Thursday, September 27, 2018

Iceland/Switzerland/France Part 1

So, I can't believe it, but I went to Iceland, Switzerland, and France! I'm so proud of myself for having a fantastic 10 day vacation in Europe! I wanted to recap my trip for my own memory, but also because I find travel blogs to be so helpful when planning to go somewhere. And none of this is sponsored...but it could be--call me.

I've been debating how to go about this and I think Part 1 will just be a bit of an overview of each portion of the trip. So...let's go!


When Serena and I began to seriously discuss visiting our friend Elizabeth in Switzerland, Serena brought up the idea of doing the stopover in Reykjavik. I've always wanted to go to Iceland so I was 100% in! Photos taken there are always stunning and I knew the weather would be amazing, plus, I love its Viking history. I have always been interested in that part of history and after getting my AncestryDNA back and seeing how much Scandinavian is in there (along with the UK, where many Vikings went), I've just known that some of my ancestors were Vikings.

We booked our flights with Icelandair through Travelocity, which meant our two day stopover was 'free'. I learned later that our flight was Economy Light, which does not come with a checked bag option and since we would have had to pay twice on the way over to bring one, we both decided to only pack in a carry on. This was something I stressed over. I firmly believe that overpacking is not a bad thing. How on earth is having options and room for souvenirs considered bad? But I did it! I packed for 10 days in a tiny carryon and my Longchamp bag! I am a rule follower so I searched high and low for a carryon that would fit the Icelandair measurement limitations, which are the smallest out there. I ended up getting a TravelPro International carryon and I loved it! (I needed a new carryon bag anyway, so it worked out.) They didn't double check the size of our bags for any of our flight legs, but I still loved not stressing about it. Plus, it fit so easily into the overhead compartment and was easy to 'lug' from the airport to our hotel and stuff. To be honest, I am often amazed at the bags people bring on as carryons--how are they not constantly stressed that they'll have to check it? Or that it won't fit in the bin? Am I just a total travel nerd? Well, if I am, I'm a stress-free travel nerd.

Another reason I usually check a bag is so I don't have to worry about bringing liquids. It's actually quite funny, but because I never have to worry about it, I kept getting the 311 rule wrong and thinking I could only bring 3 1oz bottles! HA! So, in case you, too, are confused, you can bring 1 quart bag of liquids in 3oz and smaller. Here, too, I am a rule follower so I used my wonderful sister's advice for space-saving here and bought toothpaste tabs and bar shampoo from Lush (that don't need to go in the 311 bag), and put some face makeup in little containers I could throw away when empty. And then I took a sample size mascara and a solid perfume stick. The only thing I would have done different here is to have better organized my products so I didn't need to rearrange everything once we'd arrived and unpacked.

The clothes to take was a very tough decision. The early early forecasts for September had highs of 50s in Iceland and low 70s for Switzerland. In my early planning I thought I would be wearing a jacket while in Switzerland and would need an extra fleece vest for Iceland. Boooyyyyyyy did that forecast and my prediction change! I took my lined London Fog raincoat, which I did wear in Iceland, but I most definitely didn't need an extra layer (which I didn't bring because I figured if I got cold, it was only for two days. Plus, I am a Viking, remember- I can handle the cold.) I didn't even think about touching my jacket when in Switzerland and I even went without it some in Iceland because walking really keeps a person warm! If I could redo this part of the trip, I wouldn't have taken my jacket, but Iceland is usually super windy and, if it had been when we were there, I would have wanted that jacket.

I took two pairs of jeans: one black, one blue, 2 cardigans (one warmer, one just cotton), and a bunch of shirts. Oh, and a skirt that was for the plane. Looking back, I would have maybe packed another skirt (because it was actually pretty hot much of the time) and just two light cardigans instead of the warmer one I only wore once.) It's easy to forget that 74 in the sun and walking a lot is going to be way warmer than 74 with no sun and just sitting there.

I also only took one pair of shoes (my Adidas Sambas) which was TOUGH to do, but it worked out, even though I felt like they were gross by day 10. Toms are my other go to shoe, but those suck when there's any water, which is why I didn't take those. I got a blister one day, but then was careful the next day and it went away- Bless!

Getting from the airport to the city was one of the few things to research for Iceland and we ended up taking the Flybus, which takes ~45 minutes (unless you get in rush hour traffic like we did.) It's ~$29 and easy peasy to buy right at the airport. We took it to the bus station, which feels like it's the middle of nowhere when you get off, but turns out to be so so close to the main area of the city. Plus, the bus runs for all flights, which is nice. We took is back to the airport at 330am, wowza! Plus, they have wifi there, an ATM, and lockers to store your stuff if needed.

As for a place to stay in Iceland, we ended up doing an AirBNB. I got some hotel recommendations from an Iceland aficionado, but since it was just two nights and a little less expensive, we went for the AirBNB, which ended up being in a great location. More on that later.

A friend of mine (who is Icelandic!) told me before the trip that just about everyone speaks English, so there was no problem there. The Icelandic Krona can take some getting used to because it's basically just moving a decimal point, but everything is so expensive that I kept worrying I was buying extra expensive things. It was dumb because I was very confident when converting from Krona to USD before the trip, but once there, my tired brain was like NOPE!

You'll have to wait for a subsequent post for what we actually did in Iceland!


We were pretty lucky to be able to stay with our friend just outside of Zurich. so lucky and I am so so so so so grateful!

Our biggest expense in Switzerland was our bus ticket because we decided to do the 8 day Swiss Travel Pass. It's ~$400 and worth every penny! You can ride any train, any bus, a lot of boats, a lot of gondolas, some special trains, and it serves as a museum pass! And if it doesn't cover something, oftentimes it gives you a discount. Even just to not have to think about buying a train ticket every day was worth it for me. And, if you've never ridden the train, just have your ticket or pass ready in case the conductor comes by to check it. We didn't get checked until the 3rd day, I think, and then it was pretty regularly after that. Sometimes they'll want to see your passport, too, so we just always had it ready. Other things to be aware of are 1st and 2nd class (what we did and never had an issue finding a seat) and I would highly recommend using the SBB app.

Phone usage was actually something that was kind of awkward. Before the trip we planned to just get international data on one phone, which was fine, but it meant I couldn't help navigate or look up places to go or just know what general direction or train platform we were headed to. It worked out fine, but I'm a map person and had a hard time not really know where we were sometimes. But at the same time, I liked not having internet. While I like to be spontaneous, I also am more of a planner/researcher, which we didn't do a ton of for our day to day exploring. It just meant that when we would decide on a whim to do something, the navigating fell onto the person with the internet:)

Language in Switzerland was not a problem...mostly. In the German speaking parts, where we were mostly, almost everyone would switch to English after we would give a blank face reply. (Serena took German in college so may have understood more than me.) No one seemed to mind switching over. Our day in the French speaking part was a little more difficult. We really only tried to communicate in the crepes restaurant and there was one English speaking waitress, but we took too long deciding and then her shift ended. But we managed to order via pointing and me uttering "por deus" or something to indicate we were sharing. (It was funny because my latent Spanish kept trying to make an appearance. Sheesh!)

They use the Swiss Franc and I got 200 out when we first got there and used that or my credit card. It's so easy in these places where you don't have to think about tax being added at the register.


France was a planned, yet also spontaneous jaunt we took for a two night stay in Strasbourg. I tried to speak some French, but I am The Worst with accents so I'm sure I butchered even trying to say merci and bonjour. The toughest language parts during this part of the trip were when ordering food. And I know I was speaking English so quickly, but I'm a Gilmore, y'all! I can't help it.

Our Swiss Travel Pass didn't work for going to France, so we took it to Basel and then bought a train ticket from the SBB office to Strasbourg. They were very helpful with this.

We also did an AirBNB there and it was so inexpensive and we had an amazing location and precious view- right by the cathedral! No homes during the trip had AC, which was tough when just getting home because we'd be hot from walking and also when sleeping because I am used it being quite chilly in my house at night.

We also had to get Euros out while in France, although I didn't get much because I mostly used my credit card because it doesn't charge for international usage.

Flying home was a long day, but also super easy. We flew out of Zurich at 2pm and got to Iceland a few hours later. We didn't have long for our connection and I got tapped for the random extra security check, which was a bit stressful because of the time. My favorite, though, was being bus(s)ed on the tarmac to the plane and it was like 40 degrees and windy and I was freezing and so happy! I wanted to stay!

Iceland to Dulles (DC) was ~6 hours, but I watched three movies via subtitle reading and it was a pretty easy time. I only started to get cramped the last 30 minutes or so. I always get aisle seats because I like to get up a lot, but I was asked to movie to give room to a family with a baby, which I was more than happy to do...but then I ended up in an aisle seat and stressed a little about having to ask my neighbors to let me out for the bathroom:)

So...that's all of the basic overview time, onto the sites!