Thursday, February 3, 2011

Traveling with kids: an Iceland layover

Sculptures in Reykjavik. And that's about as much as we ever saw of the sun during our stay!
For our trip to Sweden for Christmas 2009 we took advantage of Iceland Air's offer of a free layover in Iceland on the way back to Canada. We stayed in Hotel Fron in the middle of Reykjavik for two nights, and spent our days sightseeing around Reykjavik and the southern coast.

The hotel was a very good place to stay with children. Not fancy, but nice and clean, good beds, and a breakfast buffet that wasn't huge by any means, but included the basics: cereal, milk, yogurt, bread, juices, tea and coffee. And the location could not be beat: right in the middle of Reykjavik with shops and restaurants right around the corner.

Mount Doom? Or just an Icelandic volcano?
Along the southern coast line, the Icelandic landscape was almost otherworldly in places. Small farm houses, the occasional shaggy Icelandic horse, a view of the ocean, all dominated by the barren, snow-dusted, moon-like (or Mordor-like if your more Tolkien-inclined) lava-fields with mountains, glaciers and volcanoes as a backdrop.

It's not like any other place I've been to. There was the sulfur smell in the shower. The city streets kept ice-free by geothermal heating. And then, the kids' favorite outing: a dip in the milky, turquoise waters of Blue Lagoon's hot spring pools. 

Blue Lagoon, Iceland.
Blue Lagoon is not a naturally formed hot spring. Rather, the hot, mineral-rich water was "discovered" when a nearby heating plant was built. It's naturally heated however, and is pumped up from deep inside the earth, so hot that it has to be cooled before it can be used in the pool.

This place is very beautiful and the kids really enjoyed to swim and splash in the huge outdoor pool, covered with steam, with the open sky above. The facilities are very good with nice change-rooms, a spa, restaurants and gift shops.

We also visited Reykjavik zoo which specializes mainly in Nordic animals like seals, reindeer, Icelandic horses and farm animals. It's not a big place, and not terribly impressive as far as zoos go, but the kids liked it, especially the up-close and personal view of the horses, cows, sheep and pigs.

Iceland was a fascinating place to visit, though I think next time I'd like to see it in summer rather than during the winter. Not because of the cold, thought it was below freezing and there was some snow on the ground, but more because it was so dark. Anything that far north tends to see barely a glimpse of daylight in December and January. And next time , I'd like to explore further afield and take the kids horseback riding on some of those shaggy ponies.

A few months after our trip to Iceland, Eyjafjallajökull blew its top and air traffic in much of Europe ground to a halt. Turned out those volcanoes were a lot more like Mount Doom than I had thought.

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