Tag Archives: Keflavik

On This Day – Iceland and The Northern Lights

Even though travel restrictions are easing I am not yet minded to risk it so I still have no new stories to post so I continue to go through my picture archives and see where I was on this day at any time in the last few travelling years.

Actually, I had a couple of flights booked this Autumn but the airline cancelled. I wasn’t at all disappointed about that and delighted to get a full refund.

On 15th October 2013 I was in Iceland looking for the Northern Lights…

Narrow swirls of light would sweep across the great dome of sky, then hang there like vapour trails…. Lights would flicker brightly in the west, then vanish in an instant and reappear a moment later behind me, as if teasing me.” – Bill Bryson – ‘Neither here Nor there’

When we arranged this trip to Iceland we hoped of course that we would see them, Margaret asked us to go with them specifically – “to see the Northern Lights”, we agreed immediately but we were careful to bear in mind that this natural phenomenon is not like the Blackpool Illuminations, they can’t just be turned on and off for the benefit of tourists, no one is guaranteed to see them (unless you happen to be Bill Bryson writing a travel book that is) and many people leave disappointed.

We were among the lucky ones…

Read The Full Story Here…

Entrance Tickets – Hallgrímskirkja, Reykjavik

Hallgrímskirkja, Reykjavik

As the sky was so clear and we could guarantee excellent views we returned now to Hallgrímskirkja, the Lutheran Cathedral and the tallest building in the city which took nearly forty years to build and was consecrated in 1986.

The design is said to be based on a geyser plume or a lava flow but if you ask me it looks more like a space shuttle about to blast off  but it is nice enough inside and the signature piece is a twenty-five tonne organ with 5,275 pipes and someone was in there this morning practising on it.

Click on an image to scroll through the gallery…

These are the four faces of the clock taken from inside the top of the tower…

Iceland Cathedral

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European Capital of Culture 2000 – Reykjavik

Reykjavikk Skyline from Hallgrímskirkja,

Today I continue my series of posts about places that I have visited that at some time have been designated either before or after as the  ‘European Capital of Culture’

With a clear sky we were hopeful that after returning from the restaurant that we might be able to see the Northern Lights but even if they were there then the lights from the city were way to bright for them to be visible so we went to bed disappointed,

In complete contrast to the weather on the previous two days there was a magnificent blue sky in the morning – as I woke I sensed sunlight leaking into the room around the edges of the curtains and from the hotel bedroom window Reyjkavik looked much more cheerful in the sunshine without its heavy overcoat of grey cloud and gloom with which we had become familiar.

And so before leaving we agreed to have one last walking tour of the city which is the World’s most northerly capital ( the most southerly capital is Wellington, New Zealand) and is the twin city of Oslo, Stockholm, Copenhagen and Helsinki in Scandinavia as well as Moscow  in Russia and (surprisingly) close to me in the United Kingdom, Kingston-upon-Hull.

Lief Ericson Reyjkavik Iceland

After breakfast we checked out and stored our luggage and then walked into the city to see the parts we had missed on the first day and Mike was particularly keen to show his railway engine discovery to Kim and Margaret.  We had liked the Sólfar Suncraft so much the first time that we made for the seafront again and made a second visit there before we walked further along the promenade towards the docks until finding our progress barred by road works where underground heating pipes were being installed we abandoned this route and turned instead towards the city centre.

Iceland Reyjkavik

There were some bright new recently constructed buildings that reflected the new wealth of Iceland standing close to the older buildings and houses that were utilitarian grey but enlivened by gay coloured aluminium cladding, not gentle pastel shades like those in eastern Europe but strong vibrant primaries, reds, yellows and blues that were presumably chosen deliberately to cheer up long cold winter days.

Hallgrímskirkja, Reyjkavik Iceland

Maintaining property must be a nightmare here and the timber must require constant attention as in many places the bony fingers of winter frost had mischievously picked away at peeling paintwork allowing the damp to penetrate the wood underneath with no doubt dire and irreversible consequences.  I like to repaint my house every twenty years or so whether it needs it or not but I wouldn’t be at all surprised if they have to do this painful operation twice a year in Reykjavik at least!

Iceland Reyjkavik

As the sky was so clear and we could guarantee excellent views we returned now to Hallgrímskirkja, the Lutheran Cathedral and the tallest building in the city which took nearly forty years to build and was consecrated in 1986.  The design is said to be based on a geyser plume or a lava flow but if you ask me it looks more like a space shuttle about to blast off  but it is nice enough inside and the signature piece is a twenty-five tonne organ with 5,275 pipes and someone was in there this morning practising on it.

Our main purpose for visiting the cathedral however was not to visit the interior but to take the lift to the observation tower at the top of the seventy-three metre tall tower.  It cost 700 krona (about £3) and it was worth every one because from the top there were glorious uninterrupted views in all directions, to the sea in the west, the glaciers in the north, the islands in the south and the ragged coastline to the east and we stayed at the top for several minutes enjoying the views.

Lief Ericson Statue Reykjavik Iceland

Back at the bottom we walked to what I suppose you might call the old town, the site of the original Viking settlement and the administrative centre of Reykjavik with the Parliament building, the President’s official residence and the Government buildings and as we walked Mike carefully nudged us towards the port area for a second inspection of the railway engine.

The docks were busy this morning with cargo ships unloading, the tugs making their way in and out of port and some brave (crazy) men on a training vessel practising some rescue procedures and taking it in turn to one by one jump into the icy cold waters.  Our route took us past the conference centre where exhibitors were packing away their Arctic Energy Conference displays and it looked quite empty now.

Our time in Reyjkavik was coming to an end so we enjoyed one last walk along the waterfront as far as Sólfar Suncraft and then walked back in the direction of the hotel stopping on the way at the little café that we liked for coffee and cake and then to be reunited with the little Chevrolet Spark that we collected from the hotel car park and then left the city in the direction of Keflavik, the airport, the Blue Lagoon and our final hotel.

Sólfar suncraft Reykjavik Iceland

Weekly Photo Challenge: Dance

Iceland Northern Lights

The Northern Lights

Suddenly the lights fell from the heavens and opened and closed like theatre curtains, disappearing in one place in the sky and returning to another and we cheered and whooped like children as we were treated to one of nature’s great displays.

The sky was vibrant and alive producing a spectacular heavenly dance show – a twirling tarantella, a frantic flamenco, a crazy can-can and more twists than Chubby Checker!

A mysterious, multicoloured magic show in which the night sky was suddenly illuminated with a wondrous glow, the luminous green of a highlighter pen that swayed and swirled like a heavenly lava lamp and then created a pattern that looked like Darcey Bussell pirouetting across the stage .

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Darcey Bussell

 

Weekly Photo Challenge: Blur

Northern Lights Iceland

“Narrow swirls of light would sweep across the great dome of sky, then hang there like vapour trails…. Lights would flicker brightly in the west, then vanish in an instant and reappear a moment later behind me, as if teasing me.”            Bill Bryson – ‘Neither here Nor there’

It seems to me that there are few things that when we see them seem to provide an uplifting, almost outer edge spiritual experience, are difficult to explain why and unusually excites and arouses.

A dolphin under the bow of the boat or a field of nodding sunflowers for example and to this short list I am going to add the Aurora Borealis – the Northern Lights, that phenomenon of the Arctic skies that is elusive and ethereal, one of the great, timeless thrills of travel, a beautiful, shifting dance of nocturnal rainbows that is guaranteed to send viewers into certain orgasmic ecstasy or miraculously transform them into lyrical poets.

Read the full story…

Weekly Photo Challenge: Shadowed

Iceland From The Hallgrímskirkja

Reykjavik from the Hallgrímskirkja Cathedral

It was a gloriously clear day in Reykjavik with a low sun that was casting shadows over the city.  I liked this picture, on the left is the shadow of the Cathedral Tower and on the right is a street cast in shadow by the buildings.  At first I thought it was an optical illusion with two shadows of the single tower and Kim had to explain it to me.

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Thesae are small but they are far away

Father Ted – These Are Small but those out there are Far Away

Weekly Photo Challenge: Dialogue

Hallgrímskirkja, Reyjkavik Iceland

Reykjavik Cathedral Iceland

Our main purpose for visiting the cathedral was to take the lift to the observation tower at the top of the seventy-three metre tall tower.  It cost 700 krona (about £3) and it was worth every one because from the top there were glorious uninterrupted views in all directions, to the sea in the west, the glaciers in the north, the islands in the south and the ragged coastline to the east and we stayed at the top for several minutes enjoying the views.

Read the full story…

Entrance Tickets – Hallgrímskirkja, Reykjavik

Hallgrímskirkja, Reykjavik

As the sky was so clear and we could guarantee excellent views we returned now to Hallgrímskirkja, the Lutheran Cathedral and the tallest building in the city which took nearly forty years to build and was consecrated in 1986.

The design is said to be based on a geyser plume or a lava flow but if you ask me it looks more like a space shuttle about to blast off  but it is nice enough inside and the signature piece is a twenty-five tonne organ with 5,275 pipes and someone was in there this morning practising on it.

Read the full story…

Iceland, The Northern Lights

Northern Lights Iceland

“Narrow swirls of light would sweep across the great dome of sky, then hang there like vapour trails…. Lights would flicker brightly in the west, then vanish in an instant and reappear a moment later behind me, as if teasing me.”  –  Bill Bryson – ‘Neither here Nor there’

It seems to me that there are few things that when we see them seem to provide an uplifting, almost outer edge spiritual experience, is difficult to explain why and unusually excites and arouses.

A dolphin under the bow of the boat or a field of nodding sunflowers for example and to this short list I am going to add the Aurora Borealis – the Northern Lights, that phenomenon of the Arctic skies that is elusive and ethereal, one of the great, timeless thrills of travel, a beautiful, shifting dance of nocturnal rainbows that is guaranteed to send viewers into certain orgasmic ecstasy or miraculously turn them into poets.

When we arranged this trip to Iceland we hoped of course that we would see them, Margaret asked us to go with them specifically – “to see the Northern Lights”, we agreed immediately but we were careful to bear in mind that this natural phenomenon is not like the Blackpool Illuminations, they can’t just be turned on and off for the benefit of tourists, no one is guaranteed to see them (unless you happen to be Joanna Lumley making a television programme that is) and many people leave disappointed.

We were encouraged however by the fact that October is the best month for sightings and in an eleven year cycle this particular October was predicted to be one of the most reliable times to see the display.

We had already spoken to many people who had paid out for a coach tour into the interior in the hope of seeing them and had returned without a sighting.  One man rather apologetically told us that ‘he had definitely seen something’  but we knew from the downhearted tone of his voice and the disappointed look of a man who had wasted a considerable amount of money that he was trying harder to convince himself rather than us.

Reyjkavik Iceland Northern Lights

And so we came to our fourth and final night in Iceland and to date we had seen nothing on account of the cloudy skies and not helped by being in the middle of Reyjkavik with all of its sodium street lights but now we were on the west coast at Kevlavik, it was a clear night and we were all more optimistic about our chances and after dinner in a restaurant close to the harbour (disappointing by the way) we made our way out onto the headland beyond our hotel where the sky turned black and the moon shone in a phosphorescent glow on the curiously calm sea as the gorse knotted hills behind us blotted out any intrusive artificial light from the town.

There we met an Australian couple who were wrapped up warm as a precaution against the wind and had cameras and tripods at the ready and they explained that they had been chasing the Aurora Borealis for ten days all across the country and for them like us this was their last chance to get the light show that they had come to see before returning home.  I asked him if it might be easier to see them closer to home in the Southern hemisphere but he gave me a patient geography lesson and explained that in the south the only real audience for the Antarctic alternative, the Aurora Australis, are the penguins.

Eventually we caught sight of a few flashes of colour in the sky but they were always only very temporary and not especially thrilling or uplifting and then some uninvited cloud came by anyway and we declared ourselves as unlucky with this as we are every week with the National Lottery and as we abandoned the venture and made our way back to our accommodation I prepared to tell the story that, like the man on the night time bus trip, ‘I had definitely seen something’.

We had some duty free wine and beer to finish now so we sat chatting and drinking and suddenly the Australian man, who had the rather unlikely name of Les Parrott, appeared at our window and was gesticulating madly at the sky with great excitement as though someone had stuck a red-hot poker up his bottom  – ‘The lights, the Northern Lights’  he shrieked over and over so that we were left in absolutely no doubt and we threw on our coats and chased after him back to the headland where the sky had cleared and there was promising activity all around us.

Suddenly the lights fell from the heavens opened and closed like theatre curtains, disappearing in one place in the sky and returning to another and we cheered and whooped like children as we were treated to one of nature’s great displays: a mysterious, multicoloured show in which the night sky was suddenly lit up with a wondrous glow, like whispers of coloured smoke, the luminous green of a highlighter pen that twisted and swirled like a heavenly lava lamp and then created a pattern that looked like a giant tornado racing towards us from the horizon.  It was as though I was an air traffic controller studying a radar screen and the sky seemed immense and infinite as I twisted and turned and tried to monitor as much of it as I possibly could.

The scientific bit:

The scientific term for the lights is the aurora borealis (named after the Roman goddess of the dawn).  The lights are formed from fast-moving, electrically charged particles that emanate from the sun. During large solar explosions and flares, huge quantities of particles are thrown out of the sun and into deep space. When the particles meet the Earth’s magnetic shield, they are led towards a circle around the magnetic North Pole, where they interact with the upper layers of the atmosphere. The energy which is then released is the Northern Lights and displays occur when solar particles enter the Earth’s atmosphere and on impact emit burning gases that produce different coloured lights (oxygen produces green and yellow; nitrogen blue).

The scientific bit ends.

We could barely believe our good fortune, I for one had given up any hope of seeing them and was certain that we were destined to leave Iceland the next morning disappointed.  It was truly wonderful and something that I will never forget or tire of telling people about but there is no doubt that we were lucky and although I am under no illusions that this was by no means the best Aurora Borealis ever and my photographs are not going to make National Geographic Magazine it is probably the only one that I will see and later that night as I tried to sleep I could still see the swirling ghostly patterns in the sky above and all around me.

Iceland Northern Lights

“Always travel in hope, rather than expectation, of seeing the Northern Lights. For the best chances of seeing the lights, head north – but not too far. ”    Alistair McLean, Founder of  The Aurora Zone

Iceland, The Blue Lagoon

Iceland Keflavik The Blue Lagoon

I had made a bit of a mistake here because to get to Blue Lagoon we had to drive back in the direction of Reyjkavik so it would have made a lot more sense to have gone there on the way rather than doubling back for the twenty minute journey.  And we were beginning to get low on fuel so I started to panic about that although the others all stayed surprisingly calm.  I don’t know why because I imagine that running out of fuel in Iceland, miles from anywhere might be a bit of a problem.

The Blue Lagoon geothermal spa is one of the most visited attractions in Iceland. The steamy waters are part of a landscape constructed by lava formation with warm waters that are rich in minerals like silica and sulphur and are used as a skin exfoliant. The water temperature in the bathing and swimming area of the lagoon averages a very comfortable 40° centigrade all year round and bathing in the relaxing water is reputed to help many people suffering from skin diseases such as psoriasis.

The lagoon is fed by the water output of a nearby geothermal power plant because in Iceland, renewable energy provides over 70% of the nation’s primary energy and over 99% of the country’s electricity is produced from hydropower and geothermal energy.  At the Blue Lagoon as part of the power generation process superheated water is vented from the ground near a lava flow and used to run turbines that generate electricity.  After going through the turbines, the steam and hot water passes through a heat exchanger to provide heat for a municipal hot water heating system and then the water is fed into the lagoon for recreational and medicinal users to bathe in. 

The signs to the attraction were a bit confusing but as we approached we could see the plumes of steam rising into the atmosphere and finally it was impossible to miss the huge structure of the power station looking like a set from a James Bond movie.  Soon after the power plant was opened and the pools began to fill people started to bathe here and some made claims about magic healing properties so eventually the company seeing this as a commercially viable venture developed it as leisure centre/tourist attraction, put a fence around it to prevent people getting in for free, hastily erected a rather ugly looking concrete building and started to charge admission fees.  They market it in the promotional literature in this rather extravagant way:

‘Guests enjoy bathing and relaxing in Blue Lagoon geothermal seawater, known for its positive effects on the skin. A visit to the spa promotes harmony between body, mind and spirit, and enables one to soak away the stresses of modern life. The spa’s guests rekindle their relationship with nature, soak up the scenic beauty and enjoy breathing the clean, fresh air.’

We parked the car and went inside and at the reception desk I was in for rather a nasty shock.  Since our last visit to Iceland in 2007 the cost of everything seemed to have become more reasonable but the entrance fee here had rocketed from €20 to €34 and that was only for the standard winter entrance that rises to €40 in the summer and which includes no more than an hour or so in the water.  At the premium end of the scale of charges is the luxury experience which costs a whopping €430 – EACH!  The Blue Lagoon boasts about four hundred thousand visitors a year so this place is making serious money.

Blue Lagoon Iceland

After recovering from the financial shock and then changing and showering the only way to the open air pool was to leave the building and as the temperature was only slightly above freezing it was a short but brisk walk to the luxuriously blue water which was warm and welcoming and once safely submerged we made immediately for the hot spots.  Soon these became too hot to sit around in and we had to swim off to explore. 

The bottom of the pool was soft and silty with a pale brownish mud that you definitely wouldn’t want to slap on your face or anywhere else for that matter. Even though the water is changed every forty-eight hours (or so they say) a handful revealed a scoop of human hair and it was unnerving to think that we were swimming about and walking in the dead psoriatic skin cells of nearly half a million visitors a year. 

Put this on your face and as the mud dries I can guarantee an unusual beard of multi coloured pubic miscellany that would not be terribly attractive.  Having made this unpleasant discovery we hastily left the soft silty bits and stayed for the rest of our visit in the parts with the rocky lava bottom.

I suppose the Blue Lagoon is a ‘must visit’ place when travelling to Iceland but it is a seriously expensive experience bordering I would suggest on the ‘rip-off’ especially when there are a number of alternative geothermal heated pools in Reyjkavik without the marketing hype for only a fraction of the price.  I for one wouldn’t waste my money and go there again.

So we returned to Keflavik and left Kim and Margaret at the hotel while Mike and I returned the hire car.  At the office we completed the paperwork and then the clerk checked the car for paint stripping volcano damage and having satisfied himself that there was none signed the paperwork to release us from our contract. 

We had expected a shuttle service lift back to the hotel but the clerk explained that he couldn’t do this on account of being the only one on duty and so to avoid a taxi fare we walked the five kilometres back instead which seemed to surprise Kim and Margaret when we eventually got back in the gathering gloom of early evening.