A toast to Iceland


Chasing the appearance of the Northern Lights has been an obsession of mine since this trip to Iceland began.

And while I’m happy to report we did finally catch the lights above the sky of Reykjavik after such a focused pursuit, the aurora capture was somewhat anticlimactic.

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After two nights of a fruitless search on our own we finally resorted to booking a tour that promised a ride in an enormous “super jeep” to a spot outside the city where we might be able to find what we’d been seeking.

We were assured the prospects of viewing an aurora were good that night.  Unfortunately one of our group was down with stomach problems so she and her partner opted out of the trip.

So a hearty trio of us embarked on a voyage we hoped would end with a stunning light display.

It did not.

The aurora, when we finally spotted it, looked like a cloud tinted vaguely green, almost undistinguishable from the similar clouds back-lit by city lights.

It was a stunning disappointment.

In retrospect it does underscore the correctness of the admonition against putting all your hopes for a terrific experience in a Northern Lights basket. au6

The next day we set out to our next destination, Akureyri, in the north of Iceland.   We once again spotted the aurora, this time a slightly darker green and actually flickering in the sky – still nothing what we’d expected.

As we moved farther north, the snowflakes began to fall in earnest and we spent much of the nearly four-hour trip motoring through a thickly swirling storm.

We awoke the next day to a cold but brilliantly clear day and set out to explore the landscape east of Akureyri, a region that promised intense geothermal activity.

Unlike the auroras, this didn’t disappoint.

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Even from a distance, the volcanic nature of the place began to assert itself.

Plumes of steam arose from spots scattered across the landscape and the smell of sulfur invaded the car.  Gigantic “pseudo craters,” which resembled the mouths of ancient volcanoes, were scattered along the way.

We soon arrived at the Hverir geothermal area at the foot of the Namafjall volcano.  Here, rocky fumaroles, bubbling mud pools and steam vents issued forth clouds of steam.

 

 

In fact, a glance at our surroundings showed a landscape dotted with billowing steam.

Nearby, along a rent in the rocky earth, we explored a cave system that had once held a hot bathing pool favored by local residents.  After volcanic eruptions in the 1970s, however, the pool’s waters had grown so hot entrances to the cave were blocked off.

The cave, Grjótagjá, was a popular filming location for “Game of Thrones.”

It was – as it seems is all of Iceland – stunning beyond words.

As I sit writing this morning, I look out the window of my rented house across a country that almost defies description.

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A wispy cloud floats above the frozen fjord directly in front of me.  Rising from the water are white snow-covered mountains whose faces are just being lit by the morning sun creeping over the mountains behind me.

To my right, the mouth of the fjord can barely be seen, where its waters merge with the Arctic Ocean.  In the summer, whales and other cetaceans ply its length.

The beauty of this country is undeniable.

One particular poem, “A Toast to Ireland,” seems to capture its attraction.

The poem, also popular as a song in Iceland, was written for an 1839 banquet as a soaring hymn to the country and its natural beauty.  Many here argue it should be the country’s national anthem.

Our land of lakes forever fair
below blue mountain summits,
of swans, of salmon leaping where
the silver water plummets,
of glaciers swelling broad and bare
above earth’s fiery sinews —
the Lord pours out his largess there
as long as Earth continues!

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