Tag Archives: #NorthernLights

Iceland – Finishing up our tour in Reykjavik

Wow, what a trip. After traveling 45 countries, Iceland is definitely in the top 5.

After a restful night in Northern Iceland, we awoke to a beautiful sunrise.

Our last stop before Reykjavik was the Hraunfossar & Barnafoss Waterfalls in West Iceland, believed to have formed in about 800 AD just before settlers arrived in Iceland. The falls are formed by surface water and melting glaciers that run between lava layers, giving the water a silky light blue hue.

Making it to Reykjavik, we headed straight to the most visited geothermal baths in Iceland, the famed Blue Lagoon.

Just prior to Lesly taking this picture, Danny photo-bombed us hard:

Imagine soaking your bones in heated volcanic water and bellying up to the water bar when you feel like a cocktail. You can even get a mud mask if you want a little extra face relaxation.

We had 2 days in Reykjavik so we took advantage of this time with a walking city tour then continued on by exploring the city on our own. The largest church in Iceland is located here, a Lutheran church named Hallgrímskirkja. It took 41 years to construct the church and it was designed to to resemble the trap rocks, mountains and glaciers of Iceland’s landscape.

The inside of the church is equally impressive with a huge organ.

Next to the church is Einnars Jonnsonar Museum, open year round and free. There are over 20 sculptures with thought provoking poses like this one, a man drinking milk from a cow udder. Strange.

There were interesting murals around town. I recently found a website with pictures of lots more murals in Reykjavik, see it here.

I love the varying architecture around town, it’s a mix of styles.

In terms of food, one of the most iconic street vendors is Baejarins Beztu Pylsur, serving up Icelandic hot dogs, one of the staples of the local diet. It was not my cup of tea but I had to try it.

The best place we ate in Reykjavik was Caruso, an Italian restaurant in the center of town. If you are staying overnight here, I highly recommend it.

In terms of breakfast, you must try to the cinnamon buns at Brauð & Co — they melt in your mouth. We liked them so much, we visited twice.

If you have extra time in Reykjavik, visit the Flyover Iceland attraction that utilizes state-of-the-art technology to give you the feeling of flight as you virtually soar of sweeping glaciers, stunning fjords and the most iconic Icelandic landscapes — many of which we personally visited in our 11 days.

You hang suspended, feet dangling, before a huge spherical screen while the film takes you on an exhilarating journey across Iceland. Special effects, including wind, mist and scents, combine with the ride’s motion to create an unforgettable experience.

We also visited the Magic Ice Bar, this is a fun way to experience a cocktail.

We wound down at sunset in the Sky Bar overlooking the Reykjavik Bay.

As fate would have it, we experienced the Northern Lights for a 4th and final time in Reykjavik. Not as spectacular as we had previously seen while out in the countryside but impressive just the same.

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Iceland Days 7/8 – Whale Watching and Beer Baths

We started our day in Northern Iceland at Goðafoss, or “waterfall of the gods”. It was called this because in the year 1000, Porgeir Ljosventningagodi made Christianity the religion of Iceland and threw all of his pagan god statues into the waterfall. We were lucky to catch several rainbows around the falls.

Our Viking guide Stefano was always enjoying the company of Lauren and Lucy.

After visiting the waterfall, we made our way to Akureyri, nicknamed “Capital of North Iceland”. The drive is amazingly beautiful with lots of ocean-side farms and fisheries.

We decided to go whale watching but knew it would be difficult to impress us since we had seen lots of humpback whales during our trip to Antarctica a few years ago, but that was premature. This excursion was not part of our Globe Drifters agenda but a few fellow travelers joined us.

In less than 30 minutes, we started seeing whales in all directions. They were coming up for air then doing a deep dive leaving only their tails in the air as they descend.

We must have seen 30 or more whales — the whale spotter said this was the most whales they’ve seen in a long time. We have a lot of yogis in our group — so definitely great Karma going around for us to be able to see Northern Lights and an abundance of whales.

Akureyri Bay was stunning – pictures don’t do it justice.

The town of Akureyri has an interesting feel — like a small town with metropolitan amenities.

Most cities have murals, I always find myself photographing them because I’m sure each has a story. The image painted by Guido Van Helten (from an photo found in the town’s archives) is portrait of ‘Sia’ (an Icelandic actress) who passed away in 2010 in Akureyri.

A short drive away is the Akureyri Christmas House where everyday is Christmas.

Even the bathroom has Christmas music playing 24:7.

Iceland Day 8 – Beer Baths

You’ve never soaked your buns in beer? You don’t know what you’re missing!

This restaurant and craft brewery allows patrons to soak for 30 minutes in the good stuff. I’ll spare you from seeing us in the spa but I can tell you it’s very relaxing!

After the beer spa, you go upstairs to the “quiet room” where they wrap you like a burrito on a massage bed and meditate for 20 minutes. Once that’s done, you then take in the majestic mountains surrounding this area while soaking in an outdoor hot tub.

All during the trip, Lynn and I had this big joke with Stefano because he is a Viking with a menacing laugh. Lynn said one day she would be joking with him and he would start choking her as his laugh rings aloud.

Towards the end of the day, we made our way to a volcano where you could hike about a thousand steps to the top.

With the sun going down, all of us wanted to be the first to the top. I turned on the jets and made it up first!

Shirley took this picture of me as I made it to the top
Zali and Stefan make it to the top

We ended our night by building a fire and telling stories. Not long afterwards, the Northern Lights made another visit!

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Iceland Days 5/6 – East Fjords and The Highland Plains

After visiting the Golden Circle, Southern Coast and the Iceberg Lagoon, we drove along the east coast of Iceland in a day ending with another explosion of Northern Lights. The fjords along the coast are peacefully seductive.

Day 5 – East Fjords

The fjords are filled with beautiful white swans — you don’t normally see this number of swans in one place in the USA.

The mountains surrounding this area are majestic — you can see why Hollywood films are shot in this location.

We took this opportunity to take a group photo (taken by Stefano). Meet (from left to right): Lesley, Lauren, Steve, Lynn, Danny, David, Lucy, Shirley, and Zali.

Making our way north, we stopped at a black sand beach and a few of us meditated along the rocks.

A short distance from the beach, we noticed a herd of reindeer. This was the first time I’d seen reindeer in the wild.

Our next stop was Djúpivogur, a quaint fishing village where we had lunch. The population of Djúpivogur is only 454 but it has a bohemian vibe.

Driving a little further, we visited Stöðvarfjörður, a funky little town of 200 whose church is now on AirBnB — you can stay there if you like!

In 2014 the town converted an old fish factory into a music recording studio called Studio Silo. Recording artists are inspired by the mountains and fjords surrounding the building.

On this night, our lodging was at Fjallakaffi – an active farm since the settlement period. This area is pretty isolated and the night sky was completely dark. Our lodging was in turf houses — our first experience staying in one. They were well appointed and very comfortable. The farm also has a church and a few dogs that adopt you as soon as you arrive — one hopped on our bus before we unloaded!

At 10:30 p.m., the pitch dark sky lit up — even more spectacularly than it had 2 nights ago. Wow — this was going to be a very special trip.

Day 6 – The Highland Plains

The Central Highlands is a remote area that is large yet mostly uninhabited.

We started the day at the Dettifoss waterfall, one of the most powerful waterfalls in Europe. It was a cold and windy trek to the waterfall but we were greeted with circular rainbows.

Our next stop was Namafjall Hverir, a high-temperature geothermal area with fumaroles and mud pots.

We stopped for lunch at Vogafjós Farm Resort in Skútustaðahreppur where you could peer at their cows from a window within the restaurant. After eating, you could go pet and feed the cows. Very interesting concept!

Leaving here, we went to the home of the 13 Yule Lads — Iceland’s 13 Father Christmases.

For good children, the Yule Lad will leave candy. If not, the Yule Lads fill the shoe with rotting potatoes. The Yule Lads live in Dimmuborgir, a mystical landscape with caves and pointy rock formations. Our group took this opportunity to climb the formations and have snow ball fights.

We ended our day in Húsavík, the oldest settlement in Iceland, by soaking our bones in the Geosea Geothermal Sea Baths. This spa borders the ocean where you soak in an infinity pool warmed by volcanic activity. This was the most amazing hot springs we’ve ever luxuriated in.

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Iceland Days 3/4 – Southern Coast and First Peek at the Northern Lights

Our first two days of our Iceland trip were exciting but we were about to see even more spectacular scenery culminating in an awe-inspiring light show from the Aurora Borealis.

Day 3 – Southern Coast

We started our day viewing 2 waterfalls. The Seljalandsfoss waterfall flows from 200 feet above. You can walk behind the waterfall if you don’t mind getting a little wet. It was a cold and windy morning (in the upper 20’s) but we were properly layered and enjoyed some hot chocolate afterwards.

Located less than a half mile away is a less visited waterfall and it was one of my favorites because it was not easy to reach. Approaching it looks pretty mild, just a small crevasse with a small view of the falls.

Getting to the bigger falls is a tricky walk between the boulders, jumping from stone to stone in the shallow creek below. Once you get past the first set of boulders, you no longer have the ability to hold onto the sides of the rock for balance so it’s almost a game of hop scotch between rocks — tough to do without falling into the water. Once you make it through, you are rewarded with a towering flow of water coming straight down.

Heading east, we saw beautiful farms flanked by mountains. It was getting really windy and we noticed a few vans had blown off the road.

Next we drove to see the Skógafoss waterfalls. Legend has it that a Viking named Thrasi hid a chest of gold beneath the falls. Many have attempted to retrieve it, and one man almost succeeded by tying a rope to the handle of the chest and pulling. He was only able to obtain the ring of the chest, however; now, it’s said, the ring is attached to a church door in the small village of Skógar.

As we walked towards the waterfall, wind grew to about 50 mph and it was difficult to keep grounded.

Our traveling buddy David barely kept his footing and Lynn and I grabbed our travel friend Lucy as she was also being lifted off the ground — we walked her back to the bus.

With the winds howling, we took respite for a couple of hours in a restaurant next to the falls. This was a nice break as we were able to talk more to our new travel companions and learn more about where they were from and a little about their lives.

After the winds cleared, our tour guide Stefan told us about how J. R. R. Tolkien (author of the Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit) was heavily influenced by Icelandic culture. His nanny was Icelandic and he studied Norse mythology, Tolkien had been a reader of the Icelandic sagas since childhood. 

The original houses built in Iceland were called “turf houses” because they were built partly underground and had turf roofs. We saw many original turf houses and some were on display nearby. Tolkien got the idea of the Hobbit houses from these turf houses.

Near here was another impressive waterfall adjacent to a field of grazing sheep.

We ended our day by visiting Fjadrargljufur – the most impressive waterfalls thus far and a black sand beach.

Night fell and we made our way to our hotel for dinner. About 30 minutes after dinner, one of our travel mates (Zali) spotted the Northern Lights! We all ran out and boarded the bus for a short trip to an area with less light. The night skies lit up in spectacular green, swirling beyond belief. Stefano said that someone in our group must have excellent karma because normally they don’t experience the Northern Lights in this way.

I took these photos using my iPhone 13 Pro without a tripod (just tried to hold the camera really steady as it took the picture in night-time mode using long exposure). Others had older iPhones and Android phones that did not pick up the lights as well as my iPhone. I am sure it would have been even better if I’d had a tripod.

Finally, we had realized our dream of the seeing the Aurora Borealis!

Day 4 – Vatnajökull & Iceberg Lagoon

Re-energized after last night’s amazing display of Northern Lights, we made our way to the National Park of Vatnajökull.

Vatnajökull is the largest ice cap in Iceland covering almost 8% of the country.  It was here that we took a long up-hill hike to another waterfall. This was the longest hike thus far and we ended up with over 20,000 steps this day.

Stefano and Lauren celebrate making it to the summit.

Nearby was Hofskirkja, a cozy turf church built in 1884.

Our next stop was one of our favorite places. We took a zodiac to the Jökulsárlón  Iceberg Lagoon and were able to visit them up close.

LEFT: Lesly, Lauren, Shirley, Steve and Zali
RIGHT: Lucy, Lynn, Danny, David and Stefano
Danny, Lynn and Lucy
Shirley, Steve and Zali

I’ll leave you with one of my favorite pictures of the entire trip. We took a stroll along a black sand beach covered in icebergs — known as Diamond Beach. We hit it right at sunset and it was simply spectacular.

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