Northern Lights Just One Reason To Visit Iceland

Northern Lights

The northern lights are a natural light display that occurs in the high latitude regions of our planet. Alaska is one of the best places to see the northern lights, especially in September and March when skies are dark and temperatures mild for comfortable viewing. Iceland is also a good place to view the display and offers some unique advantages.

One of several astronomical phenomena called “polar lights” (aurora polaris), northern lights, (Aurora Borealis) are caused by the collision of energetic charged particles with atoms in the high altitude atmosphere. Iceland is located directly under the main concentration of the northern lights annulus, the so-called Great Belt, an oval cosmic light that goes around earth off-axis.northern lightsIn Iceland, located midway between Europe and North America, and with direct flight routes from both continents, northern lights can be viewed from October through March in a number of ways.

Self-drive tours, winter Jeep expeditions and organized group excursions are popular and offered by a variety of tour operators.

But northern lights are a natural phenomenon and sightings can never be guaranteed, so having a backup plan when visiting is a good idea. Actually, for many travelers, the backup plan is their main focus and viewing the northern lights is icing on the cake.

The Golden Circle is a popular tourist route in south Iceland, looping from Reykjavík into central Iceland and back over about 300 kilometers.

Stops on the route, any one alone worth a visit, include Þingvellir national park, the Gullfoss waterfall, and the geothermally active valley of Haukadalur as well as the Kerið volcano crater/lake, Hveragerði greenhouse village, Skálholt church, and the Nesjavellir geothermal power plant.

Can’t make it to Alaska or Iceland? NorthernLightsIceland.com has a webcam set up and will broadcast the northern lights live when they happen. Follow them on Facebook and Twitter then watch for a post or tweet when their UStream feed is active.

In this time-lapse video we see a number of attractions in Iceland from Iceland Explorer Travel Guide that also has an iPhone app for exploring.


[Flickr photos by Gunnsi]

Some German airports shut because of Iceland volcano

ash, Iceland volcanoAsh from the Icelandic volcano Grimsvötn that caused hundreds of flight cancellations in the UK, Denmark, and Norway yesterday has now moved over Germany, shutting down airports in the north of the country.

Hamburg and Bremen airports are closed. Berlin airport will probably close this morning as well. At least 600 flights are expected to be affected.

Poland may also be affected today but otherwise flights in, out, and around Europe should be operating. There may be knock-on delays because of the disruption in Germany so check ahead before going to the airport.

In better news, Grimsvötn has stopped erupting. Let’s hope it keeps behaving.

Have you been affected by the volcanic ash? Feel free to vent in the comments section!

[Micrograph of volcanic ash courtesy US Geological Survey]

UPDATE: (9:23 EDT) The BBC is reporting that Hamburg, Bremen, and Berlin airports have reopened. About 700 flights were cancelled.

Iceland volcano cancels flights

Iceland volcano, Grimsvotn
Here we go again.

After last year’s misery from the Eyjafjallajökull eruption, now another Icelandic volcano, Grimsvötn, is causing a new round of worries.

More than 250 flights have already been canceled as a cloud of volcanic ash blows over Scotland. Most of Ireland, northern Wales, and northern England will see the ash later today.

Several Scottish airports have been affected, including major ones such as Edinburgh and Glasgow. Other airports that will likely have problems today include Londonderry, Prestwick, Durham Tees Valley, Newcastle, and Carlisle. Officials say the cloud should move on and flights from Edinburgh and Glasgow will resume this afternoon. Airports in the far north of Scotland should get the all-clear tomorrow. Of course, that’s assuming there are no more eruptions or changes in the wind.

Luckily the wind has taken much of the ash away from populated areas, over the far north Atlantic, eastern Greenland, and north of Scandinavia.

Several airlines are not flying through Scottish airspace. You can see a full list here. Since the northerly route between Europe and North America passes through the ash cloud, transatlantic flights may have to be diverted, causing delays. Check ahead before going to the airport.

So far this doesn’t look like another Eyjafjallajökull. The Grimsvötn eruption is smaller and the ash particles are bigger, meaning they fall to earth more quickly instead of hanging in the atmosphere for days.

Have your travel plans been affected by the Grimsvötn eruption? Tell us about it in the comments section!

[Photo courtesy Roger McLassus]

Greece will compensate tourists in case of national strike

As strikes, protests, and other forms of industrial action continue in Greece, tourism officials are scrambling to reassure visitors that the country is open for business. Bookings are down ten percent, and with tourism accounting for twenty percent of the national income, it’s the economic equivalent of being kicked while you’re down.

So the government has offered to compensate any tourist who gets stranded because of a general strike or similar action. As an extra added bonus, Greece promises to compensate anyone stranded in the event that the Icelandic volcano Eyjafjallajökull erupts again.

While it’s reassuring that Greece will offer a helping hand if needed, it’s a bit worrying just how needed that may be. Strikes continue in Greece and the country has already ground to a halt on more than one occasion. Public sector workers are facing big cuts in pay and benefits, which is leading to strikes in public transportation.

Have you traveled to Greece recently? Tell us of your experiences in the comment section.


Photo courtesy user colmdc via Gadling’s Flickr pool.

Ryanair announces profits despite tough year

Budget carrier Ryanair announced 341 million euros ($419 million) in profits for the first quarter of this year, despite the economic downturn and a loss during this time last year.

These profits will be whittled away thanks to taxes, an estimated 50 million euro ($61.5 million) loss from the Icelandic volcano, and a 3 million euro ($3.75 million) fine the Italy slapped them with for stranding their passengers, but considering the state of the economy it’s still impressive.

In a further show of strength, Ryanair is going to pay a 500 million euro ($615 million) dividend to shareholders, the first time it has done so.

The airline credits a 14% rise in passengers and lower fuel costs as the main reasons for the profits.

Photo courtesy Abutcher15 via Wikimedia Commons.