Our dead of winter Iceland trip was kind of a spur of the moment decision. Travelzoo had a smokin’ deal that included non-stop flights from Denver, five nights’ hotel, and an excursion to Laugarvatn Fontana, a geothermal bath with a buffet dinner and northern lights hunt.
Normally big group tours aren’t our thing. We prefer small or private tours where we aren’t bound to a tight schedule, so we didn’t know how we’d feel about the group excursion that came with our trip.
Packing for the evening was interesting. We needed bathing suits and toiletries for the hot springs and our warmest gear for (hopefully!!) seeing the aurora borealis.
We had had a lovely day attending service at Hallgrímskirkja and exploring the town, and this would cap off Brett’s birthday.
A gigantic deluxe coach picked us up at our hotel and it was filled with people. We had a darling guide who told us stories of Iceland while we drove out to Laugarvatn Fontana. The only trouble was that so many people on the bus were talking while she was talking, which was very frustrating. I wanted to hear every word she said, but it was difficult. And unfortunately, we were sitting in front of an especially active, loud talker, who also happened to be neurotic. He was a Brit who was afraid of everything (except of boring strangers to death) and had settled on Iceland because his wife really to take a trip and after extensive research he agreed to Iceland because terrorism was unknown there. The poor Japanese man next to him was trapped. It was quite telling that Mr. Neurotic’s wife was sitting elsewhere on the bus. I wished we were with her.
It turned out that somewhere along the route we had met up with another coach of equal size. When we arrived, we were told we would have dinner first while the people from the other coach enjoyed the hot springs and then our groups would switch. This worked out perfectly because Brett was starving. Brett is always starving.
Dinner was so good! We tried everything, even if we didn’t know what it was. I asked one of the women who was working the buffet what kind of meat was in a particular dish but she didn’t speak English. After a quick game of charades, it was confirmed to be “moo”, insert finger horns on head.
Brett is always good for at least three trips at a buffet and this time I kept right up with him. Who knew if we’d ever be eating Icelandic food like this again. Plus we were celebrating the man I love’s birth. I didn’t consider the fact that I would be putting on a bathing suit immediately after this gorge. I regretted that third trip to the buffet.
Next, Brett and I parted ways at the men’s and women’s locker rooms. I have always been rather shy when it comes to changing in front of people (maybe this happens to early bloomers) but when I entered this locker room I felt immediately at ease. It was full of women and girls of every shape and size in various stages of undress like it was no big deal. Because it was no big deal. The shy little 12 year old who has lived in me was kind of cured that day. Quite an unexpected development! No pun intended.
Brett and I met up and scanned the pools for a good spot. It was pretty chilly so we were anxious to get in the water. The steam coming off the pools with the lights shining under the water gave the place a mystical ambiance. We slipped into the water and it felt so good! We found a place to settle in and were enjoying ourselves immensely when suddenly my eyes got very big and I looked at Brett. The unmistakable, loud voice of Mr. Neurotic was bearing down on us. Suddenly he was three feet away, talking the ear off of a friend he had apparently made in the locker room, and making himself comfortable in our little section of the pool. His wife was nowhere in sight. I tried to have compassion towards him and not let him bother me, but after about 10 minutes I thought I was going to explode.
We scouted out another spot and spent the remainder of our time at Laugarvatn Fontana in peace, trying to ingrain the moment in our minds. It was really special.
I mentioned in a previous post that I was trying really hard to convince myself that it wouldn’t be a big deal if we didn’t see the northern lights. In my head I knew that there was a good chance we would not see them, but in my heart I REALLY wanted to. After leaving the hot springs, we headed out to hunt the sometimes elusive aurora borealis. I have no idea where we were, but after a short bus ride, we stopped and everyone exited the bus. The wait was on. The itinerary said “Northern Lights Hunt 10:00 p.m. to midnight”. We looked to the sky. Nothin’. Everyone was walking around, exploring the area, chatting in small groups, comparing cameras, and we did the same. Prior to our trip I had studied my camera’s manual learning exactly how to take long exposure shots. A friend who had been to Iceland told me that when they saw the northern lights, people that didn’t have a clue were taking pictures with the flash and ruining everyone’s shots. I did not want to be that person.
As time ticked on, I was getting more anxious. It wasn’t going to happen. 10:30, 11:00, 11:30…nothin’. Brett does not do well with standing around doing nothing, and at 11:45 he was done. He was ready to go and said he was going to get back on the bus. I wasn’t ready to give up, but I reluctantly followed him. As we were getting settled in our seats, a shout went up outside. It took a few seconds for the news to reach those of us on the bus. They were here!!! It was 11:50 p.m. We hurried off the bus and I almost started crying. Okay, maybe I did cry a little bit. The aurora borealis had arrived. I busted out my camera and used my new found knowledge to document this moment forever. There were others that were ruining people’s pictures with their flash, but not me.
We stayed until 1:00 a.m. and it was one of the most magical moments of my life. There is a thing called the kp index which is a numbering system that rates the strength of the geomagnetic activity. Zero means it’s non-existent, 9 means it’s a major geomagnetic storm. The aurora we saw that night was only about a 3, but I didn’t care. It was one of the most beautiful things I’d ever seen, and I was overcome with gratitude.
On the long ride back to our hotel, our guide sang us Icelandic lullabies. It was awesome. Even Mr. Neurotic was quiet. I was proud of him.
We didn’t get to bed that night until 3:30 a.m. and we had a big day ahead of us, but we were both so happy and thankful for this once in a lifetime birthday celebration. Sometimes big group excursions can be fun after all. Mr. Neurotic has even become a happy memory.