After missing the Northern Lights in Alaska, I traveled to Iceland, December 4-9, 2007. Iceland is a Scandinavian country lying between Norway and Greenland. It is an island nation with a peninsula resembling a crab and its pinchers jutting from the northwest.
Iceland was a Danish colony until 1944. It became independent when Denmark was occupied by the Germans.
Iceland is warmed by the Gulf Stream. People like to say, "Iceland is green, and Greenland is covered with ice."
I flew to Boston and took Icelandair to Keflavik International Airport. The airport was built by Americans during the Cold War. It is 45 minutes from Reykjavik. On the bus, I heard "One Of Us" by ABBA. They follow me everywhere!
Iceland's population is 334,000, 122,000 of which live in the capital of Reykjavik. Icelanders are businesslike, fortified against an extreme climate. They are descended from Vikings who came from Norway in the 9th century. There are lots of square-faced blondes!
Icelanders teach us! They thrive on an island in the North Atlantic under harsh conditions by making the most of what they have. They utilize hot springs, heating their cities and towns with geothermal energy.
Reykjavik is the northernmost capital, and daylight at noon on December 8 was like twilight.
Hallgrims Church is the tall building in the city center. It is Lutheran. I climbed the tower. It was raining and quite gloomy. The Leif Eiriksson Hotel, where I stayed, faced the church. I could see it through my window. A statue of Leif Ericson stood in front. Leif was born in Iceland and was the first European to set foot in North America.
People speak both Icelandic and English. Icelandic has changed so little since the 9th century that medieval sagas (Old Norse) are still read.
The krona is Iceland's unit of currency. A bottle of water costs 200 krona.
Reykjavik is where Bobby Fischer and Boris Spassky met in 1972, for the World Chess Championship. Fischer was living in Iceland when he died.
I went out 3 times with Reykjavik Excursions. My first tour was the popular Golden Circle. I saw my first geyser since Yellowstone. The landscape was barren! Snow was on the ground, and there were no trees. It was cold, and I appreciated my long johns. Iceland is fire and ice, volcanoes and glaciers. An arctic-like setting displayed its deadly beauty as a yellow sun skirted the horizon.
It was cloudy the first 2 nights. Clouds materialized from nothing only to quickly disappear. I took the Northern Lights tour the third and fourth nights. Did I see them? No. Conditions were better the fourth night, cold and clear. Our coach parked for an hour, and everyone got off. There was a band of white light in the north below the Big Dipper, and our guide called it the beginning of the lights. He said the raw material was there, but it lacked the final touch needed to burst into activity. I got my bearings. The North Star was high like in Alaska. The Summer Triangle was a surprise. Vega, Deneb & Altair are down in Kentucky and Tennessee this time of year. I marveled at Cygnus in December! Mars burned in Gemini, and I saw Capella, Aldebaran & the Pleiades, the classic sky visible from my parents' porch. I felt privileged to see the celestial sphere from different angles. I realized one does not go to Alaska or Iceland for a few days and see the Northern Lights in their glory.
Actually, I did see the Northern Lights when I was a kid. East of Louisville, the sky took on a pinkish hue. It was nothing like I might have seen on my trips, but I cannot say I never saw them. Before modern astronomy, people in southern latitudes must have thought the world was coming to an end.