Thursday, February 20, 2014

The Magic of the Northern Lights in Iceland

You know I like to do things in chronological order, but I'm just going to cut to the chase here.  
On our last night in Iceland, we saw the Northern Lights!!! Pinch me.  I can't even believe it.  

I planned our trip down to every detail and everything worked to plan.
However, I knew that seeing the Northern Lights was completely up to chance
and I didn't want to get my hopes up.  If we saw them, great!  If not, then maybe next time.

So, I didn't really think much about them.  Right before we left I took a peak at a forecast website and saw that we might have a slim chance while we were there.  I printed out some instructions on how to photograph them.
I packed my tripod and my remote for the camera.  Still, I didn't want to get my hopes up.

Each day we would walk by the hotel reception and see the signs for the Northern Lights Tours.
We knew that we had a ridiculously early flight in the morning and should get to bed early.  We knew that chances were we wouldn't even see anything.  It was extra money that we hadn't really budgeted.
It meant 3-4 hours of standing in a freezing field in the dark. 
Do we take a chance?

We're in Iceland.  We'd be crazy not to.


Wow!   Where do I even start?  It was the most amazing thing I've ever witnessed.

We opted for the 7:30 tour with Reykjakic Excursions.
The tour was 5,400 ISK or about £30 per person. They picked us up at our hotel.
We boarded a small bus and headed South towards the airport to see what we could see.

Our guide was the very exhuberant and wonderful Ragga.  She told us that the previous night had been pretty amazing and she was hoping for another great night.  She explained the phenomenon of the Northern Lights and told us what to look out for.  We were instructed to shout out if we saw anything.


Aurora Borealis don't usually look like the bright green ribbons that you see in photographs.
The color shows up after a 20 second exposure of a camera lens.  To the naked eye, it often just looks white or greyish.  A few of us pointed out a spot over the horizon to our right and Ragga confirmed our sighting.
That was indeed the Northern Lights making an initial appearance.  This was a good sign.


Our driver turned off the main road and headed away from the city lights.  We parked in a field and all piled out of the van with our camera gear.  I basically handed Matt the instructions and the camera and said "You do it."
(When the camera is on Manual, I might as well have a cantaloupe in my hand.  I just can't get it.) 

And here's an important tip.  Figure out how to use your new tripod before you are in a dark field with frozen fingers.  One of the locals came over to offer us assistance.   He was adorable and even tried to get into the van.

 
Once we knew what we were looking for, the lights were pretty easy to spot.
They were mostly greyish but when they really got going you could see the tinge of green.
The colors that appear are based on how high up in the atmosphere whatever is happening happens.
(Do you like that technical explanation?)

The most common color is green, but Ragga teased us with the possible sightings of more elusive colors.
Pink, purple, yellow, blue and red.  Things were looking promising for something other than green.
As the lights show slowed down in this spot, we loaded back up into the van to get warm and head to another spot.



At the second location, the clouds were clearing and you could really see the lights all around us.
A streak across the sky in one direction.  Wide bands of greenish light extending across the sky directly overhead.
In another direction, a line of vertical lights marching across the sky like soldiers.

By now Matt and I were getting the hang of the camera.  These photos aren't great
but I'm just thrilled that we even got them!  It was so exciting to see them on the camera display. 
And the green color was now definitely visible to the naked eye.

 We were on the early tour on a small bus, the later tours were about an hour behind us.
Word must have gotten out as to the views we were getting, because soon two big, honkin' buses showed up.
A hundred people piled out of the buses and into the field, eagerly setting up their tripods to capture the show.

By this time we had some great shots and were pretty smug happy with how lucky we had been.
Plus, body parts were starting to go numb from the freezing temperature.
We got back into our van and left the buses as the light show started to die down.
I could not have been happier with what I'd seen.  Little did I know, Iceland had a little finale planned for us.


We were back on the main road heading to Reykjavik and a warm bed.
I couldn't help but notice a very bright band of activity off to our right that seemed to extend forever.
The radio on the bus started to buzz with activity.

Ragga said "I think we should pull over.  Something is definitely happening over here."
We pulled off onto a very well-lit roundabout right off of the highway.
Even with all of the street lights, the activity was so visible.  We just put the camera on auto and clicked away.


Things slowed down again so we packed up all of our camera gear and were getting ready to leave.
Suddenly, the lights kicked off again directly above us.  We were fumbling to get everything back out.
About that time, three buses pulled up next to us just in time for the crescendo.

 We forgot about getting a photograph and just experienced the moment.
It was like a scene out of Close Encounters of the Third Kind.
People standing about, staring up into the sky with mouths agape, voices exclaiming in wonder.



It's so hard to describe but I'll try.  It was like a curtain spread out before us.  The curtain  was made of little mirrors and pieces of glass reflecting bright colors.  The green that we expected but also some pinks and purples.  Everything was moving and changing.  It seemed as if a wind was blowing across the curtain and setting everything ashimmer.  Now I know why they say that the lights dance.  They were definitely dancing and i wanted to dance with them.

Without looking away, I kept touching Matt's arm and saying "Oh my God.  Do you see them?  Do  you see them?"
In classic Matt, he said "I'm standing right here."  Most of us were in tears and breaking out in goosebumps.

It was pure magic.  I sound so dramatic, don't I?
Reading this back, I feel a bit silly and inadequate in my recollection.
But, I don't ever want to forget what it looked like and felt like.
This is now my top Travel Moment!


Ragga was kind enough to send me some photos that she took that night.
The one of the goat and this one.  I wish our photos were as good as hers.
Everything is sharp and she captured the twinkling stars.

She was absolutely giddy that night and it was so contagious.
She declared it one of the best nights she's experienced in the two years that she's been guiding these tours.
She happily claimed tears and goosebumps, too.

Travel in Iceland isn't about historical buildings and man made wonders.
It's all about the earth and nature.  It's about  geysirs and waterfalls.
Bubbling earth and lava flows. Glaciers and mountains.  Ice and snow.
Black sand and green moss.  And magical light shows against a black sky.

I know I sound like I'm being dramatic.  But, I've never seen a more dramatic place than Iceland.
I can't wait to tell you more about our time there.


Have you experienced the Northern Lights?  I'd love to hear about it.



72 comments:

  1. What an amazing experience and really great photos - I've always been a bit dubious about seeing the lights but now I'm convinced to give it a go, thanks for sharing!

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  2. Wow!! You are you lucky to have such an incredible opportunity! Thanks for sharing the pics with those of us who will only see from afar! :)

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  3. This is so incredible, I'm sure no amount of pictures can do the real lights justice. I'm getting goosebumps just reading your description of the experience!

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  4. Ragnheiður Gyða RagnarsdóttirFebruary 20, 2014 at 8:34 AM

    Hi Selena, I loved reading this post! This truly was an amazing night, and the goat was so cute! I´m glad you liked the tour, and hope to see you again :)
    Just one pointer though, I have been working as a guide for two years, not four :)
    Ragga :)

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  5. Beautiful! I would LOVE to see the Northern Lights, and it's on the bucket list. Iceland has always been one of those places I'd love to visit - maybe one day. Thank you for sharing!

    I recently posted 7 Tips For Throwing A Great BBQ

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  6. Oh Selena! How wonderful!! Im very envious and your description has brought a lump to my throat. What an amazing experience. X

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  7. Happyeverafter_BrideFebruary 20, 2014 at 10:00 AM

    Oh my I am so excited by your post. We booked our own trip over Easter! Question, did you pick this tour because it was cheap? Sounds like you'd recommend it over the others then?

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  8. Selena! This is such a great post. I am so happy you saw the Northern Lights. This time in a month I will be in Sweden hunting for them as well x

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  9. I'm so jealous! I've lived in Europe for almost 2 years and haven't been yet. Its def on our list!!

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  10. These are the pictures I have been waiting to see! I truly hope we can make it there soon!

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  11. AMAZING!! This definitely is a great travel moment! I can't wait to read about the rest of your trip!

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  12. We saw them on the 15th Feb and they were amazing. it was how you see it on TV dancing around the sky lighting it up with greens and reds.

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  13. Chills!! What an amazing experience. Who cares about the science behind it all HAHA!! I'm so glad you got to see them :)

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  14. "We forgot about getting a photograph and just experienced the moment." Perfect words and reaction ... but I'm so glad you also captured a few photos of the lights to share with us (and your guide provided a couple others).

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  15. Susan VibrantIrelandFebruary 21, 2014 at 3:10 AM

    So happy for you! The Lights are just amazing and there's nothing like actually being there! We saw them in Norway and were so fortunate that the cabin we rented was away from city lights & we saw the Aurora 6 nights! Magic, best thing ever! :+)

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  16. Wow, this is beyond amazing!
    ~Ashley @ A Cute Angle
    acutelifestyle.blogspot.com

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  17. So incredibly beautiful. Can't wait to do a tour of the Nordic countries one day!

    http://liveitinerantly.com/

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  18. I love your description, it's good to be emotional about such a unique experience! And it nudges Iceland higher on my bucket list.

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  19. BEST.BLOGPOST.EVER!!! You had me rolling on the floor laughing, but then I got goosebumps as I continued reading. So absolutely amazing! I am so happy for you, and I just hope we will have the same luck when we visit (whenever that will be).

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  20. So glad you were able to see some beautiful northern lights during your time here in Iceland!

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  21. We're headed to Iceland on Friday! Fingers crossed that we will have the experience of a lifetime like you did! :)

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  22. OMG that penultimate photo is 'out of this world'! The goat is pretty great too lol.

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  23. For people wanting to go check this northern lights site out: http://www.northernlightsiceland.com/

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  24. Wow. When I went it was summer and there was no chance of this. It is one thing I really NEED to see! I love your description of it.

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  25. Hayley @RareBirdsFlyFebruary 23, 2014 at 11:08 AM

    So jealous you got to see the Northern Lights and I especially love the cameo goat! One day I'll make it to Iceland. Lovely post :)

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  26. The goat was so funny! Everyone stopped taking photos of the lights and started taking photos of the goat. He was very friendly.

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  27. That just means you'll have to go back, right? Thanks, Holly. Somethings are so hard to explain. Especially something so amazing.

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  28. Ragga is such a great photography of the Northern Lights. On the Reykjavik Excursions Facebook page you can find some more of her photos.

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  29. Have a fantastic Trip!!!!! You're going to love Iceland! Do you have a blog? I'd love to read about your time there.

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  30. You are lucky to live in such a beautiful place! I thought about you when we were there. I told my husband "I have a blogger friend that lives here." lol

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  31. :D You just made my day!!! It was a bit like a dream. I know that you'll get there soon! I hope you're having a great week! We HAVE to get together soon!!!

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  32. Iceland was so different from anyplace we've been before. Where else are you considering going? I love planning the next trip, don't you??

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  33. I still can't believe we actually saw them. I really love the geysirs, too. It was so odd to see a hole in the earth full of boiling water.

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  34. Wow!!! I can't even imagine how wonderful that was. Norway is on our list. I've heard it is so gorgeous! And a cabin away from the city, sounds so cozy!!

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  35. :D It goes against my grain a bit. I always want to get a photo. But, sometimes you just have to put down the camera and experience the moment. When I was little, my dad would always have several cameras around his neck when we traveled. When we got home and reviewed all of the slides, he would often say "Where was that? I don't remember seeing that." And he was the one that took the picture!!

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  36. Ragga explained it all to us scientifically, but I just wanted to continue to see it as pure magic. :D

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  37. Lucky!!! We were there the weekend before. I think there has been a lot of activity lately. Wasn't it fantastic!!! And you saw reds! Very lucky.

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  38. I think it's one of my top travel moments. But I'll keep looking for that next one.

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  39. I can't recommend Iceland enough. Such an interesting country. I'll be posting some more later this week. Thank so much for following along, Alexa!!!

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  40. You have to go! You'll love it. So many opportunities for adventure. You should join us for #LDNBloggersTea! Would love to meet another expat.

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  41. :D It was pretty cool. Will you have time to meet up with me & Gina when you're here? We can plan an afternoon tea!! Let me know.

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  42. Good luck with your hunt!!!! Sweden is so gorgeous. How long will you be there??

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  43. I'd read about Reykjavik Excursions before we went and heard they were really good. It's one of the larger operators. It was the one that was advertised at the hotel so we went with them. I haven't really compared prices. You must be so excited!!! You're going to have a wonderful time. What all are you planning to do/see?

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  44. Thanks for saying that you got a lump in your throat. It's so hard to know if the emotion is coming across when I write something. It was such a special night. :D So, can not wait to see you!!!!!!!

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  45. I never even really considered it. Not even in my wildest dreams. But it's so close! And so amazing. I hope you get there soon. Go in the winter so you can see the Northern Lights. Definitely a bucket list experience.

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  46. Ragga! So glad that you commented. We are still raving about the trip and everyone loves your photographs. It was such a wonderful night. Thanks so much for everything. (And I corrected the error). xx Selena

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  47. I'm glad you got goosebumps. That's exactly what happened to me that night. As always, I so appreciate you stopping by and commenting! xx

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  48. You are so welcome, Katie. We were incredibly lucky. How are you doing? I'm loving all of the updates on your blog and I'm so excited for you!!!

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  49. It was the cherry on top for Iceland. I'm glad I didn't get my hopes up and it worked our perfectly. Even if we hadn't seen them, Iceland is so incredible!

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  50. I remember being in school, around 12/13 years old and my art teacher telling us about a trip she took to Iceland, and I've loved the idea of going there ever since!

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  51. Yeah I'd love to! I tried to sign up but not sure if my request went through. You can reach me at fivetravellingmonkeys@gmail.com, looking forward to hearing about the next one!

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  52. I'm so sorry, I didn't get the request. But, I have you on the mailing list now and I'll send an email about the next one. It's scheduled for May 17th. Can't wait to meet you!

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  53. Your third sentence should be inscribed on the back of every camera. :)

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  54. Yes! Thanks so much, I think it is pretty beautiful as well.

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  55. Selena, seeing the northern lights has been on my lifelong bucket list and your photos have me even more convinced that I need to seem them in the flesh (especially if there are local goats involved :)!

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  56. definitely! it's the best part about traveling :)

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  57. stunning photo's - I have wanted to see the lights for a very long time, so I am very jealous.

    http://www.hikinginheels.co.uk/

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  58. It's certainly bucket-list-worthy. A once in a lifetime experience. And everything in Iceland is wonderful! So much to see and do. Thanks for reading & commenting :D

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  59. Hi Lauren. You should start planning your trip! I'm glad that you commented. I followed you on twitter & bloglovin. I look forward to reading more about your travels. :D

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  60. Hi Selena, I was just talking to a colleague at work about it today and we both said about perhaps making a trip there in November as a Birthday treat... Thank you for following too - I've been keeping up with your blog on bloglovin' for a while now and really enjoy reading your posts! :)

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  61. Wow, what an amazing experience! Glad you were able to see them while you were there.

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  62. O.M.G. that sounds - and looks - amazing! It's so great that you got to see them and to have that experience - I hear it's something you'll never forget :) Seeing the Northern Lights has been on my bucket list for some time now. After reading your description, I think I'll be bumping that activity up the list a bit!

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  63. OMG...you are amazingly lucky. Those photos are stunning!!! I loved your description "People standing about, staring up into the sky with mouths agape, voices exclaiming in wonder." Even with our small light show it was like that. And your right, they are hard to describe, words definately dont do the experience justice.

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  64. My hubby is running the Rome Marathon in March, so just the 2 of us for a quick weekend, then the whole family is going to Thailand for two weeks at Easter. FUN! REally excited to do something non-EU.

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  65. It was pretty magical. Immediately I was afraid that I would forget what it was like. I think I'll have to experience them again someday. One of those moments you want to capture and never lose.

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  66. Thailand!!!! That's one of my dream destinations. I can't wait to hear all about it!!

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  67. I cannot even imagine how incredible this is in person! What a thing to see! :)

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  68. Magic, I tell you! I'm counting down for you. I know you miss your boys so much. Soon!!

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