The Hunt for Northern Lights

I had been staring mindlessly, out the airplane window. The overnight flight had been filled with hours spent on my tablet, crocheting, reading, doing anything except (unfortunately) sleeping.  Sleep usually eludes me when flying, but for once it was a good thing. I began to notice a slight green glow in the sky, so light that at first, I thought I had imagined it. Soon others on the plane were beginning to murmur and nudge one another awake. For a few brief minutes, I was treated to a subtle shift in the sky, and just a glimmer of soft green color. That is what I had come for, to see the Northern Lights.


Our group of six had taken the flight to Iceland for a long weekend.  All of us were eager to explore the island country. The main goal was to be able to check, “Aurora Borealis,” off of our bucket lists. Due to that nasty thing called,” work,” we had three days to get in as many experiences as possible.


We began our exploration of downtown Reykjavik at, “The Icelandic Phallological Museum.” Yup, that’s right, we went to a penis museum. Over 300 penises and penile parts from land and sea animals. I would share pictures, but I am sure you get the idea.


Reykjavik was dressed for Christmas with colorful lights shinning from almost every building and residence. Instead of Santa, Iceland has 13 troublemaking trolls who wreak havoc in the name of Advent. Large scale images of the trolls are projected in full color and motion on scattered building throughout town. As we wandered shops, I purchased yarn (of course!) and a gorgeous hand-knit, fair-isle sweater.


We tried a variety of local foods including a buffet which boasted of fermented shark with black death schnapps, seafood omelets and fishcakes “grandma style”. I am not sure exactly what I ate, but it was all tasty and I went back for seconds. Another Icelandic must try is the gas station hot dog. These hot dogs are made from lamb, served on a bun with raw onions, pylsusinnep (a sweet mustard), and a remoulade sauce of mayonnaise, capers, mustard and herb.  All of that topped with crisp fried onions, and they are available at most gas stations. The hotdogs alone were worth the trip!


The short daylight hours, 11a.m-3 p.m., were spent discovering the remarkable natural sights. Travel guides use words like “raw” and “untamed” when describing Iceland. The bluest of skies accent the ice-covered, windswept terrain. The waterfalls at Gullfoss are considered to, “outdo Niagara Falls in its wildness and its fury.”  We stood on an observation deck overlooking the top falls. The pounding of the water as it barreled downward made it impossible to hear one another speak.


We drove the countryside through frigid wind and occasional icy rain. Yet we saw many horses standing out in field and along the road. These horses are used as sheepherders, racing and showing.  They have a double layer of coats to protect them from the harsh climate. The Icelandic horses are famous for their unique gait called a “tolt.” Due to their short height and sturdy muscles they can move at a four-beat trot, something other breeds cannot perform. We were fortunate to be able to see a herd up close. These stunning creatures were just as friendly as they were beautiful.


Due to the geothermal activity in Iceland, hot springs can be found in many towns. The most famous being, “The Blue Lagoon.” This impressive opaque blue lake is surrounded by black lava with an average temperature of around 102 degrees Fahrenheit.  Adjacent to the stunning mineral rich water is a luxury hotel, restaurant and retreat spa. Pre-booking our arrival time was required, and cost about $80. Once there we were directed to the lovely locker room and where we showered and changed into our suits.  Then we made a mad dash through the cold to jump into the warm water. The admission price includes a clay mask treatment and a glass of Prosecco, all while wandering through the springs, exploring the small alcoves and soaking in the healing waters. My skin looked fantastic for several days after this marvelous treat.


Each night we set out on our hunt for Northern Lights. Armed with our iPhones, and Aurora spotting apps, we attempted to find the perfect viewing area. The apps make suggestions based on cloudiness rating and the percent of chance of seeing lights. Chasing the best spot had us driving onto small roads and into the darkness.


We spent about 3 hours the first night, parked out on desolate roads, away from city lights, staring forlornly out the windows of our van. The App rated our “likelihood of viewing” at 15%.”  The likelihood of us getting cold and bored was 100%. We returned to our Airbnb, determined to try again the next night.

Nights two and three were, unfortunately, a repeat of the first. There wasn’t even a vague glimmer of light in the sky. One local gentleman apologized, saying that the lights had been elusive all year.


We did not achieve our goal of witnessing the Aurora Borealis. But our trip was filled with opportunities to experience the Christmas customs, foods and natural beauty of this stunning country. And we have a new plan of attack for viewing the Northern Lights. We regularly watch the “My Aurora” app, and when we get an 80% chance or higher likelihood of viewing, we will jump on a flight from Portland, Oregon to Anchorage Alaska, and be there in under four hours. Eventually we will have success!


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