Iceland had been on top of my bucket list for a long time but somehow I never got around to visit that mysterious land of geysers, elves and northern lights. Until last December.
With relatively affordable direct flights from Dublin to Reykjavik with Wow Air I was finally on my way to check out one of the most popular destinations in Europe right now.
After a slightly delayed but otherwise uneventful flight we touched down at Keflavik. It was -5 degrees (23 F) and it had been snowing all day. As soon as we left the airport I couldn't help but stomping through the blanket of freshly fallen snow listening to the sound of my boots
crushing the icy crystals beneath them. How I had missed that - proper winter at last!
After a one-hour bus ride we arrived in downtown Reykjavik, wandered around briefly, bought a $5 bottle of water (for future reference: a) the very expensive 24-hour supermarket only seems to be catering to unsuspecting tourists and b) Icelandic tap water is really nice!) and checked into our hostel. Before long we were picked up for our Northern Lights tour. It seems whatever tour you're doing from Reykjavik, it's always the same concept: a mini bus picks you up from your hotel and brings you to the main bus depot from where seemingly hundreds of buses depart every day to all parts of the country. I like the efficiency!
With our tour vouchers in hand we found the right bus, climbed on board and were given a brief introduction into the science of Aurora Borealis. We learnt why there are Northern Lights (in simple words: something to do with electrically charged particles from the sun colliding with certain gases when entering the Earth's atmosphere - I now wish I had paid more attention in science class at school!), that there are also Southern Lights called Aurora Australis and that even when you can't see any lights they're still there - you just need to figure out how to use your camera to capture them. Luckily, we got a crash course in how to do exactly that.
Fumbling around with the settings on my Canon I realized that in the meantime the snow storm had resumed and had turned into a full blown blizzard. The bus driver was totally unfazed and just drove on. I had to suppress a giggle thinking of Ireland where airports shut down and roads are closed off whenever there's a little bit of snow. But in Iceland the snow was crisp, dry & apparently compact enough to drive on - at pretty high speeds no less!
If you're lucky, the Northern Lights are strong enough to be visible to the naked eye. In our case it was a bit harder to spot them - they essentially looked like pinkish fluffy clouds and their true colors only came through on camera. The most common lights are green and yellow but there are also the rarer red and blue ones.
We learnt that all the buses communicate with each other letting other drivers know where the visibility was best. We felt like storm chasers just that we were chasing light... or fluffy pink clouds anyway.
A short while later the bus stopped, I hopped out excitedly - and sank into some pretty deep snow. It was dark by now, the sky had cleared and millions of stars were out. It also felt more like -20 C by now and removing my gloves to take pictures was a rather painful experience.
I won't bore you with any more details and show you some evidence instead:
Considering the poor visibility that evening I'm pretty happy with how the pictures turned out. The tour operator wasn't as pleased and offered all of us a second free space on any of the following Northern Lights tours. Unfortunately we didn't have enough time to do another one - I would have loved to! So probably on another trip to Iceland or northern Scandinavia I'll chase some more lights - maybe even blue and red ones! ;)
And to conclude the tour our bus driver took us to a seriously unexpected sight: a church and a graveyard. Ok, if that doesn't sound weird enough: in Iceland there seems to be a tradition of putting lights on crosses in winter. Yes, illuminated crosses. On a graveyard. It's eerily pretty!