Our Dream Vacation - Iceland!
Our Iceland trip was so incredible it’s hard to know where to begin. To start with, I intended for us to take the trip as a surprise for Biff’s birthday… except I soon realized that I couldn’t possibly plan everything without his input. So… I had to tell him what was going on. Which was actually a great move, because we were then able to actually plan the whole thing together, which was way better than me planning it on my own. We aren’t luxury travelers but we also aren’t rugged travelers— we are somewhere in the middle. We love secret spots and off-the-beaten-path, but we aren’t particularly hardy. Iceland seemed so bleak and impenetrable in my mind, so I was worried we wouldn’t be able to find things we loved.
Boy, was I wrong.
After placing the kids in the loving care of my mom (thanks, mom!), we embarked upon the long flight across the globe. IcelandAir was amazing— the staff was attentive and fun, the food on the flight was delicious, and we both watched Icelandic movies to get in the zone. Every Icelander speaks English well, so we didn’t put a lot of energy into learning the language (we also didn’t have the capacity to prepare that much for the trip, given our work and parenting schedules!). But we still wanted to hear the language a bit before we arrived. We tried to sleep, but that was nearly impossible since we left at 2pm and our bodies were definitely not ready to sleep that early!
We landed around 8am Iceland time. It was still pitch black out. We travelled in November, which is the dead of winter in Iceland. It was only light for a few hours a day so we just got used to things happening in the dark. The airport was architecturally stunning and that prepared us for the overall aesthetic of the country— it’s like farm and country chic mixed with stark, utilitarian lines and materials (wood, steel, concrete) and then there are some whimsical colors strategically thrown in. In other words… we loved it.
Our first snag happened as soon as we touched down— Biff booked a rental car from the capitol city, Reykjavik, which was actually a 45-minute drive from the airport. Oops! Catching a bus into the city would have been as much money as our entire car rental! Sadly, all the rental car windows were closed except for one that had a long line snaking through the airport. Luckily I’m enterprising and hopped on my phone to click-click-click… and we had a rental from Sixt. It was the most bare-bones car I have ever been in, but there was no snow or ice on the roads so it didn’t really matter. I saved the day, although Biff did not give me the appreciation and recognition I felt I deserved. Typical.
So we piled all our stuff into the tiny Smart Car from Sixt and headed to Reykjavik (our drive to the city is the first scene in our round-up video below). It was still pitch black, but the roads were well-lit and well-signed so we were okay. We thanked our lucky stars that the weather was so good as we drove into what was the most beautiful city we’ve ever had the pleasure of visiting.
Once we got to the city (and the sun actually came up!), we walked around admiring the juxtaposition of nature and art— green roofs and metal siding and Nordic influence… it’s truly a look and feel that is different from anywhere else we’ve ever been. There’s this stunning steeple in the middle of the city and we headed in that direction— turns out the church is called Hallgrímskirkja. It was built in 1986, the stark layered stone exterior an homage to the basalt rock that juts out of the Icelandic landscape. Inside it was pure white and almost completely unadorned— it was the most beautiful church either of us had ever seen. No elaborate organ or ornate altar. Just seats and a dias and a candle stand.
It was too early to go up into the steeple so we meandered back onto the street and ate fresh bread and LOTS of hot coffee and just wandered the city until heading to Pink Iceland for our first tour of the trip— a walking history tour of Reykjavik. We LOVED the owners at staff at Pink Iceland. They plan weddings and custom tours of the whole country, and were incredibly friendly and welcoming. Our tour guide didn’t just tell us the queer history of Iceland… he WAS the queer history of Iceland. He opened the first gay bar in the country, and started the first national LGBT rights organization. We saw Harpa, the truly epic concert hall designed out of glass cut to resemble fish scales. Though we hadn’t slept at all, we didn’t feel tired as we traversed the city and heard stories of the economic boom and crash… and how the truly enterprising people of Iceland survived it all.
When our tour was done, we headed to our little car and drove to our first lodging of the trip— Hotel Ranga. I had seen photos of it online of course, but we were totally unprepared for the rustic charm of this sweet hotel. Hot tubs filled with natural spring water, gourmet food (they even custom made vegetarian options for me when I told them I didn’t eat meat), and — best of all— a wake-up service that calls your room if the Northern Lights appear. Our room had a GIANT tub (which we never even used because we were so busy having adventures!!!), we played a few games of pool, and watched the sun rise over the river running alongside the hotel. Our every need was attended to and we felt like VIP’s the entire time. I don’t think I’ve ever called a place “romantic” before, but Hotel Ranga was SUPER romantic.
The next day we did a Golden Circle tour, which is a route taking you to several of the most stellar natural wonders of Iceland. We saw the biggest waterfall I’ve ever experienced, boiling hot geysers, swam in a hidden lagoon (there are dozens of hot springs pools dotting the countryside), and ate at Friðheimar (a tomato restaurant INSIDE a greenhouse!). There were different kinds of fresh bread, amazing tomato soup (and cucumber relish and tomato lattes, which I had and it wasn’t bad!). They also give horse demonstrations at the restaurant— Icelandic horses are world-renown, and are identical to the first horses the settlers brought when Iceland was first founded.
We retired back to Hotel Ranga and ate a marvelous dinner. In the middle of dessert, the owner came to ask us how our stay was. Of course we told him it was perfect and he went on to chat with other guests. A few minutes later he returned to tell us that the Northern Lights were viewable outside! We ran out into the frigid air and saw the dancing neon green swirls in the sky. The sheer glory and mystery of it moved me to tears. What a beautiful world we live in. How splendid is nature?! What must the early humans have thought of this spectacle? Biff hurried inside because of the cold while I stayed there as long as I could stand it, icy tears snaking down my cheeks.
The next day we bid Hotel Ranga goodbye and traded our little rental car for a van at Happy Campers, the friendliest van rental company ever. Our van was tricked out with everything we needed— fridge, sink, fold-down bed, and even a WiFi hotspot! The hotspot worked so well that we were able to do an Instagram Live from our van in the backstreets of Iceland! Check out Biff’s dispatch from the Happy Campers headquarters in our roundup video below.
So then we hit the road, driving up to the northern side of the country where I have a friend living in Akureyri, a little ski chalet town. We stopped everywhere along the way— random waterfalls and hot springs and churches, farms with long-haired Icelandic sheep, tiny cafes, and campgrounds. Akureyri had such good food and cute bars… and it was amazing to meet another seahorse dad in person after knowing him online for years!
From there we headed to what ended up being the true highlight of our trip, the Myvatn Nature Baths. It was so random that we found out about them— a friend commented on an Instagram post, saying that she loved them… so we decided to go a bit out of our way and check them out. We are SO GLAD WE DID!!! The minerals in the water have this milky opalescent quality, making our photos ethereal and gorgeous (and apparently giving them qualities that are good for the body). It was warmer than a pool but cooler than a hot tub, which meant we could soak in them for hours. It was such a magical experience!!!
Overall, we would truly recommend Iceland to anyone. The country is super queer-friendly, so LGBTQ couples will feel welcome everywhere. Families with older kids will have a blast, as long as the kids are hardy (it does get cold, especially if you do Into the Glacier or any of the arctic swimming options). Bring a SOLID pair of boots— you will be walking on ice, stepping over boiling hot water at the geyser sites, hiking to waterfalls, etc. We recommend Keens. Ours never faltered, and we didn’t have any slips or falls like other tourists we saw.
We’re vegetarian, but almost everywhere we went had lots of dishes we could eat. We ended up getting an AirBnb the final night in Reykjavik and that’s a great way to book a space if you want a non-hotel experience (there were lots of choices and they were all reasonably priced).
It was hard being away from the kids, but as we’ve always said— if we aren’t solid as a couple, then we aren’t solid as a family. It was worth it to take those days and be with each other… remembering not just why we love each other but also why we LIKE each other.
‘Til next time!!!