A certain soft drinks company has a lot to answer for, since visions of cute, fluffy polar bears settling back on pristine white snow, can-in-paw, to watch beautiful displays of the aurora are what, if truth be told, really attracted me to Iceland in the first place. In actual fact, said polar bears do not live in Iceland (unless they happen to joyride down from Greenland on a random iceberg), and in reality, along with pristine snow comes -16º C temperatures, icy winds that really do freeze you to the bone, and ice, not hanging from the land, but from your nose and eyelashes! The shattering of urban myths aside, however, Iceland truly is an amazing place, and it’s not just the cold that takes your breath away.
Having donned thermal layer upon thermal layer and a wide-brimmed hat so big I could barely see, we took a rather pricey excursion (surely justifiable as an entry fee to an exclusive club – only about 2% of the world’s population has been lucky enough to see the Northern Lights) out to the middle of nowhere and stared into the sky. After about five minutes of excitedly peering into a dark sky, our guide happily told us that it was perfect weather conditions to see the capricious lights, which only make an appearance if they feel like it, so we stared some more. And then some more. But, when there was no show, and with toes growing numb and fingers refusing to work, we hobbled back onto the coach and drove off through stark white lunar landscapes to find another likely bit of sky. But still no luck. All we could see was a distant, disappointingly manmade haze of light emanating from Reykjavik. Even after breaking for a delicious hot chocolate – made from special bars of Icelandic chocolate melted down in frothy milk and definitely worth tasting – the lights still decided to be petulant and we had to turn back to our hotel, downcast, freezing cold and a with desolate feeling of being cheated out of a lot of pounds.
But undeterred and with a renewed bout of enthusiasm for sky watching (and having been tempted by the lure of a consolation half-price excursion fee), we went out again a few nights later, and this time our troubles were rewarded, and on such a grand scale, that we ‘pah-ed’ aside the thought of freezing temperatures. We were treated to a mystically magical curtain of green light in the winter sky, swirling, dimming, brightening and for all the world, dancing to unheard, heavenly music. There was even a shooting star thrown in for good measure, but it seemed as if my wish had already come true.