Iceland autumn 2012: Flying by night

Leaving work at 3.30pm and getting a late flight seemed, at the time (about a week and a half ago) like an inspired idea. It would effectively give me a whole extra day.

Once I’d survived check-in (and the less said about that the better), I thought the best way to pass the time at Heathrow would be to have something to eat and I even managed to find a café that was perfectly happy to do a plain cheese toastie. Except that it took twenty minutes to arrive and one side was burnt almost beyond edibility.

The plane was a little delayed because of late arrival and it was Hengill, who I flew home on in the summer – a 757-300, which was packed. I hadn’t expected so many people to be getting a late evening flight to Iceland in October, which is hardly the height of the tourist season. I had to sit next to someone! Someone who decided, before he’d even sat down, that he really wanted a newspaper and who read it across me. The screens weren’t working so I tried to sleep for a while. Meanwhile, the screens were restarted two or three times and I suddenly realised my neighbour had put his newspaper down and was looking through the films. I decided to have a very careful look at Prometheus. I knew I’d hate most of it but I also knew that some of the beginning scenes had been filmed in Iceland. I saw some very nice bits of Landmannalaugar and some rivers and a big waterfall and then an alien did something that I didn’t like and I may have looked a bit of an idiot stabbing desperately at the screen in an attempt to make it go away. Instead I settled down with The Town, looking out of the window every two minutes just in case the Northern Lights decided to show up. Next to me, my Icelandic neighbour had decided to watch Prometheus and I giggled when he spied a waterfall he recognised and prodded his neighbour to excitedly point it out.

We landed after 11pm (that’s after midnight, UK time, collected another plane – Herðubreið – I need to count but I’m probably only missing pictures of about four planes out of the entire Icelandair fleet by now), got through passport control (collecting another “as we say in Iceland” poster on the way past) and baggage reclaim and so on. I strode over to the kiosk to collect my bus ticket and then out into the Icelandic night to get on my bus, where I was greeted – in a strange country – by someone I recognised. Matthias, the guide who took me caving in December and to Þórsmörk in the summer, Matthias who had been so perturbed by my sandals. Matthias who forgot to switch on the headlights until we were a few miles away from the airport and had been flashed at twice by passing cars. Even out in the wilderness of the Reykjanes lava field, there was no sign of the Northern Lights but I did see something that I see every time I’m here and always forget to mention.

The houses in Hafnarfjorður often have white roofs. This is confusing because it looks like they’re covered in snow. It’s not snowy in Reykjavík – it may well be further out in the Highlands but not in the south west yet – but my brain has difficulty making sense of snowless white roofs.

I reached my hotel at one o’clock in the morning (or 2 UK time…), at exactly the same time as a group who’d presumably been out hunting for the Northern Lights. A rabble of people came in, most of them went straight for the lift or stairs and one hung around in reception, looking lost. I’d deliberately chosen a hotel for the simple reason that there’s someone on reception all night, whereas the owners of a guesthouse might have been less than delighted with a visitor checking in at 1am. There was no one there. I began to consider the possibility of sleeping downstairs in a chair but there was a bell so I dinged it and immediately, a man was there. He thought I just needed a key and was a bit astonished to find that no, I needed to check in, I’d only just arrived. He hadn’t realised; I looked “so casual”. I’m not sure whether that was my ability to stroll into the hotel as if it’s perfectly normal to arrive so late or if it was that I was only wearing a hoodie open over a t-shirt rather than anything that suggests I’ve had a fairly long journey. I got checked in, declined the offer of a personalised map as I already know my way around Reykjavík and came up to bed. My room is four doors down from where it was last time, same view and everything only this time I get a balcony and a fridge. I think I had a fridge last time but I think maybe I couldn’t open it because I definitely remember leaving everything on the windowsill with the curtains closed to keep it cool. Bed by 1.30am.

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