Saturday, November 19, 2016

The Tiny Country Between Paris And Pittsburgh

Kerid crater lake, not far from Reykavik
We’ve discovered a land between Paris and Pittsburgh that has solved a puzzle for us. It’s a common one for expats: how to see family back home and keep travel costs down, but see more of other folks and the world during our annual homecoming.  

The answer for us this year is Iceland. We’re not the first to discover the island of “fire and ice,” so named for its volcanoes and glaciers, a place of raw, unsoiled beauty. It’s become a trendy, offbeat place to visit (read about that here). Is it cold and dark? The average winter temperature is 32 degrees Fahrenheit, and even the shortest days aren’t inky black but more like a constant twilight. But watch out for extreme weather! Blizzards can blow in unexpectedly. In the summer, however, Iceland enjoys spring-like weather and long days that are a bonus for hikers and day trippers. 

The pull was Icelandair’s “free stop-over” program, where passengers can deplane in Reykavik and spend up to a week discovering the island before continuing onto their destination, without an extra airline fee. Warning: Staying in Iceland itself is not free! It’s known as an expensive place, but there are ways to keep costs down: We stayed in an AirBnB in the suburbs, soaked in public pools instead of the pricey Blue Lagoon spa, used city buses for transport, and made most of our own meals. 
At a farm outside the capital called Farmhotel Efstidalur,
which serves ice cream made from the milk of the cows it raises.

Branching out even further, we selected the airline’s Paris-Minneapolis round trip (with the Reykavik stop-over) so we could visit college friends in the Midwest, fulfilling an old promise. We completed our itinerary with a Minneapolis-Pittsburgh round trip.

We loved Iceland so much that we’d like to “stop over” again and see more of the sights. And that’s just been made easier because Iceland’s budget airline, Wow Air, that added Pittsburgh as a destination earlier this month. Read about that here. Wow starts the service in June 2017, and also offers free stop-overs.

Now that Pittsburgh International Airport is once again starting to live up to that name, with direct flights to Frankfurt beginning next summer as well, we hope to do more PIT-stopping on our way home.

Want to follow this blog? Enter your email address into the “Follow me” box. You can also find me on LinkedIn, Facebook, or Google+. Rose Marie Burke, an editor and journalist, writes a blog about her personal insights into life in Paris. After 20 years in the City of Light, she still calls her native Pittsburgh "home."