That’s right, we gave it another shot. Last year, we’d been in town for barely a week, were still a bit jet lagged and staying in temp housing. We’d walked over from the apartment and were shocked by the amount of people crammed into one little Icelandic street…it was like a London block party. Apparently this is fairly normal for events in Iceland…pretty much everyone shows up.

We checked out some of the stalls then waited in a line of 20 people only to get to the front and find out that they didn’t take cash, and we needed to go find a ticket booth. We were pretty much hungry and cranky by then as we’d skipped lunch in lieu of a feast of bacon. So we called it quits and went and had hot dogs at the harbor.

THIS year, we planned it much more carefully. We went into town and filled up on sushi for lunch then wandered around for a couple of hours, went to the playground, etc., until the crowds died down and met some friends.

But the food was nothing like it was last year. Instead of amazing creations like Bacon Fudge, they had meat soup…with bacon…pizza…with bacon…fish…with a couple strips of bacon next to it. There was no art to it whatsoever. So I had some Lamb Tartare…with bacon…my hubby had some Thai food with bacon in the rice…and our son snacked on a couple strips.

I was happy to finally make a go of it. But I don’t think we’ll bother next year.

Bacon Festival minus the crowds.

Bacon Festival minus the crowds.

Thai food stand.

Thai food stand.

Lamb Tartare.

Lamb Tartare.

Thai food.

Thai food.

 

London

From there we went on to London where, again, we didn’t have much ambition to do tourist stuff, but we took care of some medical appointments at the embassy, got another girls’ night out, afternoon tea, and had a couple great playdates and a picnic in Hyde Park with friends we had before, and new friends we’d made in Iceland that had been recently posted to London.

Family picnic with friends in Hyde Park.

Lovely family picnic with friends in Hyde Park.

Afternoon tea at The Swan.

Midsummer Night’s Dream Afternoon Tea at The Swan.

Paris

I had been actually quite nervous about our trip to Paris after the attacks in Nice. And honestly probably would’ve cancelled that portion of the trip, if I could’ve done so easily. But I could not and tried to proceed with as little trepidation as possible. I think it helped that I was completely distracted by the tummy bug that I’d picked up in London that kept me running to the bathroom all night and worrying about whether or not I’d be able to get on a plane! But the travel meds worked, and we jetted over to France without incident.

We spent the first two days making leisurely use of the hop-on-hop-off bus system and making a bee line for the Eiffel Tower but seeing some great sites on the way. We made a special stop at my favorite chapel of Ste. Chapelle, and A was super good and didn’t make much noise at all. We’ve had to whisk him out of quiet places in the past as he won’t stop talking in the loudest voice possible.

The antique carousel across the Seine from the Eiffel Tower.

The antique carousel across the Seine from the Eiffel Tower.

Inside the high chapel at Ste. Chapelle on the Île de la Cité.

Inside the high chapel in Ste. Chapelle on the Île de la Cité.

We also tried to do some special things for him like getting treats at the patisseries, visiting the fun fair in the Jardin des Tuileries next to the Louvre, and spending some time at the boating lake in the Jardin du Luxembourg. He only had one little meltdown when he was really tired and had walked quite a bit…and laid down on the floor in front of the register at one of the patisseries when we told him he had to wait to get home to eat his treat. Being a kid is SO tough, isn’t it??

Boating on the lake in the Jardin des Tuileries.

Boating on the lake in the Jardin des Tuileries.

Pâtisserie Gosselin around the corner from our rental.

Pâtisserie Gosselin around the corner from our rental.

My hubby also wanted to visit the Louvre, so we shoved our way through the crowds to the Mona Lisa. Actually it wasn’t really that bad. We went fairly early in the morning and the rest of the museum was quite pleasantly uncrowded. I had read that there’s a special “tactile” exhibit for seeing impaired and for children that you can touch.

Unfortunately the room was quite small and hot with hardly any pieces in it. So A was much more excited about getting to take pictures throughout the museum with his little point-and-shoot camera. And the sweetest part was that the last 20 or so photos that he took were all of me and my hubby just walking around. Love that boy.

That wraps up the blog posts on our first big family R&R! Hope you enjoyed it half as much as we did!

A taking photos at the Louvre.

A taking photos at the Louvre.

 

Edinburgh

My hubby and I had both been to Edinburgh before, so we didn’t have a huge amount of local tourist sites on the list. So the first day he showed me a few of his favorite haunts, such as the Italian place that serves Haggis Ravioli, and we visited the castle with our son.

My big motivation for Edinburgh was two day trips to places (which were actually across the border in England) that had been on my bucket list since we lived in London…Lindisfarne, the first place the Vikings sacked when they arrived in England in 793, and Hadrian’s Wall, a 73-mile-long wall built by the Roman Emperor Hadrian in 122 AD. They were both well worth the trip.

And I was equally excited for two additional locations that were included in the tours…Alnwick Castle where they filmed several scenes from the Harry Potter movies and had the cutest “Broom Training” activity for kids and parents, and Vindolanda Roman Fort that I’d read quite a lot about in my Roman Britain online class from Oxford in Belize. Bonus!!

Approaching Alnwick Castle.

Approaching Alnwick Castle.

The ruins of Lindisfarne Priory.

The ruins of Lindisfarne Priory.

A view of Hadrian's Wall.

A view of Hadrian’s Wall and the English countryside.

The active excavation at Vindolanda Roman Fort.

The active excavation at Vindolanda Roman Fort.

A few Roman souvenirs. ;)

A few Roman souvenirs.😉

Inverness

This was another spot that I’d visited before, but I hadn’t really explored much. So we rented a car from the airport and spent a week checking things out. We drove along Loch Ness to Urquhart Castle, took the funicular railway up Cairngorm Mountain for a bit of Highland hiking, drove through the whisky valley and stopped at a couple distilleries and the Walker shortbread factory for small tastings, and visited the Culloden battlefield.

We also attended the Inverness Highland Games, which were surprisingly unexciting compared to the enthusiastic versions in the States. It felt more like a community college sports day with a shocking lack of whisky on offer.😉 If you get a chance, I recommend the ones in Orlando, Florida, and Estes Park, Colorado. The one at Grandfather Mountain in North Carolina is also on my bucket list.

Urquhart Castle and the Fraser Clan marker at Culloden Battlefield.

Urquhart Castle on Loch Ness and the Fraser Clan marker at Culloden Battlefield.

A bit of hiking in the Highlands at Cairngorm Mountain.

A bit of hiking in the Highlands on Cairngorm Mountain.

The caber toss at the Inverness Highland Games.

The caber toss at the Inverness Highland Games.

A wee dram at the Glenfarclas Distillery.

A wee dram at the Glenfarclas Distillery.

Other than one near-death experience in the car, this portion of the trip was lovely and relaxing. And my hubby was fantastic…he did all the driving (I loathe driving on the left) and cooked big Scottish breakfasts every morning with lots of sausage and black pudding. I think we’d all be happy to go back to Scotland at any time!

As promised here’s a more detailed post about our fabulous first big family R&R!

Accommodation:

When we weren’t staying with friends, we booked all of our accommodation through booking.com, and it worked out really well. Since we didn’t have to pay for our major transportation legs, we splurged on the housing, and we got some really neat places. Like this awesome vacation rental in Edinburgh with a view of the castle. We also had a lovely little apartment near the river in Inverness. And in Paris we had a great place just a few blocks from the Louvre that had a café and convenience store across the street and a patisserie, pharmacy and ATM around the corner.

Edinburgh Castle View Apartment.

Edinburgh Castle View Apartment.

The only place we did NOT like was the Premiere Inn County Hall in London. The UK was in the middle of a heat wave when we arrived, and this hotel was one of the many that did not have AC. So our room was hot and stuffy, which made it impossible to sleep. We had a triple room, but the room itself was so small, that if my hubby had his suitcase open, I had to open mine in the bathroom. So we checked out after one night, and they were kind enough to reimburse us 3 of our 4 unused nights, and we moved around the corner to the Park Plaza and (after asking for a room with a view) got a much bigger room with AC and a stunning view of the London Eye. No complaints there!

View of the London Eye from the Park Plaza County Hall.

View of the London Eye from the Park Plaza County Hall.

Freckleton/Blackpool

Our first stop on our trip was a tiny town called Freckleton where one of my awesome girlfriend’s lives with her husband and daughter. We didn’t have much on the itinerary at that point except spending some quality time and visiting, which we accomplished! And we still managed a girls’ night out and a trip to the pier in Blackpool where the five-year-old got ridiculously lucky and actually managed to snag a stuffed toy out of one of those rigged grabby machines on his first try. We were almost as stunned and excited as he was! As always, we were sad to say good-bye.

Kids cuddling in Freckleton. :)

Kids cuddling in Freckleton.:)

Broom training at Alnwick Castle, England.

Broom training at Alnwick Castle, England.

Sorry I’ve been offline for so long, but I have a good excuse! We’ve been on our first big State Dept Family R&R. R&R stands for Rest and Recuperation, and your eligibility is based on where you’re posted. Hardship posts usually get one or two, but zero hardship posts do not.

So we had one R&R during our two years in Belize and used it to go back to the States for Xmas in 2012. London had no R&R because it’s awesome, and you don’t need one. Iceland is only 5% hardship but still gets two R&Rs in three years due to its isolation and long dark winters.

You have to use your own vacation leave and pay for all of your expenses, but State will pay for your plane tickets to the States, your designated R&R location (Iceland’s is Rome), or you can cost construct your own trip. If it’s less than the cost of a ticket to your designated R&R location, you’re in the clear. If it’s more, you pay the difference.

For our first Grand Family R&R we were originally going to do Greece and Italy, but it didn’t quite work out. So we opted to head back to the UK and hit some of the spots we’d missed that were on the bucket list when we lived there. We also had some friends we wanted to visit. So our R&R looked like this:

  • Flew into Manchester, visited friends and had a girls’ night in Freckleton, then went to the pier in Blackpool.
  • Took the train to Edinburgh, spent a day in town, then did day trips across the English border to Alnwick Castle & Lindisfarne Priory, and Hadrian’s Wall & Vindolanda Roman Fort.
  • Took the train to Inverness, checked out the town, went to the Highland Games, rented a car and drove to Loch Ness and Urquhart Castle, visited Culloden Battlefield, took the funicular up and hiked around Cairngorm Mountain, visited a couple whisky distilleries and the Walkers shortbread factory.
  • Flew to London, visited friends, had a girl’s night, afternoon tea, playdates and picnics in Hyde Park, went to the embassy medical unit for doctors’ appointments, did a bit of supply and clothing shopping for A and mailed it all back to Iceland.
  • Flew to Paris, did a two-day hop-on-hop-off bus tour, visited the Eiffel Tower, the Louvre, and the Saint-Chapelle chapel, visited the fun fair in the Tuilerie Gardens, sailed toy boats on the pond in the Luxembourg Gardens, ate pastries and drank French beer with lemon syrup and relaxed in the outdoor cafés.:)

We booked all of our accommodations through Booking.com and were only disappointed once (Premiere Inn County Hall in London) and moved hotels the next day. But the rest of the time we stayed in vacation rental apartments, and they were all fantastic. Photos and details to follow!!

Viking Village restaurant.

Viking Village restaurant.

I’ve been looking forward to attending the Hafnarfjörður Viking Festival since we arrived. So I must have built it up quite a bit in my mind. Not quite sure what I was expecting…something bigger, I guess. It was still cute, but the whole thing was basically a bunch of tents set up in a parking lot next to a Viking-themed restaurant.

And the atmosphere was kind of bizarre. There were people that were nice and friendly and happy to show you what they had set up in their tent. But there were also a few people that gave you the impression that you were trespassing on their role playing day.

I was hoping that A would participate in the kids’ Viking battle since he had no hesitation whatsoever running out into a field of strangers at Hever Castle when he was 3. But this time he refused and said he was shy. I don’t know if it’s an age thing…he’s just a little more self-aware now that he’s 5, or if it’s a direct result of being in groups of kids for the last year that only speak Icelandic.

We also missed the adult Viking battle if there was one. But it was fun to see all the great crafts. Lots of leather and furs and handmade jewelry, wood fires and animals cooking on spits. A participated in a couple fun games…fishing and archery. He acknowledged that archery was a lot harder in real life than on the Wii and never hit the target…but that also might have been because they wouldn’t let him get any closer than 30 feet.

Everyone working was dressed up and a few of the patrons were as well. I wore my winter boots with the faux fur trim, a long brown shirt, brown pants and a faux fur vest. So I felt slightly authentic. Got some weird looks from the locals though. So I wasn’t sure how to take that. Maybe you’re only supposed to dress up if you’re working. A wore his Thor costume from Halloween and got some attention for that as well.

I did get a really cool souvenir though. One guy was selling random things that he collected around Scandinavia, and one of them was a candleholder made from reindeer antler in Sweden in 1969. So I guess I’m continuing to add to my mid-century art collection.

The other thing that I really enjoyed was the Viking-themed restaurant. They’re actually open all year round. The menu wasn’t terribly authentic with hamburgers and fish and chips. But they were good! You could get a really small and really expensive cup of mead. And they did have rotten shark, sheep’s head and horse available.

They’re usually open for dinner throughout the year and supposedly have live entertainment most nights and a special buffet around Christmas time. So I might have to add that to my list of places to drag people when they come visit…if they’re into a bit of Viking kitsch. For a really authentic experience, you can arrange to be kidnapped by Vikings between 18:00 and 20:30.😉

Pigs on spits.

Animals on spits.

Woman selling handmade games and jewelry.

Woman selling handmade games and jewelry.

Kids getting ready for a battle.

Kids getting ready for a battle.

Lupines near Strokkur geyser.

Lupines near Strokkur geyser.

School’s out for summer! A wrapped up his last day of Kindergarten a little over a week ago, and it’s going to be a busy couple of months. Iceland has a lot of working parents, so they have a ton of summer day camps and programs for kids. I was fairly frustrated a couple months ago as I couldn’t find anything suitable for A’s age. We’re going on three weeks of R&R in July, but we still needed care for June and August. So we went ahead and hired a nanny for a month. And it’s working out really well.

A friend at Embassy London suggested that many of the interns aren’t in a hurry to go home and that it might be a fun opportunity for them. So we spoke to a couple, and even though schedules weren’t initially lining up, one recommended her sister who is a college student in the States. We chatted via email, got our job descriptions sorted out, and picked her up at the airport at the beginning of June.

Thankfully, everything’s going really well! She’s really patient and down to earth, and she and A get along nicely. It’s such a relief! The irony is that suddenly I’m finding all kinds of camps for A, so I guess it was meant to be. And he can still do some fun things in August without us having to stay home with him.

In the meantime, summer is looking great on Iceland! The lawns and fields are covered with buttercups and lupine. And the dandelions are just starting to pop fuzz. We drove around the Golden Circle on Saturday, and there were baby animals everywhere. So here’re a few more of my favorite recent photos of Iceland in summer.

Calves at Efstidalur farm hotel.

Calves at Efstidalur farm hotel.

Rainbow over Gullfoss waterfall.

Rainbow over Gullfoss waterfall.

Foal near Strokkur geyser.

Foal near Strokkur geyser.

Untitled

Sometimes, I like to eat plain yogurt and granola for breakfast. But I haven’t had much luck finding anything resembling plain yogurt in Iceland.

They have Skyr, which is fantastic. It’s high in protein, looks like a thick yogurt, and comes in a wide variety of flavors…strawberry and blueberry are my favorites…but they also have everything from chocolate chip to orange and ginger. The recipe was brought from Norway to Iceland more than 1100 years ago. Apparently the tradition died out in most of Scandinavia, but it lived on in Icelandic culture and parts of Norway.

It’s advertised as being low fat, which it is. An American woman told me when I first arrived that it’s amazing low in calories as well. Apparently she had a diet version that she was unaware of, so if you’re not quite sure, check the ingredients on the back…”acesulfame” translates pretty directly.

I tried their “Greek” yogurt. But it is the consistency of Cool Whip. So if you add milk and stir it, it’s kind of like plain yogurt. But I’m fairly lazy in the morning, so I was still searching for something closer to the real thing.

This morning, I finally got brave and tried súrmjólk. A 2008 article on Icelandic dairy products in the Reykjavik Grapevine describes it as follows:

In English, ‘sour milk’; this acerbic yogurt-esque liquid takes a little getting used to, to say the least. It starts off innocently enough but then hits you with a pungent roundhouse kick to your stomach, guaranteed to knock your socks off if you mistake this for regular milk. This esoteric drink comes in several different flavours including strawberry and mixed berry. I have to admit it isn’t my favourite and threw my gut into knots. This is reserved only for the most adventurous of milk connoisseurs.

And guess what?! It worked perfectly. It’s a bit more liquidy than regular yogurt, but still not as runny as milk. I would say it’s more of a kick to the mouth than the stomach, but it goes quite nicely over granola. So I guess now I can get one of these.

i-love-surmjolk-mug-food-chef-kitchen-coffee-tea-359002-p

 

 

Flag Day at FSI in June 2011.

Flag Day at FSI in June 2011.

Today marks the five-year-anniversary of our joining the Foreign Service!! It’s been long and slow and short and fast all at the same time. A lot of hurry up and wait followed by some pretty amazing experiences. We are now at our third post, and this is what I have to say about this life so far.

Our first post was Belize. Belize was low on our bid list, so we were less than thrilled to be going there. But having low expectations made it a little easier to spend two years there. The housing compound was gorgeous. The embassy staff was good. We made some good friends that I’m still in touch with. Our son had an absolutely fantastic nanny that loved him and treated him so well. The Mayan ruins and the hand crank car ferry were adventurous and interesting, and there were a few animal highlights like random iguana farms, the jaguar rescue program at the local zoo and dolphins in Mexico. The reef was my favorite part…snorkeling or diving…fresh lionfish ceviche and some of the best piña coladas I’ve ever had. But it was far too hot and humid and corrupt and criminal, so I would probably never go back. But it did give us a bit of bidding equity!

Daddy and A getting ready to tackle Xunantunich.

Daddy and A getting ready to tackle Xunantunich.

Me and a friend at the San Ignacio Iguana Farm.

Me and a friend at the San Ignacio Iguana Farm.

So our next post was London! And what do I really need to say about London?? It’s awesome, and it always has been. By the time we left, we were ready to go just because there were so many people. But I LOVED being in London. I loved our little apartment near Abbey Road studios with the big windows and the garden. I loved walking to the embassy from A’s nursery school in the fall watching all the leaves on the plane trees change colors and the daffodils come out in the spring. I loved being surrounded by so much history and architecture and life and beautiful Christmas decorations on the shopping streets. I loved playdates with our new friends in the park and afternoon tea. I loved going behind the scenes at the Houses of Parliament and the Tower of London and the Ambassador’s Residence in Regent’s Park for work events. I loved watching celebrities perform in local theatres and seeing a little bit of glamour every now and then. Traveling to Scotland, Russia and the Netherlands. Even though our next post was number one on our bid list, my heart is very much still in the UK, and it might be there for some time.

The Ambassador's credentials ceremony in London.

The Ambassador’s credentials ceremony in London.

Daddy and A at Hever Castle.

Daddy and A at Hever Castle.

But now we are in Iceland! And I’m quite happy here. We’re almost one year into our three years…what?? A has just finished Kindergarten…his first year at big boy school. He has good teachers, and the friends are coming and going. The dog we acquired here is almost eight months old, finally potty trained and with such a happy disposition. The cat is no longer pulling her fur out after quarantine, but she is now diabetic and quite large. The reason for coming here was to spend more time outdoors as a family and create a stronger home life, and we’re still working on that. But we’re enjoying small town life, trying all the local restaurants and walking on the beach with the dog.

Thorfinn at the beach.

Thorfinn at the beach.

But there are downsides. Each time we transition, you’d think it would get easier, but I hate it just a little bit more. The packing, the moving, the flying, being forced to go on home leave, moving the animals, all the stress and the expense. Our son was very emotional this last move, which made it harder on everyone. Even when you’re in one place for three years you still feel like your life is slightly accelerated, and it’s all speeding toward your next departure. For some reason, my heart is weary. Perhaps it’s just been a rough year with the personal losses in my family, which is another downside…being far away from people when they need you.

Just when I think I might’ve had enough…I’ll start looking at jobs in the States and thinking of a life in one place…but that doesn’t fit either. So my challenge is to be able to take things one day at a time and continue to enjoy the special moments with the wonderful people that take the time to come visit and the amazing ones that have chosen to share this life with me. And I must say that slowing down is just a little bit easier during a long dark snowy winter in Iceland.:)

View of the park from our house in Reykjavik in December.

View of the park from our house in Reykjavik in December.

We had our first Icelandic summer day at the beach on Monday! This is the last week of the 2015-2016 year at A’s school, so the International Department planned a lovely BBQ at Nauthólsvík Geothermal Beach in Reykjavik.

Memorial Day was a US holiday, so the embassy was closed, which was convenient since I had volunteered to be a chaperone and otherwise would’ve had to ask for time off. And the day was absolutely gorgeous! The weather in April and May had been beautiful, but the weekend had been rainy and windy. Monday however was bright and sunny with hardly any wind. And the air and water temperatures were about the same…46F.😉 So it couldn’t have been planned better.

And, yes, the kids actually did go in the sea! But the man-made beach also has two hot pools: one long rectangular one up by the concession stand and one round one right at the water’s edge. So instead of kids running across the hot sand to the cold water…they ran across the cold sand to the hot water!

I had brought my swimsuit just in case. But in the end decided that it would be easier to keep an eye on A if I were fully clothed and mobile, which came in handy when it was time to sort out the food or run back and grab things from the car. All in all it was a lovely summer day, and I even managed to have an ice cream and get a tiny bit of sunburn.:)

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Flowery entrance to the beach.

Overview of the beach and hot pools.

Overview of the beach and hot pools.

Kids soaking in the hot pool with ice creams.

Kids soaking in the hot pool with ice creams.

Running across the cold sand to the other hot pool.

Running across the cold sand to the other hot pool.

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