Posts Tagged traveling tips

An Iceland Gem

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Iceland Air recently joined Alaska Airlines family of partners and we decided to travel with them to Europe.  They were a fantastic airline with exceptional on board service.  One of the benefits of flying to Europe with them was the opportunity to ‘take a break’ in Iceland, as they make a scheduled stop in Reykjavik, Iceland in route to Paris and other European destinations.  We decided upon our return from Germany, we would stop in Iceland for a couple of nights and relax at The Blue Lagoon.  It was the BEST decision!  The Blue Lagoon was amazing!

The lagoon is world renown for its amazing therapeutic capabilities and aside from providing the ultimate relaxation for the common visitor, they do provide medically proven treatments to patients in need. Hot springs in general are good for the mind, body and soul, but this lagoon is well-known for its unique geothermal seawater and the healing powers it offers.  We stayed one night at the “clinic” which is what they refer to their hotel as.  The room was clean and modern.  We had access to a private bath (pool) at the clinic (the hot springs was a short 10 minute walk next door) and a wonderful breakfast was provided in the morning.

My husband and I decided we would gift a massage or spa treatment at the Blue Lagoon to one another for our April birthdays.  We made prior arrangements for these treatments; I was to have a body wrap, scrub and full body massage (about 2 hours total), while he was to have an hour-long body massage.  Well I had a rude awakening when the front desk receptionist at the spa that morning informed me that she didn’t have us in ‘the book.’  And then proceeded to tell me that there are actually two Blue Lagoon’s in Iceland.  One is the famous hot spring location and the other is strictly a spa located in downtown Reykjavik (about 45 minutes from the hot springs).  It turns out that both are the same company and both can be accessed through the same website with little, very little, indication that there are two locations.  Be aware if you decide to book a spa treatment online.  Apparently, this happens often.  So, needless to say, we had to take what was available at the spa that day…Jeremy had a 20 minute massage and I had an hour (body scrub and massage).  They were very nice and apologetic towards us regarding the mistake and to compensate us they provided us access to the Exclusive Lounge and private changing room all day.  This is an area they normally sell in 3-hour increments for $120USD.  It was amazing.  We had a private changing room and shower, a delicious fruit plate, an endless supply of coffee, tea and chocolate, and private access to a room with a fireplace and indoor hot spring pool (which by the way, you could swim into from the outside).  In the afternoon, Jeremy and I took turns having our massages and that was an experience we won’t forget.  The massages at the lagoon are all done in the lagoon.  They have you lay on a floating mat and use your body weight to do your massage.  It literally felt like I was floating in the air.  Weird at first, but then…so relaxing!  The day was amazing!

We were a little worried prior to arriving, that our daughter wouldn’t be able to swim much in the hot water, but that was never an issue.  The water temperature was probably right around 100 degrees, so with several snack and drink breaks she had just as much fun as her mom and dad.  We were only in Iceland for two nights (one at the lagoon and one in Reykjavik) and we would love to go back.  It’s such a unique place.  The terrain is covered in tundra, but yet under the tundra is lava rock.  The food, the culture, the people, everything about it was unique and made us want to explore more.

Even if you are traveling to Europe from the United States, this a great place to break up the trip.  We met so many people at the Blue Lagoon who were just in route to Europe or the U.S.  This was a great stop for us, as we had spent the previous two weeks walking, driving and taking trains through Europe.  It provided us with the relaxing day we needed, but also the motivation we needed to complete that remaining 12 hours of traveling before we were home.

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Our Family Journey Through Europe, Part One – The Unforgettable Paris

Do you remember what it felt like when your wedding night had come to end and that overwhelming feeling of relief hit you and you said to your new spouse, “That was the best time of my life, but I’m so glad it’s over.”  Upon arriving home after a 2.5 week vacation in France, Germany, Switzerland, and Iceland, there was an enormous sigh of relief when we walked through the front door of our home.  After planning this trip for the past year through online research, reading books, and studying the German language, it’s hard to believe the trip is behind us now.  We saw so many amazing sights, tasted some of the best food, and shared some unforgettable experiences.  It was by far, the busiest vacation we had ever been on together and yet, the most exciting.  Planning a trip half-way around the world is a lot of work, but when you add a toddler to the picture, it changes the whole dynamic!

We put much thought and preparation into this trip, as you should when traveling abroad.  However, there is plenty to think about for two adults, but as I mentioned before about the dynamic of your travels changing with a toddler on board, there was much more to consider for her.  Were we going to pack the car seat along or trust the rental car company would have a decent one on hand?  How many diapers should we pack?  What type of clothing should we pack for her?  Did we make arrangements at all the hotels for her?  How will we manage the luggage, car seat, the stroller and our daughter in the airport?  Can we manage if there are no carts at the train station?  The list went on and on and on.  So much to think about!  All that thinking (some of it, unnecessary), and everything always worked out to our benefit.  I will add that one of the best purchases we made before we left was buying a Combi umbrella stroller.  It was FANTASTIC for quickly collapsing and carrying over the shoulder on the subways, up stairs, through tiny doors, etc.  Great purchase!  I own a B.O.B. jogger stroller and there were MANY occasions in which we said to each other, “There is no possible way we could have taken our big stroller here.”  The Combi umbrella stroller is light, great for long walks (I can vouch for that), stands alone when folded up, and has a shoulder strap for easy carrying.

Our first destination was Paris, France and as everyone knows, this is considered one of, if not, the culinary capital of the world.  With our 21-month old daughter traveling with us, we knew there was a great possibility we wouldn’t get to experience the fine dining in Paris.  We were always on the lookout for ‘family friendly’ places to eat that also offered a variety of traditional French cuisine.  While we thoroughly enjoyed every single meal in Paris, there was one evening that was simply unforgettable.  We stumbled upon La Petit Fine Restaurant and immediately took note of the exquisite menu items, including the children’s menu.  Keep in mind that the locals don’t usually eat dinner until after 7p.m.  So when we are used to eating and feeding our daughter around 5:30 – 6:00p.m., none of the restaurants were open for dinner yet.  We were a little hesitant to walk in after 7p.m. and expect Kelly to sit still and eat that late at night, but she did wonderful.  The staff barely spoke English, but right away catered to her.  This was a white linen, 5-star service restaurant with a children’s menu.  Kelly enjoyed a fresh filet of salmon with seasoned french fries and Gelato for dessert (mind you, this was from the children’s menu), while I enjoyed the BEST pork chop I have ever put in my mouth!  And my husband also had an amazing dish.  They were so helpful with keeping Kelly entertained and everyone around us was more interested in visiting with her, than worried about her disturbing their dinner.  It was the best ‘culinary experience’ we could’ve asked for in Paris.

La Petit Fine Restaurant

TripAdvisor.com became our best friend before and during the trip.  I can honestly say that there was not a sight, hotel, restaurant, or activity with great reviews on TripAdvisor.com that we didn’t enjoy.  Everywhere we stayed was based on online reviews and word-of-mouth recommendations and none of them failed us.  Prior to leaving home I downloaded the Trip Advisor application onto my Ipad and whenever we had WiFi access, we would use the app as a guide for the area.

I could go on and on about Paris.  It was probably our favorite destination throughout the whole trip.  Full of culture, history, great food, beautiful scenery, and very nice people.  We enjoyed our stay very much.  Some of the highlights were definitely visiting the historical sights such as the Arc de Triomphe, Napoléon’s Tomb, Notre Dame Cathedral, the Basilique du Sacré-Cœur, and of course, the amazing Eiffel Tower.  Many people don’t think of Paris as being a ‘kid-friendly’ place to visit, but it’s as kid-friendly as you allow it to be.  For us, we were obviously always on the lookout for kid-friendly places to visit in between the historical sights that fulfilled our pleasure for the day.  Paris is full of beautiful parks and playgrounds and many that offer daily petting zoos or pony rides.  One of our favorite parks was the Garden De Luxembourg.  It was never a problem to find a place to park the stroller, sit in the grass and let Kelly run around for a while.  Paris was delightful.  Loved every minute.  The worst part about our stay there was probably the blisters that I managed to develop from all the walking.  But that was no problem either, as there are pharmacies on every corner.  Beautiful, historical, kid-friendly, unforgettable Paris.

To be continued…

Napoleon's Tomb

Notre Dame Cathedral

Garden De Luxembourg

Arc De Triomphe

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To Paradise and Back…Alone With a Toddler

My daughter and I had the privilege of meeting my family in Hawaii last week for a week in paradise.  Since it was a last minute decision to go, we were on a tight budget and had to take what we could get for air travel.  We found a great deal on a ticket round trip from Edmonton, Alberta to Honolulu, Hawaii.  It’s true what they say though, “You pay for what you get.”  We had a quick connection in Seattle on the way there, but on the way back we had to fly through San Francisco and Seattle, with a total travel time of 20 hours!  Ugh!  With a toddler or not, that is painful for most.  I knew it was going to be a long day, so I tried to pack lots of snacks and activities to entertain my daughter.

Since we haven’t yet ventured into the latest ‘tablet’ technology, I decided to pack my laptop on the plane in case cartoons were an ’emergency.’  This however, turned out to be more of a hassle than anything.  We only used the laptop for about an hour during one layover.  The rest of the time it was yet another item that had to be removed and inspected at each security check point.  Also, the bag that I had to carry on in order to take my laptop, didn’t fit comfortably under the seat in coach.  Furthermore, since my daughter is still under two and traveled as a lap infant, there was definitely limited space in coach for a laptop.  In fact, I’m not even sure we could put the tray table down on every flight.  It was tight quarters!

Snacks were a must.  The only thing the flights provide free anymore are a little bag of pretzels.  I packed lots of snacks and I’m sure glad that I did.  There is a four hour time change between Alberta and Hawaii and so there’s no telling when you’re little one will be hungry while traveling.  They can get so off schedule with all the flying, driving, sitting and waiting.  So, snacks were a bonus.

Just prior to leaving for vacation I received  a handy tip from sister.  She heard this suggestion somewhere on the TV or radio and shared it with me.  I’m so grateful she did, as it turned out to be the best entertainment package a toddler could ask for.  Her suggestion was going out and purchasing a bathroom travel bag to store toys, coloring supplies, snacks, etc. for my daughter on the plane.  Not only does it keep everything organized in your bag and it’s easily accessible, your toddler will enjoy finding goodies in it too!  Most bags I found had a hook on them too so you could easily hang it on the seat back in front of you.  A couple things to keep in mind; a) find one that rolls up and has several compartments. b) make sure the pockets on the inside are clear so you and your child can see what’s inside.

Here are a few pics of the one I used on this trip:

All in all, it was a great trip and my little girl is such a good travel companion.  I’m thankful that she is overjoyed to board a plane each and every time we have.  A happy toddler makes for a happy flight!

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