My Trip To Europe. Day 22. Saturday, October 25. Iceland

And now for something completely different!

Coins of the Day:  Icelandic money

Coins of the Day:  Icelandic Money

Iceland uses the Kronur, at 116 to the dollar.  So seven kronurs equals six US cents.

I ended up with some bright shiny coins, and those are hard to photograph, but here we go:

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And their smallest banknotes, the 500 and 1000 kronur

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Milan

I woke up in Milan, another hotel with the bathroom down the hall.  For the first time, I had been eaten alive by mosquitoes when I left the window open to cool the room off.

Milan’s rail area looks like a modern downtown, highrises and all.  This doesn’t seem to have quite the touristic potential Rome, Naples and Athens did, but of course… I didn’t really know what was in Florence until I took this trip, so I could just as easily be mistaken about Milan.

The main airport in Milan is far enough away one had to take a train to get to it.

I then boarded a plane for Copenhagen.  SAS.  I know SAS once had a very good reputation; it didn’t seem as nice as Air Canada or British Airways.

Here are a couple of pictures of the Alps I took.

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A short, short layover in Copenhagen.

Then board Icelandair to Iceland!

Now this will be a change of pace!  It will be nice to be cold instead of overheating for a change.  You can do something, instantly, about being cold.

Iceland

The next pictures I have are of the Icelandic countryside, from the bus that takes people from Keflavik on the 45 minute ride to Reykjavik.

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(Note the dark soil and the utter lack of trees.  Volcanic soil, and a harsh climate.)

Keflavik airport was built by the Allies during World War II and was for a time the largest airport in Europe.

But is it really?

I mean, is it really in Europe?

Iceland sits on the Mid Atlantic Ridge, where the sea floor is spreading, with Europe moving east, and North America moving west.  In addition to this, there’s a “hot spot” under it, accounting for the greater volcanic activity here than under other parts of the ridge.  That’s not a coincidence, the hot spot probably contributed to the rift between Europe and America happening here, rather than (say) in what is now Finland or Ontario, in the first place.

Keflavik and Reykjavik are both on the North American side of the rift.

Iceland–all of it–nevertheless is considered part of Scandinavia and of Europe, for cultural reasons.  Because Icelanders are descended from Vikings; in fact their language is very, very similar to the language they spoke 1200 years ago, down to having special letters for the two sounds we use “th” for:  þ and ð  (Þ and Ð, as capitals).  The first is pronounced like the th in thing, the second like the th in there.  Old English actually had the þ character and called it “thorn.”  I don’t know if it used the other one.

Reykjavik

In Reyjavik I noticed what looked like a street sign, with an incredibly coincidental name:

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But it wasn’t a coincidence; this was put up by the owner of the hamburger joint to the left.  Apparently it’s a popular place.  I didn’t try it; I ate fish as much as possible, that being the local cuisine.  (It’s not true, by the way, that they eat whale meat–only tourists visiting Iceland do that.  Or so I was told while there.)

Iceland, the entire country, has a population of 325,000 or so, a bit over half as big as Colorado Springs, and covers an area very approximately 40 percent the size of the state of Colorado.  Most of the people live near Reykjavik, the rest are along the coastal areas.  No one lives in the interior, which is volcanic rock or icecaps.

Aurora Borealis and Þingvellir

Anyhow, the sun was setting, but I had an activity planned for tonight–they sell excursions to try to catch the Northern Lights.  In essence they take busloads of people out to some place where there are no clouds (which certainly wasn’t Reykjavik!) in the hopes that the aurora borealis would be visible.

I finally got to use my jacket.  And I wore two layers of clothing below that.

We drove to Þingvellir (pronounced “thingvetlir”) park, the site of the original Icelandic parliament (the “althing”) and now known to also be the rift zone.  I would like to have seen it, but of course it was pitch black.

We sat out there for three hours in the cold, alternating between outside, the bus, and a visitor’s center, waiting for the lights.  They didn’t show.  Well, it turns out you get a free voucher for another try sometime in the next two years if they don’t show, so anyone staying for a few days has another shot for free.  That wouldn’t be me of course.

I did take this picture at the visitor center.

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This is the farthest north I have ever been, rather close to the Arctic circle.  (You should have seen how high in the sky Polaris was.)  If this were late June, the sun would have set–barely–but at midnight it would have been only three degrees below the horizon, due north.  Which is about as “dark” as it gets 12 or 15 minutes after sunset here.  But it was October, and the sun was well below the horizon.  It was pitch black.

So, disappointed, we got back on the bus.  I was seated next to mid-bus entrance and there was an obnoxious safety light shining across my face, so I took off my glasses and put my hat over my face, and dozed off.

To be awakened.  The bus had turned off the main road and stopped, because the lights were out.

The Aurora Borealis

We tumbled out of the bus, and gawked.  I took a bunch of pictures, but…the camera needed a five second exposure!  That was a challenge, standing still for five seconds.  Sometimes I’d lean against the bus–and feel it move every time someone inside, trying to get warm, shifted in their seat–or against a convenient sign.  I didn’t succeed, needless to say.  You can see the shake in the images of the stars.  (If I ever go back to Iceland, a tripod is going with me.)

I never even realized I wasn’t wearing my glasses, for at least twenty minutes.  Then I couldn’t find them.  Apparently I had dropped them and someone else had found them…by stepping on them.  The lenses were badly scarred, especially on the right.  (Fortunately my left eye is dominant.)

OK, so here are the best pictures I was able to take.  You can identify the big dipper in the last one.  Some of them show hints of structure rather than just a diffuse green glow.  They might have shown quite a bit of structure if I had used a tripod.

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This green blob was actually at the right hand side of a rainbow-shaped arc of green light.  If you’ve ever seen pictures of the aurora from space, you know it often forms a circle around the pole.  What we were seeing was a thirty or forty degree “slice” of that circle.

And so, satisfied but half blind on account of my glasses, I got back to Reykjavik.

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