Tag Archive: winter

The Northern Lights – Solo Travel Starlog, Part 4

I saw the Northern Lights. It was my fifth try when they really danced.

The first three tries were duds:

  1. I sat on a freezing bus for two hours with no bathroom. Received a free coupon to try again but obviously didn’t use it.
  2. I took a boat tour from Reykjavik Harbor dressed in a black-and-yellow thermal suit. No lights, but this was a great trip, and the boat had bathrooms. When we didn’t see the lights, a crewman named Sven started reading Northern Lights poetry over the loudspeaker. Highly recommended. Received a free voucher to try again.
  3. I took a SuperJeep into a not-really-so-impassable-after-all part of Thingvellir National Park, searching for a gap in the clouds. We found a gap with the moon and stars shining down on snow and silence. No lights and no bathrooms, but the tour guides served hot chocolate with vodka. Received a free voucher to try again.

Preliminary Success

On the fourth try, I used my SuperJeep voucher. This time the lights forecast was great, and before we’d even left Reykjavik city limits, our guide was talking with other guides on the phone about where to find the lights. We drove a short distance to a forest and got out with the Northern Lights stretching green across the sky. I’d heard they would look smoky-white to the naked eye, but they were whitish-green and beautiful, like a cloud or smoke but a little different.

We watched for a while and then drove farther out, to a snow-covered open area where the lights stretched up across the sky and then shrunk back. It was beautiful. Mission accomplished, I thought.

A couple of weeks later I was wandering around the old harbor in Reykjavik when I saw a booth for the boat tour company and decided I should use their voucher before I left Iceland. I stopped by to ask the man there which night would be best.

He insisted that I needed to go that night. I had no plans so agreed to board the ship.

A Light Show for a Lifetime

For the first hour we saw nothing, just drifting on the water in the cold. Then I saw a small white cloud on the northern horizon.

Shortly afterward, the cloud stretched across the sky. It was a Northern Light. A long period of nothing — maybe an hour — and then a bigger streak of light arced up to the top of the sky, shimmered, and split sideways into dancing lines.

The lines broke into three huge green swirls that spun around, with red shimmering through their cores. Then other lines streaked up, shimmering and marching like souls into heaven, and a huge green cloud drifted like a green smoke dragon across the sky.

The tour operator was yelling and could not contain herself. I was laughing and looking up and sharing the moment with 200 other people on this boat in the middle of winter, imagining what people used to think of the Northern Lights before we understood them, back when they were just a mysterious phenomenon.

We came back to Reykjavik Harbor with the lights as our companion, shimmering and dancing, covering almost half the sky.

I have no photos because iPhones take terrible night photos. The photos I have can’t do it justice, and I won’t post them. The memories I have will never leave my mind. It was an incredible gift from nature, and I feel so lucky.

I am so going back.

A Storm in Iceland, Solo Travel Starlog – Part 3

I have a huge review to write about my tour around Snaefellsnes Peninsula in Iceland and the wonderful clearing of a blizzard to make way for a gorgeous extended sunset. On that day, I realized checking the weather forecast was pointless. The only good strategy is to take Iceland on its own terms.

I’m glad I learned that, because my story about the Snaefellsnes tour can wait. Right now, I’m in the middle of the worst storm to hit Iceland in 25 years.

I’m huddled in my beautiful apartment in Reykjavik, made of sturdy wood, which I’m thankful for because the building has shaken a few times.

Hang Tight

Once, earlier in the afternoon, I went out to see the source of a loud crash on the side of the house. I noticed that one of the three-foot dagger icicles hanging off the roof had shattered all over the steps. Two more remained, so I hustled up those steps with amazing speed to get back inside. (Update: The icicles are gone!)

Logging on to the Iceland weather forecast, I noticed the storm seemed to cover most of the country with high wind speeds. I wondered how high, so I typed in “76 km/h to mph,” because that is the sustained wind speed in downtown Reykjavik right now.

About 50mph. Fast, for sustained wind. I checked the news.

The Hurricane and the Hot Dog Stand

Apparently there is a hurricane hitting Iceland, for all intents and purposes. The whole country. Boats in the harbor are rocking and rolling, and one hot dog stand remained open tonight, the great Bæjerins Beztu Pylsur that I mentioned in my last post. Otherwise, the city is closed and the storm is on.

This is the second gale-force storm in three days. On Friday, my planned trip to Jökulsárlón glacier lagoon was cancelled due to a similarly terrible storm in that area.

Prior to that, Reykjavik broke its December snowfall record in the first three days of December. Photo evidence here:

Snow in Reykjavik Dec 3

Why, Iceland?

Most of the snow in that beautiful park is now gone. I’ll edit this post with gale-storm aftermath photos tomorrow. For now, I’m too afraid to go outside. Hundreds of pounds of snow just slid off the roof onto the street, barely missing a car. Snow really does groan when it slides off a roof en glacial masse, in case you were wondering.

What is up with all this weird weather?

Iceland, if you have a message for me, I am hearing you. Speak up! 

Wonderful, magical, beautiful, fierce. Winter is here.