By: Anne Kaiser

In mid-September 2023, retired meteorologist and avid photographer Vince Condella and his wife spent a week traveling in Iceland. The experience provided new creative vistas for Condella, as well as offering a firsthand glance at a variety of beautiful and interesting natural phenomenon, wildlife, and people.

Friends of the Condellas had visited Iceland, and their account and photographs of the country’s splendor provided the spark that led Vince Condella and his wife to arrange their own visit. The Condellas had never been to Iceland prior to this trip, and elected to join a weeklong journey led by tour company Abercrombie & Kent. The Iceland exploration began in the capital city of Reykjavik and then ventured through western and southern Iceland.

Condella was impressed by many aspects of this lovely northern island country, citing many of the notable and memorable features of the land. Condella explained, “[Iceland] is such a geologically active country, situated directly on a fault line between two tectonic plates, so the country is filled with volcanoes, glaciers, waterfalls—but also farmland and geothermal pools of hot water.” He added, “We missed out on any volcanic activity. It was geologically quiet at the time…fortunately!”

The Condellas were able to explore Iceland’s varied landscape, experiencing firsthand some of the unique wonders it provided. Vince Condella cited two environmentally-based experiences as his most unusual on the Iceland tour, noting the contrast between the country’s hotter and colder formations: “Going underground into a lava tube was stunning, especially knowing the power of the hot lava that created the tube. But equally stunning was getting on a large four-wheel vehicle to climb to the top of a glacier and enter a tunnel inside the ice. From one extreme to the other, Iceland has it all!”

The lava tube that the Condellas visited, known as Vidgelmir Cave, formed around the year 900. According to Condella, the lava tube, which is located between 50-100 feet below ground, had no notable smell, was “easily accessible with stairs” and had a comfortable temperature. Both the lava tube and the glacier tube or tunnel are found northeast of Reykjavik, in the west-central region of Iceland.

According to Condella, the human-made glacier tube or ice cave is located 4,760 feet above sea level on the Langjokull glacier. “At times the tunnel was quite narrow and also quite cold!” Condella said. “We were given spikes to put over our shoes and boots, called crampons, in order for our feet to grip the ice better.”

Condella noted that “the lava tube and glacier were similar experiences in that they both involved walking in tunnels, but they differed in temperature…Each experience, whether in the ice or below the ground, lasted about 90 minutes, with a guide giving us explanations of what we were experiencing.”

Iceland’s combination of volcanoes and glaciers provided a memorable, stunning contrast for Condella. He described their juxtaposition: “There are approximately 130 volcanoes on Iceland! Most of them are the cone-shaped variety and they dot the horizon for as far as you can see. Glaciers are also common at the tops of many of these volcanoes. All of this results in stunning waterfalls throughout Iceland.”

According to Condella, vegetation covers only about 25 percent of the island of Iceland. “The land consists of a lot of cooled lava rocks, but over time some of this rock grinds down to allow growth. So while there was a lot of rock, the glaciers have helped to grind down the rocks and vegetation could grow.”

Iceland’s animal population also captured Condella’s attention. He noted that “sheep farming is quite common. Icelandic wool is known for its quality and warmth.” He and his wife also “loved the Icelandic horse, a truly majestic animal.” This pony-sized animal is “found throughout Iceland,” usually at farms or stables, according to Condella. Around 100 are estimated to be wild. “When our tour visited a sheep farm in Iceland, we were able to touch the horses,” Condella recalled.

Photographic opportunities abounded for Condella, who drew inspiration both from the striking landscape and its animal population. “There were so many things to photograph. Every direction I turned there was something scenic. I just clicked the shutter on whatever looked interesting, which was nearly everything!”

According to Condella, Iceland’s northern edge just reaches the Arctic Circle, at 66 degrees North latitude. Iceland’s weather is moderated by its proximity to the warmer waters of the Gulf stream, despite its location in the North Atlantic. During their trip to Iceland, the Condellas enjoyed comfortable weather for the season. Condella explained, “For our visit in mid-September, we enjoyed a fair amount of sunshine and daytime highs generally in the 50s, nighttime lows around freezing.” 

The Condellas enjoyed an additional visual treat during their time in Iceland. “…because we were there in mid-September, the amount of nighttime hours was increasing, and that increased our chances to see the Northern Lights (Aurora Borealis). We had three nights of really beautiful auroras,” Condella recalled. “One of the nights, they appeared as soon as it got dark, and by 9 p.m. it was quite a sight that covered the sky from one horizon to the other.” At other times, the auroras appeared closer to midnight. As a photographer, Condella noted that viewing the auroras in person, the lights appear duller than they do in photographic images. He explained, “the spectacular colors we often see in auroral images is usually a result of 5 to 15 second exposures with a sensitive camera sensor. However, in some cases, a dull green color can often appear with ribbons of red even to the naked eye.”

From an interesting atmospheric and meteorological perspective, Condella noted that “residents of Iceland are so used to seeing the aurora that it doesn’t impress them as much as it impresses the tourists. They envy us for our lightning and thunder that we often get here in the United States. Thunderstorms are not that common in Iceland.”

January 2024 Cover Photo – Lake Michigan

Vince Condella spoke highly of his experience of the unique and stunningly beautiful country of Iceland. For those who are interested in visiting this majestic northern island, Condella recommended seeking out a group tour. He explained, “Our tour guide was exceptional, a native of Iceland who knew the culture, the terrain, the language, and the folklore. Tours can transport you to the most scenic and interesting sites on the island.”

Condella concluded, “I definitely suggest a visit to this unique location. Iceland is not only filled with many natural wonders, but the people are friendly and always ready with a smile.”