Reykjavik: Icelandic Layover

Flying Iceland Air to London as our base, we had the opportunity to enjoy a layover in Iceland. Iceland Air offers layovers of 1 – 5 days without an extra charge, a great way to explore Reykjavik!

We opted for the one day layover and had 28 hours in Iceland. It was just enough time to decide that we will definitely be back. Weather changes quickly in Iceland – when we landed, the wind was so bad that the airplane wasn’t able to actually make it to the airport and we had to exit the airplane via stairs and take a bus to the actual airport.  Although it was February, we had sleet, rain and wind but no snow.

swimbabyswimDo you know what is open no matter the weather? The Blue Lagoon. We arranged for bus transport between the Blue Lagoon, downtown Reykjavik and the airport during our time there. It’s important to know that the Blue Lagoon and Reykjavik are in different directions and both about 45 minutes away from the airport. We changed our bus plans to go directly to the Blue Lagoon and checked in at the airport, where they let us know it was open even though they were grounding planes because of the weather.

The Blue Lagoon: We bought tickets two months ahead of time which was a good move as it sells out frequently. You are dropped off about an eighth mile from the actual lagoon entrance and walk a path through the lava rocks. Once there, you are provided a wrist band, which you can charge things to (drinks, spa, food, snacks, towels and access to your private locker.) Little is 7 so he was allowed to enter the women’s changing room with us; which was fine because there are private lockers and private shower areas.

After changing, storing all belongings and showering, you enter the lagoon. It’s amazing – the water is really warm, blue-white and glowing with black lava rocks surrounding the lagoon. The lagoon is huge, with different pools to explore, a bar where you can buy smoothies (little picked blueberry-skyr, a type of yogurt), a facial bar where you can get a free mud mask, bridges and a waterfall that feels almost like a jacuzzi. The water was never deeper than 4’ or so. All children 8 and under are required to wear floaties on their arms. We were there for sunset and at night the pool was lit up. We swam around for around 2 hours – little loved every minute of it, exploring the different pools and putting the mud on.  We certainly could have spent much longer there but we were late arriving and were eager to get to the hotel and sleep.

Some tips when visiting the lagoon: Wear a swim cap. The water does crazy things to hair. Little’s hair can stand up on it’s own right now and feels like it has a ton of product in it. Bring a towel to avoid the $7 towel rental fee.

We were exhausted and feeling very relaxed after our trip to the lagoon. We took the bus to our hotel in the middle of Reykjavik, which was lively even though it was 11 PM. The buses aren’t very clear or communicative, so we had missed our stop and had to catch a different bus. The hotel (Centerplaza Hotel) was in the middle of old town and had a cute square right in front; which luckily had a toasted sandwich (“boat”) joint right in front of it that stayed open for the young folks. They were super sweet with our tired selves and made sure we had plenty of food before we settled in our room; which was surprisingly comfortable, big, clean and perfect.

Cod liver oilThe next morning after the best, most comprehensive hotel breakfast we had encountered on this trip (complete with cod oil shots on the buffet), we went down to the harbor to check out the Viking Museum, SAGA. It’s an hour journey through 700 years of Viking history, including our family favorite Floki! There are displays (some creepily animatronic) to help you visual the history – sometimes the exhibits were a little violent, but we have read lots about history, the good and the bad, so it wasn’t something that we were worried about with little. The great thing is that SAGA actually keeps pictures at the entry of all of the questionable content so you can view it before paying entry and decide if it’s okay for your kids.

Reykjavik is a great place for kids. Another thing on the list was the Whale Museum, which came highly recommended, but we were worried about catching the bus with all of the challenges we had the day before. We had also hoped to attend Elf School, but it wasn’t in session during the time we were there. Instead, we decided to support the local economy. Little picked out a Thor’s Hammer amulet, a book on Viking mythology and my sister and I shopped for Iceland wool scarves and blankets. After shopping in the quaint downtown, we caught our 7 hour flight back to Seattle – bluebird skies and flying back in time, as we landed 10 minutes before our take off time in Reykjavik.

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Barcelona: Where the Streets Have No Name

There is so, so much to do in Barcelona for families.

Gaudi Sites: There are some things you just HAVE to do in Barcelona and they shouldn’t LaSagrada5be skipped. La Sagrada Familia and all the wonderful things Antonio Gaudi did for example. La Sagrada Familia is the Basilica Gaudi famously started over 140 years ago that is STILL under construction. As Gaudi once said, his client (God) has no timeline. Under construction or not, it is absolutely a stunning and remarkable artistic contribution that is a must. The play of light in the glass, the towering arches, the tiny playful finds and passionate details – La Sagrada does not disappoint and is wonderful for families to visit. A few things to note:

  • It is a church. You must cover shoulders and knees and children need to be respectful.
  • Buy tickets ahead of time; it is wildly popular.
  • There are two different towers you can climb; you take an elevator up and walk across and down. Not for the weak of heart.
  • There is a great playground outside that is perfect for giving children an opportunity to run around; it’s split into two areas for tiny little and mid-sized ones.

 

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Parc Guell

Parc Guell is another Gaudi masterpiece. The park sits on a hill overlooking Barcelona and contains two guard houses (you can visit one) as well as a nice area to walk around with gardens. When we visited, about half the area seemed to be under construction and that was disappointing. You’ll need to buy tickets ahead of time, as only 40 people are let into the park every 30 minutes.

 

Churches in Barcelona are beautiful and the ones we visited were free, with the exception of the Basilica of Santa Maria del Mar, as that one came with a guided tour and trip up the Bell Tower, where we could see the roman wall and original old Barcelona boundaries.

 

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Barcelona Cathedral

The Barcelona Cathedral is the resting spot for the tomb of St. Eulalia, the patron saint of Barcelona. The cathedral has much 14th and 15th century art as well as many famous characters from Barcelona history. You’ll find 13 white geese in residency in the outside cloisters, each one representing one year that St. Eulalia lived. We also visited the Church of Santa Anna, a 13th century monastery and chapel where we were lucky enough to attend a private Spanish Guitar concert. With only 20 seats in the chapel, it was very intimate and moving, but should only be attempted with children who can stay still for an hour and a half. Little was thrilled to buy a cd and have it signed after the concert.

 

La Rambla: This famous boulevard has vendors along both sides and tourists wander along until they meet the harbor. It’s a great place to pick up little things but it was very busy – and very touristy. Once we had walked up and down, we felt there wasn’t much of a reason to go back. If you do make it to the Harbor, there is an aquarium and large shopping mall there.

gotic.jpgNeighborhoods: La Rambla is very famous with tourists as is the gorgeous Gotic (Gothic) quarter. While the Gothic quarter’s beauty cannot be beat, the bottom level is crawling with tourists, postcard shops, chain places like McDonalds and Dunkin Doughnuts. On one end, the Gothic Quarter meets the old harbor (Christopher Colombus’s statue is here) and on the other, it meets Ravel, a higher end neighborhood the is overrun by tourists on weekends. We preferred staying in the Born area, which I had been told was a lower-income area with students and artist. As a result there were amazing coffee shops, tapas bars, bakeries within minutes of our door. Which brings us to where we were staying:

Aparthotel Aladda: An Apart-hotel is a neat concept where you stay in an apartment but it’s a hotel-like environment: there is someone at the front desk to help you some of the time. The one we chose was a one bedroom, two bath with a mini kitchen and was within a 5-10 minute walk to Ravel, the Gothic Quarter and all of the amazing sites so we wouldn’t need cabs, metro or buses. Barcelona is a maze of tall, 18th century buildings that circle around little plazas, each with different restaurants, cafes and shops. Ours had pizza, sushi, Chinese and tapas, a British pub, as well as a shirt boutique, pharmacy and small market and turned into an open-air market on Saturday. Oh! And a small playground, which little LOVED and played in daily. It was just around the corner from a self-serve laundry and only 2 blocks from the Picasso museum. It can be so, so easy to get lost in Born but technology to the rescue – we could always open the phone to check in and re-navigate to our apartment.

 

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Picasso Museum

Speaking of the Picasso Museum, that was a lovely surprise! They offer an audio tour geared just for kids! It was a huge hit for little, who listened to every single moment and learned so much.

 

With a good base and the right attitude, you really can’t go wrong staying and playing in Old Barcelona.

Washington D.C.!

Screenshot_2017-11-19-14-54-05It’s been a family dream to go to Washington D.C. We love museums and D.C. has the best in America. We had an opportunity over Thanksgiving break and began the difficult decision of choosing which museums we could manage in the three days we had. We flew on a red eye overnight and hit DC early in the morning, ready to explore museums and try out some key foodie stops. We stayed again at a Hyatt hotel right at the National Mall, so we could walk to the museums quickly and maximize the time we had.

Our museum recap:

  • Smithsonian Natural History Museum: This entire place is perfect for kids. Little’s teacher had told us to be sure to spend lots of time in the Hall of Human Origin and we did! There are great displays on the ocean (Ocean Hall), Dinos, Mammals, mummies, geology. We easily breezed through in 3-4 hours but skipped some areas like the butterfly pavilion. They have a special program for kids called Q?rius, but the programs were closed while we were there.
  • National Gallery: The National Gallery of Art is a piece of heaven on earth. I was most looking forward to the special exhibit of Vermeer paintings. From renaissance works to impressionism, classics, masters, pop art, modern – it’s a must-do in D.C. for kids. They provide free kids hour long programs and a museum guide for families/kids. We spent about 4 hours there and only saw half the museum.
  • Smithsonian Air and Space Museum: This museum was our first stop on a cold weekday morning and we were surprised to find not only a very long line but tons of kids, there for a field trip. Busloads of middle school kids. The space displays are amazing, including the Hubble Space telescope test vehicle. However, the historical aircraft sections (WW1, WW2, etc.) were not as impressive as we had hoped, but we are used to the amazing local Boeing Air and Space museum in Seattle, so our bar is set pretty darn high.
  • Smithsonian Museum of the American Indian: The Museum of the American Indian was very fascinating for the kiddo, especially because there were rooms dedicated to the lives of specific indigenous cultures. For example, there may be a room for Alutiq people, with their music, dance, religion, food, clothing all explained, and then you duck into the next room that focuses on the Inca. The museum has over almost one million items in collection. There was a dedicated kid’s room to explore but the museum itself was interesting enough for a seven year old. We stuck to the collections and not the exhibits as there were even more busloads of middle school kids than the air and space museum.
  • Smithsonian National Museum of American History:  The Museum of American History does a lot for kids; they have regular programs and a play/learn space called “Wegmans Wonderplace” which were geared for kids up to 6. We’ve passed that age now and our guy is more interested in the regular museum content. Favorite collections included the transportation area – trains and cars and even a life size street scene from Portland that hubby recognized right away – and the clothing display, which featured dresses from most of the first ladies.
  • National Portrait Gallery: The National Portrait Gallery was a surprise. We weren’t expecting too much but it was so much more than portraits. The presidential portrait hall is a must but surprise – it’s actually fun! There were portraits of tudors and queens, of important American historical figures, authors, artists. We spent time in an exhibit about Sylvia Plath. And it had a small but engaging kid’s program/space. You can draw a portrait – little had a blast being drawn by others and drawing others. Hack: This museum stays open late on Thursdays and Fridays, until 9! So you can visit after the other museums have closed early.

We need a whole week to see everything in DC. But that’s reason to go back! We also visited the Washington Monument and the Lincoln Memorial. We chose to visit the Lincoln memorial at night, which is another great tip – it’s beautiful, well lit, parking wasn’t a problem and the crowds were much smaller.

Food recap:

  • &pizza: My brother had joined us so we were looking for something fast, with vegan options and kid friendly. &pizza is a craft-your-own personal pizza place that had something for everyone.
  • Ben’s Chili Bowl: an iconic spot in DC, loaded with celebrity photos and DC civil rights history, this a tasty and inexpensive option. And because they offered vegetarian options, I had my first chili dog!
  • Old Ebbitt Grill: another historical spot, but a different kind of history. This sit-down, almost fancy one-time saloon is across from the white house and was frequented by many a president. They have a solid kid’s menu, great service, and a wonderful crab cake.
  • Mitsitam Café: this Native Foods café in the Museum of the American Indian serves indigenous foods. For us, that meant a fry bread taco. But the museum serves foods from the great plains, south American, northern woodlands (salmon! Clam soup!) so there is something for everyone. Like most Smithsonian cafes, it’s overpriced and busy, but very convenient if you are in between museums.

We aren’t sure when we will visit again, but we already have the list started of new museums and places to check out.