We had spent some wonderful days out in the wilderness touring the south of Iceland. The previous evening we had driven back to Reykjavik, from Hofn, a distance of more than 450 kms. This is the eighth part of my Travelogue about our Road Trip across southern Iceland, titled, “Reykjavik and the Northern Lights: Iceland Part 8”. Iceland Travelogue begins here !!. During this tour, we had been to a lot of charming and spectacular locations which included Gulfoss and Geyser, Thingvellir National Park, Kerid Crater Lake and the incredible Skogafoss and Seljalandsfoss waterfalls, Reynesfjara -the Black beach and Solheimjokull Glacier walk , to Jokulsarlon Glacier Lake. We had been fortunate enough to find lofty glaciers and picture perfect rainbows, We had soaked ourselves with pristine nature, overflowing with its wonders, alluring and enchanting at every bend and turn of Iceland. You can read about our travel experience by clicking the links above.
Last night as we reached our hotel and were settling ourselves I had gone down to the reception for a quick chat with the Polish lady working there. I wanted to know from her a site from where we might get a chance to view the Northern lights. Just as it had on a couple of previous occasions, the Aurora sighting prediction ( You can check this at Vedur.is ) showed strong chances that night too. As soon as she brought me out to the hotel entrance, in order to point at the direction of the SunVoyager ( which was only a kilometer from the Hotel Orkin, where we were staying), we saw the sky overhead getting ready for the show. “There it is !!” she exclaimed as she pointed up to the sky. It was half past eight in the evening, the rays of the sun had dimmed about an hour back on this fag end of March 2017, and darkness was slowly shrouding the city. The new moon was 4 nights behind us. We knew we had our day today !!
The group, tired after a full day that started around 8 in the morning, quickly recouped and regrouped. The children jumped at the chance of seeing the Northern Lights at last since luck had played a major role in its sighting all along. We took our cars and drove down to the seaside near Seabraut road, to a location next to the SunVoyager. The sky had darkened all around by then, the long walkway beside the sea lit by the street lamps, while the rest of the expanse turning pretty dark in about half an hour’s time. While planning this trip six months back we had started first by checking the possibilities of an Aurora during the end of March ( Details about this in my Planning for Iceland ? article ). But, as luck would have it, the Northern lights had successfully eluded us till then and though we had had a couple of days with high prediction of Aurora sighting, it did not materialize. Now we probably had our final chance. We waited with great anticipation and baited breath, even the children in the group. One of us quickly dashed to a local pizzeria and brought back pizzas,wraps and soft drinks to have an improvised meal right there, out at the waterfront, as we were readying our cameras and keeping an eye on the sky above. The chilly winds were a spoilsport, staying warm was becoming a challenge and every few minutes we changed places to huddle inside our cars for a little warmth.
Around 10 in the evening, the sky started to change. The white mysterious streaks in the sky started to put on a greenish tinge and with time the tinge formed bands and waves across the sky. Animated, with its mesmerizing twists and turns, the sky was slowly smearing the horizon in every direction with a pulsating light. Nature had granted us our final wish of experiencing the Northern Lights, a wish which stays on the top of any traveler to Iceland’s list. The whole sky slowly started to dance and sway with green swirls of light sent from the heavens. The streaks and patterns, shifted and merged , the lights and curves created waves across the sky, creating a show for us, the mere mortals on the earth. This was the crowning glory to a fantastic experience called Iceland.
We were there for about an hour and then we decided to chase the Northern lights, to a place where a local Icelander had advised us to go. The location was about 5 kms from the Sun Voyager, a location known as Grótta Island Lighthouse, Seltjarnarnes ( check this out in Google Maps). We quickly got into our car and drove to this location , about 10 minutes away. It was pitch black, there were quite a few cars lined up along the sea coast and a lone lighthouse on one end of an escarpment.
We parked our cars, and ventured into the darkness outside. The city of Reykjavik twinkled far away in the distance . The bay was to the north and west of the coast. We couldn’t see a thing out in the darkness. The silence all around engulfed us, only breaking with the sound of tyres on gravel and the headlights of another car cruising by. The children had a field day too, enjoying the darkness and the chill, clapping, playing and chatting in the out-lands, where we could hardly see one another due to very poor visibility. The sky was clearer here, the colours more visible to the naked eye, the waves more overhead. We looked with awe at the light from the heavens. The children mostly stayed inside the cars while we men gulped shots of whisky to keep us warm. It was about 2 am when the cold forced us to call it a day and all of us drove back to the hotel for a much needed sleep. This had been the longest day of our trip.
The next two days around Reykjavik made for a pleasant and leisurely city tour. There might have been much to see in or around Reykjavik but we were already satiated from our long and arduous tour around the country so roaming around this city meant only to enjoy the food and do some shopping for mementoes and artifacts which kept the ladies busy. Reykjavik has some very nice walking and cycling paths, and the more enthusiastic travellers can rent out a bicycle to have a look around the city too. We took the city in a leisurely stride these two days, checking a few of the most important sights and indulging in some good food , wine and fun.
The Sun Voyager is a central piece of Reykjavik city tour. Bang on the Seabraut Road, it is a striking piece of architecture built by Icelandic sculptor Jon Gunnar Arnason. Resembling a Viking ship, it is a dreamboat and an ode to the Sun. Popular among tourists and locals too, the Sun Voyager with the Esja mountains as the backdrop, is a great place for enjoying the view of the bay, leisurely strolls and photo shoot too .
We visited the Hallgrímskirkja Church, in the center of the city. It is an architectural magnificence of expressionist form, built in the shape of lava formations cooling into basalt rocks.
We also had a dip in the hot geo-thermal baths which are a common sight across many places in Reykjavik as well as in other parts of Iceland. These are a result of the geo-thermally heated water in the earth’s crust which pours into a water basin. The baths are also said to have a positive effect on the human body, due to the many elements trapped and soaked in its water. The Blue Lagoon is the most well known of Reykjavik pools, famous for the sight of the blue pool melting out into the ocean, but the charges are pretty pricey. Again taking a cue from a local Icelander, we ventured into a local government pool, named Laugardalslaug.
A bath in a geothermal pool is a must if you are in Reykjavik. Now in Reykjavik, and probably in many other places too, a pool bath is only allowed after you have taken a nude shower. So be prepared to take such open showers; your essentials can be kept in an adjoining locker room. But be cool, men and women take them separately. An hour in the warm pool water really does wonders to you. The body pain and the tiredness vanishes as you dip yourself and soak in the warm water.
Another great place to visit to understand the Icelanders and their socio-religious history is the Vikings ( Saga) Museum. The entry fee was about 7 USD in March 2017. You also get a self explanatory audio plugin which gives a detailed narrative on each of the scenes, statues and events depicted inside the museum.
Shopping and eating always figures prominent at the end of a tour for me. It was time to delve into local food. Iceland is famous for its lamb so we tried some juicy steaks, prime ribs and stew -all lamb, at Barber Bistro Bar. It is situated at the ground floor of Alda Hotel, Laugavegur 66, Reykjavik and is a very decent place to have a meal with family. We had also targeted to get into a local pub to spend an evening there and enjoy the nightlife. So in the evening we put all the children in one room with the eldest who was around 16 years to monitor them. We took a short drive to the local pub street which was about 2 kms from our hotel.
After hopping around a couple, we liked the Lebowski Bar at Laugavegur 20a,Reykjavik. We stayed there till 1 am at night and made friends with a group of travellers and another set of local Icelanders.
We danced to their rhythms and they also enjoyed quite a few of Indian peppy numbers which the DJ was kind enough to play for us. The whole pub joined hands and danced around the desi Bhangras and the Bollywood numbers, while beer and whisky flowed around the tables. The snacks were tasty too and so was the service of this joint. A very enjoyable place and one you should check out during your trip to Reykjavik.
Our next destination was Prague, where we planned to stay for a couple of nights before flying into Dubai. The last day at Reykjavik saw us rushing through our breakfast at the hotel and then heave our gears and bags into the car . We had mostly completed packing the previous evening, as this morning we had an additional task of returning our rented automobiles back to the supplier. This time we were booked with Icelandic Air on a midday flight which takes about 5 1/2 hours to reach Prague.
It was time to leave, time to move on. This tour to Iceland was one of the greatest tour I had been in. Fantastic unrestrained nature, great road trip, enchanting sights and some wonderful memories to take back with us. Love you Iceland, and I promise I will be back again, someday.