Forget 5-star Accommodation. Enter the Million-Star Experience.
It has taken me some time to get to writing about this exceptional experience. For a time, I felt there is no way I could possibly capture how I was feeling and the grandeur of this side of the world in words. But let me try or you can let the pictures do the talking.
Almost a year a go, I casually mentioned to Jaysen that high on my travel to-do list is to chase the northern lights. I was daydreaming about sleeping in one of those clear domes where I can watch the lights dance while I drift to sleep. As the usual daily grind caught up, I promptly forgot about that dream. The Arctic circle or anywhere near it just seems so far away. Imagine my delight, when he surprised me with the trip to Iceland! I knew it how expensive Iceland is, so I already assumed we're DIY-ing our tours. But there's more. There's a surprise within the surprise. During the trip the Golden Circle tour that we signed up for is no ordinary tour. Jaysen booked a night with the Bubble Hotel. The location of this "hotel" is a secret and there are no public transport to bring you there. The exact address is divulged a few days before your stay and you have to drive (or take a cab - expensive) to get there. It is around an hour drive from Reykjavík. I love the mystery! It's like belonging to an underground society. :) Because of the limited options of getting there, Jaysen opted to book the tour-inclusive service which will take us around the Golden Circle in style :).
On the day of our tour, we woke up to record snowfall. Most major roads were closed as it needed to be cleared. I was worried that this tour might be cancelled as we have little room for rescheduling due to the changes caused by the severe storm a couple of days back. The administrator (I do not know what he is officially called) of their customer service chat kindly assured us that our driver will pick us up on time. And that he did. We went around the snow-covered Reykjavík to pick up the other three couples going with us. Our ride for this tour was a bad-ass luxury 4x4 truck. No snowfall was going to stop us.
First stop, Thingvellir National Park. This place got so much "A Walk To Remember" feels. :) It's where the North American and Eurasian tectonic plates diverge. One can claim to be standing in two place at one time. :) It's mind boggling to wrap my head around the violent earthquakes and volcanic eruption that shaped this beautiful landscape. Iceland's largest lake, Thingvallavatn. There is also so much history in Thingvellir. This place is also know as the Parliament Plains. During the time of the Vikings, Thingvellir is where the Parliament holds its sessions during summertime. It was in these sessions where disputes were settled. It was also the season for a rad Viking party, maybe something akin to the modern Coachella. :) But things change. Thingvellir became a place for judgement and execution. Men who broke the law, moral or societal, are either beheaded, hanged,or burned (if you practice dark magic). But not women. Women had the pleasure of being drowned to death in a sack if they had as much as a gossip of being morally "loose". One needs to be sure a woman is indeed dead, lest she comes un-dead and makes your life a living hell. :) Anyhow, Thingvellir as it is today, is place steeped in history beautifully cloaked in white during the winter with lonesome cabins against the stark background, frozen rivers, and towering lava walls. The tour being a small group, we had a leisurely pace to go around the park. Our truck waited for us at the other side of the park allowing us to walk the length of that part of the ridge.
Our next stop is the mighty Gulfoss Waterfalls. It was very cold when we got to Gulfoss. So cold that we had trouble using our cameras because our fingers hurt. This was probably due to to the mist created as the force of the water meets the rocky canyon below. I find this waterfalls quite unusual as doesn't have a single, neat "route' as most of the waterfalls I see. Gulfoss Waterfalls is very wide dropping into the canyon at varying heights and speed.
We then went on a detour. This is my favorite part of the trip. Arni, our guide, took us to a secret spot. As we were driving, we went off the road in the middle of nowhere to find the most serene estuary. The best part is, there was no one there but us. In awe, we watched glaciers drift along against the afternoon sun.
You can't miss the geysers, Geysir and Strokkur, when doing the Golden Circle tour. I've always been fascinated with geysers and longed to see one ever since we learned about it in grade school. As we walked through the geysers, the stench of rotten eggs (sulfur) was wafting all around. by this time, we were kinda used to it already as we were showering with funky smelling water for several days already. Strokkur is particularly spectacular as it continues to erupt every five minutes or so. It was the longest five minutes of my life. Then it happened, again and again. Almost as is important is the lamb soup in the cafeteria nearby. After seeing a couple of eruptions, we hurried towards the cafeteria to enjoy the delicious hot lamb soup. The lamb soup here is quite popular, made even more delicious by the freezing weather outside. :)
Before calling it a day, we had two important things to do: 1) Dinner 2) Relax. Dinner was impressive at Mika's, as was the price. :) It was our fist time to eat langoustine (some sort of lobster) and it was so so worth it. :) To relax, we went to the Secret Lagoon hot spring bath. This is much smaller the more popular Blue Lagoon, less the crowd which for me is the upside. Before jumping into the lagoon, we made sure we cleaned up well. Follow the shower instructions, yes please. Then you sprint out to the cold and jump into the hot lagoon. The water was was soothing to our weary bones and muscles, this was made even more wonderful by the water massage from trained masseuses. Heaven. Being in hot water for some time, I felt a little light-headed when I went out of the water. Nothing lots of water cannot cure but I have to be more careful not to stay in the water for too long as I might get dehydrated. After the dip in the lagoon, I made sure I conditioned my hair really well as I read in several blogs that the sulfur in the water will ruin your hair. There are other things to do around the Secret Lagoon like cooking eggs in a hot pool nearby and sampling shark and Brennivín. I felt like I was in girl scout camp minus the shark. :)
On to the main event. :) It was a short drive from the Secret Lagoon to the location of the Bubble Hotel. I couldn't contain my excitement! This moment has long been playing on repeat in my head. And there we were. I was sure that we would catch the northern nights that night. We have been getting exceptional aurora forecasts most of our stay in Iceland, nothing under 3 on the KP index as high as 6. We've seen the northern lights in varying degrees of strength for 5 out of our 7 night stay. Pretty good. The accommodation is not exactly a hotel, I think glamping describes the accommodation more accurately. Elevated bubble tents were pitched across the property. The tents have a clear upper half, giving us an unobstructed view of the universe and a some privacy. The tent was heated and we were provided electric blankets for added warmth. Each blanket would only last for a couple of hours so Jaysen and I share one to prolong our extra heat source. The entire tent floor acts as the bed, it was quite comfortable and there were fluffy pillows for us. I must say it was quite cozy in there. There is a service house on the property which provides life's basic luxuries. In the service house there's a couple of clean toilets and showers with hot water , a snazzy coffee maker, fridge, and all other essentials. However, because the service house is a few meters from the tents, what was a few minutes walk felt like eternity in the dark, freezing night, especially when I desperately wanted to pee. :)
In the stillness of the night, away from the city, the night seemed extra dark and the stars extra bright. As we lay in our tent, we just gazed up to the sky with a million bright stars twinkling just for us. There was no need for words. It was a dream come true. I felt so at peace and had this feeling that I am exactly where I am supposed to be. I willed the northern lights to put up a show. Jaysen and I came ready, with our cameras and tripod. We saw faint wisps of the green lights but decided not to scramble for our gear and catch it on cam. There are moments best captured in memory and feelings rather than in a picture. Deeper into the night, not a sound but the wind gently blowing, we drifted to sleep and continued to dream.
If you miss the northern lights while in Iceland, do not fret. The sunrise is equally as magical. The upside to this is you can get your full night's sleep as sunrise during winter is usually around 9AM. It was one of those moments my faith is reinforced. Only a powerful and loving God can orchestrate such beauty. Something as magnificent as this sunrise cannot just be created by chance.
As the rest of our group were still asleep, we were already busy. At 6AM, coffee in hand, we were running around setting up our tripods and warming up the drone. It's time to fly! It was so fulfilling to watch Jaysen play with his toys, like a kid in a candy store. The sunrise was breathtaking. It was like a painting subtly shifting to different images before my very eyes. A fusion of soft pink, tangerine, and lilac was the perfect backdrop as the glow of the sun rose slowly in the horizon. Adding to the perfection was the naked forest where we we slept and the silhouette of Reykjavík below. I couldn't help but sit in the guest house and watch the beauty unfold before me in awe, eternally grateful to be a silent witness to a daily miracle.
A little after 9AM, our ride arrived and we were brought to a restaurant for a sumptuous breakfast feast. Food, that was exactly what I needed that time. I'm starved.