Northern Lights in Iceland - Day 4: Now Where Did They Put Those Pesky Northern Lights??

November 17th, 2013

Back when we started talking about going to Iceland, we had one thing on our list of things to do.  The Northern Lights.  So while planning, we had to figure out the best possible Northern Lights options.  It actually worked pretty well for us since the Northern Lights are best seen starting in September/October and running through April.  Even better, the lower-priced deals from Icelandair were around this time anyway, so...Win!!

The package we ended up purchasing with the airline was pretty swell.  It included the flight, hotel and two days of excursions.  Today's excursion was a Glacier Hike and a Northern Lights tour.  It is possible that we went with this package because of the Northern Lights (or maybe because it was relatively inexpensive, but you know...tomato/tomahto).  We had high expectations for the lights.  High expectations.  (Come on...you just know where this story is going...)

We were starting the day a little later than yesterday.  This was great for sleep purposes, but it meant we were paying for breakfast again.  And because we didn't know the exact food itinerary for the day, we figured it would be wise to get the hotel's breakfast.  Now there was a little fridge area near the front desk that had plenty of wine, sandwiches, water, candy bars and wine.  But a big breakfast was in order.  The three of us walked to the hostess and gave our room numbers.  Richelle got a receipt.  Danielle got a receipt.  I...didn't.  Which means my negotiation from yesterday...worked??  Worked!!  Free breakfast!!  Thank you, broken 1990's TV!!  

The discovery for today's breakfast (besides the fact that mine was free!!) was the Icelandic yogurt.  Skyr is Icelandic.  Similar to a yogurt, Skyr has been around since medieval times in the country.  Wikipedia says Skyr is usually served with sugar and cream on the top.  Ummm...sign me up that one.  The Skyr we tried were in small, almost baby food-sized jars, with a few berries and a small dollop of...maybe it was cream on top.  And we liked these very much.  The Skyr itself was nice and creamy, not tangy like yogurt can be.  I went back into my memory banks and remembered there was a brand of "Icelandic Yogurt" that was sold at Target and Whole Foods at home.  Skyr for everyone!!  (side note - I have picked up a few cartons of Siggi's Icelandic Yogurt/Skyr since I got home.  Pretty tasty.  It wasn't like those little jars we ate in Reykjavik, but maybe I need to add sugar and cream first...)

The guides started arriving at the hotel at 1130am.  When we went to the busses, we met up with Brett, who was picked up first.  Brett steered us to a smaller van, which held six people.  It ended up being a great choice.  Not only was Tom our guide, but we were in a small van and one that didn't have a broken heater (seriously.  Some poor bastards were in a bus that lost heat midway through the excursion.  I really hope they got some of their money back).  The couple that made up the last two seats in the van were very, very quiet.  It wasn't until the end of the night that we discovered they were from New Jersey and their last trip was China.

Now excuse me while I take a slight detour for a moment.  The couple from New Jersey talking about going to China.  THAT is possibly the most fun thing about travel.  It's swapping travel stories with other travelers.  Not only with friends and family, but with complete strangers.  It's hearing about a trip to Bali from a woman from Seattle while drinking a Pisco Sour in a cafe in Lima.  Or laughing about similarly hilarious trips to Machu Picchu with brothers from Miami in a vineyard in Napa.  (Note: Not all stories about trips need to be Peru-based.  I'm just saying...)  This is the part I enjoy the most.  And for someone who doesn't like to talk to others, I've been pretty damn chatty recently...

Once we got on the busses, we started driving.  And kept driving for...forever, it seemed.  Recently, I was reminded that I get severely motion sick while in a bus and checking my iPhone.  The other realization is that when I get on a bus, I instantly want to fall asleep.  I don't know if this is just happening in Iceland because I'm in a constant state of exhaustion, or if this is a real thing I should pay attention to in the future.  But both yesterday and today, I was fighting hard to keep my eyes open.  The van was cozy.  The scenery was beautiful.  Why wouldn't I try to curl up and take a quick nap??

We drove for a significant time.  My guess is an hour and a half at least.  But before we went to our glacier for a hike, we first stopped for lunch.  This stop may have been a gas station.  It may have just been a cafe of some sort.  Either way, it was a cross between a 7-11 and a Chili's.  Some folks picked up a pre-packaged sandwich and some chips from the gas station side of the building (the classy gas station side of the building.  Not like most of the gas stations we see in the States).  Others picked up some hot food.  When you think of hot food, you'd think of sandwiches.  And you'd be right.  I personally grabbed a steak sandwich with some kind of horrible-for-you-but-tasty-nonetheless sauce.  But they also served soup.  And a lamb shank.  Yep.  I'll just let that one sink in.

While we ate (and watched a closed-captioned episode of Merlin on the TV), we all took turns getting fitted for crampons for our upcoming hike.  Most of the group went over quietly and had the guides do their guide thing.  They look at your shoes, pull out a set of crampons and fit your foot.  They then hand you the pair of fitted crampons and tell you not to put it on the table or chair because it will tear up the table and chairs.  But then there's the guy who walks over, sits down and loudly proclaims, "Size 14 US, please."

*heavy eye roll*

Luckily, that guy was not in our van.   We took off and headed out towards our real destination.  Sólheimajökull.  We were going to hike on a glacier.

Now just the fact that I was going to do an activity like this is HILARIOUS!!  Not only am I not an outdoors person, but I'm not an adventure seeker.  I climbed Waynapicchu, but did not entirely enjoy it.  That time, it was just dealing with steep inclines and declines.   This time, let's add ice to the mix.  But we were in Iceland.  A glacier is basically a rite of passage.

Are you surprised I shouldn't handle a pickaxe??
Our bags were left in the van (again with the Chicago mentality, my first thought as we left the van was "Did he lock the doors??" He didn't) and we walked, crampons and pickaxe in our hands to a point on Sólheimajökull.

Tom.  We loved Tom.
It was here where we learned how to strap on the crampons.  It was here where we learned why we had a pickaxe.  It was here where Tom told us to step where he stepped.  Walk where he walked.  Why??  Because we never knew where an ice hole would be (technical term, I'm sure).  If we wanted to stay on the glacier, we'd follow Tom.  Now, the three of us loved Tom already.  He was scruffy and young and had a great French-Icelandic accent.  We'd follow him anywhere.  And to not fall down into an ice hole...we'll continue to follow where he goes.

A pickaxe and crampons!!
Flat feet.  Forceful step.  This is how we walk on a glacier.  We set off on our path and walked on a glacier.
We walked through an ice hole.

Waving at Tom from inside an ice hole.  I obviously love saying "ice hole"
I could write about walking on a glacier, but really...it's walking.  It was not necessarily easy going.  I tended to be slow on the walking, cause I was petrified of falling.  Happily, I never did.  We climbed up a glacier.  We climbed down one.  We crouched down and walked through an ice hole.  And it was pretty damn magical.  How could it not be??  Sure, we had "Mr. Helpful" in our group.  The guy who thought he should help every lady walk across a small chasm in the glacier.  And we had "The Singer."  Some lady who thought it would be good to sing or hum a song while walking on a glacier.  Her song of choice "She Blinded Me with Science."  Oh my sweet lord.  These yahoos weren't in our group from the van.  Thank god.  Before long, we were done.  We took the crampons off.  We handed over the pickaxe.  And our biggest adventure in Iceland was over.

Emerging from an ice hole victorious.

And ready to...murder??
Soon enough, we were cozy in the van.  I was falling asleep again.  But we did have an unexpected stop before dinner.  We were going to the Skogar Museum.  I know, right??  Truth is, I had no idea what the Skogar Museum was going to be.  In the first half of the last century, an Icelandic man began collecting items from Iceland's past.  The museum began in the basement of a local school.  60 years later, a museum and gift shop, plus various buildings make up the Skogar Museum we visited on this night.  The man who started this museum years ago still curates the museum to this day.  We actually saw him playing a piano as we walked into the museum.

The museum was interesting.  There were multiple buildings surrounding the museum itself.  A school.  A church.  A home.  The buildings were ones of the past.  They were fun to see, but mostly with no lighting (because...these were from "the past").  Luckily, we had plenty of space on the digital cameras.  A quick picture with a flash showed what we couldn't actually see inside of the buildings.

Icelandic homes from the past.

Icelandic bedroom from the past.
As we went back inside the museum, we wandered, occasionally listening to the museum worker explain things.  But as with any museum, we began to fade pretty quickly.  Plus, some dude from our group was making the analogy about how the United States was like the Empire in Star Wars.  Jesus, I do not need to hear this right now.

Signs, signs, everywhere signs.

Well, there are a lot of sheep here.
Once we finished with the museum, we were all ready for dinner.  Dinner was a stop at Hotel Anna.  And Icelandic Meat Soup.  I had had some of the meat soup at Geysir yesterday and while the two styles were similar, they were just different enough.  I liked the soup at Hotel Anna, but I liked the fact that the soup yesterday had rice in the broth.  So I know what I'll enjoy when I figure out how to make this at home.  Water, tea and bread were included in the dinner.  Wine was not.  We all had wine.  We will nearly always have wine.

After dinner, we got into the van knowing we hadn't been given any hint about the Northern Light's activity today.  Yesterday, our guide had gone out of his way to tell us how the night was going to be nearly perfect for the Northern Lights.  So much that we were trying to decide if we should go on an earlier excursion.  Tom started talking and we all shut up.  He had the news we'd all been waiting for.  And the moment he started talking, I knew immediately we were hosed.  Why??  Cause he was taking a loooooooooooong time to get to his point.  Please.  I do the exact same thing.  So why was it a bad night??  The weather had been off.  The sun hadn't had the solar gasses two or three days earlier.  The moon was bright.  And we would miss the lights entirely.  The only redeeming moment was learning the folks who thought they were lucking out yesterday actually didn't see any lights either.  Yeah!!  Suck it, people!!

Tom had talked to the other guides and came up with a good Plan B for our evening.  The first stop was an evening waterfall.  This is not something we expected to be able to do in the dark, but some resourceful person added some flood lights to the base of the waterfall.  The pictures weren't great, but it was still pretty dang cool.

If we'd seen the Northern Lights, we wouldn't have seen this waterfall.
We also went to the coast to see a lighthouse.  The lighthouse did not look like any lighthouse I'd ever seen.  And unfortunately, there aren't really any usable pictures of this lighthouse.  No lighting plus late night doesn't make for ideal photography.  We wandered close to the coast, froze a little (ok, a lot) and went back into the van for the drive home.  We all slept on and off during the drive home.  It was a long drive home and it had been a long day.
This is a lighthouse.  It's just not a great picture.
Funny enough, for all of the nodding off we were doing in the back of the van, we were all ready for a drink after our day.  The bar was still open for a few minutes, so we grabbed a quick drink and decided on a plan for tomorrow.  It was our last full day.  And a day all on our own.  We had plans.  Good plans...

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