Iceland January 2013: Arrival

I successfully got on a coach just before 8 this morning, slept most of the way to Heathrow, checked in, got through security without being searched and stopped at the Tin Goose for some breakfast, while watching breaking news of the helicopter crash on the screen across the other side of the café.

My plane this time was Askja, a spectacular volcano in the Highlands out towards the east of Iceland. It’s got a massive flooded caldera and on the edge of that is a much smaller natural hotpot that you can swim in. The downside is that it’s really hard to get to. Because I keep track of these things, I know this is the first time I’ve been on Askja. Her screens work fine. I watched Sherlock Holmes 2: A Game of Shadows and it was. The sun came straight in my porthole and I don’t close the blinds on planes, ever. I think mine was the only blind open on that side of the plane. It meant there was a huge patch of sunlight on the screen so I couldn’t actually see half of it, which made it a bit difficult to have a clue what was going on at times.

As we left London and headed towards Luton, the weather changed dramatically. London had been bright and clear and a bit autumnal. Within five or ten minutes of leaving, I could see white fields for miles around. By the time I reached Iceland, it had changed again. We appeared to have descended through 17000ft of cloud (I watched the My Flight page for the entire descent) and landed in an Iceland that was wet, windy and orange. Not a hint of snow anywhere. Iceland’s weather takes me by surprise every single time. I may have to put away my cold weather stuff and get out my wet weather stuff.

I got on my coach and sat and waited for a good twenty minutes for everyone else to arrive. I’d picked up a magazine called Iceland Review on the way out of the airport with the words “All Alone in Iceland?” on the cover and I started reading that while I waited. I’m clearly going to have to watch The Deep on the way home. There was an article about it in the plane magazine, an interview with the director, and now there was an interview with the star. It’s about a fishing boat that sank in 1984. One of the fishermen survived. He swam three miles in the north Atlantic in the middle of winter and then walked barefoot across a lava field for three miles. I remember hearing this story while I was on Heimaey in the summer, because that’s where it happened. Now they’ve made a film based on the story. I also switched on my GPS tracker. I now know that it’s 33 miles from the airport to my guesthouse and that it took 48 minutes.

If it hadn’t been so cloudy and rainy, I don’t think it would have been so dark as we drove over to Reykjavík. I think I remember it just being incredibly dark when I first came, in December 2011 and that was much the same time of day. This time I could see a hint of light in the sky between the clouds an hour after the sun should have set. It was dark enough to be confusing, though. I completely lost track of where we were several times, including once we’d actually reached Reykjavík. We stopped at the posh hotel by the airport where there are four Christmas trees still covered in twinkling lights and looking very pretty. Actually, there are a lot of pretty Christmas lights still around and the Pearl looks lovely in the dark. By day, it looks a bit weird. It’s six huge concrete tanks with a grey dome balanced on top but in the dark, that dome is lit up (on the inside, I think) by thousands of little fairy lights. Finally there’s a spinning green searchlight on the top. You can see it from miles away.

Because my guesthouse is down a narrow street, I had to jump off the coach downtown and get on a minibus and once I was on the minibus, I panicked that I’d left my pack of vouchers and passport on the coach. That wouldn’t actually be too much of a disaster. Iceland Excursions are very good and they would have noticed. It would have ended up in their office and they would probably have managed to phone me, if I didn’t get down to them to reclaim it first. Luckily I’d been organised and put it back in my bag so that saved me having to go out again in the rain.

Evelyn, who owns the guesthouse, was waiting for me at the door. I had to take off my shoes and then trudge up two flights of stairs with my suitcase. My room has three beds. At the moment I seem to have one for sleeping in, one for sitting on and one for unloading stuff onto. My suitcase seems to have been either put in a puddle or left out in the rain (I’m blaming Iceland for this, since it was dry at Heathrow) so one side of it is soaked so there’s a lot of stuff on the radiator at the moment. It’s a good radiator. Most of it is already dry. I’ve got a sink in my room, the bathrooms are right outside and I’ve had a peek in the kitchen. Not too much of a peek – not enough to spot any kettle, although I’m sure there is one. I actually went down for the wifi password, to be told “you can only use the wifi down here. You can sit with the students!” No. No no no. The wifi works in my room and I did not come here to sit and write this with a group of strangers. I am unsociable and remaining that way. It seems to cut out regularly but it reconnects if I give it a stern look. Hopefully that’s all she meant – that it doesn’t reach up to the second floor too well, rather than she wants internet use supervised or she wants to force me to be sociable. I’m already uncertain about this place, to be honest. I got put in my room. “These are your keys. There’s a front door key but I’m downstairs so tell me if you want to go downtown” and evidently I have to tell her what time I’m being picked up in the morning so she can make breakfast. Feeling like this, I’m not at all sure if I’m going to even want breakfast. I’ve had a handful of cereal tonight and I experimented with one roll with a slice of plastic cheese in it which seems to be going ok. I’m also just across the Pond from the domestic airport so tonight I’ve already seen three smallish planes fly across right in front of my window.

Each of my spare beds has a big blanket on it. I like this, at least. And it’s warm. My room has a name, not a number. It’s called Sóley, which is one of the Icelandic words I know. Its literal translation is Sun Island but it means buttercup and it’s a fairly common name. Must go and pack for tomorrow before I go to bed.

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