms. All five of us were together in one room, and it worked out just fine.

We headed out for dinner at a great restaurant called Lindin right next to our guesthouse. We had delicious seafood and a great view of Lake Laugervatn. We made it to Bruarfoss before the sunset and stopped to visit some Icelandic horses on the way home just as the sun was setting. It was a great first day!!

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