A couple of years ago, I had the pleasure of experiencing Iceland, for the very first time. On two different layovers, I stopped for a few days, and visited the southern coast, and Reykjavik. You can check out that blog here: Destination Iceland
I’ve wanted to see the Aurora Borealis, for a very long time, and I decided to take a shot at it, this winter. I don’t have any plans to get back to Norway or Finland, at the moment, so I figured that Iceland would do the trick. Unfortunately, I picked a week, where there was a very low KP, which basically means, that my chances, were very slim. Ultimately, my friends and I, did get to see it, but I certainly want a second chance sometime.
Winter is very different from summer, in Iceland. Instead of doing the same trip twice, we tried to capitalize on the difference, and headed North. We left Keflavik airport around 8:30 am, and headed to the Golden Circle. We stopped by the Strokkur geyser and the Kerið volcanic crater lake area, which I had visited before. Take a look at the old blog to see the difference between summer and winter. From there, we also tried to go to Gullfoss waterfall, but the weather was getting pretty bad and we needed to get up north, before dark, so we decided to just head back to Ring Road.
About half way there, it started snowing, and the drifts were making it quite difficult to drive. Sunset comes early, this time of year, and it was completely dark before 5:00 PM. Down south, sunset lasts forever, but up north, the mountains block the light quickly, and visibility was pretty terrible. We finally arrived at the farm, where we were spending two nights, and we were thankful to have made it. We had a few beers, some light snacks, that we had picked up outside of Reykjavik, and called it a night. None of us had slept on the plane, so we had been awake for about 38 hours. Sleep was wonderful. The next morning, I woke up, before sunrise, and headed outside, with my drone. It began to get light around 9:00 AM, although it wasn’t officially sunrise, until 10:30 AM. It’s crazy how long sunrise can last, that far north. It was a very windy morning, and quite difficult to fly in, but I was able to take a few stills of the farm and the surrounding valley. I almost lost the drone to the wind, at one point, but luckily, was able to fight my way back. It’s a DJI Phantom Pro, which is completely white, so if I lost sight of it in the snow, I was never going to find it. After everyone else awoke and took showers, we headed out to the closest town, Blönduós . We stopped along the way, to look at the ocean, lots of horses, and a church or two. We grabbed groceries at BONUS, a grocery store chain, that can be found throughout Iceland and beer from Vinbudin, the government run liquor store. I should make a note here. You will hear a lot of people talk about how much liquor costs in Iceland, and it certainly is expensive. It’s by far, the most expensive place to drink, anywhere in the world. That title, used to be held by Norway, but in the past few years, Iceland has taken first place. If you look around the internet, there is a lot of advice on buying alcohol, at the Duty Free store in the Keflavik Airport. I didn’t do the math on hard liquor, but as far as beer goes, I didn’t see much of a difference between Duty Free and the Vinbudin stores. My beer of choice, in Iceland, is Einstök, which makes delicious white ales, porters and during the summer months, an artic berry, that is superb. The price was virtually the same at the two stores. You might save a few Krona in taxes, at the Duty Free, but you save yourself the trouble of carrying the beer with you out of the airport, by waiting. It’s not a long walk from Duty Free to the parking lot, but rental cars are small, and it’s even more difficult to carry it on a bus. Side Note: If you can’t make it to Iceland, I’ve heard that they serve Einstök beers at EPCOT’s Food and Wine Festival. You can find it in the Norway pavilion. We headed back to the farm early, because we didn’t want to have to drive in the dark again. The weather was much better, but the first night had worn us out. We wanted to get back, make dinner and prepare for the Aurora Borealis. Shortly after we got back, our host, offered to let us come watch him feed the sheep. He has over 400 sheep on his farm, and during the winter, they are kept warm in the barn. It was quite an experience, and one of the highlights of the trip for me. I then made dinner, a pasta with chorizo, local cheese and scallops, and it was delicious. Around 9:00 PM, we started looking for the Aurora and it was barely visible in the sky. What you see in the picture here, is much better than what you could view with the naked eye, but it was better than nothing. It was freezing out, so my friends went back inside, and I decided to set up a time lapse to shoot star trails. This was my first time, trying to shoot star trails, and it didn’t go very well. I decided to include it here anyway. I had watched a few videos on youtube and read a few tutorials, so I went with the recommended settings. It was too cold for me to stay outside and make sure that it was 100%, so I set up the tripod, on top of our SUV, and went back inside. This was really, more just a test, than anything else. I didn’t even bother putting anything in the foreground, to make the shot more appealing. I pointed the camera up at the North Star, set my exposure time for 30 seconds and that was that. I left it out there for about two hours, as I waited. You can see in the first picture below, it is one frame with the Aurora. I then added it together with the other exposures, in a star stacking app, and let it do it’s thing. I’m assuming that I needed a longer exposure, since I didn’t get the cool streaks that you see in most star trail photos. I’m not disappointed, really. I just need to take the time, when it’s a bit warmer out, and head out into wilderness, and practice. I think that it could be fun, while I travel, but I need to learn the technique a bit better. The following morning, we left a little before sunrise, and headed back south, to Reykjavik. Unfortunately, we had a bit of car trouble, which put us behind a few hours, and we ended up getting into Reykjavik, later than we had hoped. We ate dinner at a new brewery/restaurant, called Bryggjan Brewery, right along the harbor. I had the Rack of Lamb, which is easily, one of the best meals of my lifetime. The three of us, were also given free beer, because it was Men’s Day, in Iceland. I totally thought it was a sham, of some kind, at first, but after doing some google research, it’s actually a thing. We just happened to be there at the right time. With the prices of beer in Iceland, it easily saved us around 6000 ISK, which is about sixty US dollars. The following morning, I woke up early, grabbed my camera, and went off adventuring, by myself. I checked out Harpa, once again, mainly because it was a good place to use the bathroom and warm up, as I walked along the harbor. I got a little bit more off the beaten path, then I had on my previous visits, but I still wanted to shoot some of the same places, to compare the difference in seasons. I met my friends, after noon, at Hallgrímskirkja, and while they went up the elevator, to take a look around the town, I photographed the church from outside. It’s so interesting, how the sun never gets very high in the sky. We then headed to lunch and then to our Air B&B, to get ready for our evening. I left my camera at the apartment, for the rest of the evening, so that I could just enjoy myself, without worrying about documenting everything. It was quite fun, again, to head out to the Olgerdin Brewery Tour, which I had done on the previous trip. Although it was very similar to what I had experienced the last time, it was still lots of fun. It was a different host, or hosts, I should say, and they brought a different perspective to everything. We met a couple of people on the tour, became fast friends, and spent the rest of the night, bar hopping with them. It’s always fun heading to Mikkeller and Friends, and I would be remiss, to not mention Hlollabatar, a wonderful sandwich shop, that was the perfect meal, after a night of beer.
The next morning, we headed back to the airport to fly home. I have to say, I enjoyed Iceland, in the summertime, much better. Maybe it’s because I left the wintery snow and sub arctic temperatures of the midwest, only to fly into the same snow and freezing temps. Even the border patrol officer asked me why I would do such a thing! Possibly, it’s because I went all the way to Iceland, and didn’t see one damn waterfall the entire time. I think that if the Northern Lights had been in full swing, and had blown my mind, it would be a tough call between the two seasons. I’m certainly glad that I have gotten the chance to experience both though. One last thing. This picture was taken from my bed, looking past the kitchen window, in downtown Reykjavik. It certainly would be pretty awesome to look out over the harbor at the snow capped mountains, every morning when you wake up.