Friday, 10th August 2012
I am on a plane currently flying over the Scottish Islands, possibly the Outer Hebrides. I am rather enjoying solo travel today, a sentiment demonstrated by my out of character enthusiasm for living on the tiny, remote, unpopulated island I have just flown over that seems to be the last bit of land between the UK and Iceland.
Instead of posting a daily blog, I have decided to attempt a kind of travelogue. However, day one isn’t likely to make for a riveting read as at 4.20pm, the time now, I have merely gone from home to Gatwick Airport and I am now in a plane.
I was expecting Gatwick Airport’s South Terminal to be absolute holiday maker hell, being as it’s in the midst of the school summer holidays and Olympic travel uncertainty. To my relief, except for the horrors of WH Smith (extraordinarily sweat-inducingly hot, crowded and full of offers that didn’t look remotely like bargains), it was absolutely fine.
I am now wondering what could distinguish this from a dull monologue to an exciting, adventure-packed travelogue? It’s not looking good so far.
We are now flying over cloud over sea about half way to Reykjavik. I have been to Iceland five times previously and it’s a country that I love and which never fails to make me feel relaxed. I am collecting car keys, flat keys and an Icelandic mobile phone from the main bus station. I will then need to find the car and drive to the flat where I’m staying. I have the use of the owner’s flat and car for six nights; it feels almost like I’m borrowing somebody else’s life. My accommodation is all thanks to www.airbnb.com. I am quite excited about the car as it’s far better than my own car and a far superior option to the Toyota Aygo I was otherwise going to rent. I will be a Lexus IS 200 driver for the next six days. I quite like the idea of being a Lexus driver. They strike me as luxury cars for people who would otherwise have a BMW or Mercedes but like to have a lesser driven car.
The flat I’m staying in for the first six nights has direct access onto a boardwalk overlooking a harbour about seven miles out of the centre of Reykjavik, an area I don’t know very well beyond two visits around the area and two drives through it. I expect it will be a bit weird staying in somebody else’s apartment, presumably with all their stuff in it.
As for the weather, for the next few days the forecast is a little more early spring than I might prefer, ie about 13 degrees and 80-90% chance of precipitation. However, while I could easily stay in the flat every day, looking out to sea and contemplating life, I have sorted the hire car to pander to my don’t-waste-money ethic, knowing that I will make myself go out every day, rain or shine, because I have paid to have a car.
However, thanks to the in-flight magazine, I now know that I will be arriving in Reykjavik on day two of a massive four-day Gay Pride celebration. While the pictures in the magazine show thousands of cheerful people parading, listening to music, walking around waving cheery rainbow flags, my little idyll of pootling around the city, stopping off for coffee and cake, wandering around the wonderful flea market (largely to buy amazing and cheap smoked salmon) and succumbing to the appealing aromas that always lure me in when I walk past a particular hot dog stand (it’s the smell of fried onions that gets me!) may well be hampered. As I think all this, a more laid back version of me is rolling her eyes, sighing and saying something along the lines of, “Oh would you just relax and go with the flow”. I shall embrace the atmosphere … of thousands of sodden revellers with limp wet flags. I’m just kidding, it will be fun – unexpected but fun. Right?! I am so not a crowds person.
My holiday mood waivered slightly there. Not being negative, but I would like to say a bit about my four hours without a mobile phone. I have that horrible feeling of loss, that something is missing. I felt so incredibly lonely at the airport. I would have checked in on Facebook, emailed and texted some friends, probably done at least two smug “I’m going on holiday” type Facebook status updates and would have spent more time on my mobile than looking around the shops and wandering aimlessly. I realise that this is the first time in at least five years that I have gone on holiday without my mobile phone. I am hoping my initial feelings of being lonely will soon abate as I think being on an island in the middle of the cold northerly seas has the potential to be lonely enough.
Oh pull yourself together. It’s not like I’m going to a remote island, I’m going to a vibrant city, somewhere familiar, to my favourite kind of weather (the not hot bit rather than the rain bit!) and I’m staying by the sea. I am convinced though that it will do me good to be on holiday from everything and everyone, absolutely no offence intended.
There is just cloud below and the you-are-here map indicates there is merely sea below.
I am feeling like a battery chicken and am already uncomfortable, fidgety, dehydrated and have that ten-meals-a-day requirement that I associate with plane travel. I am feeling about two meals behind so am also hungry. I hope I can find a supermarket tonight. I like the idea of staying in an apartment and cooking my own meals. I am hoping to eat fish every day.
I am also hoping to be in outdoor water every day I’m here, though I know that won’t be realistic today. I love hot springs, and in particular the Blue Lagoon. Every time, no exaggeration, I have been to Iceland, upon leaving the airport I have felt a surge of wellbeing and calm. I spoke to an Islander about this once and he explained that this was entirely plausible. He gave lots of reasons that all made sense at the time but which I promptly forgot. The main thing was to do with the ground being so alive: volcanoes, geysirs, geothermal hot springs, etc. He kind of explained that people connect to that. Or some such.
If Iceland doesn’t make me feel like that on this trip, I will be sorely disappointed, though a bit of sunshine would really help.
I don’t actually think I’ve packed that well. I have gone heavy on the layering but only have one cardigan as a warmer layer. I do have my beloved leather bomber jacket (very warm, though its ending at the waistline leaves one’s bottom a little more exposed than it sometimes wants to be in terms of chill factor) and an effective wind/rain proof jacket. Oh, and waterproof trousers, which are a fashion abomination, I know, and which sound horrible at every nylon (?) leg rubbing step but keep one’s legs dry from rain, though damp from the inability of sweat to dry when one’s legs are encased in a non-breathable substance. “One” sounds awful, but seems correct given the context.
I also have my bought-in-error waterproof camera that I hope will finally be put to the test. Though I really do struggle with the concept of taking a camera into the water with me. I am sort of hopeful that it will leak, then I can return it and get my money back. I had already tried to take it back on the grounds it was rubbish, but I was told that if it had no fault, being as it was used, they could not give me a refund for the reason of it being rubbish.
There is still cloud below, my nose has gone aeroplane dry and I feel I have exhausted all attempts at travelogue so I shall return to my book once I’ve put this away and had a mega fidget and sigh session.
It is now the next day but I am going to finish up writing about yesterday, post-flight, when things did not go to plan!
I couldn’t see anything but cloud and rain out of the plane once it got near Iceland, but all was fine with the plane and getting a bus from the airport to the Bus Terminal. It was the car that provided the day’s adventures.
Fortunately, having been given the car’s details, I saw it parked as the bus pulled into the station, so I at least knew it was there. But it took more than ten minutes for the helpful man behind the counter to find the keys for the car, the mobile phone I was being lent and the keys to the flat. Finally, panic over, due largely to my refusal to leave the counter until the keys were found; discovered on search six or seven in a mobile phone box with my name on. Order was restored and I set off to the car.
Again, all fine, though a slight hitch as the seat was too far back and I couldn’t find how to move it forward. As it’s an automatic it’s not too troubling to be seated with your legs a tad too outstretched, but it is annoying.
Oh, cut to the chase: pissing with rain, armed with a series of crap maps, the main issue being lack of landmarks and road names. I missed my turn. Fortunately, I had been down that main road before and knew I must have gone too far so I pulled off the main road and headed towards the sea, near where I vaguely knew I was staying. I then pulled onto a hard shoulder, still raining, and ferreted in my suitcase for other maps. But I couldn’t find where I was other than my conviction I wasn’t where I should be.
I decided to turn back, but finding somewhere to turn was problematic, so I made a left turn with a view to doing a u-turn. But as the road seemed to be going in the right direction, I thought I’d carry on. Then the road started turning in ways I wasn’t wanting to go. Seeing a turning on my left that led into a block of flats’ (or so I thought!) car park and seeing there were no parking restrictions and plenty of spaces, I pulled into a parking space, turned off the engine and gathered my maps. Despite the driving rain, I decided that I needed to find out where I was. But I knew I was just off the map. So I decided to go back from whence I’d come and try to find the correct exit. But the car wouldn’t start. I tried many times. The battery was most definitely dead. I was most definitely up the proverbial creek without a paddle!
I got out the car, rummaged in my case in the boot again and produced my waterproof jacket. I texted the owner of the car and the flat, but I knew his phone was off as the people at the bus depot had tried to call him to see where the keys were but the phone had gone straight to answer machine. I realised I needed to know exactly where I was so I planned to walk along the road to get a road name that I could read, write and pronounce. But then I noticed that the flats had what looked like a reception area so I made my way into the building. No one was there. A woman came in behind me, looked at me slightly oddly, said nothing then was sucked up into a lift. I discovered that I was all alone in a reception area with quite a collection of wheelchairs. I decided to walk the streets in search of road names. But what was this: the doors wouldn’t open. There was a security key pad and I was not in possession of a code. I was stuck inside a building that felt empty with no apparent way out.
I knew at that point this was something unamusing at the time but which would provide me great entertainment regaling after the happy ending I was desperate to secure. I scoured the ground floor for any sign of life. As I was about to give up and try the lift, I saw the hunched figure of somebody with very long black hair in a mid-dark blue shirt sitting in a discreet corner. I approached her cautiously and asked if she could speak English. To my surprise, not only was her English very good, she was not the odd character I had thought she might be, rather she was a maybe 20-year old nurse. With great glee, on telling her the bizarre tale of how I had ended up locked in the apartment block, she told me I was in fact in a nursing home, hence being locked in I guess, poor residents!
With the help of my inadequate maps, she was able to point to roughly where I was and she wrote down the name and address of the nursing home. It also transpired that I was within walking distance of the flat. She said 15 minutes but I wasn’t entirely convinced, particularly as I would need to wheel my suitcase with me. She drew pictures and wrote road names and told me what to ask for if I saw anyone along the way who could help. She pointed vaguely “that way”, adding that her sense of direction wasn’t great, and off I went to empty out the car ready to abandon it. It was still raining quite significantly.
I set off and far too early on decided to take a “short cut” … which took me round in an almost complete circle, both on a paved surface and a lava stone surface – great with a wheelie case! Then, realising the “over there” water and bridge I had been promised I’d see was nowhere in sight, I saw a swimming pool and decided to go in and ask for directions. Lucky me. The pool was open, it being approximately 7.45pm, and the lady I spoke to at the reception not only spoke almost fluent English (she was born in South Africa and had just got back from eight weeks in Australia) but said if I could wait until shortly after 8pm when the pool closed, she could drive me to the apartment as she was going that way. Result. I love Iceland and I love Icelandic people. She offered me coffee, soft drinks, snacks and ice cream, all of which I turned down. By that point I realised I was tired and over travelling for the day.
By 8.15 we were on the road. She’d even left me in the car for about five minutes with the engine running and all her stuff in the car with me. I had a real “Wow, I’m not in the UK” moment and I felt I was on holiday. We set off. Although she told me it would have been quicker to walk due to paths, it was definitely longer than a 15 minute walk, plus I would never have found the right paths, not knowing which direction I was heading.
It then took us about 15 minutes to find the apartment. This area is a development of, as the girl in the nursing home described, “Dolls’ houses in pretty colours”. The road names were a bit confusing. I ended up trying to force open a door that wasn’t “my” apartment. The cat staring at me through the catflap confirmed to me I was at the wrong place. As did the neighbour, who very helpfully pointed us to the other side of the harbour. Finally, about an hour and a half later than I should have got to the apartment, I made it. My new friend, “Elizabeth” (her Icelandic name is unspellable), invited me to go to the pool one day and she’d get me in free. I felt such a rush of warmth for the Icelandic people yet again.
The owner of the car and flat then phoned. My evening wasn’t great as I had no car in which to go to the supermarket for provisions, I had no idea where to go for a restaurant or a small shop, I was too tired to want to go out and then my host said he’d send his brother round so he could take me to the car, jump start it and take me somewhere to get a battery. I raided the flat’s food store and had a glorified chicken pot noodle for dinner, knocked back with a herbal tea and some dried fruit. Not quite the culinary masterpiece I had hoped for and my daily fish intake for the holiday was scuppered at the first hurdle.
The 22-year old brother was a bit shy but very sweet. I may have tried to sound younger and cooler than I am, I am embarrassed to say. It took a while to sort things, the result being the car started with the jump leads, we drove it around trying to find a battery, failed, so ended up with my driving it back with the hope it would be ok the next day.
It was 11pm when I got “home”, I was absolutely exhausted, and it still wasn’t properly dark. I got into bed soon after but, frustratingly, despite being really tired, I couldn’t get to sleep for ages as I was buzzing. I didn’t sleep for particularly long and I think I had some weird dreams about the bit of land across the harbour from the flat.