The Inside Edition to Iceland; Part 1
When you first land in Reykjavik, you think you’ve landed on Mars. All you see is a dark, rock-strewn landscape and black lava mountains under angry grey skies. As you drive downtown from the airport, a strong smell of sulfur assaults your nose. What comes to mind is the volcanic eruption of 2010, which disrupted air travel across Western and Northern Europe. But, two days into your trip and you begin to see the appeal of Iceland: there aren’t many countries where you can visit thermal springs with a boiling temperature of 100°F and icy glaciers in the same afternoon.
It’s no wonder Iceland’s tourism is booming.
Ranked among the world’s happiest countries, the Land of Fire and Ice is home to majestic natural landscapes. On the must-see list:
The Golden Circle:
The Golden Circle consists of three equally stunning locations in Southwest Iceland: Þingvellir National Park, the Geysir Geothermal area and Gullfoss waterfall. None of them is further than an hour’s drive from Reykjavik, and thus all three can be viewed in one day.
The incredible geology of the park comes from the fact that it is situated directly between two tectonic plates in the rift valley that runs all the way through Iceland. It was a pocket of magma between these two plates that rose as they moved apart, which began the creation of Iceland millions of years ago. It is also called the sinking Valley because the distance between the plates widens approximately 2.5 centimeters (1 inch) every year and has done for millenniums.
The second stop on the Golden Circle is the Geysir Geothermal area within the Haukadalur Valley. At the Haukadalur Valley, the geothermal activity is very intense. Of the two geysers that make it famous, the first is ‘Great Geysir’ which is now retired; it’s younger cousin and neighbor, Strokkur goes off every 10 minutes or so, throwing water from 66 to 132 feet in the air.
Gullfoss Waterfall translated to “Golden Falls” is famed for its scale and beauty and is the last stop on the Golden Circle. The water in Hvita river travels from the glacier before cascading 105 feet down Gullfoss, in two stages, in a dramatic display of nature’s raw power.
Hunting the Northern Lights:
I am told by a New Yorker that the notorious cold in Iceland is less intense than a New York winter but when you’re standing in an open field for more than an hour in 40 degrees temperature, you begin to feel as though you have fallen overboard from the Titanic and are bobbing in icy water. Two nights we chase the elusive Northern Lights, waiting in one location for three hours, alternately gazing fixedly at the stars or the clouds drifting across the sky, even stomping our feet and flailing around our arms in a wild approximation of a rain dance that would appease the Northern Lights God. To no avail.
Next night, we are back again in the freezing cold, standing with about 500 people in a field in the middle of nowhere. It is so cold that when we breathe, it looks like we are smoking—the temperature has just dropped to a rather chilly minus 17 degrees celsius (1 Fahrenheit), and I’m super-glad I’m wearing snow-shoes, thermal underclothes, a down jacket, ear muffs, and fur-lined gloves. 45 minutes later, the clock ticks to midnight, and no lights shine in the pitch dark except a faint glow from a camera screen.
I begin to lose hope . . . will the Northern Lights not show up again?
And then, a minute later, the clear sky is lit with a mystical display of grey and silver dancing lights. A burst of spontaneous applause arises from the crowd. Fifteen minutes later, the end of God’s laser show. We all troop home, exhausted and excited to have witnessed one of nature’s most spectacular displays.
Moral of the story: The Northern Lights are a BFD! God knows how to put on a light show . . . however, to catch this rare and resplendent show, you need not only a sense of adventure, but a hefty dose of luck.