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.

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God Is Able & I Am Fruitful

Most of you know at least some of our story if you’ve been following this blog for a while. You read about our difficulties getting pregnant, the four long and hard years that we prayed and tried and waited, the miracle healing and conception that took place, and then met our miracle baby boy who made us a family. All along in my journey I knew a few things for certain: I knew that God would be faithful to us and bless us with children, and I knew that I would be called to share our story of God’s goodness to encourage others along the way.

Isn’t that how God works? He takes you through the crazy journey of struggle and pain and growing in faith, showing Himself good and faithful all along the way to give you a story SO good, SO amazing, SO glorifying to HIM that you just have to share it with others.

For months and months I’ve heard quite audibly in my spirit that God is calling me to encourage women who are trying to conceive. I’d push it away and think, “Later, later,” only to be convicted once again. I’ve sat next to women at church who have openly told me their infertility struggles, met husbands who have told me about their wives, heard sermons about following your calling. It’s almost humorous, really, how clearly God is eagerly yanking at my dress saying, “THIS is what I’ve called you to do.”

Which brings me to Tuesday.

This Tuesday, August 1, I will be hosting a small group for women who are struggling to conceive, those who have felt the pain of miscarriage, those who’ve lost their newborns, and those who are pursuing adoption because of their fertility struggles. We’ll come together in a safe place where you can share your story and find hope for the journey that you’re in. I don’t have a name for the group yet…I’m still praying through some options….but I do know that this is what God is calling me to do, so I am believing that there are women HE is calling and preparing for the group.

My mission for the group is this:

  • to create a space for women who are longing for children to have a safe place to share with others who understand
  • to pray for one another, believing that NOTHING is impossible for our God
  • to dig into the Word of God to see what He has to say about family, fertility and His promises for us
  • to encourage one another, hold each other up when we’re hurting and find laughter again
  • to create a place where we can hear from women who’ve gone before us and be encouraged by their testimonies
  • to be a safe place to grieve what has been stolen from us and bind us broken hearts
  • to find healing and a renewed hope

I’m SO excited for this group to begin! I have so many things that I want to share with the group, so many lessons and testimonies, scriptures and prayers that helped me along the way. There will be some of my favorite books for ladies to purchase, printouts of scriptures for everyone to take with them, and snacks to gobble up as we catch up with one another.

So my sister, my friend– would you like to join us and share your story? Share your hope, your grief, your pain, your joy, your love, and your heartache?

If YOU live near the N. County San Diego area and this sounds like something you might be interested in, I hope that you will consider joining us! Our first meeting is Tuesday, August 1 from 7-9 PM in Carlsbad. If you want to come, email me at alexisgward(at)gmail(dot)com for my address and directions. The plan for now is to meet every third week which makes our next two meetings August 22 and September 12.

I am so excited about what the Lord has for all of us. It going to be awesome!

xoxo

International Travel With Your Baby

By the time he was 8 months old, our lil bear cub had more stamps in his passport than some of my adult friends. He’s been on 10 airplanes, traveled through multiple time zones, slept in numerous random beds and cribs, missed naps, visited a glacier in cold rain, stayed up past his bedtime almost every night…and we all survived. Even better, we had the time of our lives.

When we tell people that we took our baby with us to Iceland and Sweden this spring we get a lot of responses: everything from “you’re crazy,” mouth hanging open, laughs, looks of disbelief and my favorite, “That must have been hard/terrible.brutal.” I’m not sure why everyone thinks that traveling with a baby has to be miserable. Is it because of all the crying babies you’ve listened to on the plane?

So today I’m here to tell you that traveling with a baby doesn’t have to be miserable. In fact, it can be really fun and awesome. Who says you have to put all of your travels and adventures on hold because you grew a tiny human? You just need a few (dozen) extra things in your luggage, a slower pace and a little patience. No, it won’t be exactly the way it used to be, but isn’t seeing the world through the eyes of a child half the fun of it? Today I’m going to share with you a few of the tips we learned from traveling internationally with our 7.5 month old baby boy.

1. Packing. There’s no getting around it – babies need a LOT of stuff. Especially if you’re going somewhere like Iceland which can have bitter cold temperatures and tons of rain. We managed to stuff all of our stuff into 2 large suitcases and two backpacks. Baby boy’s stuff took up MOST of the space. We managed to pack light for ourselves because we knew we couldn’t skimp on his stuff. While you can’t get away with skipping packing clothes, blankets, food, etc, we did try our hardest to pack as light as possible. Stick to around 3-4 favorite small toys, 2 books if you read every night, only a few extra changes of clothes, and just enough food and diapers to get you through until you know that you can buy more (we were able to find organic baby food that was affordable as well as Pampers diapers in Iceland just about everywhere). There DEFINITELY was a LOT of stuff that we had to haul. We couldn’t avoid a few bulky items like the car seat, stroller, baby carrier and a foot muff for the bitter Icelandic winds — all of which were totally worth bringing which takes us to point #2…

{all bundled up in his Bumbleride winter footmuff which kept him warm and dry}

2. Car seat. This one is a toss up. Let’s start with flying – Many airlines line Southwest, Alaska and Icelandair are very baby friendly and will happily give you an empty seat for you to put your car seat if the flight isn’t fully booked. Trust me when I say that we were SO SO SO glad we lugged our car seat through the airport when it payed off with a FREE seat for baby boy to sleep away in. Icelandair would even move other passengers around so that we could have a full row to ourselves. Ya’ll…it’s painful to hold a 16 lb baby in your arms for 7 hours straight. It was so nice to be able to let him chill in his own seat for most of the flights. Of course, you can always buy your baby his own seat as well. (Side note — please do not check your car seat as luggage! It’s too easy to damage them. Gate check only!) Once in Iceland we also needed the car seat for our rental car. We had actually planned on renting a car seat there as they have different rules around car seats (they require a different buckle type), but our rental car place was crummy and didn’t have a clean car seat ready for us NOR did they know how to install the seat so we just used our own which leads to #3…

3. Make sure you have a locking clip if you take your car seat without a base! Most US car seats come with a locking clip — ours was on the bottom of the car seat. In Iceland, none of the cars seemed to have self-locking seat belts like they do in the US so you HAVE to use a locking clip to make the car seat safe and sturdy. You can request one from your car seat manufacturer if you don’t have one and they will have instructions on how to use it.

{diaper changes can happen anywhere! Back of the car, front seat of the car, in his stroller}

4. Be flexible and patient. Babies require a lot more time to get fed and ready every day and they need extra breaks for naps and eating and diaper changes. We always got a later start than we hoped in the mornings and that was ok! By the time everyone was dressed and fed and on the road, he’d already be ready for his first nap of the day. There were a few times when J would go see a site and I needed to sit in the car or on a bench to nurse for 15 minutes first. Once he was fed he was happy and ready to go! And HE was even more flexible than he is at home.

5. Know your baby. Obviously, every baby is totally different, right? When we were in Iceland, Ethan was 7.5 months old. He wasn’t crawling yet and he loved being in his car seat. It was truly the best timing for this kind of trip where we spent MOST of the day driving in the car with him strapped into his car seat. He would nap and giggle and sing and look out the window. He never had a meltdown in the car the entire trip. If your kid hates car rides, he or she would definitely hate this kind of trip….so maybe a place like Iceland or New Zealand wouldn’t be ideal at this point for you, but somewhere else could be great!

When we hiked the W trail in Patagonia a few years ago we saw a couple who was doing the same hike with their 10 month old on their back. It was a hard trek but that baby was SO happy every day! It was incredible! Their baby loved going on hikes and being outside so that was a great trip for them. Remember, you’re baby is super adaptable so they will probably do better than you think they will, but perhaps try not to put them in a situation where every single day they are miserable.

{napping in Stockholm}

6. Breastfeeding tips. When you breastfeed your baby, you can feed your baby anywhere! And you should! Bring a nursing cover if you care about modesty, but know that many parts of the world are much more accepting of nursing in public than the US. Of course, if you have a little one like mine who gets distracted SO easily, that’s easier said than done. Take a hand pump along so that you can relieve your breasts if you need to — plus, it takes up way less room in your luggage! I love this pump and take it everywhere.

7. White noise is your friend. Be sure to bring along your noise machine or at least download a white noise app (I use one called SleepySounds when I travel) so that you can create a quiet place for baby to sleep regardless of if your hallway echos with every door slam or you are above a noisy city street.

8. Bring a crib sheet. Each hotel on our trip provided us with a crib or a pack and play for Ethan to sleep in –but none of them had any sort of sheet or cover for the bottom of them. Seeing as I don’t know how often or if the crib mattress has ever been cleaned, I always covered it with a light muslin blanket. Just tuck in the blanket as well as you can, and sleep easy knowing that baby isn’t face down on an icky surface.

{checking out the geysir in Iceland}

9. Let go of the schedule. Take a deep breath momma. You can do it! If you’re anything like me, your baby lives, eats and sleeps by a strict daily schedule. I don’t let much mess his schedule up because it keeps momma and baby happy and rested. Before our trip I envisioned us marching back to our hotel every day in Stockholm so that little E could take a 2 hour nap. Haha! That never happened. We’d wander so far from our hotel every day that there was no way that we’d return until after dinner. Instead, we made sure that we were prepared for the day with food and diapers (he is nursing so he always has milk nearby) and we let him take naps whenever he needed them in his carseat (Iceland) or stroller (Sweden). He definitely got more naps in Iceland but he was in no way on his schedule at ALL. Bedtimes were super late after super late dinners. It wasn’t how we wanted it, but it’s just how it went. He’d crash at night and wake up happy and ready to go each morning.

In Stockholm he spent all day either being carried or in his stroller which made for easy napping. He definitely got less sleep there as we pushed him along cobblestone streets, but he sure loved napping in the dark and quiet Vasa museum. Thankfully, our stroller back can be lowered to an almost flat position ( we LOVE our Bumbleride Indie) so when we’d see him fall asleep, we’d slowly lower the back to let him sleep lying down.

10. Have fun. Here’s the thing…you’re gonna have good days and bad day,s but at the end of it all you’ll have created some really incredible memories with your little one. Try not to sweat the small stuff (like the fact that Ethan would not nurse in public in Sweden no matter how hard I tried) and instead embrace each day as an adventure. We’ll never forget how Ethan’s eyes lit up when he saw a waterfall, or how he would squeal and get super excited as we explored beaches and glaciers. We loved watching him pet Icelandic ponies and try crazy foods like pickled herring. We didn’t mind giving up the glacier hikes and horseback rides that we would normally choose to do because this is our life now…slower…different…and perfectly sweet family.