Iceland: vast, rugged, clean, safe, and simply magical.
(Guest post by Wyman)
Each year, my wife and I dedicate one vacation as the BIG trip in terms of exoticness, time, and cost. This year, that trip was to Iceland, from April 9th to 17th. We spent 8 full days driving 1400+ miles around the entire country and enjoyed every minute of it. Our perception of Iceland before the trip was that it is the Hawaii of the North (Hawaii was one of our top 2 favorite BIG vacations): vastly varying volcanic landscape, beautifully lush scenery, crispy clean air, and finally crappy, expensive food. All of this was confirmed except, to our most pleasant surprise, the food in Iceland was simply fantastic, if you ignore costs. In many other ways, Iceland was also better than Hawaii: the lack of mosquitoes (in the winter), a much more efficient culture (Americans are inherently lazy and it is only worse on a tropical island), better roads and driving conditions, and once again, much superior food. Taking everything into consideration, we are putting Iceland as our second favorite trip of all time, knocking off Hawaii, but still quite a distance away from our absolute favorite: the 2011 safari in Kenya/Tanzania (which to be fair, did cost 6x more than Iceland).
I am usually reserved and enjoy reading / stalking blogs rather than posting myself. However, we both agreed it was time to give back to the internet(s) by sharing our experience, reviews, and tips. Our self-planned tour of Iceland (we are both control freaks, and we love it) could not have been done without the extensive material found in both personal blogs (I heart Reykjavik (http://www.iheartreykjavik.net/), Secrets of the Ring Road (http://expertvagabond.com/ring-road-trip-iceland/), as well as big box review websites, namely Tripadvisor. We use Tripadvisor exclusively for hotel rankings, both in the US as well as abroad, and in this case, restaurant rankings. Heck, when our parents came to visit us in Manhattan last month, we used Tripadvisor to look up hotel rankings around Union Square – and we have lived in this tiny concrete island for 10 years! Anyway, this is us giving back but also being selfish and recording one of the coolest (it is indeed very cool and cold in Iceland, a recycled pun that my wife got tired of by day two) trips we have ever experienced. We hope you enjoy our diary and are able to use this to make your trip to Iceland even cooler (strike 2)!
Attractions & Destinations:
8 days was the perfect length for us to see every major attraction around the country. The Ring Road, Route 1, was built so efficiently (a recurring theme of the country’s culture) that no attraction was more than an hour off the main highway. Several websites mention 7 or 8 days would be too tight, instead recommending 10 to 14 days to fully enjoy the island (probably at a glacial pace). We certainly disagreed but would like to insert a few caveats. We are highly efficient people – for example, I infamously blew through the Guggenheim museum in a blazing 20 minutes (I hate museums). On the other hand, we spent a whopping 3 hours looking at fat elephant seals sleeping on a beach off of US1 in California last year. My point is that we did not blow by the attractions in Iceland (what my Uncle calls in Chinese, “zou ma guan hua”) and was not rushed in any manner. In fact, we could have actually done the trip in 7 days, considering I stopped at two gyms for a total of 6 hours to workout, and we spent 8 hours driving around the Snaefellsnes peninsula which had zero attractions (more on that later).
If we had to pick 8 not to be missed stops, it would be in no particular order:
Golden Circle (this includes Thingviller, Geysir, Gullfoss)
Seljalandsfoss (our favorite waterfall)
Plane Wreck (US Navy Douglas Super DC-3)
Svinafellsjokull Glacial Flow
Bjarteyjarsandur Sheep Farm (or any sheep farm)
Hofn (a fishing town with the best langoustines in the world)
I did not include the Northern Lights above, which we viewed as a natural phenomenon rather than an attraction. I dedicated an entire section below to the Northern Lights on forecasting, planning, photographing, and simply hoping. The aurora borealis was simply one of the most magical things we have ever seen. We can still close our eyes and see the green heavenly fireworks show today.
The only disappointment to us was the Snaefellsnes Peninsula. We dedicated our entire day 7 to this peninsula, and it was simply a waste of time and gas. Kirkjufell is the most photographed mountain in all of Iceland. I boldly announced to my wife that Kirkjufell will be my favorite mountain of all time on the morning of the drive, and a long drive it was. Thus, we played a game of whoever sees the mountain first and expresses the sighting via grunting, shouting, or even hitting would win $100. My wife had the advantage of a map, and I had the advantage of well, my windshield. As we neared the mountain, I jokingly pointed to every brown mountain and said Kirkjufell! (classic, proven tactic of mine). 20 minutes later, we realized something was amiss – we had driven past the mountain – where was the greatest mountain of all time? It turns out, Kirkjufell in the winter is an ugly brown mountain, and I had won the $100 without knowing. We drove backwards, parked at a fishing boat dock, ate lunch, and deemed that the ugly mountain in the distance must be Kirkjufell. We spent the next hour of our picnic laughing and renaming the mountain to KirkjuFAIL. I highly recommend skipping the Peninsula and Kirkjufail altogether.
Car Rental, Driving, and Gas:
We drove a total of 1400+ miles in 8 days, renting a Suzuki Grand Vitara, AWD automatic transmission, from a local company run by three employees called Lotus Car Rental (http://www.lotuscarrental.is/). I picked them due to their fairly consistent reviews and their most competitive price. The rental was USD 746 for exactly 8 days (7am pickup to 7am drop off), and this included all insurance and waivers, which I HIGHLY recommend: Collision Damage, Gravel Protection, Sand and Ash, Super Collision, and Theft. I do believe we added quite a few nicks to the paint job from driving on gravel roads, and the car was quite dirty from dust and sand. Would I rent from Lotus again? Yes and no. One excellent feature of Lotus is that they meet you at Keflavik Airport to give you the keys and the car. We landed at Keflavik at 7am after a red eye from NYC, and I had put down 730am as the pickup time. We exited customs in the arrivals hall at 728am, I called the company at 729am as I didn’t see anyone holding a sign with our names, and lo and behold, the guy said he was a minute away. It could not have been a smoother pickup transaction – we were off by 740am. With the return however, there was some confusion, mostly because I didn’t check my email the night before. We had an 830am flight out of Keflavik, so I had listed the car drop off to be done at 630am. Again, someone usually meets you at the airport to inspect the car and for you to return the keys. We waited from 630am to about 7am before we had to go, meanwhile calling the Lotus office number a dozen times. The cellphone had been disconnected and was out of use. We decided to leave the car keys in the glovebox, the car unlocked (it couldn’t be locked due to proximity sensors), with the car parked in the long term parking lot. I didn’t check my email until I had wifi on the plane: one of the three employees had emailed me the night before to inform me that he would not be meeting us at 630am and to do exactly as we had done: leave the keys in the car and park the car in the long term parking lot. Whew! That was a bit sketchy, but then again, we would not have been worried at all had I checked my email the night before. My only concern today with Lotus is in the case of an emergency, calling the Lotus office (some guy’s cellphone) may have proved futile. In summary, WE would have no issues renting from Lotus again, but I would not recommend the company for our parents. I noticed that a lot of the rentals on the road were newer Kia SUVs – my guess it that Hertz and Budget updated their inventory more frequently and thus provided newer cars. We had no issue with the Suzuki – it was comfortable, seat warmers were nice, we didn’t care to listen to music or radio (no USB or Bluetooth), fuel efficiency was not terrible given AWD and winter tires (which were new and gripped very well), and the car was clean on the inside and serviceably clean on the outside. I do recommend renting a SUV over a sedan as we did laugh at a few tourists in tiny sedans scraping their chassis in gravel parking lots.
Road conditions along Route 1 were fantastic. There were fewer potholes along the entire Ring Road than Fifth Ave in February. This website is amazing and I was at awe at how technologically advanced Iceland is (http://www.road.is/). Here, you can see which roads are open vs closed, icy vs snow vs clean, as well as live webcams all around the country. We had no issues at all with icy road conditions or snow during our trip. The speed limit along Route 1 was 90 kmph, dropping to 50 kpmh in towns. I drove consistently in the 110-120 kmph range and had no issues. I was able to pass slower cars (which were mostly tourists) easily along long stretches of very straight and flat plains. Locals were EXTREMELY polite and unaggressive – thank you; they never tailgated, always passed with signals, and we never heard one honk. This included freight trucks, which were most densely found in the northwest, traveling between Akureryi and Rekjavik, the two largest cities. Passing trucks were more difficult on the single lane highway, but the trucks would slow down and signal (right turn) for you to indicate it was safe for you to pass. Once again, a very thoughtful and efficient culture in Iceland. How many trucks would do that for you here in the United States? I passed three police cars in the 1400 miles – all as incoming traffic. Only one flashed his headlights at me, as I was going 100 kpmh in a 90 kpmh limit (we had just passed Selfoss, a major town, and headed towards Hella, a smaller town). We did get a silly parking ticket for USD 30 at a mall in Akureryi, which I viewed as a complete scam – we had parked for 40 minutes to get lunch in a large parking lot that serviced maybe 50+ shops. Some signs said 15 minute parking only on the side streets, but I promptly ignored those once I found the major parking lot. The only solace is USD 30 is still cheaper than an hour of parking in Manhattan.
The nightmares and warnings of getting gas around Iceland proved to be false. We had no issues getting gas or finding gas stations regularly; I believe we refilled exclusively N1 stations. DO get prepaid gas cards as many many websites recommend – you can do so inside any N1 during daytime hours (usually 9am to 7pm). Unlike in the US, we could not pay at the pump with our credit cards (we lack the European PIN system) – it only worked if you had prepaid gas cards. No big deal – we would always keep about 10,000 ISK of prepaid N1 cards in the car (only to be used at N1 stations, which were plentiful). Each 10,000 ISK was enough to fill the tank from empty to full, which had a range of 300 miles – more than enough to get you to the next N1. Most N1s had a small grocery store inside where you could get juice, yogurt, bread, coffee, hamburgers, hot dogs, and prepaid gas cards. We used a free foldout map my wife had asked for from the first N1 we stopped at in Rekjavik, and that proved to be the most useful map for the entire trip. We opted out of the GPS, since she is amazing at giving directions (we did not get lost once), and we also love to challenge ourselves in the dumbest (we think most interesting) things. I do recommend for most people to pay for the GPS at an extra USD 10 per day. Finally, the only thing more expensive than food in Iceland is gas. We spent roughly USD 400 on gas at roughly USD 6.50 per gallon, which implies the Suzuki got a very respectable 22.75 mpg fuel economy (we are both math majors).
Finally, peeing was not a problem. I had planned on relieving my small bladder in Gatorade bottles along the way, but there were plenty of N1s spaced accordingly all around the island. Alternatively, there were also plenty of waterfalls as well.
Society and Culture:
We watched two documentaries on Iceland to prepare ourselves for the trip: Anthony Bourdain’s No Reservations S02E01 (massively outdated now) which simply talked about how bad the food was and how high the suicide rate is, and Bill Weir’s The Wonder List S02E02 (released just last month) which only talked about how three out of four children in Iceland are born out of wedlock. Not exactly a diverse group of material to give us a sense of the society and culture. We were pleasantly surprised once we got to Iceland.
Iceland’s population is 323,002 as of 2013 according to UN data. It probably operates at a capacity of a million Americans (don’t get me wrong, I love America: #1 in confidence, arrogance, football, and women’s soccer). Iceland is highly efficient, and we were mesmerized by their operational effectiveness. An entire grocery store would be managed by 2 workers: 1 stocker and 1 cashier who effectively turned into a stocker when no one was waiting to check out. You bagged your own groceries (I found out how terrible I was at bagging – I never worked in a grocery store in high school), you filled your own coffee, most lunches were serve yourself soup + bread, you brought your dinner check to the bar to pay, and two laned roundabouts meant fewer traffic lights and stop signs. Simply amazing! A lot of our dumb, tourist questions were answered with “but yes, of course” as if any less efficient way had never crossed their minds. We loved this culture.
Tipping was not customary. I had forgotten to look this up before our first sit down meal. I asked the lady if tip was included when we paid the check, and she almost felt embarrassed when she told me there is no tip. I looked it up later and found that tipping is not customary and is included in your meal. This made the meals precisely 18% cheaper compared to NYC and US prices. Cash is also not king in Iceland. We never took out any currency, relying on our zero foreign transaction fee credit cards for everything from the farmers market, grocery store, prepaid gas stations, and even the toll booth coming from the north into Rekjavik. We laughed for quite a while imagining how long the line coming into Lincoln Tunnel would be if they offered to take credit card…
Iceland simply felt safe. To give you an example, we were in a town 15km outside of Rekjavik, and we had stopped by a gym/spa/pool to workout. A couple who had been lifting beside us finished at the same time, walked to their car, retrieved their car keys from under the front driver’s side tire, and opened the door. Now imagine where their car would be had they done that in say, Detroit, Michigan (my wife is from Detroit, so I feel like I have the authority to rip Detroit here). My wife also noticed while reading at the waiting/cafeteria area at the gym (she doesn’t workout for three hours like I do) two twelve year old kids playing chess. The last time I saw two kids playing chess when there was a basketball court and a pool 10 feet away in the United States was never.
We visited two gyms during our stay so my lifting statistics wouldn’t drop off too sharply: Atak in Akureryi and World Class in Rekjavik. Each gym was roughly USD 20 for a day pass and both had hottubs, spas, showers, cardio equipment, one squat rack, one bench press, and your standard row of dumbbells and weight machines. I highly recommend stopping by either should you have similar needs to maintain your quads or pecs on vacation. The view simply doesn’t get any better or motivational than Atak in Akureryi.
Finally, we really enjoyed how locals treated tourists. This would be the complete opposite of say France, which I loathe. The French know you are American, they know how to speak American (sorry, English), yet they refuse to speak to you in anything but French, until they need you to pay. Iceland was quite the opposite. The locals recognize the tourist industry and accommodate accordingly. They do not go out of their way to overly serve you, but they also do not ignore you either when you need help. Again, Iceland had an efficiency that we respected immensely.
Icelandic food surpassed not only our lowly expectation but also 80% of restaurants in our super saturated Manhattan dining scene. We fully hope Anthony Bourdain visits again and updates his review (it’s been 6 years since his season 2 No Reservations episode, where he completely destroyed Icelandic food). Lamb and fish were the go to main courses at almost every restaurant. We saw practically no pork outside of cold cuts, and there was very limited chicken with eggs only at breakfast. Cheese and dairy is a huge part of their diet, and their starches are mainly bread and potatoes.
Lamb is not something I order regularly here in NYC. I do not love the earthy taste of lamb, and usually only order it at Turkish or Indian restaurants, usually heavily covered in spice or drowned in sauce. Icelandic lamb is quite different. All lamb that found in Iceland is local (laws prevent importing). In fact, the sheep farmer whom we visited at Bjarteyjarsandur Farm told us that he exports lamb to Whole Foods in the US. Icelandic lamb, usually served pan fried is clean, slightly fatty, very similar to how restaurants here serve duck fillet. I had lamb almost every night; the only exception being the day we visited the sheep farm, saw 600 pregnant sheep, and my wife held a 1 week old baby lamb. I chose fish for dinner that night, but the visit did not stop my mighty wife from ordering lamb stew that night. The fish was as fresh as expected. We tried local salmon, but local cod was the prevalent catch of the night. The only dinners that disappointed was Icelandic pizza (they must think Dominoes is the golden standard of pizza, which is completely fine, but we are used to NYC slices) and our last night’s dinner by Keflavik airport at a tourist trap that served Indian food with local ingredients.
According to my wife, we had 28 types of Icelandic snacks, all acquired from Bonus and Netto, two of our favorite grocery stores. Their hours were always limited (usually closed on Sundays and open only until 7pm on weekdays), so we stopped by to reload on snacks as much as we could. She is in charge of food and this after all is a guest post on her food blog, so I will defer the details to her.
The cost of food will shock most visitors. Our average dinner was around USD 115 for two with no alcohol (again, we do not drink). Most of the time, this consisted of a soup plus an entrée. While fair in Manhattan, this would be outrageous to most visitors who are used to Applebee’s two entrees for USD 20. We could not think of a way around this, other than to eat picnic style from grocery stores (what we did for lunch every day since we were on the road). We saw college kids or recent graduates eating at the same places on several occasions, so it seems like they couldn’t find a cheaper alternative either. Do budget the high cost of food into your vacation to Iceland.
Hotels and Guesthouses:
We drove counter clockwise from Keflavik, and I recommend the same for everyone. The primary reason is the concentration of attractions is much heavier in the south (1 destination every 50 kilometers), and thus much harder to race through had we fallen behind in the schedule and gone clockwise. It also gave us more nights and opportunities to see the northern lights around the south coast of Iceland in the beginning, which was very important for us to check off early. We stayed at a different hotel or guesthouse every night through our trip and enjoyed most of them. I’ll list and review each here based on location, proximity, cleanliness, and bathroom:
Hotel Borealis (5 out of 5):
As we took a 5.5 hour Delta redeye from NYC and landed at Keflavik at 7am, we got no sleep on the airplane (it was completely packed in its 3×3 configuration – I cannot imagine what peak season would be like). It was extremely important for us to be able to check in early (9am or 10am) and get a 4 hour nap in. I contacted 6 different hotels around the Golden Circle and Selfoss to see if they would let us check in at 9am. Only one replied and that was the reason we chose Hotel Borealis. We were extremely thankful, and I could not recommend this hotel enough as the first stop for anyone coming from the United States on a red eye. We checked in at 10am (2 hour drive from Keflavik with a stop to pick up groceries and toiletries), took a delicious nap until 2pm, and was able to visit Thingvellir that afternoon (30 minute drive from Hotel Borealis). Later than night, we drove down to Selfoss (25 minute drive) and had dinner in the lovely town. It was our first dinner in Iceland, and little did we know the start of our excellent but expensive culinary journey through the country. The location of the hotel was simply perfect. The bathroom was small yet clean and efficient with good water pressure and abundant hot water. We had two unconnected single beds which we didn’t mind at all for the first night. The hotel had a rustic log cabin feel to it and offered dinner and a bar, although we did not take advantage of either. The walls were thin, as we could hear a large group of guests chatting next door at night until 1030pm, but then again the walls are thin at most Four Seasons as well. The hotel was easy to find (across from a water treatment dam) with its own sign off the highway, and the location was ideal for northern lights. Outside of the porch light, there was no light pollution at all, and we simply drove 200 meters away from the hotel parking lot to complete darkness and a great viewing spot of the aurora. The hotel, like most in Iceland, offered what we call a continental breakfast for an extra USD 15 for two: hard boiled eggs, cold cuts, cereal, fruit, and milk and yogurt. We paid USD 127 and booked via booking.com (the primary source for hotels in Iceland). Hotel Borealis was very prompt in answering questions via email.
Hotel Ranga (3.5 out of 5):
Hotel Ranga heavily advertises their luxury offering and northern lights wake-up call service. It was the only pretentious hotel that we stayed at during our trip – they required our name, email, phone, address, and passport numbers (other hotels and guesthouses were simply a hello, here is your key). We did not mind this but did joke that with luxury comes snobbiness. The room was serviceable and slightly on the small side, and the hotel did try hard with bathrobes and slippers for 2 (which we enjoyed for the rest of our trip at other hotels). The bathroom was large and clean with a big whirpool tub + shower combination, great for me as I like to do laundry on the trip. Iceland does not believe in laundromats, so I did everything the traditional way – roll up the sleeves and hand wash everything (we had bought powder detergent at Bonus, one of our favorite grocery stores in Iceland). My wife had some allergies here from the dust in the room. The northern lights wake-up call service was simple: there was a signup sheet at the front where you tick off your room number. We never got the call (forecasts showed heavy cloud cover, so I didn’t expect a call anyway). Instead we woke up at 8am to a fire alarm; an American had forgotten his waffle in the waffle maker at breakfast and woke up the entire hotel with the burning smell and consequential alarm. Breakfast was also “luxurious”: waffles, pancakes, hot scramble eggs and sausage – your typical Hampton Inn hot breakfast. The location of the hotel was wonderful; it is extremely secluded with limited light pollution and a 35 minute drive to our favorite waterfall, Seljalandsfoss, which we took advantage of by visiting twice: once at night (two floodlights illuminate the falls to give a hauntingly beautiful image at night) and once the next morning. We also enjoyed an 8 course seasonal menu at Hotel Ranga’s restaurant; there were simply no other restaurants within 30 minutes, so we did not have another choice. The dinner confirmed that our first night’s meal in Selfoss was no fluke (it was actually salmon and lamb); each course was prepared and presented beautifully. We were seated as soon as the restaurant opened at 630pm. Service was impeccable during the first four courses; as the dining room filled with other guests and a rowdy wedding party of eight, service dropped off a cliff larger than Thingvellir – the second half of the dinner lasted almost 2 hours. However, this was not reflected in the food, as the vibrant mains and dessert were worth the wait. We paid USD 270 for the room and USD 275 for the 8 course dinner for two (we do not drink). Finally, Hotel Ranga has a postcard service which is a nice touch; my mom received her postcard in Alabama as I typed this today after 2.5 weeks – the hotels mails out an aurora borealis postcard for free to anywhere in the world. This gesture sums up the hotel nicely: luxury but not entirely necessary.
The most magical and beautiful phenomenon we saw in Iceland was the aurora borealis. We basically turned ourselves into amateur meteorologists with a relentless attitude in order to catch the aurora borealis twice. We were EXTREMELY lucky to catch them on night 1 outside the golden circle at Hotel Borealis (aptly named), and then again on night 5 at Vogafjos Farmhouse in Myvatn. We did not book guided tours specifically – I fully believe the experience is better if you plan and predict on your own (we are control freaks, I remind you). Luckily, Iceland’s technology once again proves to be beyond efficient, and we took full advantage. Add this website to your favorites during your trip: http://en.vedur.is/weather/forecasts/aurora/. Study it every night before going to bed to know your chances of seeing the northern lights. The Aurora forecast should be 2 or higher (we saw a 2 on night 1, and a 5 on night 5). Also, use this as the forecast for cloud cover – the most important factor in determining whether you can see the aurora or not (moon phase surprisingly does not matter). I recommend two locations in the Iceland as the most strategically advantageous to see the aurora: the southern coast from Hella to Hofn, and Myvatn, which is known as the northern lights capital. Most websites say April 15th is the latest to catch the northern lights, and we would agree – we struggled with the light pollution from the never setting sun during our trip from April 9th to 17th. For our trip, the sky was fully dark only from the hours of 1130pm to about 300am. Any later than April 15th and that window closes even further. Both times, the show started around midnight and lasted until 130am. Using the aurora and cloud cover forecast above, we knew we had a fair chance on night 1 and set alarms accordingly. On night 5, we actually thought there was no chance (heavy cloud cover over the entire country), but Myvatn earned its name as the aurora capital: because the elevation is fairlyhigh, the cloud cover forecast was inaccurate, and often times, the night is crystal clear around Myvatn even when the rest of the island is cloudy. I sat on the porch at 1030pm and simply waited until midnight when the show began.
The aurora borealis circle runs right over the heart of Iceland. Thus, if you are viewing from the South, you want to look in the Northern direction when checking at night. If you are viewing from the North, such as Myvatn, you want to look directly above you, or as the woman from Vogafjos farm pointed out, all around you – once again explaining why Myvatn is the northern lights capital of Iceland. I highly recommend before going to bed, scouting out a secluded and dark location near the hotel to drive to in the middle of the night to view the aurora. We simply drove 200 meters way from the hotel to avoid the porch light pollution (and other people). This gave us an unimpeded view, and allowed us to setup our camera equipment for beautiful time lapses and enormously long shutter speeds. We stayed and viewed the phenomenon by ourselves for over 2 hours both times – something that the tours would not be able to offer you. It was simply the highlight of the trip by far, and I would never recommend a trip to Iceland without a chance to see the northern lights (yes, this removes the entire summer). I would without a doubt trade peak season prices, tour bus crowds, mosquitoes/midges for a chance to see the northern lights.
Capturing the northern lights was not as tricky as most made it – but again preparation is the foundation of success (I digress). My wife took over DSLR duties (Sony Alpha a6000) with a 16mm f/2.8 wide angle lens, and I took over time lapse duties with the GoPro Hero 4 Silver. She had a 6 inch Joby Gorillapod to stabilize the DSLR, and I simply put the GoPro on whatever surface it could sit on (car hood, dirt road, fence). The GoPro was surprisingly easy to operate and useful – night mode, time lapse, 30 second shutter, continuous capture (30 second or 1 minute intervals), and a stable surface. I took a beautiful 30 minute time lapse footage (60 images stitched together) of the aurora on night one, and several marvelous 20 minute time lapses in Myvatn with the lake, mountain, and crater serving as backdrops. The DSLR was set at a 30 second shutter speed, 400 ISO, and 8-9 aperture. The quality and color of the photos from the DSLR (24 megapixels) greatly exceeded the GoPro (12 megapixels) but lacked the time lapse feature. I recommend having both in your quiver to fully capture the aurora. Most importantly though, don’t forget to look up and don’t spend the entire show trying to setup the cameras. We saw the most splendid explosion of green (it was simply a fireworks show in the Heavens for about 3 minutes) at Myvatn and was not able to capture any of it, but without any regrets.
Finally, we stayed at 3 hotels (out of 8) that offered wake-up call service should the northern lights be visible that night. As life would have it, we did not see the aurora at any of those 3 hotels. It is an unnecessary luxury to have, but something to consider if you wish to sleep through the night. We simply set alarms for 1030pm, 1130pm, and 1230pm and alternated peeing in the middle of the night. Again, relentless attitude and some amateur meteorology forecasting should do the trick!