Our Iceland Adventure: The Golden Circle

Day 3 in Iceland:

Here’s the thing about going to Iceland—you’re going to see some of the most beautiful, strange and spectacular sights you’ve ever seen but most of the time it’s gonna require a few looooong days in the car getting there. If you don’t have a week to drive the popular Ring Road around Iceland, the Golden Circle is a great day trip option to take if you are limited on time and want to see some spectacular things. This was a long day, but it still was a really great day.

Leaving Reykjavik and heading northeast, the landscape quickly changed to beautiful open spaces. We stumbled across this group of Icelandic horses that was so stunning that we had to stop. Icelandic horses are really beautiful, friendly creatures and I couldn’t get enough of them. There also were SO MANY baby sheep everywhere. Every field seemed to be full of mommas and baby lambs frolicking about. If you ask me my favorite thing about Iceland it’s going to be all the horses and baby sheep. They were everywhere. Love love.

Our first stop on the Golden Circle was Thingvellir National Park. It was pretty cold and rainy here, but worth exploring. Some fun facts about this area: when the Viking settlers arrived in the 10th century this was the site they chose as the meeting place of Althing, the world’s oldest parliament. This park is also where you can literally walk — or snorkle — along a continental divide, where two tectonics plates that divide North America from Eurasia shift.

Our next stop was Haukadalur, a geothermal area about 60km away from Þingvellir National Park. There are two famous geysers here called Geysir and Strokkur. In fact, the general term “geyser” was named after this particular one in Iceland. It was super fun watching the geysers bubble and churn before shooting up in the air. They also had a nice gift shop and restaurant if you’re craving a hot meal or some ice cream.

Next we came upon my favorite site on the Golden Circle road trip, the spectacular Gullfoss waterfall. This was a MASSIVE waterfall, full of power and truly awe-inspiring which falls 100 feet into a crevice in the earth, producing thick mist & frequent rainbows. It was pretty chilly here, as well, and we were glad to have on our rain gear which kept up dry in all the mist and rain.

The last attraction on the Golden Circle route is Kerid Crater Lake. Kerid is a red volcanic crater covered in green vegetation with a sparkling pool of water at the bottom. It only takes about 15 minutes to walk the rim and another 5 minutes to walk down to the water. By this point we were feeling kinda tired from the day of sightseeing and Ethan was crashed out in his car seat so we took turns walking the crater rim so that we wouldn’t have to wake him. It was a pretty stop, but not our favorite of the day.

(lots of front seat diaper changed on this trip. SO thankful for our easy-going baby boy!)

That night we stayed at the Lambastadir Guesthouse which was a cozy working farm with fields full of animals you could visit. They served a decent breakfast and were able to provide a cot for Ethan to sleep in, but the walls were so thin that we could clearly hear our neighbors talking so when he cried in the middle of the night I grabbed him and brought him into bed with us. Despite the thin walls, we loved this farm stay so much and recommend it as a great place to stay along the Golden Circle.

(surrounded by the super friendly and super curious horses)

Where to stay along the Golden Circle: Lambastadir Guesthouse

Eating: We ate dinner at a Thai restaurant near the guesthouse. It was pretty good…good enough to recommend.

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Captivating Iceland: Our first 2 Days

I can’t believe that it’s taken me 7 months to post about our trip to Iceland and Sweden! I guess that’s what having babies looks like. Ha! Ethan looks SO tiny in these photos. Our trip was back in May so some of the details are a blur by now, but I’ll do my best to remember the good stuff. Here we go…

Last December I remember seeing that flights to Iceland were on sale with IcelandAir. Even better was that we could do a “stopover” in Iceland and see somewhere new in Europe as well (more about that later). My husband had been dying to go to Iceland to photograph its incredible beauty since before we were even dating so when I saw the sale I immediately thought that this would make the best surprise trip EVER!! Right? I asked his boss for the time off and started planning. But then the practice side of me kicked in and I realized that I should probably run this kind of expense by him. Ugh. Being practical is so not fun sometimes. Of course he was ecstatic that I wanted to take him to Iceland and said YES!

We decided that we’d love to visit Stockholm as well since neither of us had been there and it was only a 3 hour flight from Reykjavik. Basically our trip was going to be the best of both worlds…rugged, otherworldly Icelandic vistas followed by the charming cobblestone streets of Sweden.

After a quick flight to Seattle we were off to Reykjavik. We decided on IcelandAir over the ever cheap WOW! Air after reading some horror stories about service and delays on WOW! Air. We were flying with our son who was 7 months at the time, and I couldn’t imagine anything worse than sitting on a runway for 3 hours with an infant screaming in my lap. That said, our friends who flew WOW had no complaints or problems.

IcelandAir itself is a nice, no-fuss airline. The planes aren’t huge — basically the same setup at a Southwest plane — and they don’t serve any food and beverages on board so you have to bring your own snacks and meals along. The flight isn’t very long either — just 7 hours from Seattle to Reykjavik — so you really don’t need too much. We left Seattle at 4:30 pm to arrive in Iceland around 6 am, and because we were flying northeast, we were chasing the sun the whole flight and it never was dark. Our neighbor unfortunately watched the sunset (sunrise?) the ENTIRE flight making it impossible to sleep. I think Ethan (our baby) slept about 2 hours while J and I both got about 30 minutes. Not great.

Reykjavik has seen an incredible increase in tourism over the past few years, thanks in part to the stopover option from IcelandAir which lets you stop and visit Iceland for up to 7 days on your way to or from Europe without any additional fees. It’s brilliant, really. The airport is very nice and modern, and they are working feverishly to expand it for all the incoming visitors they now get. We arrived bright and early the next morning and grabbed some breakfast at Dunken Donuts before heading out to get our rental car. Our plan was to grab our car and head straight to the Blue Lagoon to soak and get revived before we could get into our Air BNB in the city. Unfortunately, our rental car company was TERRIBLE (don’t rent from Lagoon Car Rental) and took 3 hours to pick us up, which meant that were were all pretty grumpy by the time we got to the Blue Lagoon, not too mention that we almost missed our time slot at the lagoon.

The Blue Lagoon is a man-made lagoon build on a lava field and filled with geothermal waters that are said to have many health benefits. It’s a pricey place to visit (I recommend taking your own towel and buying the cheapest ticket), but because it’s so close to the airport and most flights either arrive early or leave late at night, it’s a popular place to stop and get refreshed on your way to or from town. We couldn’t get into our apartment until noon so it was a great option for us to kill time that morning. Unfortunately, children under the age of 2 aren’t allowed in the lagoon so J and I had to take turns going into the lagoon. He let me go first while he sat in the cafe and let Ethan nap in his carseat and then we switched.

Before entering the lagoon you are given wristbands and ushered into locker rooms to change, store your belongings and take a naked shower before entering the lagoon. They recommend coating your hair with their conditioner to protect your hair if you plan to put your hair underwater which I did. Take my advice — DON’T put your hair underwater in the lagoon! They say the minerals are good for your hair but it took me SEVERAL days and multiple washings just to be able to get a brush through my hair again. My hair felt like a brillo pad and was so impossibly tangled that I literally thought I had destroyed my hair.

The lagoon itself was lovely, calm and relaxing. Our morning there had some gusty, cold winds so I stayed low in the water and sought out the warmest pockets possible. I took a waterproof case for my iPhone and was able to snap some fun photos while I swam around. They sell iPhone cases there as well, but I can guarantee you’ll save some money by buying one Amazon and taking it with you. In the lagoon they have some mineral masks that you can put on your face and body if you like, they have a swim up bar where you can get smoothies and cocktails and they have a sauna that reminded me of a hobbit house.

Overall, the lagoon was a nice visit. I think we would have enjoyed it more if we could have experienced it together without taking turns, but that would have been the case anywhere with waters that hot. We were SOO tired from our trip that it was about the only activity we had energy for that morning before driving to Reykjavik and taking a 2 hour nap at our Air BNB.

After our long nap it was time to do some exploring. It was still super gusty (I literally thought Ethan’s stroller might blow over a few times) so we all got bundled up and headed out to downtown Reykjavik. Reykjavik is a small city for a capital so it doesn’t take much time to explore. I loved the colorful buildings, the cinnamon rolls we found at a famous bakery, and the quaint shopping streets. We really didn’t do much other than wander around and grab some dinner before heading back to our apartment for an early bedtime (hello jet lag!).

Blue Lagoon and Reykjavik Tips:
– If you haven’t heard it yet, Iceland is expensive. As in the most expensive country in the world. Be prepared to pay more…WAY MORE…than you think anything and everything should cost. The ONLY thing that wasn’t more expensive was Organic baby food.

– Book your Blue Lagoon visit in advance as they often sell out for certain time slots. I suggest packing your own travel towel and buying the cheapest ticket. You really don’t need the robe and slippers in my opinion.

– Iceland is super baby and kid friendly. Everywhere we went had high chairs and SUPER nice changing tables in the bathrooms. It was pretty cold and wet at times so we were thankful for our Bumbleride warm weather muff that kept Ethan toasty and dry in his stroller.

– the most popular grocery store in Iceland is called Bonus and will have just about everything you need. We shopped there for some basics like cheese and crackers and organic baby food. Grocery stores tend to open late in the morning around 10AM and close super early — sometimes by 5 which means do your shopping mid-day!

– Everything in Iceland is CRAZY expensive but you still can find good deals if you plan in advance. We loved our AirBNB rental. At just $99/night, it was warm, comfortable and only a 10 minute walk to downtown

 

Day 2 – Snaeffellsnes Peninsula


After an amazing night of sleep (J and E both slept 13 hours) we woke up ready to see more of Iceland’s natural beauty and loaded up the Duster for a day exploring the Snaeffellsnes Peninsula. Confession — I still have no idea how to pronounce this area! The Snaeffellsnes Peninsula is often referred to as “Iceland in miniature” meaning that you can see pretty much all of what Iceland has to offer — waterfalls, glaciers, charming towns and beautiful sights — in a one day drive. If you only have one or two days in Iceland, this is a great option. We drove and wandered and ate mouth watering fish and chips and took a million pictures and petted Icelandic horses. They say that you can visit the whole peninsula in about 6-8 hours, but I’m pretty sure the person who said that didn’t stop anywhere or perhaps they weren’t married to a photographer 😉 because it took us closer to 10 hours. It was a long day, but it was truly beautiful.

Ethan was such a champ this day. He was still dealing with some jet lag so the long car rides gave him plenty of napping time between us strapping him in and out of the car to take pictures and stand in awe of yet another spectacular vista.

Day 2 win — Stumbling upon a coastal food truck selling fresh fish and chips. It was the best I’ve ever had. Ethan loved it, too.

Day 2 fail — Dominos Pizza for dinner. We were SO tired and it was the easiest option. And because it’s Iceland, our 10” pizza was $22. Ouch.

Going Back To My Roots in Bangkok

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Probably one of the most random fun facts about me is that I spent most of my childhood living abroad in New Zealand and Thailand. It was a uniquely wonderful experience that I wouldn’t change for the world. Living in a place like Bangkok was very instrumental in fostering my love to other cultures and also opened my eyes really early in life to things like extreme poverty, different religions and crazy foods.

I’ve had a dream to go back and visit everywhere that I lived as a child, so I was beyond excited to finally be visiting Bangkok with J. He could finally see where I lived and what life was like for me as a 8-10 year old living somewhere so culturally different.

By the time we got to Bangkok, a city full of noise and energy and sophistication and gold, we were ready for the pace of city life with it’s amazing restaurants and classy rooftops bars. Unfortunately, our time in Bangkok was slowed by an infection in J’s leg that had been festering since Vietnam. Heat and sweat and saltwater had just made the infection worse and worse until he was in so much pain that we had no choice but to get it checked out. Thankfully we found a wonderful travel clinic that fit us in every day and took great care of J’s leg for a fraction of what it would have cost in the states. The bad news was that the treatment made J super achy so we spent more time resting and less time exploring Bangkok. We still found time to explore the city’s Grand Palace with all of it’s glittering gold (amazing!) as well as take the temple and klong tour that came with our hotel reservation. We spent more time than I’m proud to admit eating at and wandering through Bangkok’s huge shopping malls and even got to spend some time with a dear missionary friend my family first met when we lived in Thailand over 20 years ago — so special.

The best part of being in Bangkok for me was just taking it all in and remembering what my life was like when I lived there forever ago. We found my old school and even walked to my old apartment building which had strangely enough been turned into a hotel. The soi (street) that we lived on is now a bit of the “trendy” street full of popular restaurants and boutique hotels. It was strange — being there felt so familiar but at the same time totally different. But isn’t that how everything looks when you see childhood places through adult eyes? Especially when it’s a world away.

Our Bangkok visit wasn’t ideal — but then again, nowhere would have been ideal at that point in the trip with J’s leg being as bad as it was — but we are still thankful for our time there. I wish that we had more of a chance to enjoy it fully, to eat at some of the city’s most talked-about restaurants (it’s a foodie haven), to take in afternoon tea at a hotel lobby like I did as a kid, to feast on street food and wander the markets, but I suppose that will just have wait until next time because after 3 days in Bangkok we packed up and headed home. Another amazing adventure for the books.

{we started our visit with a tour of the klongs or canals of Bangkok followed by Wat Arun}

111714_Asia_1156sm111714_Asia_1150sm SEAsia14__0725SEAsia14__0734SEAsia14__0736111714_Asia_1153111714_Asia_1168smSEAsia14__0747111714_Asia_1185sm  {these stairs were SO steep! I had to hold on tight the whole way down}

 SEAsia14__0738SEAsia14__0746SEAsia14__0754{Magnum ice cream bars always make us happy}

After Wat Arun we headed over to the Grand Palace to explore. It was a bit crazy there since they were beginning celebrations for the King’s birthday.

SEAsia14__0772 SEAsia14__0768 SEAsia14__0760 SEAsia14__0758 111714_Asia_1233sm 111714_Asia_1212sm 111714_Asia_1210sm 111714_Asia_1200sm111714_Asia_1194sm{look at all of this gold! BLING!}

111714_Asia_1240sm 111714_Asia_1244sm{my old school! This used to be ISB but now it’s a United Nations School. Looks similar to how I remember it, though. We wanted to tour it but we needed IDs which were back in the hotel safe}

111714_Asia_1252sm 111714_Asia_1250sm{President Palace Hotel on Soi 11! This used to be called Ambassador Palace and was our apartment building! We lived on the 5th floor above the pool. There’s now even a Starbucks in the lobby! CRAZY!}

We stayed at: iCheck Inn Residences on Soi 18, Sukhimvit. I would call this more of an extended stay apartment more than a hotel mostly because each room has a small kitchenette and the hotel offered absolutely no amenities or customer service. There was no food at all available and half of the time there wasn’t even anyone at the front desk. That said, the location was great (quiet soi with plenty of food stands, hotels and non-sketchy massage shops), the room was bright and modern, the bed was super comfy and it was a short walk to the Skytrain and Terminal 21, a huge mall with a nice food court.

Need medical help? We loved the team at the Global Doctor Clinic in the Interchange Building across from Terminal 21.

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 Read more about our Southeast Asia trip!

Hanoi, Halong Bay Day 1, Halong Bay Day 2-3, Hoi An, Cambodia, Railay Beach

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