Mystical Iceland — Be prepared for an out of world experience
When I thought about Iceland, I thought about Geysirs, ponies and a rough landscape. I’ve always wanted to visit this country, but never had any concrete plans until my friend asked me last year to come with her to watch the Northern Lights. By then I realised that the island also stands for the possibility to watch the dance of the Northern Lights. We decided to go in February as this fitted into our schedules and they say that you can watch the Aurora until mid April. This was all we knew and prepared for as we usually don’t prepare much for a short trip to a country but instead just jump right into the adventure.
Having the best possible weather conditions when we arrived in Iceland, we had already booked a Northern Lights Tour and the Golden Circle Tour for the next day. The last tour consists of a visit to the Geysir, the Gulfoss waterfalls and the national park called Pingvellir. The first impression of the country was: snow, ice, rocks and mountains. It wasn’t clear to us that there are almost no trees in the Icelandic world. It took us roughly one hour from Reykjavik airport to our hotel in the city. After a quick dinner in the hotel bistro we were picked up by the tour operator to go by bus outside of the city to see if Lady Aurora is going to show up. We drove 45 minutes and were able to get off the bus for over an hour in the pitch dark. I had no idea about Aurora activity levels before or how to even set my camera to catch a photo of the lights. Luckily the guide told as during the bus ride that the ISO setting has to be at at least 800 up to 4000. Aperture has to be around 3.5 and the exposure time is best set to 20 seconds. So I tried the settings in the icy cold outside when they told us that the activity has started and — surprise — the green light was visible on the photo but unfortunately not for the eye.
We had no tripod either which you certainly need in order to not get blurry pictures. Another thing we had no clue of before (I have one at home and couldn’t believe I haven’t thought of bringing one). We waited like 1,5 hours but the activity didn’t get better. On our way back we were pretty disappointed but were told that we could go on the same tour again for free the following night.
So the next day we decided to go again at night, but first we went to do the Golden Circle Tour. We were picked up by bus again and went through the mountains to the Geysir. On our way we past rock formations, mountains, summer houses, hot springs and we could even see volcanos from afar. The Geysir area is an amazing formations of hot springs and mountains and it appears to be very unreal. The Geysir erupts every 5 to 10 minutes. Unfortunately, our stay was very short. I could have stayed there for hours to grasp the magic of this place. Next time I would definitely consider to go by car on my own.
The tour continued with a visit to Gulfoss waterfall which was all icy and frosty by this time of the year. It has such a majesty and the landscape around it makes every picture look like you are alone on the moon. The gift shop there offers a variety of handmade stuff and is really worth a visit, especially since it is not more expensive than in Reykjavik.
From there on we went to visit the place where the Eurasian and North American tectonic plates clash. To reach this view point we drove through Pingvellir national park which has strikingly peculiar rock formations. At times I wasn’t sure if there are people standing or walking or if it were only rocks. It’s not easy to distinguish and the nature of Iceland plays lots of tricks.
After that the Tour came to an end and we drove back accompanied by a sheer endless sunset.
For the night we went on to the next Northern Lights Tour as the weather and activity predictions were good and it was for free anyway. During the night clouds came up so we had to go deeper inside the country. The guide seemed more experienced than the one the night before so that we were lucky he got us a good spot. He told us that Aurora activities are usually the highest from 9 pm until 2 am. When the activity is low, the human eye is not able to see it, but a good camera can take a picture of it. When the activity is average both the human eye and the camera can catch the lights. When the activity is high, only the eye is able to recognise it.
I think we arrived at the spot at 10.30 pm and we left after 12. The guide advised us not to go to far away from the bus as elves, gnomes and hidden people live in that area. This got us pretty frightened but also interested. Lady Aurora didn’t disappoint us, but due to the upcoming clouds we couldn’t see the play of the lights like everyone predicted. As a storm was forcasted for the next day, it wasn’t possible to take a good picture without a tripod. Still, it was breathtaking and I can’t remember having ever seen something that beautiful.
On our way back we were very interested in the elves stories. We searched on the Internet and found a tour where we could learn more about it. The next day was stormy and the rainfall was extreme. We decided to stay in Reykjavik and to book the Hidden World Tour for the day after. In the city center we went to the Aurora Reykjavik which is an exhibition concerning the Aurora Borealis, how it is created and where and how humans can find it. Furthermore, there is a dark room with a huge photo slide where you can take a picture of their pictures and they look like you’ve actually captured the Northern Lights yourself. So thanks for that!
The rain turned to snow during the night and the storm was incredible. The next day the weather cleared up in the afternoon and we had a nice Hidden World Tour in the neighbour town Hafnarfjördur which is the capital of the Elves. We received a map and lots of stories and information which also taught us a lot about the Icelandic people and their beliefs. Rocks and stones where Elves or Dwarfs reside are left untouched by reconstruction workers and house owners and there are people with the second sight who negotiate human reconstruction plans with the Elves. Having the best weather conditions of the day during our tour (although windy and cold, the sun was shining the whole time) we went back to Reykjavik to visit its famous church. Just when we arrived there, the weather turned all of a sudden into a snow storm! So we enjoyed the best view of the city during snow and hauling winds.
After that we explored the city centre, went to have hot chocolate and dinner and finally went back to our hotel with a heart that was full of adventures and magic.
All in all, I really enjoyed the whole trip and had some magical moments which I wouldn’t want to miss in my life. Iceland is rich of nature, magic, adventures and beautiful people. I would definitely come and see it again and maybe even stay a little bit longer.
Originally published at resilienceandhappiness.com on February 17, 2016.