hygge (n) a quality of coziness and comfortable conviviality that engenders a feeling of contentment or well-being (regarded as a defining characteristic of Danish culture – and I would argue Icelandic.)
We chose to visit Iceland for Christmas and we are so glad we did! Iceland is Christmas. Reykjavik (the capital of Iceland) is beautiful, dripping in hygge, safe, quaint, and I will use the word – happy. The 4 hours of muted sunlight creates a dark backdrop for twinkle lights galore, candles, fireplaces and cozy spaces.
We could sense the differences immediately. This feeling began as early as our plane ride into Reykjavik, Iceland. Our plane, full, had many families traveling home for the holidays. There were at least 5 families traveling with children that were toddler aged – 4, 5, 6. We now travel with teenagers and one young adult and sometimes my heart wants to burst with nostalgia for those younger days…
I do believe to have a family that enjoys travel, it is best to start young. Children learn the journey (the waiting, the plane ride, the car ride, the bumps along the road – metaphor intended) are ALL part of the adventure, life. It is not just the destination or location or the “thing” to be savored, but the little every day in-between moments, too. To learn that anything worth experiencing or doing requires a lot of mundane, sometimes scary, sometimes painful moments along the way…while many of my travel blog posts feature all the cool things and places we have experienced, here is just a taste of the many other unexpected moments that happened. If you travel or live long enough, s*#t happens. You learn how to roll – it is part of the adventure. Click on photos for detail.
What we noticed and found ourselves enchanted with was the level of joy, curiosity and ease these families displayed. The children were so chill, happy, engaged and playful. The parents were so relaxed. The children were not sitting still, upright, on devices. They were playing with items from the pocket in front of their plane seat, making faces at the people around them, playing games and chattering with so much enthusiasm and curiosity in their adorable accents. One girl made a funny mask out of the holes left from the stickers she removed as a gift she received from the stewardess for a solid hour. I witnessed the stewardesses go to every family prior to take-off and actually get down on the children’s level and greet them with smiles and warm welcomes.
The parents did not seem to have the American intensity we experience on flights at home – where as soon as our children make a peep we whisper in urgent aggressive tones to “be quiet,” “Shhhh” so not to disturb anyone on the flight. The passengers on this flight were not bothered by the children at all, as a matter of fact, they were embraced. These children had wild untamed long hair, boys and girls, and just exuded such happiness! Such joy. Such ease. I knew this wasn’t a fluke, but a way of being. A culture -a way of doing things.
Happy parents at ease, happy children at ease.
My curiosity was sparkling. I felt a twinkling of excitement, my curiosity bubbling with hope that Iceland may be antipodal/antipodean/antithetical “polar opposite” of some of the hostility of late in America.
One of Quinn and my goals this year is more “ease” in life. Iceland was an awesome immersion and mentorship in how this could be, look, feel. The total population of Iceland is a little over 366,000 – this is a small number. For reference, just the city of Raleigh, North Carolina has over 466,000 people and is growing exponentially daily.
Iceland is truly an island in the middle of nowhere and the descent in the airplane allowed for a birds-eye view of the diverse topography. When I try to describe the environment and terrain of Iceland, I think of Yellowstone National Park – on steroids. It is known as the country of fire and ice. There are mountains, plains, active (very active) volcanoes, volcano rocks, old lava flows, bubbling magma, ground fed hot springs, geysers, glaciers, outlet glaciers, the Northern Lights (mama mia!), snow, ice caves, earthquakes…we will share many photos in later posts of many of these natural wonders!
Depending on when you visit Iceland, you will experience a stark contrast in seasons. In the summer, Iceland will have 4-5 hours of darkness in a 24 cycle and in winter you experience only 4-5 hours of daylight (and it is a beautiful light – think fall Golden Hour light). On this trip, the sun rose around 11am and set around 4pm.
This trip almost didn’t happen as the Covid19 variant Omricon was/is spreading like wildfire across Europe and was beginning its transatlantic jump to North America. Our trip included a stay in Iceland and Amsterdam, Netherlands. Both countries had implemented Covid restrictions prior to our arrival with Amsterdam going into a “lockdown.”
ROCKONLIVING TIP: Covid19 rules and regulations vary from country to country and due to the dynamic nature of the virus it can change quickly (and dramatically!) Keep a close eye on requirements to avoid frustration and/or being stranded in another country (yes, we did witness this during our travels!)
Quinn and I debated cancelling this trip and after being our second big trip possibly to be canceled due to the pandemic, we made a decision that regardless of the experience we would have, if we could get into the countries, we would go for it and be open to whatever that meant. We are painfully aware that the window to travel with just the five of us and go on adventures is slowly closing. Our eldest is in college and this puts specific restraints on our choice of dates and who know when they may start to meet significant others, secure employment and not allow just the five us to do our thing any longer. We, like many, felt the pandemic has in ways robbed us of memories, and time together with loved ones.
So, we headed out with our Passports and our little white paper vaccination cards in a Ziplock bag. I noticed many other moms carrying them the same way – scared to death they would get wet and smear the handwritten ink entries – liquid gold.
ROCKONLIVING TIP: Several weeks before your trip, go to your bank (not all bank branches are able to do this, so you need to do a little calling ahead) and change out some of your money for the currency used in the countries you are visiting. Less expensive and saves time.
If you are American, reflect on what happens when it is time to disembark the flight….go, go, go, push, push, push, right? AS SOON as the plane gets even near the gate (and you KNOW some even do it before because you can hear the metal clicks of premature unbuckling seatbelts) EVERYONE starts standing, jockeying for exit, pushing in front of others, some in back quickly making their way up front (I am not talking about people with tight connections, I get that!) and then it is a cluster of waiting until the line moves and you exit.
I am not even lying or exaggerating when I share how the departure off the plane in Iceland was conducted.
In Iceland the stewardess got on the headset and made a pleasant announcement for ease of departure that we were to remain seated until our rows were called for departure. It was orderly, polite AND quicker.
If you know the Rockonliving Family, you know we like to travel as light as possible. Normally, we travel with only our trusty carry-on backpacks. However, for this adventure we packed in small overhead carry-on roller suitcases and one small bag.
ROCKONLIVING TIP: Not all overhead “carry-on” luggage is carry-on. I will say that again…not all “carry-on” luggage is carry-on. Double/triple check your airlines specific criteria for carry-on luggage and don’t forget to measure your bag including the wheels! Some luggage comes with wheels embedded in bag which is nice, it makes it more compact.
When we go on an adventure, Kamiko always creates a packing list template for the family to use. I have included a copy of her list for an idea of what we packed for this adventure.
ROCKONLIVING TIP: This trip required more bulky items due to weather/temperature/season. We used the Ziploc travel BonVoyage bags to smoosh down these items to take up less precious real-estate in our luggage. We each wore our bulky winter jackets on the plane and used them as blankets during flight.
If you have ever traveled internationally, you can probably relate that upon returning to the USA going through customs has a feeling of prison, like you have committed a crime of coming home. It has been our experience, many times you are greeted by homeland security people barking at people which lane to get into, confusing instructions, signs, kiosks and videos.
We have visited many countries that English was not the primary language and it can be overwhelming at times to understand what you are supposed to do. Customs can be intimidating in your own country, let alone one you don’t speak their language! We have experienced that most countries have signage in English which is very helpful. The United States customs in Philadelphia (which I will touch upon when I wrap up this trip) was so chaotic, stressful and if it were my first impression of the United States, I would be double guessing my decision to visit here. I will also later discuss our experience with NO CUSTOMS in Amsterdam upon arrival.
After departing the plane, we went through a very pleasant customs experience. The line took about 45 minutes as there were only 2 agents. These agents smiled, took their time, talked to the children. I wish I had taken a picture, but you are not allowed to take photography in customs. The Icelandic airport had signs outlining their country’s approach to the handling of Covid along the zig zag waiting line that emphasized not only socially distancing, face mask coverings, but “we will be considerate, patient and supportive of one another.” This line is one of their actual written approaches to Covid19 management. They added that to their strategies as a nation to navigate Covid19 – to be considerate, patient and supportive – lovely.
As Quinn and I walked behind our girls out of the Iceland airport, we gave one another a high-five. Every leg of this trip would be an accomplishment weighted in more gratitude than usual. Here we go…
We picked up our rental car – four-wheel SUV – needed for uncertain, unpredictable dynamic weather in Iceland. The BIGGEST challenge I personally face on our adventures is driving in foreign countries (Costa Rica was the WORST.) I am happy to report Iceland is easy, as long as you have your phone/Google map or GPS in your vehicle. The names of the streets/cities are sooooooo long that the GPS will be your best friend in navigating the country.
The roads, for the most part, are flat and well maintained. We read that the wind and weather can change quickly and to keep a close eye on the weather reports. We were prepared for weather to impact our plans. Many times, tours will cancel all or pieces of their tours based on weather – mostly their intense and quickly changing winds. Luckily for our time in Iceland, weather nor wind played a factor in our adventure!
Jet lagged and a little foggy, we found our way to a grocery store near our AirBnB. In Iceland, the steering wheel is NOT on the right (good for us!) and driving is overall easy – enjoyable – I did not sense one act of aggression or aggressive behavior the entire time we were there. If your lodging does not offer parking, Reykjavik has a nifty little parking app you can use to manage your parking spot while there or out on adventures! This app made it so nice to not have to move our car or feed a meter. The app allowed us to handle it all on our phone., remote. We only had to pay for parking during the day, evening and weekends were free.
Iceland uses the round-a-bout like no other country we have experienced. This seemed to allow for a nice flow of traffic (makes us wonder why USA doesn’t use them more!) and the only caveat we needed to become aware of was whomever was in the INSIDE ring of the round-a-bout always has right of way – you yield to them.
Grocery stores have a nice selection of food and so many vegan options! We were completely blown away and surprised by the number of vegan restaurants and options available in Iceland and the Netherlands! Even on one of our tour days in the middle of nowhere a hot dog stand had a completely vegan hot dog option! Our family is vegetarian (two vegans) and sometimes eating can get a little tricky. Not here! Vegan options are abundant.
Iceland is committed to eco-friendly living. You cannot use plastic bags in their stores. You can purchase reusable bags (which we always bring home as souvenirs, making us smile each time we pull them out of our trunk) or carry your items out of the store. We meal planned for a few days in the plane which made shopping easy breezy.
We traveled on Kira’s 17th birthday so our first night included a birthday celebration! The pictures below are from our first dinner in our flat in Reykjavik. When we travel, eating dinner (usually late) is an awesome time to reflect on adventures of the day, eat slowly and connect. It is also a time to let loose and laugh. For example, this “who wore it better” side-by-side of Kira and Kylo Ren became a inside family joke on this trip. Ok, who DID wear it better?? We also enjoyed snuggling on the couch and watching Will Ferrell in Eurovision – a hilarious movie depicting some sweet mockery of Icelandic life!
ROCKONLIVING: In the USA, we do everything BIG, including our coffee. Iceland and Amsterdam go just enough. After being perplexed about the “coffee machines” we learned they use Nespresso Machines, or what we called them “tiny coffees.” 🙂
I always search for items in the local grocery stores to “decorate” our space depending on the time we are visiting to add to the cozy vibes of our travel. We were celebrating the holidays on this trip, so we picked up Advent candles (1st night of Advent was our arrival day). Advent candle (electric and candle) are a big deal in Iceland! They glow in almost every window and are so festive. We also picked up stockings, the girl’s Christmas gifts (oranges) and lots of tea-light candles for the next couple weeks!
After picking up our groceries, our first tourist pit-stop was to see the stainless-steel sculpture Sun Voyager by Jon Gunnar Arnason (1931-1989) located right on the sea in the center of Reykjavik.
The Sun Voyager is said to be a dreamboat, a gift to the Sun. The artist, according to Wikipedia, intended to convey the promise of undiscovered territory, a dream of hope, progress and freedom. The artist won the installation when he was selected by the district association as the sculpture to commemorate the 200th anniversary of the city Reykjavik. Pretty awesome, wouldn’t you say? Fun Fact: there was some disagreement about the placement of this sculpture as it was originally designed to face west and the setting sun, but ultimately ended facing north.
We stayed in an adorable one-story flat in Reykjavik. I cannot overstate how fricking cute this capital city is! It is picturesque, quaint, cozy, hygge Christmas village – twinkle lights, candles, church bells, wreaths, bakeries and so so so safe. There is a towering historical church at the top of the city that almost feels like it oversees the entire village and provides shelter and protection to the community. The sidewalks are much larger than Europe and many streets are closed to vehicles that allowed for people to enjoy sauntering the downtown.
Like many places we have stayed in Europe, the showers are usually small and encourage one to get to their business and be done. While washers are usually available in homes and AirBnB’s, dryers can be more challenging to find. When booking, if washing/drying clothes is necessary for your itinerary, double check your lodging will be able to provide.
ROCKONLIVING TIP: Bring an outlet converter to charge phones and computers. Leave hair dryers/curling irons/straighteners at home as they will not be supported by the converters or adapters. Most places will supply a hair dryer. One of the gifts of many countries oversees is a no fuss, easy hair and make-up culture/lifestyle. Simple & beautiful.
Reykjavik is QUIET after 10pm. I mean QUIET. You would never believe it is a capital city (and perhaps some of this is because it was winter and they had curfew in place due to Covid?). All the flats in the city have these super tiny cute windows at the top of very long windows you notice everyone keeps open. They are designed to keep the flats aired-out and ventilated. Once again, allowing for the sound of clicks of shoes on pavement and church bells to lull one to sleep.
Random Iceland Demographics: Population 366,425. Currency Icelandic krona. Language Icelandic. Government Parliamentary republic. Healthcare Universal Healthcare. Compulsory Education compulsory education is free and mandatory for children between 6-16. Homeschooling is not an option. Number of private schools is small but growing. Iceland is ranked 2nd happiest country in world. Divorce rate 1.8 per 1000 marriages (USA is 14.9). Ethnicity 90% Icelandic. GDP $24 billion. GDP per capita $67,037. Religion the Lutheran State Church (80%). Iceland suffered financial crisis 2008-2011. Tourism makes up about 10% of their GDP. Iceland is tied with the USA at 500 in world education ranking. Oh, and Icelanders are like super tall, for real.
We settled into our beds and planned for some much-needed rest as we would be up early in the morning to meet our tour bus for a two-day excursion through the Southern and Eastern edge of Iceland! See you tomorrow for Day Two!
Until then, Rock on LIVING!