We had one day with no specific plans so we took some time to do some exploring in Reykjavik. As the temps have been below freezing, we’ve been heading outside for little bits at a time. While we may be from New England, after 4 winters of blissful 50 degree weather, this is a bit of a shock to our systems!!
One of the things I’ve found about being in Europe is the difference in the daylight. I know this changes in the US as well but having lived in Massachusetts my entire life up til our move to Spain, it’s not something I witnessed or noticed very much. Because of Iceland’s latitude, their winter means very little sun and their summers last 24 hours! Our tour guide one morning said that in mid February, they were already getting 4 hours more of daylight than they were back on December 21st, the shortest day of the year. And the sun wasn’t coming up until after 9AM while we were there which felt incredibly late (and given that the sun wasn’t rising here in Barcelona til 8AM that’s saying something). So the morning hours felt like the middle of the night which isn’t exactly super motivating for getting out and about.
But we did get out. Our goal was the find the non store 24 type of grocery store. Fail. We searched and searched and couldn’t find it. We made do with the 10-11 (which is like store 24) and honestly there was more selection there than there is in my entire grocery store in Barcelona.
During our search we walked up to the Hallgrímskirkja Church which is at the top of a hill near the center of Reykjavik. You are able to take an elevator to the top to get 360 degree views of the city, which is exactly what we did.
The church itself was interesting on the outside but fairly non descript on the inside. Actually much of Reykjavik felt this way. As I mentioned in my last post, the buildings in Iceland are less than 100 years old, and even less so in Reykjavik. Many are made of reinforced concrete. Medieval looking structures they are not…which is weird since we are in Europe and “everything” looks old (and usually is!).
The church did have amazing views and you could see the city boundaries and so much wide open space – again, these abrupt changes of where things start and end. This is a city that’s more of a suburban city with houses rather than apartment buildings. I’m sure some of those houses are broken into apartments, but they aren’t typical apartment buildings like we would see in other cities. Yes, there are some, just not as plentiful as other places.
The church didn’t take all that long. I think we were in there for a grand total of 15 minutes. From there we walked back downhill towards the 10-11 to pick up a few more essentials since we couldn’t find the grocery store.
As we were walking, we came across a pond frozen over. The kids immediately spotted people ice skating on said pond and begged and begged and begged some more to go skate as well. Obviously they didn’t have skates (nor did most of the people “skating”) but they loved being able to just run and slide across a frozen pond. It was this realization that we are from New England and yet, Aidan and Liam have never had the opportunity to do this. They were either too little or perhaps those winters were too mild to have ponds frozen over enough for them to skate on. As a child, this was like a right of passage for us and I couldn’t fathom that my kids have never had the chance to do it. Though because they haven’t, they definitely appreciated the novelty of it much more than they might otherwise have done.
There isn’t a lot in Reykjavik to do with kids beyond a few museums which weren’t really a huge interest to us. There is a penis museum (as noted in the picture above) but I think we’ve got enough penis talk in our house that we really don’t need to encourage it more. There was no aquarium and a small petting zoo that we heard was just ok. Normally we don’t have trouble entertaining ourselves much in a city, but everywhere is different so we just took it as a day to relax knowing that our other days were going to be filled with non city activity.
When we booked this trip, the two things we really wanted to do (knowing little about Iceland at the time) was to see the Northern Lights and to go to the Blue Lagoon. Now, Josh and I have been to similar spas (like Caldera in Andorra) that are so overhyped that when you get there, they are a huge disappointment. And while this was not a disappointment, it was definitely a touristy attraction and we probably would have been better off going to a local place in the city that would have been less expensive and much less crowded.
It’s a very organized spa and though the lines went far past the doors, we had planned ahead and ordered tickets online so we got to stand in the short line. The benefits of planning ahead for once! Everything was immaculately clean. The only issue that day is that while it’s cold in February, it was cold AND there were 30mph winds at the same time. Talk about bone chilling!! Just walking into the spa we were fighting against the wind.
Knowing that the weather conditions were less than ideal, we knew this was likely going to be a short visit (and it was). The drive on the bus was about 45 minutes. That’s probably about how long we stayed as well. So I guess we sort of got our money’s worth. Anyways, the kids thought it was super cool to be able to swim outside in the middle of February and the fact that the water was incredibly warm given the outdoor temperatures.
We decided right off the bat that under the first bridge when we exited the indoor area was the best place to be – it was the warmest and shielded us from the wind. But eventually we ventured out a little further. Josh decided to run in and get his phone so he could take a few pictures – a courageous man and you honestly couldn’t have paid me enough to do this, no matter how much I like to capture a moment on film. It was probably the fastest photo shoot we’ve ever experienced and I don’t blame him!!
Like I said, we barely lasted 45 minutes before heading back indoors. I had heeded the warnings about putting conditioner in my hair before going in the water – too bad I probably didn’t put enough in. My hair and Aidan’s was like straw for days after going in the water. It was so bad that I thought I was going to have to cut a significant portion off…but thankfully after some googling I found that a few rounds (over several days) of conditioner would help the problem and it has. But given how the water and the natural sulfuric chemicals in it affected mine and Aidan’s hair, I have to wonder how this is good for your skin??? But it supposedly is…
When I think of how many flights layover from the US to Europe and people come to Iceland just to experience the Blue Lagoon, I have to say, it’s not worth it for that. It’s cool, yes. I’m glad we went. But I’m also glad we did a ton of other things while we were here and not just this.
Overall, Iceland was an amazing trip. It was an experience like no other. Never have we experienced such wide open spaces, dramatic scenery or natural events like the Northern Lights before. It was a once in a lifetime trip and I cannot say enough good things about how much we enjoyed it.
Next up… heading to England in a few weeks to visit with our British cousins – can’t wait!!