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Northern Lights


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large_5550_14729386884801.jpgHallgrímskirkja Church.
The weather turned better today and we thought the Hallgrímskirkjachurch tower would offer a good view of the area. We walked there and had a look inside the stark interior before taking the lift up. Interestingly the lift allowed 6 people up but 8 down.

Yes, we did get a good view of the area including some of the colourful houses nearby. The nearby airport runway didn’t look very long and I was surprised to learn later that there are jet A319 flights here to the Faroe islands. Also learnt that propeller flights run from here to the west side of Greenland taking nearly 3.5h too! The fares are about NZD600 each way (or more depending on the fare type)!!!

I had read that the National Museum had free guided tours at 1100 on certain days (and today being “it”). We made our way there and paid the entrance before joining the tour.large_5550_14729386803999.jpgReykjavik and its colourful houses as viewed from the Hallgrímskirkja Church tower.It made the visit a lot more meaning ful as the guide explained the broad timeline of Icelandic history. The museum was also excellent with its interactive video screens.

We had lunch at a noodle house, which did very authentic Thai beef kwayteow soup. Strangely the chicken version employed the same dark herby soup which was far from authentic.

I had booked us on the free walking tour led by a history major at 1400, outside the small stone building which was the Icelandic parliament. He was serious about turning away people who had not pre-booked; and here I was thinking that he would appreciate the extra people and extra tips.

The sights around town weren’t significant but it was more the snippets of facts and factoids that added some depth to our visit.

1. Crime is very insignificant in this country of 300,000+ people.large_5550_1472938685976.jpgTraditional style buildings are clad with corrugated sheets over the wood.This is quite an irony considering the people are descended from murderers and rapists (typical perception of Vikings).

2. DNA testing suggests that Icelandic people are more Scottish/Irish than Viking. Perhaps they are descended from the Celtic slaves taken by the Viking.

3. The weather in Reykjavik [Reykjavik-travel-guide-1005102] is relatively mild for the latitude because the Labrador comes down from the north and the Gulfstream from the south. As the guide explained this I imagined a dog from the north and a small jetplane from the south! Funnily I also had similar visions when Kim told me he was going to put a seal in the oven when he gets home (he meant fix the oven door).large_5550_14729386904142.jpgWe were lucky to have a clear night to see the Aurora Borealis. We met people who stayed two weeks and only saw it at the end of their stay.

4. Gender equality is very deeply-rooted in Iceland. Likewise with rights for minorities like LGBT. Funnily I had noticed that the statue of Ingólfur Arnarson (first permanent settler in Iceland) had pink lipstick applied. It happened around the time of Gay Pride.

5. Due to a small population, there is a possibility that one is related to just about anyone you meet. There is a website when you have log your details and trace your genealogy. Linked to this is a smartphone app which warns you when you are near someone that you are closely related to; it is an anti-incest App for dating!

6. Iceland wasn’t in WWII but may have been a beneficiary of the war (in terms of infrastructure).large_5550_14729386722314.jpgWe were lucky to have a clear night to see the Aurora Borealis. We met people who stayed two weeks and only saw it at the end of their stay.We were also told that the country received a bit of incentive to stop them aligning themselves with Russia.

7. While Icelandic traditional cuisine includes minke whale, fermented shark and puffins, these are rarely consumed today by locals. It is more tourists trying them out that has led to the continuing or increasing demand. While these creatures may not exactly be endangered, they’re not far off. However, horse meat is still part of contemporary Icelandic cuisine and some visitors may not appreciate that. BTW, McDonald’s in Iceland shut down some years ago.

After making our own dinner in the hostel, we got picked up around 2030 for our attempt to go see the Aurora Borealis (Northern Lights). Our driver/guide, who was a flight captain on small tour planes, took us to a geothermal area for a look-see (in near darkness).large_5550_14729386756190.jpgWe were lucky to have a clear night to see the Aurora Borealis. We met people who stayed two weeks and only saw it at the end of their stay.The plan was to continue to an old historic church further away for the viewing.

As we were preparing to leave the geothermal area, the guide noticed the beginnings of a good aurora display. He decided that we would stay and we ended up having a good sighting which he rated as 9+ out of 10.
At times the lights look like greyish smudges in the sky (perhaps cloud or smoke) but then they change quickly to become green. They are best when they start moving, dancing and varying in intensity. Green is the most common colour and with some imagination, I could see the hint of pink around the edges that the guide was telling me was there.

The guide told us a few interesting things about Iceland:

1. Tourists now outnumber (per year) locals by 7:1. Obviously the amount of tourists are spread through the year. The rise has only come about in recent years fuelled by high-profile events like the volcano blowing and low-cost carriers.

2. There are more rental cars than private cars.

3. Tap water is the same as bottled mineral (spring) water (just like in Christchurch). In the city centre, domestic hot water is hot-spring water while in the burbs, it is heated mineral water. For the former, it causes a rotten-egg smell in the bathroom which I detected on my first night. Both heating and water is cheap due to geothermal and springs respectively.

We returned to our hostel around 0030 feeling happy and lucky with our aurora sighting. We were only a few days into the aurora season. People who had been here for two weeks only just started seeing them yesterday. I had planned our visit to coincide with the early part of the season and the moonless period. But ultimately, cloudless skies are a big factor and we only had that for two nights during our entire stay. Actually, on a night with good activity, one can see it in the city or airport area (despite light pollution).

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Posted by alexchan 17:00 Archived in Iceland

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