I went to Iceland for one reason and one reason alone, to see Aurora. I have seen countless pictures of her writhing across the night sky with her undulating luminescence. She is like a burlesque dancer displaying her feathers, teasing all that sees her with the promise of splendor. I thought that I would easily see this, but what greeted me was the same nighttime sky that hangs over the States on a nightly basis. You would think that I would have been disappointed, but I wasn’t. Iceland is incredibly beautiful. Much of it is still rugged and wild, and for such a small country (you can circumnavigate it in less than 16 hours by car) it packs an amazing amount of natural beauty.
So the first thing you notice about Iceland is that it is dark. I went in the winter, when they get 20 hours of darkness (all the better to see the northern lights as they are only visible at night). We arrived in the morning, around what would have been sunrise in the States and it was pitch black. I knew that it would be dark until 11AM or so, but that didn’t stop my body from anticipating sunrise. It was disconcerting to say the least. The second thing I noticed was the cold. It was the first time I really understood what people mean when they say that the cold can bite. That far north, the temperature was easily in the single digits and even a slight stirring of wind felt like a gale was blowing icy shards into my soul. The third thing to catch my immediate attention was the smell, sulfur. There are tons of natural hot springs in the country and this water is considered to be so pure that it is pumped directly from the ground into the city pipes. Lest I am unclear, this water isn’t filtered before use, so the hot water comes out smelling strongly of sulfur. It is completely in your face the first day or so, but strangely I got used to the smell… which led me to wonder as I returned home if I smelled of sulfur and was torturing the people in my immediate vicinity with sulfur B.O. (EWW!).
Anyway, Iceland was settled by Vikings, and though they don’t have an official language they speak Icelandic (a form of old Viking). We have already talked about my lack of linguistic skills so thankfully everyone speaks English too, but I was fascinated that their language hadn’t been bastardized by the subtle infiltration of other languages. I can think of many words we think are purely English but really aren’t: Guru, Macho, Zombie, Artisan, Wanderlust; and the list goes on. I wonder what English would sound like if it weren’t filled with different vernaculars.
So we missed Aurora, she proved to be seriously elusive, but we did a few things wrong. We went looking for her on the night of a full moon, it’s better if there is no moon. It was also very cloudy, also a bad idea. Finally, we stayed around Reykjavik, which is in the southern part of Iceland, when really most of those fabulous pictures are taken on the northern part of the country, the closer you are to the poles the better.
Finally, one of the most surprising discoveries in Iceland was the incredible amount of street art found in and around the city, but that is a post for a different day. Stay tuned.
Have you ever had your plans go awry, but turn out pretty awesome anyway?