The AURORA and Other Wonders of ICELAND

Hanging just outside the frigid Arctic Circle at the upper reaches of the Northern Hemisphere is a most interesting island nation. Their land is both hot and cold, with plenty of hot springs, geysers and active volcanoes spewing lava fields but also lots of glaciers. It’s warmed by the Gulf Stream yet still kept cool by its high latitudes. It may seem hard to believe that people even live here, but they do. Despite being the most sparsely populated country in the grouping of Europe (but not part of the EU), theirs is a hardy people whose ancestors have braved the conditions of the island to form one of the oldest governing bodies to come down to this very day. Indeed, Iceland is a tough nation (despite no military) with strong citizens who enjoy one of the most breathtaking natural countryside anywhere in the world, one they are eager to share with appreciative visitors.

Little History

Iceland has very strong ties to Scandinavian and Viking history. In 870 Swedish Vikings first explored the island, leading to the start of permanent settlement in 874 by the Norwegian Norse, followed by more Scandinavians and their Irish or Scottish thralls (slaves) which eventually led to the formation of a commonwealth centered on the ancient parliament Althing. The inhabitants of Iceland became the key to the collection and preservation of Norse mythology that is now well-known throughout the world. Changing climate conditions, which made the land colder over the centuries, brought hardships to the inhabitants, who eventually joined themselves to Norway, then later to Denmark as an independent kingdom in a personal union through acknowledging the Danish monarch as their own. After World War II the Icelanders voted to end their union with Denmark and establish themselves as a sovereign republic.

Getting There

Travel to Iceland is simple enough, there are flights to their sole international airport of Keflavik from several major cities from the US and Europe. Filipinos traveling to Iceland need only fly to either New York City (JFK) or London (Heathrow) via Philippine Airlines. At either of these destinations they can catch a flight (Delta at JFK, British Airways at Heathrow) for Keflavik International. Once in Iceland, most land travel is by car, while domestic and charter flights connect Reykjavik Airport at the capital to over a hundred smaller airports and airfields. It should be noted that almost all population centers are on the outer edges of the island and coast, due to the remote geography of the center.

Sights to See

When it comes to scenic places in Iceland, they are either historical landmarks commemorating the country’s Norse Viking past, or mighty works of nature that stretch out as far as the eye can see. Legacies of their past can be viewed in the excavated remains of a Viking longhouse in Reykjavik’s Settlement Exhibition. A more orderly display of artifacts spanning Iceland history can be seen at their National Museum, also in the capital. A trip to the northwestern fishing town of Bolungarvík yields Ósvör, their recreation of a Viking fishing outpost from the time of settlement. If you prefer a modern destination and can afford a show of fine art you may consider returning to Reykjavik to see the Harpa concert hall.

For a natural bent in your exploration of Iceland you can head to Þingvellir National Park where you can find the former site of the Alþingi Lögberg (Law Rock) where the Althing of old gathered to do their legislation. Snæfellsjökull National Park is a fine place to check out one of Iceland’s many glaciers. Get to see the country’s wild plant and animal life at the Hornstrandir Nature Reserve. Finally, you can go to the Þingvellir Plain to see where the tectonic plates of North America and Europe clash on the island, causing its volcanic and geologic activity.

The Aurora

While there are many fascinating sights to look at on Iceland, a great number of tourists also come there for a spectacle that happens in the sky over everybody’s heads. This is one of the most famous northern locations on Earth where one can chance to see, very clearly, the magnificent atmospheric phenomenon known as the Aurora Borealis, or Northern Lights. In Iceland’s case, the spread of time when the Aurora might be visible is a stretch of eight whole months. Which means any time from August to April the Northern Lights can just pop up in the sky to the delight of any visitor who happens to be around; Icelanders are quite used to them now.

The chances of seeing the Aurora for yourself really depends on the weather condition, duration of stay and some dumb luck. With good fortune, if arriving or departing Keflavik Airport at night you might chance to see the lights right out of your plane’s window. But if you’re only in Iceland for two to three days your prospects are limited. Native Icelanders give your optimum chance of seeing an Aurora in seven days, Between August and April of the next year.

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