In search of aurora

Monday, November 21, 2016

We have all day free until 6pm when we have scheduled a tour for ourselves.

We start our day, after a good night’s sleep, by driving back to old Reykjavic and having breakfast at Reykjavic Roasters. This is the only coffee roasting place in the city and we must give it a try!

Reykjavik Roasters roaster

The cafe is very small and we stand around awkwardly until a table for 2 leaves. We drag over a chair and are good. Jeff and I have coffee americano and porridge (steel cut oatmeal into which we stir homemade raspberry jam) and Tom has the same coffee, but with a croissant with cheese and jam. Ahhh…a nice local place, and coffee is delicious!

Fortified, we retrace part of yesterday’s walking tour. First, the knitting shop, where Jeff and Tom wait very patiently while I look at everything and eventually don’t buy anything! I’ll come back another time. We come upon a typical touristy store. Tom buys little tcotkes for friends, I get a T-shirt and Jeff buys a shot glass. Happily I’m carrying my backpack so we can shove everything in there along with extra scarves, rain pants, windproof jackets, etc. We are prepared today! Of course, as luck would have it, it is not windy at all or remotely as cold as yesterday.
We stop in a small gallery but don’t buy anything. We find a store with reasonably priced postcards (about 70 cents US) but the stamps are over $2 each! Some cards are going to get mailed once we get back to the States!

We know there is a sculpture park down by the harbor, but we aren’t sure exactly where and decide to walk that way, anyway. We walk and walk along the harbor…we are not seeing anything even remotely looking like sculpture so we turn around and headed for the grocery store. Tom is going to get a good dose of travelling frugally. Um, let me also explain that Iceland is VERY, VERY, VERY expensive! At the supermarket I get a small jar of peanut butter, rice cakes and 2 little restaurant sized packets of jam. Jeff picks up a 1/2 loaf of bread, some sliced roast beef, sliced lamb (packaged like lunchmeat), a small package of sliced cantaloupe, and some cheese. We add in 6 yogurts, 3 cup of noodle things, 4 instant oatmeals, and a bag of popcorn (a small bag of Lays potato chips is over $7, hence the popcorn). All totalled to $75! Much cheaper than eating out!!

Back at the hotel we get ready for tomorrow’s all day excursion. We all make sandwiches and get our snacks in one place – easy to grab and go in the morning.

And now,we get ready for our big night out. I put footwarmers in my socks and handwarmers in my gloves, put on my scarf, hat, coat, grab my swimsuit – yes, swimsuit!
Tonight is our big night! Tonight is the “Warm Baths and Cool Lights” tour. The tour bus picks us up at 6pm and we ride to Fontana thermal baths. On the way I look out the window so much I get a crick in my neck, I’m looking for the Aurora Borealis. All I see is grey clouds, or fog, making weird shapes and point that out to Jeff.

When we arrive at Fontana Geothermal Springs we are given very specific instructions about what to do. First, the minute you enter the dressing room you take off your shoes and socks and put them on shelves. Then you strip down to take a shower and wash – use the soap! Then you put on your swimsuit and wash again. Geothermal pools are this nation’s pride and joy. Volcanic heat keeps the temperature around 29 degrees C and most baths, like here at Fontana, have “hot-pots” – pools at 37-42 degrees C.
I did all the necessary abulations. When I walked outside, soaking wet to the pools, there was steam everywhere. Not only was it impossible to see where you were going but the walkway was all icy. “Jeff?” I called. “Over here” he and Tom called back. I slipped in that direction. “Jeff?” “Over here” they chorused back.
I felt like I was in a crazy version of “Marco! Polo!” Eventually we were reunited in the steamy water.

After an hour of soaking up the warm relaxing waters, we had to get out. Yikes! It’s cold out there! I kept as much of myself in the pools as I could. I used my hands to pull me flat through the water, eventually I did have to stand up and scurried for the locker room. The shower water that had been so warm before going into the pool now felt like icy daggers. Jump around, rinse swimsuit, dry off! Get dressed…tank top, long-sleeved t-shirt, sweater, coat, long underwear, cordoruy pants, rain pants, wool socks, hiking boots, hat, undergloves, mittens, scarf. Okay, now I can walk the 10 steps to the buffet. LOL

The buffet was really good! They had ginger carrot soup and vegan lasagne. Tom and Jeff had equally yummy food. There was a very nice selection. ¬†As we were eating, there seemed to be a scrum at the door with people coming and going. People with tripods going and not coming back right away…
Jeff got up to check it out. Remember those weird foggy type clouds I had seen, well THOSE are the start of the Aurora Borealis! Turns out that when it starts the human eye sees only grey, but the digital camers pick up the colors. We didn’t rush out because we knew our tour was going on to someplace with less light pollution.

One young couple did go out and return and the people they were with started clapping and cheering. They had become engaged under the Northern Lights! Obviously this had been planned by the young man as someone in the group started pulling little bottles of champagne out of a backpack. Very cool

We are so lucky because the sky is clear. The possibility scale (I forget the real word for it) is a 3. The scale is 1-9, so I think “3” isn’t great but our guide says its really good.

Pretty soon it’s about 10pm and we all climb back into the bus, drive about 20 minutes and pull off in the middle of nowhere.
Jeff and Tom get their tripods and cameras setup while I walk all around looking for my GoPro camera which, I think, fell out of my pocket when I got out of the bus. Bummer! Luckily I still have my Nikon. (I never did find my GoPro.)

Soon we start to see the misty clouds…electrons from the sun hitting the earth’s atmosphere and the fun begins! Everyone needs dark for the very long shutter times (10-15 seconds) but some folks, including Tom and Jeff, need to turn on their Iphone flashlights quickly, occasionally, to see or adjust settings. I act mostly as flashlight holder and helpful tripod adjuster. I got the ISO on my Nikon set to 3200 but can’t get the shutter to open long enough. My photos are just black backgrounds with weird green dots.

The cool photos you see here are Tom’s.


Notice the bright red street sign

We are FREEZING!!! As bundled up as we are, we are cold, cold, cold. I start to jump around a little and think very longingly of that thermal pool!! Still, it is WAY too soon when the bus driver turns on the headlights. She isn’t very subtle. Haha. But it is an effective way to get everyone back on board because no one can take any photos with all the light. We climb in and about 45 minutes later arrive back at the Hilton.

It is after midnight and as we part, I remind Tom that we have to be in the lobby ready to roll at 9am. It is going to be a short night.

Come along tomorrow as we explore Iceland’s “Golden Circle.”

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