More to Iceland than Northern Lights

I admit that the first two reasons for my trip to Iceland were to see the Aurora Borealis in a fantastic setting. As it’s turned out, the Lights have been disappointing. Solar activity that generates the phenomenon takes two to three days to reach Earth, so that’s the most notice anyone can provide. Of course, the weather needs to be clear and, here in Iceland, the winds should come from the north; southerly winds usually bring clouds and precipitation of one sort or another.

I went Lights-hunting twice, a few days apart when all three conditions were in place. Reykjavik Excursions, a huge tour and day trip company here, and the outfit I booked with, does not go out otherwise. Gray Line’s Iceland Excursions have similar schedules, I think. The second night was much the same as the first; one small burst of pale green and a couple of larger shadowy blurs of white that looked like clouds that just happened to be more noticeable than anything else in the sky – but only just. To give you an idea how faint these were, think about the times you looked into the night sky at the Milky Way or a small cluster of stars. You had trouble seeing it unless you looked away and used your peripheral vision.

So much for Northern Lights, at least for now.

In addition to attending a classical music concert at Harpa, the new concert hall that sits at the edge of the harbor, I took several other tours into the country away from Reykjavik to experience the unique natural environments of western and southern Iceland.

Snaefellsnes peninsula has rugged beaches with rock features that create wave activity almost like tidal bores. Geysir is the home to thermal springs and regular spouting sprays of near boiling water – and added its name to the English lexicon. Gullfoss is a mini Niagara Falls that, to my eye, is more spectacular in winter, with ice encrusting the banks of the gorge and mist icing the footpaths. Thingvellir (I’ll find the Icelandic letter for ‘th’ when I’m writing on my laptop, instead of this finicky tablet!) is a vast panorama of plains, streams, mountains, snow and ice spread out below the perfect viewpoint. Those three destinations are packaged into the famous Golden Circle tour.

Finally, a day trip to the south coast – some new beaches and visits to the area at the base of the infamous Eyjafjallajokull volcano and its next door neighbor, a rapidly receding glacier called Myrdalsjokull.

An amazing folk museum at Skogar and stops at two of the more spectacular waterfalls in the vicinity completed my introduction to the breathtaking natural beauty that is Iceland in winter.

Heading back to the grim old USA in a few hours. There are other places to see and things to do here that will have to wait for another visit, not least of which is the Blue Lagoon.

After all the nature here, the Lagoon seemed a good candidate for postponement; I’d rather keep my memories of this country’s amazing natural beauty in the front of my brain to savor after I’m back in the land of unplowed snow, bills and our constipated government.

I obviously hope to put together some posts soon, with more complete stories and the best fotos of the hundreds and hundreds clogging the camera’s memory chips.

Stay tuned!

This entry was posted in All Suzanne's travel essays, All Suzanne's travels, Iceland travel and tagged . Bookmark the permalink.

6 Responses to More to Iceland than Northern Lights

  1. lanceleuven says:

    Ah, I was going to ask if you made it to the Blue Lagoon. I somehow managed to miss it, can’t rememebr why. I saw the Geysir and Gullfoss though, very spectacular. I was amazed by how close you could get, although I don’t know if that’s still the case these days.

    • suzykewct says:

      It is still possible to get foolishly close to these features; it’s one of the things I love about being away from the U.S. People should be responsible for their own stupidity, rather than forcing other entities to constantly act “in loco parentis”. That said, it also means that the experience can be more exciting, even as you watch where you’re walking and what you’re doing. There are low rope barriers and signs with logical images, such as the thermometer with a reading of 80-100 degrees Celsius near Geysir’s leaking waters and, given the fact that my joints are not as springy as they once were, even I was able to negotiate the damp or icy paths and stairways as long as I took my time. Handrails are sometimes installed, such as on the long trek down the slope at Gullfoss but there was another slope at Snaefellsnes that had none and required moving off the path into the grass to avoid the icy bits. Still, absolutely thrilling; I can’t recommend Iceland in winter highly enough!

  2. Maryevelyn says:

    I enjoyed reading this! Can’t wait to see pictures!

  3. Ann J. says:

    This is a fabulous article! Our son is studying Iceland through a sociology course he is taking at college and at the end of the semester the class is going there! I will send this article to him. Thanks!

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