A glimmer of hope
The success rate wasn't good, but we crossed our fingers anyway.
One of the men I work with had no luck.
Our flatmates didn't see them either.
Then, a glimmer of hope: the week before Mark and I were set to visit Iceland, another friend got a glimpse of the ever-elusive Northern Lights.
Much had been made, in the travel pages of the paper and in weekly deal emails, of 2014's (alleged) viewing ripeness.
(Something something science blah solar maximum yadda yadda Nasa something something.)
But I worried perhaps our chances had been built up too high. All I needed to know was whether I'd see the aurora borealis or not.
The more we heard, however, the more we realised it was luck of the draw and the forecast for our week in Reykjavik was no bueno.
"I'm sure there are plenty of other things to do, even if . . ." Mark trailed off on the plane ride over.
"I'm sure we'll have a great time, even if . . ." I trailed off as we checked into the hostel.
Soon, we found ourselves on the bus headed for the middle of nowhere - along with approximately 3000 other Brit half- termers with the same idea, gagging to see what we came to see.
Onboard, our driver assured us he had the knack of "smelling" the lights. Inwardly, I urged him to take a great big whiff and give me some good news.
But, looking out the window, all I saw was the darkened blur of snowy ground whizzing past.
Then the crackle of a walkie-talkie sounded.
The lights had been spotted, and we were headed their way.
Our bus, along with what seemed like every other bus in the country, roared to a stop in the middle of Thingvellir National Park, part of the Golden Circle.
And hovering above us was a faint greenish hue - daubed across the sky, it grew brighter before dissipating and growing brighter again, for almost an hour before becoming invisible once more.
Finally succumbing to the sub-zero temperatures, we reluctantly climbed back on the bus, quietly pleased to have seen the lights - even though their display had been less dazzling than the travel guides had led us to believe.
But halfway back to Reykjavik we felt the bus step the speed up a notch. Inside, the quiet gave way to a gentle hum; the excitement became palpable.
Soon it was obvious why.
We roared to a stop, gingerly jumping from the bus to the ice-riddled ground.
Ahead of us, wisps of luminescent green streaked across the sky - the whirling dervish dance of the Northern Lights no longer relegated to a cliche, but something happening in front of us.
They spun and shifted and changed from green to purple to red, lighting up the snow-capped peaks and troughs of the landscape around us.
It didn't matter that my hands were shaking from the cold and adrenaline.
It didn't matter that my camera couldn't do justice to the light show in front of me.
It didn't matter that I was surrounded by dozens of other people.
Often the joys of travelling are found in wholly unexpected places - a wrong turn down a cobbled street can lead to the best night of your trip.
(It can also lead to being mugged so, y'know, stay safe out there.)
The thing about your OE is that both the small and big moments are there to be savoured.
Sometimes, the large loom so large for a reason: there's nothing subtle about the full spectrum of colours, one of nature's greatest achievements, blazed across a star-strewn sky.
Moments don't get much bigger.
The Southland Times