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Trip Report Short, Solo, Springish Saga in the Land of Ice and Fire

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It seems as though the Icelandic trip reports are coming through en masse at the moment, so I figured I would add my two cents. I didn’t create a report right when I got back, but as other travelogues were posted and more expressed an interest in visiting Iceland, I wanted to join in the fun. 8-)

One difference is that I visited in March of this year, so while most reports are written for people travelling the summer high season, this report will be especially helpful for those who are contemplating a 2016 springish trip to the Land of Ice and Fire. I say springish because of course, winter never really goes away even in March (or ever), cold winds, heavy rain, snow and hail can come any time, and the edited version of my best advice is to expect anything and prepare for everything.

Full disclosure: I intend to return to Iceland in the next three years in summer, to see how the scenery compares to the winter experience, so thank you Tally and schlegal and jhubbel for your most recent reports that have further stoked my interest. And you summer goers, maybe you’ll want to flip the experience and head there in the winter!

Rather than do a day by day report, which usually leads me to tap out and stop, I was inspired by Filmwill’s India report, which by itself added India to my shortlist and was filled with helpful, descriptive information. I’m not sure I can completely comp his report, but I will certainly make an effort!

And I don’t have flickr, but at some point I will get photos up on my personal site and can link to them.


THE DATES:
March 13 2015 – March 23 2015

THE PLANNING:
I had wanted to visit Iceland for some time - friends had been and loved it, it had received a lot of travel mag/site/newspaper attention in recent years, and I read annhigs trip report with the cucumber numerous times, since there weren’t many trip reports on Fodor’s. And finally, after years of an Icelandic adventure scratching at my imagination, that I stopped dreaming and simply booked a flight for a winter/spring experience in mid March.

I’m usually a victim of over planning, buying and reading too many guidebooks and having everything locked into place at least four months before my trip. For some reason, with Iceland I booked my flight and then twiddled my thumbs for a bit. I used The Rough Guide to Iceland pretty heavily, but didn’t feel the need for anything else. I prebooked most of my tours about 1-2 months out, and lined up just a few fairly spontaneously and opportunistically on the ground. This worked for March 2015, but most of the guides and guesthouse owners mentioned that Iceland's off-peak season was increasingly feeling like peak season. So in the coming years, winter visits may well be as popular as summer visits, and booking further out would be necessary.

One complication for my planning is that I do not drive – I do have a license, but am in no way shape or form a confident driver, and don’t have to be in my home city New York, so driving in unknown and rapidly changing weather conditions did not sound good to me. Since I was planning to go solo – and indeed I wanted and preferred a solo trip, but I also could not convince my favorite travel partner and chauffer, my boyfriend, to enjoy the wonders of Iceland in winter with me - I would have to rely on tours to see the main sights around the island, and public transportation and my own two feet to explore Reykjavik. For the winter, utilizing tours can be helpful if you're not open to driving in whiteout conditions or other extremes of weather.

I booked nearly all of my hotels via Booking, but usually cross-referenced them on TripAdvisor first. I booked and researched nearly all of my tours online, except for the few on the ground in the tourist office in Reykjavik.

THE PLACES (ACTUALLY) VISITED:
Reykjavik (1 night)
Akureyri + Godafoss + Lake Myvatn (1 night)
Reykjavik – Golden Circle day trip (2 nights)
South Coast (Skogafoss + Seljalandsfoss, Vik, Jokulsarlon, Vatnajökull National Park) (2 nights)
Reykjavik – Snaefellsness day trip (3 nights)

THE HOTELS + TOURS:
Because of extreme weather conditions that kept me from completing my planned 2 night stay in Akureyri, and the fact that I booked the first half my itinerary, kind of forgot about going to Iceland for a bit, and then scrambled two weeks prior, I stayed in 4 different hotels in my various stays in Reykjavik. It wasn’t ideal, but Reykjavik is certainly the epicenter of everything for a non-driving tourist in Iceland, especially in the winter, so it provided some interesting perspective. For March, while availability was not always great, rates were on the low end of my budget even at the last minute.

HOTELS + COSTS:
Guesthouse Aurora, Reykjavik - 80 euros per night, 2 nights paid but 1 stayed
Icelandair Hotel Akureyri – 84 euros, 1 night
Alda Hotel, Reykjavik – 124 euros per night, 2 nights
Guesthouse Gerdi – 2 nights (price included in tour)
Fosshotel Lind, Reykjavik – 114 euros, 1 night
Konrad’s Guesthouse, Reykjavik – 89 euros per night, 2 nights

TOURS:
Saga Travel - Lake Mývatn Afternoon & Evening Tour
Extreme Iceland – Jokulsarlon Lagoon and Ice Caving 3 Day Tour
Goecco – Land Rover Snaefellsnes Winter Tour
Reykjavik Excursions – Golden Circle day tour, Northern Lights night hunt, Blue Lagoon and airport transfer


WEATHER IS COMING

Whether you believe weather to be the gusty Boreas or a byproduct of the storms of Thor or air currents and El Nino and meteorological forecasts, you, puny mortal, are nothing to the Icelandic weather gods. It does not care about your flights, your bookings, your tours, your grand designs, your hopes and dreams. It laughs in the face of best laid plans. So you do what you must. Prepare for it but do not submit to despair when you are stranded in Reykjavik, or your tour is on the verge of being cancelled, or 40 mph winds blow you and your luggage nearly to pieces walking between Akureyri town and the airport.

Every place I went, we were treated to the full complement of Icelandic weather conditions: fierce hail, rain, snow, and sunshine, punctuated throughout by breezes to gusts of wind. If the classic Icelandic quote is “if you don’t like the weather, wait five minutes”, there were multiple occasions where it seemed as though the weather changed every 30 seconds, or at least very minute.

But rather than get in the way of the trip, both during and afterwards, I found that the conditions enhanced my overall experience. On my trip back from the South Coast to Reykjavik, a wintry mix began to fall, and within minutes there was very limited visibility, a wet out / whiteout, combined with an eerily bold blue sky of the twilight hour, beautifully spooky. Or hiking up a mini crater on the Snaefellsnes Peninsula, on a morning we’d already run into a few kinds of weather conditions. It was cloudy as we began to climb up, and then it rained, then snowed. At the top of the crater, it felt as though the eye of the snowstorm was centered both over us and beneath us, winds whipping the flakes into our faces and swirling seemingly from the sky and from the bottom of the crater. And when the rain and the hail and the snow give way to the sun, you feel as though you wouldn’t have missed the experience for the world. I never took a sunny day – or indeed, moment – for granted in Iceland.

Bottom line: Iceland is an adventurous destination. Wear breathable layers, and let the schizophrenic weather be an added bonus to that adventure.

THE ELUSIVE AURORA BOREALIS

The first thing about the quest for the Northern Lights is that the lights more or less show up when they feel so inclined. Three things have to be going right in order for you to get a good look at them: 1) the sky needs to be pretty clear, which is fairly obvious 2) it needs to not be raining/snowing, which would seem to go hand in hand with a clear sky, although it seems in Iceland they can be mutually exclusive 3) the Aurora itself needs to be having a medium to high level of activity, and it needs to be going through this period when it is dark (so for mid-March in Iceland, roughly between 7:40 PM and 7:30 AM, but peaking during nighttime proper).

Of course, Icelandic weather is not uniform: being an island situated in both the North Atlantic and Arctic Oceans, the weather in Vik is not necessarily the same as that of Reykjavik or Akureyri at the same time, although it is safe to assume the daily mix of conditions at all times. And neither is the Auroral activity and intensity the same, it does not blanket the whole island at once, nor will all Iceland be able to see the lights on the same night.

So with quite a few elements needing to align in order to see the Northern Lights, you may be treated to some glorious displays, or get completely shut out. The easiest ways to increase your chances: STAY LONGER AND MOVE AROUND. Most of the tourists I spoke with were visiting Iceland for 3-5 nights, usually committing to most of their time in Reykjavik with day trips out of the city. I knew a few people that visited right before and after me as well, on stopovers/short breaks. Many of them did not see the lights. In 9 nights, I saw the lights 3 times – once in Reykjavik proper, once a few miles outside the city, and once on the South Coast between Vik and Hofn. Had I stayed a shorter period of time, I may have been more unlucky and not managed to see them at all. And staying exclusively overnight in one area of the country is putting most of your eggs in one basket: spreading the nights around for a bit helps in case clouds and storms are striking Reykjavik but weather is calm in the north or the southeast coast.

I had major trials and tribulations trying to photograph the Northern Lights – there are plentiful photography websites that will tell you how to set your camera so once they appear, you can photograph them, but it seems much easier in preparation than it is in practice when it is freezing and you are fumbling with gloves and searching the skies for a hit of the Aurora. The most helpful hint that is more (un)common sense rather than photography oriented is to bring extra camera batteries that are fully charged, having 3 is fine, but having 4-5 is probably ideal. The cold saps the battery VERY quickly, and for an experience as ephemeral as Northern Lights viewing, if photographing the display is important to you, you do not want to be without power when the lights finally show up. The lights can show up in a range from wispy gray bands, like ghostly trails of stardust or something, I saw the full range of lights during the three sightings, and though my pictures afterwards were relatively out of focus and filled with nothing but the light in the sky, the real life experience was so much more powerful, especially my third time. My third time was my last night, and I did initially think about going to sleep to get ready for a day of travel, but took a final shot on the lights and went on a mega bus tour with Reykjavik Excursions heading outside of the city on the road to Þingvellir. These were big buses - maybe 80 - 100 people for bus - but on the positive side were well insulated and had wifi on board, good to distract oneself when riding along on the dark, trying not to fall asleep so you don't miss the lights.

We were out for three hours, and at 2 AM, with no sightings, we were about to call it a night. Of course, we then saw the full glory of the lights: faint gray tendrils turned bright, bold red and green and even some violet, in shapes like strings and curves and showers of electromagnetic rain that jumped and danced through the sky as though set to music (a sweeping classical piece, of course, something you might choreograph ballet to). I audibly swore a few times, completely transfixed by the display. We stayed out for maybe a full half an hour, and though I was frozen to the bone, and had gone through two camera batteries, it was the most awesome way to end a stay in Iceland.

YOU SHALL NOT STARRRRRRVE! (Said in Gandalf voice)

Iceland’s food was a pleasant surprise, as some other posters have noted in recent trip reports. Again, under planning this trip a bit, I assumed I would only be eating hot dogs, skyr, harðfiskur which I think is some kind of fermented fish jerky, and fermented shark, so mostly hot dogs and yogurt. But I consulted my Rough Guide a few times, followed my nose, asked for recommendations, and was eating pretty well in Reykjavik almost the entire time. And while food was not necessarily cheap, it was reasonably priced to my New Yorker pricing sensibilities.

Outside the capital there was far less choice: in the country, we ate at our guesthouses which served solid, unexciting hearty food (if you stay for two nights and you aren’t a vegetarian, I would advise 1 night of seafood, 1 night of lamb for maximum exposure to Iceland’s pretty great animal protein sources) On the road, the tours made plenty of gas station stops for food/drink/bathroom breaks, and you got pretty standard but solid hot dogs, cheeseburgers etc. there, nothing stirring on the face of it, but certainly better than any “food” I’ve gotten at an Exxon station ever.

Highlights from a few places:

REYKJAVIK

Noodle Station – on the cheap side of eating, this was my first meal in Reykjavik, just down the street from Hallgrímskirkja. I really went there because I was walking down the street when a torrential down pour pushed me into the shop. It was almost exclusively patronized by locals, which seemed promising. And indeed, the hot chicken soup was spicy and warm, the chicken dark and succulent, and after two delayed and one cancelled flight, I was happy to refuel and dry out in Noodle Station. I would have easily gone back for lunch or dinner on another cold, wet day, and the price (1,483 Krona for soup and soda, or $11) was right.

Svarta Kaffi – another it’s cold, rainy, and I am tired of walking dinner, Svarta Kaffi is THE soup in a bread bowl place in Reykjavik. It’s also a bar, so there was a relaxed mix of tourists and locals eating dinner and/or just drinking. I had cauliflower soup in the bread bowl, and it was very hearty and creamy and nice with a small, personal sized bottle of white wine. They - very intelligently – give you a generous pat of Icelandic butter to eat the innards of the bread bowl with, and if I could send myself a vat of Icelandic butter to New York, I would.

Café Babalu – again, the theme of hearty, solid food continues, and again this was a case of walking around the city and taking shelter from a heavy rainstorm, timed perfectly to lunch. The special of the day was grilled cheese and tomato soup, so it was exactly what I had, and was warm and plentiful.

Dill – I chose to only go to one high end Reykjavik restaurant, being that food was not exactly the focus of my trip. If you’re a person who enjoys tasting menus, and if you don’t mind tipping into the expensive side of dining (11,900 krona / $88 for 7 course meal, 7,900 krona / $58 for 3 wine pairings) it is well worth it and was an unexpected high during my trip. I had accounted for fantastic scenery, adventures, and kind locals. I hadn’t accounted for things like a frozen horseradish with herb emulsion amuse bouche, that when popped into the mouth reminded one of Icelandic spring, pleasant and grassy with dew gathering on plants in a farmer’s herb garden at dawn. I sat at the bar, and the whole vibe was clean rustic: reclaimed wood, leather place settings, single candles in cast iron holders and little amber lights suspended from beams. Service was extremely efficient and even friendly – they gave me a fourth wine pairing at no cost, a fabulous Bordeaux that smells like a barrel and tastes like velvet luxury with deep, juicy blackberry notes. I could go into depth about the various dishes served, so if anyone is intrigued let me know and I can delve in more detail.

AKUREYRI

Cowshed Restaurant – one of the best tour stops for food, visited on a trip to Godafoss and Myvatn in the north of Iceland. I did find the cow smell a bit overwhelming at first – I have a mild hay allergy – but once inside the restaurant part, the smell dissipated and we enjoyed insalata caprese made with cheese from the resident cows, and its sharp, strong taste more than made up for the somewhat sad vegetables and tomatoes hiding below the cheese, followed by arctic char or lamb with some kind of starchy side I can’t recall but was perfectly edible and sopped up the delicious sauce the lamb was coated in.

SNAEFELLSNES

Hotel Budir – we stopped here for lunch on the day tour to the Snaefellsnes Peninsula, a part of Iceland I was completely enchanted with for its wild, craggy topography, beautiful, noisy colonies of seabirds, and almost undiscovered qualities: every place we visited, our group of six tourists plus one guide was entirely alone, and had the sights to ourselves. Lunch at Hotel Budir was simple meal of paprika soup and the always delicious Icelandic bread and butter, but we spread ourselves out in the sitting room, watching a storm through the big glass windows roll and spit over the ocean. I could probably stay three days in the Snaefellsnes Peninsula, touring in the morning, returning to Hotel Budir for a hot shower, a hearty bowl of soup and bread and butter, and dream away the hours watching nature from a warm place, then get back out into the elements.

More to come!

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    LOCATION AND TOUR REVIEWS - SNAEFELLSNES

    I promise that I do not work for the Snaefellsnes tourism board (if such a thing exists), but the best day of my entire trip was my day on the Snaefellsnes Peninsula.

    Photos are up on my site, along with a little narration of the events of the day tour: http://inspiredexplorer.com/iceland-scenic-snaefellsnes/

    The tour with Goecco was one of my favorites. It was in a suped up Land Rover Defender that could handle all the rocky terrain and driving up part of the Eldborg crater. There were two couples and one other solo traveler on my tour, along with our guide, Geil. The other solo traveler and I shared the backseat, which, had a third person been back there, things would have been very tight indeed. But with just two, even the shorter leg room was fine and other than taking all of the bumps (which for me added to the appeal), it was a comfortable trip. Geil was extremely passionate about the Snaefellsnes Peninsula, and shared plenty of anecdotes and facts all with that touch of wry Icelandic humor I'd noticed consistently among most of the Icelandic people I'd interacted with. With only six people in the group, everyone was able to interact with Geil as well as wander off as we liked pretty easily.

    Offseason crowds I'm sure are less than peak season, but I did not feel all that intrepid sharing say Skogafoss with hundreds of other bus tourists (to say nothing of Gulfoss and Geysir!) But in mid March, the Snaefellsnes was all but deserted of other tourist groups.

    What is great about the area is its convenience from Reykjavik, so making a day tour there is a great way to get a taste, though again I loved it so much I would spend 1-2 nights out there doing the trip again. And while say the great fossar of the South coast are 15-30 minutes closer to the city (in the opposite direction), you drive through some fairly unremarkable scenery at points before reaching the waterfalls, whereas after leaving the urban part of Reykjavik, there are immediately new things to see on the drive to Snaefellsnes. It's also a bit more, well, wild than the well traveled South coast, especially in winter when hiking opportunities are more limited to get off the beaten trail.

    While most days in Iceland we experienced every kind of weather condition besides extremes like drought or hurricanes, the day to Snaefellsnes saw some of the most schizophrenic weather I'd had the entire trip, with weather changing sometimes by the minute. Storms blew in and out, rain and hail fell interchangeably with bright sunshine, and snow made its presence known at the Eldborg crater, and then more forcefully in a full on, evening snowstorm on the way back to Reykjavik while it was still clear and bright, making the sky glow oddly pink.

    So if you are planning a trip to Iceland, in any season, I would say time in the Snaefellsnes Peninsula is extraordinarily well spent.

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    Tdudette, thanks for the support! I have an in depth post on Dill in the works, plus one on glaciers coming. But for now, here are my photos of the Aurora Borealis and partial solar eclipse from this past March.

    http://inspiredexplorer.com/iceland-eclipses-and-aurora/

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    DILL IN DEPTH

    As requested by TDudette. Please ignore if you are not into food postings. I don't always or exclusively travel for high end dining opportunities, and if I were to embark on a food focused trip, Iceland probably would not be my destination of choice. But I often like to include one more high end meal on every trip, since I do appreciate fine dining and it's something I take advantage of in New York fairly often. I do a good amount of solo dining, and have had some great meals by myself, and figured why not in Reykjavik if a restaurant appealed to me.

    I'm not sure where I read about Dill; oddly enough, it may have been Elizabeth Minchilli's food blog where I first encountered it. Since I was dining solo, I was able to record most of my thoughts as I went, so it's in the present tense below:

    At 8:39 PM I am seated at Dill, said to be one of Reykjavik's best restaurants. I've read enough to know that there are amuse bouches and the set menu, and indeed before I even select what number of courses and number of glasses of wine, the first snack is produced, but it is very uneventful. So uneventful I eat it and instantly forget what they told me was part of the snack. An auspicious beginning? I hope not.

    Now, this is what I am here for: the second snack tastes like spring in a small green cup: pickled onion, sunflower seeds and scallop chicken consume broth, so rich and full of depth that it tastes as though the chicken had been freshly killed and boiled this afternoon, the unlucky bird purchased on a farm not far from the city.

    Snack number three falls short again, though more memorable than snack number one. Lots of things are happening: beetroot, liver, roasted yeast, but aside from the liver no impression is made or taste registered.

    But snack four returns to form, and oh, what a feeling I get eating this one! The dried catfish with burned butter and smoked mayo, with lox at the bottom, tastes like you'd imagine wanting to taste the sea: incredible richness and depth, but not overly salty, like the craggy, grassy coast of Iceland itself meeting the Arctic and Atlantic. A server/purveyor of product says it is from a well known (to them, anyway) fish drier in the west.

    The final snack is a frozen horseradish with herb emulsion amuse bouche, that when popped into the mouth reminded one of Icelandic spring, pleasant and grassy with dew gathering on plants in a farmer’s herb garden at dawn.

    After this uneven but occasionally brilliant procession of snacks, I elect for seven courses, but three glasses of wine - I'm a solo female traveler after all, and I'm walking home to my accommodation.

    It's a well oiled machine here, a model of stereotypical Nordic efficiency, but being seated at the kitchen bar affords a wonderful view of food prep, staging, and serving of the small open kitchen. I type at my leisure, and occasionally look around at the other diners. I'm served sourdough bread in a clear cylinder, the pieces nestled in grass like Easter eggs laid for me to devour. It is accompanied by butter with its own wooden spatula plus salt made in house. I will never tire of Icelandic butter, and I could eat three full cylinders of this bread and still want more.

    I sit at the bar: whole vibe was clean rustic: reclaimed wood, leather place settings, single candles in cast iron holders and little amber lights suspended from beams. There were hooks on walls and coming from the ceiling, as though the building was a former butcher shop.

    My first wine is as one of the chefs described: floral, slightly fruity but dry Riesling with a hint of fizz. Peter Jacob Kuhn is the vitner. A skylight above the mini kitchen tells me it's still raining and displays the darkening sky. It's a dark, intimate experience, and the air smells like fresh baked bread and stone oven. It's warm and clubby and I feel very comfortable.

    The first dish is a standout: salted cod served room temperature with apple and celeriac purée (the celeriac is far superior) and a foamed broth on top made from the burned head and bones of the cod. It is rich, complex, the cod melting in the mouth to nothing but umami in seconds. I never want the dish to end. The waiter tries to take my plate mid sip of wine and I told him to drop it: there was still a bit left, and I devoured my last bite with relish.

    (At this point, more people are filling into the restaurant. A chain smoking Marge Simpson voice sounding woman interrupts the reverie with a very loud conversation with her cruise ship neighboring seat mates - and I know she is from Boston and on a cruise because she has announced it boomingly to the table next to her, but there's enough great wine and bread and salt and butter to keep me occupied as I await course number 2.)

    The second course is a leek stalk, with sour cream (but not the taco topping kind) piped in dots, and seaweed and cod roe sprinkled like the raisins in a high end ants on a log presentation, topped with hazelnut shavings. The hazelnut slightly overpowers the dish for me, and I find the first bit unremarkable, but am able to find mild enjoyment in it by the end.

    Third course is Arctic char with mussel mayonnaise: the fish is lightly poached, standing out with fullness of flavor and fat juicy bits. Fennel adds the licorice tang, the mussel mayo adds a seaside complexity, and the crunch from dried mushrooms adds texture, all in a stormy blue bowl. I find this nearly as delicious as the cod, and do my best to lap up the sauce with my fork.

    (The dining room, while small - three counter seats, nine tables of two or four - is bustling with activity and sound. Marge Simpson is a bit jarring to hear but everything else is quite fine.)

    The fourth course rutabaga brings me back to my meal: this isn't Grandma's Thanksgiving rutabaga (not that there's anything wrong with that). It's served with dill sauce oil and cream cheese foam, plus a bit of millet on top for texture. It's sweet but richer and more complex than I imagined. I would like a second serving of this dish.

    (Marge Simpson from Boston is now yelling about a man who has cheated on someone and saying the word blowjob quite loudly. I almost feel compelled to apologize to the couple beside me. "We're not all this loud" I want to tell them reassuringly, assuming they've identified my broad accent the last time we spoke and known I'm an American kin to Marge.)

    I like the wines progressively a bit less, though the German Riesling set a very high bar. The middle white from Alto Adige is just fine, while I do not care for the Languedoc Syrah at all. I The chef surprises me with a fourth wine pairing at no cost, a fabulous Bordeaux that smells like a barrel and tastes like velvet luxury with deep, juicy blackberry notes.

    Course number five is a deep ode to lamb: lamb fillet plus lamb fat whipped into butter and crunchified, plus kale. Now I know why I have these reds, oh god the lamb is so good. It's perhaps a bit more chewy on the side, but its fat and accompanying elements more than make up for the extra work my molars are engaged in.

    Dish six is dessert, and don't eat elements in isolation! You must eat together, the tapioca infused with apple juice, the salted caramel ice cream and the tarragon meringue working in perfect harmony in the mouth. The seventh is a skyr dessert, a palate cleanse, and perfect foodie conclusion to a pretty great gastronomic night on the balance.

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    Great insights, including your photos of auroras. Our trip was in July this year, first time. Next trip will be for auroras. Can you share some of the things you learned (other than many backup batteries) about photographing auroras? Thanks!

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    Thanks, Friendship_Bay! I am still working on it - I am a slow trip report poster - but really appreciate the positive feedback.

    GreenDragon, I think the biggest things I learned after a few aurora hunts besides the batteries are:

    -The sturdier (and taller) the tripod, the easier the photographing is. You've got to have a tripod because you need the stability to lengthen the exposure time (and I consistently used 10-15 second exposures). Having my tripod be short was probably the most detrimental part of my photographing sessions: it was very difficult to refocus my camera in the "heat" of the moment, and also tough to frame the photos because I was plopping the tripod down, aiming it generally at the lights, then standing up and hitting the shutter remote. A taller tripod would alleviate a lot of those issues and give you a lot more control to frame and aim the changing lights.

    -Speaking of a remote, definitely use a remote or cable release. The timer can work, but you still have the press the shutter to activate the timer, which can give you more noise. Doing it with a remote or cable removes that possibility.

    -I did try to set my camera in advance for the lights, but I had to adjust once in the field to try and improve focus and based on conditions. You want the ISO to be on the lower end of high if possible, so you can remove noise/grain. I kept mine between 800 – 1600, since on one night the sky was brighter and I could take lower ISO shots.

    -If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again. This old adage is especially true since the lights are so elusive. You definitely want to dry run some night photography and futz with the settings a few times, I wish I had done more futzing ahead of the lights first appearing! And giving yourself the maximum you can physically stand being out in the cold on a night in which the weather and aurora conditions are aligning in your favor is key. Check back periodically. Stay awake.

    -Also I am an amateur photographer who likes to take nice travel photos for my site and sharing them with friends, but I’ll probably never be a person who would pay $1500+ on a camera lens. For the lights, you want a wide angle lens. If you don’t want to pay for a top of the line lens but want top of the line photos, I’d suggest renting the lens you want from someone like adorama. Because I really wanted a lens of my own to continue to take night photos in NYC and on future trips, I purchased a Canon lens (I have a Canon Rebel T3i / EOS 600D) for about $500: not top of the line, but very solid in low light / night, and small/light enough to easily fit in my handbag. And definitely try to keep the camera/lens in a consistent temperature, and if you need to bring the camera inside to a warmer environment, put the lens into a plastic bag to help avoid fogging.

    -The default clothing setting for Iceland is warm layers anyway, but in winter/spring waiting for lights to appear, you want to double up on the socks, have a thick scarf to cover your face besides your eyes, maybe find some mini hand and toe warmers to put in your pockets and shoes, plus all the usual cold weather accoutrements. It can be BRUTAL when the wind picks up at night, and standing around waiting for lights doesn’t exactly keep your blood flowing.

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    Great tips - especially about the taller tripod! I have an extendable one, so I'm good there. My camera doesn't have interchangeable lenses, though (Panasonic FZ-150), so I'llhave to reconsider that. I can get a wide angle addon, we'll see how that works.

    I know about the socks! :)

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    I actually have the Panasonic FZ-150 too! Love that camera, it was invaluable in South Africa on safari to get great zoom photos without having to lug around a big zoom lens. The Canon DSLR belongs to my boyfriend, but he has neither the patience nor inclination to use the thing, so I get to use it a lot.

    For this Iceland trip, I was really happy to have the wide angle lens for the Canon for landscapes and the lights. Most of my photos on my site are with the Canon, but I also was trialing a GoPro (super fun and tiny) and took some with the iPhone as well.

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    Aha, then you know! I love that camera. I've taken it to Scotland, Ireland, and Iceland. The two lacks I feel the most are the lack of a manual setting for shutter speed (other than 15 sec and 30 sec - I wanted to take some photographs of waterfalls and get the silky/milky look), and the interchangeable lenses. Which, as you say, is both a blessing and a curse.

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    Hi - thanks for posting this info. I also hope you continue with more info about your day trips. I am thinking of a trip in early February but really want to see the icebergs and not sure if that would be possible at that time of year, especially as the total trip is only about 4-5 days. I was in Iceland in June a couple years ago on a stopover on my way to Europe but would love to see it in winter.

    BTW I also have a Panasonic FZ150 (which is getting worn out and needs to be replaced and can't decide what to upgrade to. This is my 4th camera in that series, I started back with the FZ18).

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