The 2013 Elsmore Grand tour - Day (and night) 1 in Iceland

With a good nights' sleep behind us, we decided that it was probably not a bad idea to 'do' Reykjavik whilst we stayed in town. That only makes sense, surely? :-)

Whilst Reykjavik isn't a large town (though a bloody hard one to spell right every time!), our hotel was a couple of miles from the city centre (it was free....), so we opted for a cab to take us to to Hallgrímskirkja  which is a beautiful 1930's church on the top of the hill overlooking the city. At 74.5m, it's actually one of the tallest buildings in Iceland. Did I mention that it's not a large place? :-)

Downtown Reykjavik

Anyway, the view is great and it was a great place to start exploring. As you can see, the weather was perfect.  

Talking of weather, I've been asked if Iceland is cold. Well, as they say, the clue is in the name... but actually Iceland isn't that cold right now - it's certainly been colder in Edinburgh! What it is, is windy. So wooly hats are a very good idea, to keep the windchill away. What I do like though is that because everyone is always wrapped up, the shops etc take that into account. Unlike for instance, Chicago (where are soon as you enter somewhere you feel the need to strip off all your outer layers because of the huge amount of heat pumped at you ), Reykjavik was a great place to wander around. So we did.

I also noticed a somewhat strange obsession with stuffed birds. Check out the fourth picture down, here. Why stuffed puffins, I don't know. But as I type this - there is one overlooking our kitchen! The shopping though, was really very tempting. I can think of two knitters who would be in heaven here! There are also a lot of real fur products too. Whilst I'm sure that in Europe or the US it would be frowned upon, it's certainly not here and considered as just another animal product, like the meat we eat. To be honest, you can see the attraction as even in the summer it's cold enough to benefit greatly from a warm hat. I'm not sure I could wear the fox hat I tried on in Edinburgh though!

Talking of shopping - Iceland has a reputation for being very expensive, and alcohol certainly is. To be honest though, the shopping we've done so far hasn't been that bad. As an example, our 2 pizzas, one soft drink and a lite beer; £20. My new Icelandic woollen hat: £20. Our shop of nibbly mezze for the next few days (from a Waitrose equivalent): £75. So really not terrible at all. 

I digress though, because the day was about to get A LOT better! We'd investigated what to see and do in Reykjavik and didn't come out with a huge list. However, I did think it might be worth going via the new Aurora experience at least to get some background on something we were going to do whilst here. To be honest, the experience itself was a bit of a let-down and felt more like a 'pre-show' for tours to go out to see the real thing. HOWEVER, it did have the aurora forcast available on an ipad and a test booth so you could check your camera settings. This reminded me that actually, the clear day we were in was going to be the best  night to see anything at all...

Queue a quick call to Avis and they very kindly agreed to meet us at the Domestic terminal of Reykjavik airport to pickup our hire car early. We rushed back to pick up a cab, walking right back across town in the process, but we are very glad indeed that we did! 

The northern lights from Þingvellir national park

After a quick pitstop at the hotel, we packed up all the camera kit, stopped off for Chinese take-away and headed into the countryside. Then, waited. we were probably too early really, but it gave us the chance to pick a good spot at the side of the road, get out camera stuff sorted, eat dinner and wait for it to get dark. Will a full moon, that was easier said than done! An hour later though, as we were starting to wonder if anything was going to happen, we both got out of the car we'd been sheltering in to see if anything at all was happening. As you can see from the pictures above - it was!

The Aurora are really hard to describe in person. They're not as vivid as our photos show (check the EXIF data, most are 10-30 second exposures), but your own eyes can see them literally dance in front of you. It's etherial, magical and beautiful all at the same time. Although they are an almost constant phenomena, you really feel that nature has treated you to something special.  Time to check one thing off the bucket list!

The northern lights from Þingvellir national park

After seeing a couple of tourist busses roll past on their way north (working ahead of the cloud cover I suspect), we decided to call it quits as it had been a long day and this is meant to be a relaxing break! So, two waves of aurora in the can we drove slowly back to the hotel and were in bed by midnight.  

Day one was a very, very good day! Tomorrow - the apartment and hot tub :)