Sunday, November 14, 2004

Chasing Aurora Borealis

Sure, there probably aren't too many people who think of Iceland when planning a short holiday in November, but then again, maybe that's reason enough to go. We were interested in three things - thermal baths, Halldór Laxness, and Aurora Borealis. The first, impossible to miss, the second, you're foolish if you do, and the third, well, we read that November was a very good time to go.

The amount of daylight is a thing of curiousity. This is what it looked like at 10AM. And at 3PM. Well, we did what we could - sightseeing in the few daylight hours, public baths and coffee shops during the dark hours. Excellent coffee, by the way. Weird.

Outside of Reykjavík, a lot of Iceland appears to look like this - cold, empty, and rugged.

But, there are plenty of waterfalls, such as Selfoss...

...and Gulfoss.

The Continental Divide at Þingvellir, site of what is considered the world's first parliament.

The thermal activity in the Geysir area is fascinating.

Some are even mesmerized. Have to admit, watching the first bolus of water coming out of the Strokkur geyser is mesmerizing.

Others, however, get a bit intoxicated by it all. Must be the warmth. It's pretty cold in Iceland in November. We failed to bring sufficient headwear, forcing us on a hat buying spree of irrational proportions.

Icelandic hot dogs - pylsur are supposed to be pretty good.

On one, well, mid-day, we went riding on Icelandic horses, north of Reykjavík, near where Laxness grew up, and which has been the setting/inspiration for many of his novels. Still can't claim any particular fondness for horses.

Baejarins beztu
Bæjarins Beztu Pylsur - supposedly THE best dogs going. Topped with sauteed and crispy fried onions, mustard, and remoulade. Yum. A shot of brennavin - roasted caroway aquavit - to wash it down. Perfect.

Hallgrimskirkja, in the center of the capital. None of your fancy Baroque or rococco, thank you very much.

tandoori soup
This bodes well for hopes of an Indian restaurant, does it not? Food was shockingly expensive in Iceland, and unsurprisingly, not very veg. friendly. Of course, this means my attempts to try puffin and shark were not well met. Fortunately, we came across Austur Indía Fjelagið - legitimate claims as the northernmost Indian restaurant in the world? Perhaps. What is certain is that we paid about $8 for an order of poppadums.

After dinner was our big Aurora Borealis night - a bus ride deep into the countryside, away from any light pollution at all. When the Icelandic do dark, they do dark. And cloudy. So cloudy in fact, that this is all we saw. It was cold, it was dark, there were weird sounds coming from the countryside. Hmm... this part didn't work out so well. This is an actual photo of the darkness.

blue lagoon
We closed out our visit with nearly a full day just relaxing at the Blue Lagoon - a thermal spa developed out of the effluent of an adjacent energy plant. It was great sitting out in this huge thermal lake, with snowflakes falling, covering oneself in the goopy mud, and staring out over the tundra.

All in all, a great trip. Too bad about the northern lights, we'll have to try again, and I wouldn't mind giving Iceland another shot.

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