Fun At 40 : The Aurora Borealis, part 1

Well my friends. I am officially forty! I have begun a new decade. I tick a different box on the census form. I can justifiably start referring to people younger than me as ‘Kid’ (not that I have any intention of doing that, lol).

I wanted to do something special to mark the occasion. When I turned thirty I hired out a screening room in Soho and had a surprise showing of “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off” for all my friends, before going on to a pub to play pool all night (still officially the coolest thing I have ever done).

This time I wanted to do something off my bucket list, and since it only contains two items, and I’ve already ridden an elephant, it’s off to see the Northern Lights I go!

There are a number of ways you can do this. You can fly to Norway and take a dog sled ride from your log cabin out to the middle of nowhere where you will enjoy a majestic display against a backdrop of icy tundra, for which you will pay through the nose; or you can fly to Iceland where you will be picked up from your hotel in Reykjakvik in a 4×4 with seat warmers and driven out to the countryside to hopefully see something magical. I chose the latter.

aurora forecast

Checking the forecast a couple of days before everything looked good. There was a strong chance of there being some lights, and the cloud cover was low where we would be (Reykjavik is in the south west corner of Iceland, in case you were wondering). I was fairly confident of getting to see something, all I had to do was get there. That, though, would prove to be a close run thing!

Lena flew in the night before so that we could head out the next day from Gatwick. We stayed at a Travelodge nearby, which was quite comfy and even spacious enough for us both to do yoga at the same time.

travelodge yoga

It should have been a simple matter of jumping on the transfer shuttle, going to the airport, and going through security. But it seems the Gods had other plans.

I’d left some things I needed in the car – my book, trunks for the thermal pools, headphones for listening to Sigur Ros whilst viewing the lights – so I had to head back to the long term car park to get them before we left. Ok, perfectly do-able. But then the shuttle bus driver spent twenty minutes getting chatted up by some bloke at one of the hotels. I had to wait ages for the parking bus to come to take me to the car park. Going through security took a while as they decided they wanted to go through Lena’s entire bag. All in all we probably lost about an hour of free time just with faffing about.

But we still had time (I thought) for a bit of breakfast. After searching for somewhere that still did some kind of veggie fry up (it was past 11am and most places were on their lunch menu by now) we eventually found Armadillo, who could do something we both could enjoy.

NB: Our flight was at 12:30pm.

armadillos, gatwick airport

We told them we were in a hurry, and I’m sure they did their best, but it was getting close to noon by the time our food arrived.

gatwick brekkie

We got it down us, paid, and started sauntering towards the gate, confident of having a good half an hour or so before departure. Then I saw the departure board.

“Iceland Air to Reykjavik – Gate Closed”

Then I heard the announcement.

“Would Keith Dickinson and Lena Muh.. Mehr… Mary? Please make their way to Gate 57 as the flight is now ready to depart.”

Cue the two of us pelting through Gatwick Airport, luggage bouncing around behind us, weaving through the Duty Free section at full speed trying not to kill anyone along the way. Thank God our gate was right near the terminal and not one of those ones that’s miles away! We turned a corner and there it was. That was a relief, let me tell you.

As we apologetically gave them our boarding cards I saw one of them call down to another member of staff who was obviously on her way to close the doors. It was closer than I had thought. Still twenty minutes to our departure time mind you, but anyway. You can’t argue with them. Airlines have their own sense of time.

We got on the plane and, to save time, they gave us a mini upgrade to two standard seats right by the door with more legroom. Well, I say mini upgarde, it was more like, “These two are free. Sit here!” ..lol.. Either way, we weren’t complaining. We were just happy to be on the flight.

destination iceland

It’s three hours from Gatwick to Keflavik, a nifty little flight that starts off by taking you most the way up England before cutting through between Scotland and Ireland.

on our way

you are now passing...

scotland

We had fun monkeying around on the flight, discussing how nice it would be if you could jump out the window and bounce around on the clouds,

up in the clouds

and trying to take a selfie that wasn’t terrible.

my name is earl moment

It wasn’t long before we got our first look at Iceland.

first sight of iceland

And then we were coming in to land.

coming in to keflavik

The coach from the airport to Reykjavik took 45 minutes, and from the bus station to our hotel even longer. But finally we made it to the FossHotel Baron, which was right by the water, and which had a view ‘remarkably’ similar to the one we had in Queenstown, NZ.

checking the lists

sea views

the less remarkables

Check out the crazy geothermal hot water.

geothermal waters

They pump it up straight out of the ground straight to your home. No messing with it, nothing. Which is awesome, but does mean your shower will smell a bit eggy! Something which we never stopped finding amusing. If there was laughter coming from the bathroom that was usually why. 🙂

Daylight hours are short in Iceland in February, so once we were settled in we just had enough time for a bit of a walk before going to get some food.

Lena had printed out the listings from Happy Cow so we had plenty of places to choose from. We ate at Piccolo Italia, a lovely little place that did us some garlic bread, two pizzas, a tiramisu, and some delicious almond tea for just under 8000Kr.

almond tea

garlic bread

peasant pizza

vegetable pizza

tiramisu

The food was excellent, and a great way to start our stay. We took a few shots of Reykjavik at night on our circuitous way back to the hotel (I think we got a little lost, lol),

giant boat

reykjavik cathedral by night

and by the end I was happy to retire having had a very successful, if slightly frantic, last day as a thirty nine year old.

***

I started my forties as I mean to go on, with a long lie in!

yin yoga, bed style

Actually, that’s me doing some yin yoga on the bed because my back was acting up a bit.Talk about feeling your age, lol. Really did the trick though. I felt loads better after that.

While I was doing that Lena did some proper yoga.

hotel room yoga

Of course all that yoga meant we were too late for the hotel breakfast, but we consoled ourselves with a brunch type thing at the Laundromat Cafe.

I had pina colada tea,

I spy with my little eye...

Lena had a veggie burger,

laundromat veggie burger

and I had their ‘clean’ veggie brunch (the ‘dirty’ being full of meat).

laundromat big brekkie

It was pretty nice, and really set us up for the day.

chomp!

Because we would be out late that night we’d earmarked most of the day for wandering and shopping. Not that I bought much that day. I was more into looking around the city, checking out the cool architecture and the excellent views.

my house, reykjavik

the slightly more  remarkables

shades of new zealand

shades of queenstown

sunset mountain

The bit I was most looking forward to was my birthday cake at Cafe Babalu! 😀

cafe babalu

We’d seen there was a vegan carrot cake on the menu, and I couldn’t wait to give it a try.

Lena had brought a candle to stick on top, so I had to document the occasion,

capturing the cake

birthday carrot cake

before blowing it out and making a wish.

make a wish

The cake was excellent! As was the soy hot chocolate. And we really liked the cafe too. From it’s crazy decor,

fluffy moose

babalu art

to it’s Star Wars themed bathroom, we enjoyed being there so much we decided to come right back after walking off the cake to have have something to eat before the evening’s main attraction – the Northern Lights.

babalu veggie chilli

babalu veggie lasagna

I’d booked a Northern Lights 4×4 tour because I didn’t want to be stuck on a big coach with loads of other people. I thought it would be more personal, and that we’d go to more out of the way places, and hence have a better chance of a good show. I was partly right.

fun

We were picked up from our hotel and driven out to a kind of lay-by, where we waited for the other two vehicles in our group to arrive.

4x4xfun

the gathering

off to see the lights

Our first attempt at seeing anything involved a bumpy off road drive up this icy valley.

off road

It became apparent quite early on that it was too cloudy up that way and we probably wouldn’t have much luck. So instead our guides decided to hit the road and do a sprint north to try and find clearer skies.

This involved a 6km drive under the sea.

6km of tunnel

Emerging on the other side of the bay, we had a quick pit-stop,

quiznos pit-stop

then we were off again into the middle of nowhere.

We ended up parked up this dirt road in what was basically some farmland. There’d been some activity along the way, so we were hoping for some light. Unfortunately, the cloud, which had been moving off, came in again. And though we saw a bit through the gaps, it wasn’t what we were hoping for.

Here’s the pics I took. Let me tell you, it looks more impressive on camera than it did in real life.

aurora 1, long exposure

aurora 1.2

aurora 1.3

aurora 1.4

aurora 1.5

As you can see, there’s something, but nothing amazing. I had hoped that the tour company’s guarantee meant they would take us out again the next night, but that was it apparently (one of the reasons I’m not advertising them here). I mean it was an ok tour, and we did see some light, but I was hoping for so much more, and I certainly didn’t feel like I’d got my money’s worth.

It was 1am by the time we got back, and we were so tired after standing out in the cold for hours that we just passed out in the warmth of our room and got ourselves some well earned rest.

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