If the northern lights made an appearance over Stykkisholmur, we didn’t see it. The sky was mostly clear when we fell asleep, but there were no signs of the aurora. We even set our alarms for 6am, when my app told me they’d be really active. Allison reported from the living room: nothing yet.
When I next woke up, I was surprised to find it was already 10am. The sky was no lighter than it had been at 6am.
It turned out that we’d all set our alarms for 6am, but had set nothing subsequently. Oops. Looks like we’d be making a late start on Reykjavik. We stopped at our bakery again and then headed south.
Our AirBnB was a little outside the city center, but it was a quaint little place nonetheless. The owner, a very kind woman, got us acquainted and told us a little about New Year’s Eve and where we could drive to in order to get a good glimpse of the lights. When she left, we headed straight into town so Kacey could buy her sweater and I could eat. Kacey and Allison had eaten at a place called Nings on the way in, as we’d waited on our Air BnB host. I held out for Cafe Loki, the place I’d eaten on my last trip to Iceland. (Try somewhere new, you say! Well. I like patterns.)
Situated right by the church, Hallgrimskirkja, Cafe Loki boasts excellent views of the plaza where we’d be ringing in the new year the next day. We snuggled into a cozy table on the second floor beside 10 tourists from Miami who were daring to try hakarl, the fermented shark Iceland is famous for. One sniff – holy formaldehyde! – put me off, but some of them went ahead and tried it. (Fun fact: It has to be fermented in order to be edible; otherwise, it’s poisonous. Yum!)
I stuck with my standard mashed fish and sheepshead jelly, which I know I ate last time but could not stomach this time. The fish was fine. The sheepshead jelly was not. It didn’t help that Kacey and Allison Googled it and read to me later what it actually is: brains, skin, bones, all leftover parts of the sheep. Even a cold Kaldi can’t wash that down.
It was 6pm and our reservation at the Blue Lagoon was for 10pm, so we were discussing how to spend our time when Kacey looked at her phone and frowned.
“20:00,” she said. “That’s 10, right?”
“No, that’s 8.”
We were done eating by this point anyway and were able to rush back to the Air BnB, get our things, and drive out to the lagoon. We were even a little early! It was lucky we caught the error though, as the lagoon closed at 10pm.
I’d been during the day on my last trip, so seeing the lagoon at night was especially exciting. We got changed into our bathing suits, braved the freezing 5-second run from the center into the lagoon, and exhaled as we submerged ourselves in that hot geothermal pool. There’s nothing quite like feeling the bite of freezing air – and then diving into hot water.
We grabbed our “free” drinks and swam around the lagoon, glancing up at the sky every so often to see if the lights were out. Without warning, a cloud moved overhead and it began to hail. Most patrons sought cover under the bridges, but we decided to walk backwards toward the mask area and endure being pelted with ice. It was mildly unpleasant, but that’s Iceland for you. You enjoy the good with the somewhat uncomfortable.
After 20 minutes of silica mud and algae masks, we ran into a kind man who pointed up at a dim green glow in the sky.
“That’s the aurora,” he said. “I think it’ll be pretty active tonight if you get out of this area.”
Our plan was to leave the lagoon and drive out to Thingvellir National Park, then pull off the road and wait for the lights.
This turned out to be an excellent plan. It was a bit of a drive away from the lagoon, but once we got past the city lights, we could spot the lights out over a mountain. As soon as we found a pull-off, Kacey drove into it – right behind three buses marked “Northern Lights Expeditions!”
“I feel pretty proud of us,” she said. “We know the best place to go.”
I agreed. Cheers to our Air BnB host. We got a pretty decent show, though a number of other cars ended up parking beside us. This meant headlights on when anyone left or arrived, so we eventually drove further down the road to a quieter spot where we could watch them. I put on some Of Monsters and Men and we watched until the lights disappeared over the mountain.
Heading back to Reykjavik, I felt pretty happy about how lucky we’d been with the weather clearing up, the lagoon, and catching a little light show all in one night.