The light is always perfect, there’s just
not much of it. (December 2014)


All the family came together in Barcleona to help Hayden celebrate the defence of his PhD. And as we were going to be in Europe for Christmas, we asked everyone where they would like to go – it was our shout. The only restrictions being that it had to be close to Europe and a place that none of us had been to before. It was our first Christmas together in seven years, so it had to be special.

Iceland came out the clear winner.

Now winter in Iceland offers two guarantees – the temperatures are low and the days are short. The sun rises around 11am and sets again four hours later at 3pm. However the twilight extends the available light for another two hours. Iceland is located at 64°08′ N and tucked up under the Artic circle. In winter the sun barely peeps above the horizon, even when it has fully risen.

But what magic light it is.

In winter the low light adds to the eeriness of the bleak, white landscape.

We arrived late in Reykjavik and once we were settled into our AirBnB, we very tentatively headed out over the icy streets to find dinner.

Staying upright was a challenge and we were constantly warning each other to beware of the slippery conditions.

We walked around Reykjavik, this included the Hallgrímskirkja church, port area, shopping street, lake and the flee market full of retro clothes and shoes.

Hallgrímskirkja is an Iclandic Lutheran church that was designed by Guōjón Samúelsson in 1937. It took 38 years to build with work starting in 1945. Its expressionist style looks far more contemporary than a building designed in the first half of the 20th century.

With a smaller population than Canberra, Iceland is better educated, more sophisticated and more self reliant than most countries. The locals eat, drink and consume Icelandic products and produce – not because they have to but because they want to.

They are fiercely independent and very proud of their heritage. Reykjavík is one of the cleanest, greeness and safest cities in the world.

There are more book shops per capita than any other place on earth.

Due to volcanic activity geothermal heating is available to 90% of all buildings in Iceland.

We decided to hire a car and ended up getting a Toyota Hiace 4WD van, as we needed room for six people and their luggage. We wanted a 4WD as the road conditions were deteriorating with the onset of winter. When we picked up the Hiace we were given all sorts of dire warnings about the conditions of the roads.

We were therefore very glad that we had chosen to get something that could handle the icy conditions.

On our drive to Vik we made a detour to visit the Mid-Atlantic Drift fault line, in the Thingvellir National Park.

In the North Atlantic, this fault line separates the Eurasian and North American plates that passes through the centre of Iceland.

We also stopped off at Geysir, which is the original geyser and the origin of the name. The Great Geysir doesn’t do much any more but the nearby Strokkur Geyser erupts every few minutes, spouting boiling water about 30 metres in the air.

Next day we made the two hour drive to Svinafellsjökull Glacier, a magical place where the ice on the glacier is clear and blue. We spent over one and a half hours exploring an extremely small area. This is a glacial tongue that comes from the Vatnajökull ice cap. It’s the largest ice cap in Iceland, covering an area of 8,100 square kilometres and, in places, over 1,000 metres thick.

We walked along the black sand beach near Vik with the famous, Reynisdrangur rock formations just off the coast. And in what was left of the afternoon light we visited the 62m high Skógafoss and Seljalandsfoss waterfalls. Their slippery ice paths almost take you to the base of the falls.

In the evening we went looking for the Aurora Borealis. It was only moderate but we got a good idea of the spectacle.

I took some snaps using my Gorilla Grip but they weren’t a patch on Evan’s shots using a traditional tripod.

On Christmas Day we did the very Australian thing and went to the beach.

This wasn’t to play cricket, on the golden sands after a big turkey lunch. Instead we went before our lunch of roast Icelandic lamb and the sand on the beach was black.

It then started to snow, which made our white Christmas experience complete.

Later that afternoon we made a strange looking snowman, which we later called a ‘Snowblowie’, and threw snowballs at each other.

The locals must have wondered who this mad group was, that acted as though they had never seen snow on Christmas day before.

Our time in Vik was over so we packed and drove back towards Reykjavik, with a two hour diversion to the Blue Lagoon geothermal spa. The lagoon is outside so this experience was made even more bizarre by the fact that it snowed. We were sitting neck deep in the hot (39° C) mineral springs with snowflakes dropping on our heads.

You can also rub silica into your skin to get that ‘smooth as a baby’s bottom’ sensation.

That evening, while walking to dinner, the aurora gave us a show that was brief but far more spectacular than what we had seen in Vik.

We decided that we were having too much fun and not enough culture so we visited the Reykjavík 871±2 Museum. This is dedicated to the Viking settlement of Iceland. and built over the ruins of one of the first houses in Reykjavík. The oldest relics found of human habitation in Iceland were from 871, plus or minus a year, hence the museum’s name, Reykjavík 871±2.

The Reykjavík sits on the Tjörnin lake, which freezes in winter and is a haven for the local bird life. Swans, ducks, geece, arctic terns, elder, scaup and pigeons congregate around the slipway, in the hope of a free feed.

On our last afternoon we visted the Reykjavík Graveyard or Hólavallagarður. This is both a park and cemetary in one, that was concsecrated in 1838. It’s the burial ground for over thrirty thousand of Reykjavík’s former citizens and a favourite spot for bird watchers.

The snow and ice on the headstones made for some interesting snaps

We flew back to London on Icelandic Air, there were even faux Aurora Borealis lights flickering in the cabin.

One Response to “The light is always perfect, there’s just
not much of it. (December 2014)”

  1. Alex Mifsud says:

    How are you finding the time to do all this wonderful travel writing Bruce? And the cameras look as if they are are back to normal again – love the people shots of the girl in Iran and the dozing security guard. The lamp post one here is very eerie. Cheers, Alex.

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