Not all those who wander are lost - but I'll be disappointed if I don't get lost frequently!

Tuesday, 22 January 2013

Hunting the Northern Lights - Part 1

A few days ago I set off to Iceland with the hopes of fulfilling one of my Bucket List desires: Seeing the Northern Lights. With high hopes but somewhat realistic expectations of my chances, I boarded the plane for Reykjavik on Sunday, crossing every part of my body that I could. Just in case it helped my odds of seeing the lights in the sky. This is how the Hunt went....

Day 1 - The Hunt Begins

I had a window seat on the flight, and as we got closer to our destination, I spent more and more time huddled in front of the window, peering out into the inky darkness. Before we had taken off from Gatwick, I had checked twitter and seen that the lights were out in full force and dancing across the Icelandic skies. 

For the last few minutes before landing, I could see what looked like faint mist moving across the sky. But the skies were clear, what I was seeing was a hint of the Northern Lights! I passed this news on to my neighbours, a trio of young English lads who had come to Iceland to see the lights. We all did a little excited jig in our seats as the plane touched down. 

It was a beautifully clear night, and while very happy to be in Iceland, I had a tingling regret and slight sinking feeling that I hadn't been on an earlier flight. That way I could have headed out of the city lights and really seen the lights in full force. 

By the time I arrived at the hotel in the city, it was 1.30am. Despite both sets of my camera batteries being flat, I still asked the concierge if it were possible to go out on a tour at that time of night. I knew it was a long shot, and unsurprisingly the answer was no. So up to my room I went. 

When I entered my room and looked out the huge window, lo and behold I could see the lights in the sky! They were faint, but definitely there and moving quite quickly. I had a bit of a panic attack, ripping my bags apart to get out the flat batteries, shoving them into the charger. 

The aurora can be faintly seen in the sky above Reykjavik, out my hotel window. 

For the next ten minutes I did a mad little dance around my room, vacillating between watching the lights out the window and then glaring at the battery charger in the wall socket. 

I rang the concierge again. Do taxis take people out of the city at this time of night to see the lights? Yes, came the reply, but the lights are normally gone by 2am anyway.

Who wouldn't run outside for this?
Ok. Just checking.

Back to the charger. That's enough! I ripped the slightly charged batteries out of the camera and into my camera  then shoved the other flat ones in. Yes! There was now enough juice to switch my camera on! I played around taking a few photos out of the window, changing the batteries periodically as they ran flat again. 

I started to get ready for bed. I took off my boots, got out my PJ's. It was well after two in the morning, and I consoled myself that I still had another three nights to see the aurora. Just to double check, I googled the weather forecast for Reykjavik.

Oh, shit.

It's going to be overcast and rainy for the rest of my time in Iceland. Not good at all.

Then I looked out the window and saw the lights were really bright and swirling across the sky.

So I grabbed my camera, coat and shoes, and ran out the door into the snow-covered city streets.

In the car park behind the hotel, I saw the lights at their brightest and most interesting. Resting my camera on a bobcat snow plough, I took a picture of the aurora making a curly 'V' over the city.

Day 1 in Iceland, and lights are sighted!
I was so bloody excited, that I couldn't even keep the camera still!

If this is what I could see from the middle of the city, through the haze of the city lights, imagine what they would look like outside of Reykjavik!

Again I felt a pang of regret that I was merely hours too late to get out on a tour to see them from a better position.

I wandered the silent city streets, heading towards the waterfront. Not a soul was in sight.

I sat on a frozen bench for about an hour, watching as the lights faded into nothing. Then, exhausted, I made my way back to the hotel, happy that after only a few hours in Iceland, I'd been lucky enough to see the Northern Lights!

Day 2 - Thwarted

As predicted by the weather man, it was a cold, overcast day in Reykjavik. The concierge at the hotel said that he would know by 6pm whether or not the Northern Lights tour would be on or off. 

While walking through the downtown shopping area that day, I came across a camera shop with some lovely big tripods sitting in pride of place in the front window. Just for suckers like me.

I was torn.

If I bought a tripod, the weather would be bad all week, all tours would be cancelled and I wouldn't get a chance to use it. However, if I didn't buy a tripod, if the weather did clear I would be cursing my stupidity for not doing so as I tried to hold my camera still for thirty seconds. Murphy's Law.

So, even though I've always scoffed at tourists with tripods, I ended up buying the tripod. It was the safer option. I could always return it later if the tours were cancelled.

The weather continued to be miserable all day. The Northern Lights tour was called off.

Murphy's Law indeed!

Still, there were another two nights of my Northern Lights adventure to go. Plenty of opportunity to see those pretty swirling lights again.

Was I lucky enough to see the lights again? Well, that just might be the case!

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