Iceland: Northern Lights, Fairy Tales and Top Travel Tips

Iceland: Northern Lights, Fairy Tales and Top Travel Tips

There are so many journeys I am still dreaming of, but this one I know, will always be one of the most meaningful ones to me.

My passion about Iceland has grown over the years. It all started with a thing for fairies.

I read a lot of books about them and I learned, that Iceland even has an elf minister.

Whenever there is a building to be erected, this minister has to check first, if any fairies live on the ground.

If so, there can't anything be built. There happens to be a road for example that winds around a big rock. You couldn't move the rock, because it's a fairy meeting place.

Later, Björk became one of my favourite artists. When I listen to her music, I dream about the vast landscapes, the amazing national parks and of course of Northern Lights.

 

I am always excited to go on a new journey, but this time it's even more thrilling.

Arriving at Reykjavik airport, it feels like time someone pushed the "winter fast forward" button. There is snow and icy pavements, a Christmasy feeling arises. It's about 17:00 and it is completely dark outside. We obviously missed the few hours of daylight today. These days the sun rises at about 10:15 and sets at about 16:15.

Note to ourselves: days must be planned wisely.

Our first excursion day starts with a stroll through Reykjavik. No matter where the wind comes from, I want to pretend it comes from the North Pole. It is sooooo cold. We walk along the boardwalk Sæbraut and pass by Sólfar.

The next building along the way is the impressive Harpa, a beautiful building with many sparkling little windows and a fantastic view onto the harbour. Harpa is a very young concert hall and conference centre. The opening concert was held on May 4, 2011.

It is designed by the Danish firm Henning Larsen Architects in co-operation with Danish-Icelandic artist Olafur Eliasson, who is one of my absolutely favourites. The structure consists of a steel framework clad with irregularly-shaped glass panels of different colours.

 

Up on a hill in the city centre you find the probably mostly discussed building of the Iceland - the Hallgrímskirkja. While they were certain about the place and even the name of the church from the beginning on, it took a long time and a lot of arguing until its completion.

In 1937 architect Guðjón Samúelsson received the order to build the church. With his house of God he wanted to create a unique building that symbolically combines Iceland's landscapes and modern architecture. The fassade is supposed to show the famous basalt columns. The very high neo-Gothic hall should underline the barren vastness. The white interior should be a symbol for Iceland's many glaciers. One could expect that this intend had as many opponents as proponents.

During the construction (until 1974), church services were held in the basement. Afterwards they happened in a worthier room, but it took another 12 years to finalise the  construcion in 1986. Unbelievable but true, the church still wasn't quite finished. The font and windows were only provisional and needed to be replaced. Finally in 1990 the organ was built.

Today the church is not only used as a church, but likewise for exhibitions or performances. The tower is open for public from 9:00-18:00, daily. We think with this story it is ok to invest 600 ISK to enjoy the view over the city from up here.

 

The day draws to a close, so it's time to hop into the car to drive to the Blue Lagoon. We want to be there for the sunset. Let me tell you, even if you are not a spa lover, you do not want to leave this place again, once you dive into the blue milky water.

The power plant Svartsengi carries water with a temperature of 240°C  from a depth of 2 km. This water is used to heat the surrounding villages and the nearby airport. Furthermore, electricity is produced with its steam.

The remaining water (still with a temperature of 70°C) is gathered in the Blue Lagoon. It is naturally enriched with silica, salt and algea. Combined, they form the lagoon's typical blue-grey water colour. The ground of this lake consists partly of shelly and blue sand. People with skin diseases, especially people suffering from psoriases realize a healing impact of the water. The Bláa lónið today is Iceland's most popular natural bath.

Due to the enlargement of the power plant, the original bathing lake had to vanish. In a minor distance, the new Blue Lagoon was built. To this refurbished and enlarged "Super-Spa" people from all over the world come to relax and make use of the healing earth. 

The waterfall of healing water is used as a natural massage including skin peeling. You can relax in a steam bath built into a artificial lava cave and of course, you can use several saunas as well. More than 120.000 people come each year to spend a few relaxing hours in the Blue Lagoon.

As we walk from the car towards the lagoon with our thick winter coats, hats and scarfs, we cannot imagine to only wear a swim suit in a few minutes and take an outside swim. The second we leave the warm building is tough, but the moment when you dive into the hot water is incredible. For hours we just float through the water, search for the hottest streams and have a drink from the bar (Yes, in the water!).

After this extraordinary spa event, you actually don't want anything, but cuddle into comfortable clothes and go to bed.

 

However, our day is not over yet. At 20:30 we get picked up at our hotel for a Northern Lights excursion. Oh, I wonder for how long I have desperately wished to see those lights. I have always been uncertain, if it will ever happen, because it means travelling north in the winter (too cold, too cold).

Here we are (with 12 fully packed busses, yay), ready to head for one of the most exciting excursions in my life. The omens are favourable, the tour guide says. Much different from the days before, when they couldn’t spot any lights or the tours even had to be cancelled due to bad weather conditions.

We drive out into the dark. We are told fairy tales and facts about the Aurora Borealis and Icelandic myths.

Northern Lights scientificly is are natural lights that display in the sky particularly in the high latitude (Arctic and Antarctic) regions, caused by the collision of energetic charged particles with atoms in the high altitude atmosphere (thermosphere). The charged particles originate in the magnetosphere and solar winds are directed by the Earth's magnetic field into the atmosphere.

It feels a bit like being in an American storm chaser movie, or in one of those supernatural TV shows. “We have spotted a magnetic field”, the guide says and we stop on a field. All the sudden the guide screams “it’s happening, get out, it’s happening”.

And there it is!

It starts with a little glow and evolves to be a green glimmering strap drawing itself over the night sky.

I stop breathing!

I am so thankful for this dream coming true. The light gets bigger, disappears and comes back again. I have no words for it, but I try to capture this moment. Of course, the photos are far away from reality, but see for yourself.

 

On Sunday, it’s our “bottom left corner excursion day”.

We drive along the so called Golden Circle and start with the Þingvellir National Park. The park is located about 50km north east of Reykjavik on a plateau. The national park of Þingvellir encompasses 27km² and was declared in 1928. Today it is the oldest one of Iceland. The continental drift between the North American and Eurasian plates can be clearly seen in the cracks or faults which traverse the region. The biggest one is Almannagjá, a veritable canyon. This also causes the often-measurable earthquakes in the area.

Þingvellir is a former place where in ancient times moots where held. The Alþingi (assembly) at Þingvellir was Iceland's supreme legislative and judicial authority from its establishment in 930 until 1271. The Lögberg (Law Rock) was the focal point of the Alþingi and a natural platform for holding speeches. The Lawspeaker, elected for three years at a time, presided over the assembly and recited the law of the land.

Before the law was written down, he was expected to recite it from memory (how many laws could there have been?) on the Lögberg over the course of three summers along with the complete assembly procedures every summer.

Inauguration and dissolution of the assembly took place at the Lögberg, where rulings made by the Law Council were announced, the calendar was confirmed, legal actions were brought and other announcements made which concerned the entire nation. Anyone attending the assembly was entitled to present his case on important issues from the Lögberg.

 

Next en route, after driving through stunning beautiful sceneries with lakes and even a little forest (they are hard to find) is Geysir. The Great Geysir, or Stori-Geysir, has been dormant since 1916 when it suddenly ceased to spout. It came to life only once in 1935, and as quickly went back to sleep.  

Since then its repose has sporadically been disturbed by the dumping of tonnes of carbolic soap powder into its seething orifice in order to tickle it to spout.

It is not exactly known when Geysir was created. It is believed that it came into existence around the end of the 13th century when a series of strong earthquakes, accompanied by a devastating eruption of Mt. Hekla, hit Haukadalur, the geothermal valley where Geysir is located.

What is known is that it spouted regularly every third hour or so up to the beginning of the 19th century and thereafter progressively at much longer intervals until it completely stopped in 1916. Whether its silence is eternal or temporary, no one knows. When it was alive and shooting, it could thunderously blast a spectacular jet of superheated water and steam into the air as high as 60 to 80 metres according to different sources. Its opening is 18 metres wide and its chamber 20 metres deep.

 

The attraction of the area is now Strokkur (The Churn), another geyser 100 metres south of the Great Geysir, which erupts at regular intervals every 6-10 minutes and its white column of boiling water can reach as high as 20-30 metres.

The whole area is a geothermal park sitting on top of a vast boiling cauldron. Belching sulphurous mud pots of unusual colours, hissing steam vents, hot and cold springs, warm streams, and primitive plants can all be found here. Don't be afraid, you will get used to the smell of sulphur.

Now, during winter it is fascinating how the hot water freezes seconds after it erupts from the ground. The results are bushes and branches covered with an icy coat.

Yet another and final highlight of this journey is already waiting in line: Gullfoss. If you search for pictures on the internet, you are already overwhelmed by its beauty and it suddenly hops onto the "Top 3 to do" in Iceland.

When we arrive at the nearby parking lot, we can already hear the water, but without this sound you would not guess it is there.

Gullfoss is in the river Hvítá, which has its origin in the glacier lake Hvítávatn at Lángjökull glacier about 40km north of Gullfoss. The glacial water is brownish, since it carries lots of sediments that the glacial ice has carved off the earth.

About a kilometer above the falls it turns sharply to the left and flows down into a wide curved three-step staircase and then abruptly plunges in two stages (11m and 21m) into a crevice 32m deep. The crevice, about 20m wide, and 2.5 km in length, is at right angles to the flow of the river. The average amount of water running over this waterfall is 140 m³/s in the summertime and 80 m³/s in the wintertime.

Gullfoss is called the "Golden Falls", since on a sunny day the water plunging down the staircase truly looks golden. To stand at Gullfoss and wallow in the beauty and the wonder of nature is an uplifting experience.

Sigríður Tómasdóttir, the daughter of Tómas Tómasson who owned the waterfall in the first half of the 20th century must have felt the same. She lived at a farm nearby and loved Gullfoss as no one else. At this period of time much speculation about using Gullfoss to harness electricity was going on. Foreign investors who rented Gullfoss indirectly from the owners wanted to build a hydroelectric powerplant, which would have changed and destroyed Gullfoss forever.

As the story goes, we shall be thankfull to Sigríður Tómasdóttir that we can still enjoy the beauty of this waterfall, because she was the one that protested so intensly against these plans by going as far to threat that she would throw herself into Gullfoss and therby kill herself. To make her threat believeable she went barefoot on a protest march from Gullfoss to Reykjavik. In those days the roads weren't paved and when she arrived after 120 kilometers her feet were bleeding and she was in very bad shape. The people believed her and listened and the powerplant at Gullfoss was never built.

See, you just have to love Iceland for its wonderful fairy tales.

 

During our last dinner we recall the past (only 2) days.

It is unbelievable, how many amazing things we have seen!

Sights of which some might think they will never see in life.

Oh lovely world of travelling, you are the best medicine and make everything feel so right, that there is only one feeling left:

Happiness!

 

Travel Diary shared by Landmeedchen
www.landmeedchen.com

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