Looking back on our summer vacation, it was a wonderful, whirlwind trip where we got to see many unique locations. We didn’t have much time at any of the stops and so many places have been added to me “must return” list.
The trip started with 12 days at sea on a cruise ship and it was a great, relaxing way to get to Europe. If you have the time and you enjoy being out at sea, I highly recommend it. And we really enjoyed our time on the Norwegian Getaway. It is a big ship with a lot of different places to eat and things to do. I really think Norwegian’s Breakaway class ships are my favorite cruise ships.
Our first taste of Europe was in Ponta Delgada, Azores which is a place many people have never heard of. The landscape was anything I had ever seen before and one day just wasn’t enough time. We saw beautiful coastlines and steaming hot springs. We had food cooked in the ground. We bought some tea that was grown on the island. It was an incredible experience and we have been watching flight prices to Ponta Delgada since we got home.
Madeira was a place that has been on my list for a while and the one day just wasn’t enough to see everything. There were beautiful vistas and delicious food. We barely scratched the surface. We will be back to ride the toboggan in Monte!
We arrived at mainland Europe in Lisbon and it was hot (it got up to 90°F) and our Airbnb did not have air conditioning, but this didn’t stop us from exploring the city! We had three full days in Lisbon but I would love to go back and dig deeper. We did a wonderful food tour where we tried all the food of the city. I celebrated my birthday with one of the most amazing dinners on the water that I think about all the time (above). And we explored the unique city of Sintra and its colorful castle.
We took a train from Lisbon to Porto where it was much cooler. Our Airbnb was in a great location that was just steps from one of the city’s famous bridges. We took the most amazing tour of the Duoro Valley where we learned so much about the history of the region and got to try some amazing wines. I feel like we barely scratched the surface on Porto. We will have to return and take another trip to the Duoro as well!
Toledo (top) was probably the most historically and architecturally interesting place that we visited on this trip. Walking through the streets was like walking back to the 11th century. The cathedral was breathtaking and one of the most ornate churches I have ever seen. If you are planning time in Madrid, take a day trip to Toledo. It is worth it.
I complained about the heat in Lisbon, but it only got worse in Madrid. I feel like the heat (highs above 100° F) and the difficulty escaping it really color my memories of Madrid. Of all the places we visited on this trip, I don’t feel a draw to return to Madrid. Other places in Spain (Andalucia, Asturias, Barcelona, etc) are still on my list, though.
From one temperature extreme to the other, we barely scratched the surface of Iceland but what we saw really makes me want to go back. It was an amazing landscape, in some ways very similar to the Azores, and I would love the time (and money) to properly explore it.
Overall, this trip was very long but went by very quickly. It was amazing and life-changing and I want to do it again next summer! You will have to wait and see where we are off to next!
Thanks for stopping by! To read more about this trip, check out Cruising the Atlantic to Portugal and Spain trip report. To read about some of our previous trips, visit my Trips Page. If you like my photos be sure to “like” my Facebook Page and follow me on Instagram! For my list of gadgets to make your travels easier, click here. To see inside my camera bag, check out my updated Gear Page.
We ended our time in Europe with a twelve-hour layover in Keflavik, Iceland. Out of all the crazy things we did on our trip to Europe, when I look back on our trip, this is the one thing that doesn’t seem real. We had a night flight from Madrid to Iceland that was so strange because the later it got, the lighter it got outside as we got closer to Iceland. I think I mentioned in my last post that it was very hot on our last day in Madrid (101°F). It was hot in the airport and it was hot on the plane, so I was still wearing shorts and sandals when we landed and I was OK being cold (40°F) as we walked from the airport to a rental car agency at 2 am.
Something to know if you are planning on exploring Iceland a little during a long layover, all the rental car agencies that we looked into require you to pay for a minimum of two days. If you want to explore on your own it won’t be cheap. If you land during the day, there are shuttles that will take you to the famous Blue Lagoon if that is what you want to do on your layover. There are not many other options when you land at 2 AM. So, we got into our very expensive rental car and drove to our expensive, lackluster, hotel where we crashed for a few hours and took VERY hot showers before heading out to see as much of Iceland as we could before it was time to go back to the airport and finally head home.
We found a guided driving tour of the Reykjanes Peninsula on the free app Locatify SmartGuide. It took us around the volcanic features, lakes, and hot springs and told us about the geology as well the some of the local legends about trolls and fairies. Our first stop was an overlook on Kleifarvatn, the largest lake on the Reykjanes Peninsula. The interesting think about Kleifarvatn is that most of the water comes from underground. The water level has diminished greatly since the Icelandic Earthquakes of 2000.
Our next stop was the Gunnuhver Hot Springs, a collection of mud pots and steam vents with an intense sulfur smell that took me right back to the hot springs of Yellowstone. The name Gunnuhver comes from a local legend about an angry ghost, Gudrun, who legend says, was trapped in a hot spring by a local priest 400 years ago. Iceland’s largest mud pool can be found at Gunnuhver and unlike the other geothermal areas in Iceland, the groundwater is 100% saltwater which gives a different look to it.
Our next stop was Krýsuvíkurkirkja, a historic church (above). It was built in 1857 and closed in 1929 but has since been used as a residence until being transferred to the National Museum. The original church burned down in 2010 but it has since been rebuilt in the historic manner.
One of the final stops of the trip was at the bridge between the continents (left). This is the place where the North American and Eurasian tectonic plates are pulling apart. Visitors can stand on a bridge separating the two plates. One side of the bridge has a sign that reads “Welcome to Europe” while the other says “Welcome to North America”. The giant fissure the bridge scales really drives home the tectonic theory that the plates are shifting a few centimeters each year.
After that, we headed back to the airport, dropped off our rental car, and flew home. Even though we got to the airport several hours early, we really didn’t wait around much at all. Since we were leaving the Schengen area (a group of 27 European countries where you don’t need to show your passport to cross their borders. This is the area that will be requiring a visa for Americans to visit at some point in the future) we had to go through passport control and additional security screenings. The boarding process was very complicated and involved multiple escalators and a bus to the plane. If you are flying out of Keflavik to a non-Schengen country, give yourself more time than you think you will need.
My one complaint about this experience is that Icelandair seems to be expanding its U.S. service faster than Keflavik Airport can support. It was very crowded in the area after passport control. There was only one set of bathrooms and one food option, but that seemed to be where all the people in the airport were. There weren’t even enough gates for all the flights. We had to be bussed out to our plane.
Overall, we had an amazing time in Iceland. I feel like we barely scratched the surface. If you are thinking about a trip to Iceland, be aware it is VERY expensive and it is not easy to convert Icelandic Kronas to U.S. Dollars in your head like it is with the Euro. The few meals we had there were pricey for what they were and the hotels were outrageous. The sights are unlike anything else I had ever seen, just make sure you budget appropriately for your time in Iceland or you may be in trouble.
Thanks for stopping by! This marks the end of my recap of our Cruising the Atlantic to Portugal and Spain trip report. Next week I will post a final recap, so keep your eyes out for that. To read about some of our previous trips, visit my Trips Page. If you like my photos be sure to “like” my Facebook Page and follow me on Instagram! For my list of gadgets to make your travels easier, click here. To see inside my camera bag, check out my updated Gear Page.