Chasing the Northern Lights
By: Caitlin Casassa
With the midnight sun offering seemingly unlimited hours of exploration, I can see the benefits of traveling to Iceland in the summer. Yet, I HIGHLY encourage traveling during the winter months (we went in October) with your fingers and toes crossed for your chance to see the northern lights. After seeing this elvish mystery occur three times in one week, I can satisfactorily say that pictures don’t do them justice since they literally dance across the sky. My college friend, Jen, and I started planning our Icelandic adventure with the desire to see these beloved lights, but we easily filled our days with the goal to see as much of the country as possible.
We rented a car and followed Walter Mitty’s footsteps to Snaefelsness peninsula. The peninsula encompasses all of Iceland’s landscapes: mossy lava fields, seaside cliffs, giant glaciers, windy beaches, and rolling farmlands. On the way, we drove past dozens of waterfalls and a belt of giant basalt columns, Gerdubrug. Following the basalt columns, we headed to the bottom of the peninsula to check out the dormant volcano Snaefellsjokull (think Jules Verne’s Journey to the Center of the Earth), which is believed to be one of the seven “energy centers” in the world. Due to fog - Iceland’s weather in October is quite unpredictable - we barely saw the volcano from the small town of Arnarstapi. This didn’t dampen our spirits as we walked along a cliff pat and caught a view of a full rainbow over the Atlantic and some very unique rock formations.
The following day we tackled the famous Golden Circle tour to see Thingvellir National Park, Gulfoss, and Geysir. We also had the opportunity to snowmobile on Langjokull Glacier. Exploring a glacier via snowmobile was awesome, but Thingvellir remains my favorite location in Iceland. Once home to Iceland’s Parliament, Thingvellir now boasts the only place on land in the world where one can see two tectonic plates meet. Traversing through the faults, we walked down to the valley and marveled at the giant fissures running through the land.
Other highlights from the land of Fire and Ice include our luxurious excursion to the Blue Lagoon and our southbound trip to the black sand beaches of Vik. Located in a lava field, the Blue Lagoon utilizes what Iceland is known for – geothermal seawater. There’s a bar in the middle of the lagoon, silica mud for the skin, and the waters are the perfect temperature for relaxing. Although we could have spent our entire week at the lagoon, we were ready for our next adventure to Vik. The drive on the ring road to Vik included walking behind Seljalandsfoss waterfall, a short hike to Solheimajokull Glacier, a climb to the top of Skogafoss waterfall, and an exploration inside a shallow sea cave – all in a day’s work!
I can’t properly describe Iceland without mentioning the hot dogs! Found in stands in Reyjkavik (the stand by the harbor includes a picture of Bill Clinton on the wall – taken after he tried a hot dog), these lamb meat hot dogs are best when you try them with all the toppings. I would consider scheduling a layover in Iceland just to taste them again…