Iceland by Night

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Iceland by day is pretty darn cool already, but at night, it’s a completely different feel.  I had a different experience as I was there during the holidays and not regular nights. At first I dreaded the long night hours thinking that there would be nothing to do since nature, I thought, was best seen in light. but it turns out that the longer winter nights (about 20 hours) actually made it the ideal time to observe the night sky and the splendid Northern Lights.

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When we arrived on New Year’s Eve, we quickly grabbed a bite and arrived at Reyjkavik’s main landmark, Hallgrímskirkja Church (right above). This stunning building’s architecture and height can be seen from pretty much anywhere in the city. Sadly I did not get to see it in the day time but I think the night view was unique nonetheless.  Afterwards, we went to join Icelanders in their annual festivities. New Year’s Eve in Iceland is a celebration that is more than just an incredible display of fireworks…

First, families gather for a grand meal. At 8:30, 10 bonfires are set around the city, symbollically burning old things for the new year. We went to a large one by the lake and it sure was a big fire! Fireworks were lit before, during, and after the bonfire.

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By 10:00 families head home to watch Áramótaskaupið, a comical show that focuses on the recent year’s events from a satirical perspective (it was quite interesting to watch even without understanding a word!) Then at 11:30, families head out again to light and to watch firework displays from their cars, their backyards, anywhere!  Standing on the top of the Hafnarfjordur hill, we saw fireworks 360 degrees around us, even next to us from the people who live around. Words can’t describe it besides “smoky, beautiful, and loud!”

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We thought nothing could have topped this night (and really, fireworks will never be the same after that experience…)  but little did we know that the best was yet to come: succeeding at our search for the Northern Lights, otherwise known as the Aurora Borealis.

Even after telling the story a hundred times, I still can’t believe the experience. We must have been crazy to have driven to a forest in the middle of the night, hoping to see the famous Lights.  A FOREST?!?  Yes, it is best to be away from any city lights to see it so we drove to Heiðmörk, aforest known for its “wildlife” (we later discovered that this meant a popularity of wild birds, not wild bears…heh). It was the perfect spot. Yet waiting for the lights to appear seemed impossible as we stood in double layers of clothing for a good half hour with the moon shining down on us brightly. Suddenly, we were engulfed in white clouds and ginormous drops of hail – huge pieces of them! (THEY HURT!) We ran into the car, ready to leave until we noticed that it was a passing cloud and the distanced city was appearing once again.  So we stayed and got out of the car a few minutes later.

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Then all of a sudden, we saw it… specks of incredibly shining green, fading in and out… AHHH! 😀

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I’m sure every animal or living thing in the forest can hear our “oohs” and “ahhs” through every unforgettable moment. It’s amazing how quick the phenomenon occurs in the blink of an eye. They say that cameras actually capture it better than the eyes, so in these photos, they were even more shining than what we saw, but we had to be quick. It fades in and out! The good thing about the Aurora is that you don’t have to go all the way to Iceland to see the lights. You can catch it in northern Canada too and a couple of other countries in the north.

If I ever return to Iceland one day, I would love to see it in the summer as everything is green and lush. Tons of photographers go out there just to capture the country’s uniqueness and beauty. I’m really glad to have had the opportunity to go and now share it with all of you. Thanks for reading and as always, let me know your thoughts and inspirations. 🙂  I’m working on a comment box soon but for now, feel free to email me in the contact link above!

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(the moment of Oohs and Ahhs captured by my friend, Daniel Chan)

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