EdFringe 2015: Wednesday & Thursday

It’s only been more than a week since I got back but I’m going to finish this!

Wednesday

I planned to start Wednesday with a lunchtime Free Fringe show but it turns out that even free shows can sell out and so I missed out on Ed Gamble and also found myself with an unexpectedly free day. I ambled up and down the Royal Mile, bought a nice fleece tartan blanket for use on the train on the way home (the train is freezing!) and eventually found myself back at the Underbelly Med Quad in time to see Laura Lexx’s show. A large part of it revolved around whether or not her boyfriend was going to propose to her and a handful of us had been spoiled for the ending by the girl in charge of the queue outside who told us Laura is really nice, she’s married to one of the guys from the Noise Next Door, so that gave it away before I even knew it was going to be a question.

Next was a slow amble down the road to Just the Tonic at the Community Project, a five minute walk if you walk really slowly, where I sat outside and read Wallander for an hour before I went into Comedy in the Dark. It’s basically your typical “four comedians do twenty minutes each, one you’ve seen before and three you haven’t” except that they turn the lights off and you can’t see a thing. This particular one was hosted by Joel Dommett (one I’ve seen before, at Altitude), with Amy Howerska, Stephen Carlin and Paul Sinha (him off The Chase) and the darkness… was a novelty. I don’t know how much it actually added, other than the reveal that Lauren Black, owner of a huge voice, turned out to not look at all like his voice and also turned out to be sitting right behind me, rather than at the back of the room.

I finished the day with Daniel Sloss, right out at the EICC, which was my closest venue when I was staying at the Premier Inn in 2013 but is now quite the trek. Google Maps says it’s about a twenty minute walk – which is actually only about as far as the Assembly Rooms but I stopped for food along the way and then I stopped to look at the castle glowing in the sky on the way back, before they turned out the bright red lights and the castle just vanished into thin air.

Thursday

I had to be out of my room quite early on Thursday, so I packed, left my luggage at reception for the day and went off down to Holyrood for the purposes of climbing Arthur’s Seat. The weather had no idea what it was doing – it got damp, it got hot and sticky, it got cold, it got windy and it changed every couple of minutes, which meant I was constantly taking layers off and putting them back on again. I took the summit path which is pretty direct and took about three quarters of an hour. The internet had said an hour to two hours, depending on how slow you are and as I was pretty slow, I was expecting it to take two hours. As I started the first real climb, the sun came out and it went really hot but when I got up to the little plateau right below the summit where the easy path joins from Dunsapie Loch (it can’t be that easy if you’ve got to walk fully half the circumference of Holyrood Park before you even start climbing) it got a bit wet and a lot windy. So I thought. I scrambled up to the top – the path sort of runs out there and you just pick a line to the summit and go for it. As for climbing up onto the rocky top, there’s no path of any kind. I picked the north side of it to scramble up in winds that were by now ferocious – so ferocious that when you lift a foot to move it, the wind buffets you and you put it down in the wrong place, resulting in the most awkward stumbling scramble ever. At the very top, it was so windy that you couldn’t even sit down without tipping over. I queued for my chance to climb up to the trig point and I took a few selfies there, since I didn’t have anyone down at the main summit to do it for me. Having climbed up, I didn’t want to go down immediately but it was very windy. I took photos in all directions and as I was about to descend, a man came up with some bagpipes, so I paused to watch that. For five minutes, it was entertaining to listen to the bagpipes being played at the summit of Arthur’s Seat and then I started to feel like I just wanted him to shut up and put them away.

When I got back down to civilisation, I thought I’d go and have a cup of hot chocolate at the bookshop and I went via the Mound, for some reason. As I walked along Princes Street, it occurred to me that the road was very quiet, just as I noticed the signs blocking it off. “Well, that’ll be a Festival thing”, I thought. The signs were Police Accident ones but I didn’t think anything of that. They’d just found some road closure signs. I couldn’t find the bookshop. I’d gone too far so I turned back and walked in the other direction. But before I found it, I stumbled upon a huge crowd being held behind blue police tape and looking through the crowd, I could see police cars and ambulances and blue flashing lights. Oh. An accident after all, and I’d come up on the wrong side of it and not noticed it. I crossed the road. Couldn’t get through there either. Couldn’t get through via the gardens. I had to cross the valley and go via the other side and as I approached Waverley Bridge, I began to see the scale of what was going on. Six fire engines, a fire brigade lorry, a fire brigade ladder lorry, an ambulance, half a dozen police cars and hundreds of people staring at the Scott Monument and taking photos. I got out my camera and used the zoom as a telescope to see what was going on. I could see someone in a yellow police vest up there and some people with ropes and helmets, some kind of mountain rescue. And by now I could hear mutterings that there was someone trying to jump off it but I couldn’t see a thing. I left the chaos and went into the tourist information to see if there were any Arthur’s Seat badges for my blanket in there and then ambled off to the Royal Mile to see what was going on.

I sat down behind the Tron to watch a street show – a man juggling a chainsaw and then riding a ten foot unicycle, during which I got stung by a wasp. It was crawling around on my knee and I didn’t notice, so I must have moved and accidentally annoyed it. It didn’t fly away. It kept crawling around on my knee so I sent it flying with a swipe of my sunglasses and when the show was finished, I limped off to get some magic to make it stop hurting.

I stumbled upon the City Cafe, the venue for my last show of the day, which it turned out I’d walked past at least every day for the last week. It’s another free venue, so I went in and sat down and watched the Clean (As Possible) Comedy Show, in which four comedians tried to keep it family-friendly – with more success than they did at Hyde Park a while ago.

After that, I thought I’d kill a bit more time so I jumped on a bus and went out to Ocean Terminal. I saw Britannia but she wasn’t nearly as interesting as the tall ship parked next door, with the biggest flag I’ve ever seen attached to her stern – a bit flag almost as tall as the masts. I took the bus back, through the city and out the other side, then decided to turn back as it was raining quite heavily.

I went and sat in the City Cafe again and watched Seizure Kaiser not doing the advertised show. I was expecting Supervillain, a tale of wearing capes etc and instead I got Gutless, a tale of “everyone’s got cancer and I’m going to be a bit too graphic”. But Mae Martin, my last show, was on straight after so I stayed put when everyone left, only for Mae herself to approach me and tell me she needed to empty the room and I needed to join the queue but if I wanted to sit there, she’d put a reserved sign on my seat so I could come straight back to it. We had to queue right down the stairs in the semi-darkness and the heat for ages but when I finally got back, she had indeed reserved my seat, which was just as well because Mae has been on TV once or twice and is far and away the most popular act at the City Cafe and the place was packed, and justifiably so.

After that, it was a bit of a dash back to the station. Well, I supposed it wasn’t really. The train didn’t go until 11.40 and we were allowed on at 11 and I wanted to be there at 11 to get settled and comfortable for the night and decide who I was going to hate all night (the people behind me who had the single seat and one of the double seat and argued in matching Margo Leadbetter voices about who had to sit next to a stranger, and the people who’d brought two small girls into the sleeper seats, especially the mum, who wouldn’t sit still, kept deliberately waking them up and tried to squish into the seats with them – those seats are already not that comfortable to sleep in, especially not when you’re trying to squish three people into two seats, despite having your own seat with the fourth member of your party). For some reason, I just couldn’t get comfortable enough to fall asleep. We sailed through Carstairs, paused on the far side and then went back in. We stopped at Carlisle, Preston and Watford Junction. You can get on and off at Watford but I don’t understand why Carlisle and Carstairs are on the timetable because you can’t get on or off there. You can’t get on or off at Preston either but at least they don’t put that on the timetable.

London crept up quite unexpectedly. One minute we were at Watford Junction and the next minute I could see the Post Office Tower. Blanket got hastily put away, boots shoved on and the next minute we were gliding into Euston. It had crept up so unexpectedly that half the people on the train were still asleep. They weren’t when we arrived in Edinburgh – the sun had been up and bright by Carstairs and people were awake and giggling half an hour before we got in. Maybe they’d all had too much comedy in Edinburgh and were too tired to notice the sun as they arrived in London.

I got across to Waterloo in record time (no tube strikes after all!) and back to Winchester by just after 9.30. Just in time to get home, get my Guide uniform on and go out to Wellies and Wristbands….

EdFringe 2015: Monday & Tuesday

Monday: a slowish start because I needed to be just down the road at the monolith of comedy a couple of streets away (I’ve found a shortcut and halved the walk to the Gilded Balloon) that is the Gilded Balloon and George Square – they’re actually completely separate sets of venues but as they’re only really separated by a road crossing between them, I regard them as one big area. However, having found that shortcut, I then spent half an hour wandering up and down various roads nearby desperately searching for somewhere that sold bread. I’d found little bitesize bits of cheese but getting the bread to go with it proved difficult.

So, show one – in the Big Purple Cow, which has moved because there are building works where it should be – was Austentatious, an improved Austen novel, which meant you didn’t have to know the first thing about Pride & Prejudice, which is good because I don’t. But I’ve been reading Thursday Next recently and it pops up occasionally in there and as I was in a Thursdayish mood I thought I’d go. I’m glad I did, it was funny.

Show two – just a couple of hundred yards away from my front door in the Underbelly on Cowgate – a lovely sort of vertical labyrinth that looks like it may once have been prison cells and smells of wet rock. The internet won’t tell me what it used to be. Anyway, it makes a useful shortcut between the upper and lower streets and I went to see Giraffe – “give us a cheer if you’ve seen us before!” well, I was the only one. I like a bit of sketch comedy every now and then, especially in a room shaped like a train tunnel that smells like a forgotten cave.

Third up was Fred MacAulay at the Assembly Rooms but some idiot went into a shop, spotted some chocolate milk, thought “ooh, I fancy that” and then drank too much of it and consequently had to go home and lie on her bed whimpering for a bit.

At half past nine I went to see Aisling Bea. I was feeling a bit better – better enough to go out but  bit like someone very heavy had sat on me. Everywhere in the Gilded Balloon is hot, so Aisling had made/had had made lots of paper plates with “YOU’RE HOT. I’M A FAN” written on them and then, because apparently she’s a maniac, as we all came in and took out seats, she was dancing t the front in a full morphsuit over her normal clothes. I’d have died of heat exhaustion long before the last person came in and then she fumbled her way over, more or less completely blind in the thing, felt her way to the front row and then shoved a piece of card and a microphone at me. I panicked and shoved it at the person next to me – fortunately not quite witnessed by Aisling herself – and let her do the whole “welcome to the stage” bit.

And then you’ll never guess who I met at the bottom of the stairs when I came out of the show.

Tuesday morning was my earliest yet. I had Shakespeare for Breakfast and when I left the building, it struck me that there were a lot of people standing around outside reception – more than are usually smoking out there and most of them weren’t smoking. I caught the word “fire” a few times and when I went out through the gate, there were three or four firemen and a fire engine with its lights on. I don’t know what had happened but as I walked up the road, watching constantly over my shoulder, people started to go back into the building opposite mine, so I don’t think it was anything major.

Shakespeare for Breakfast this year was Hamlet. I don’t know much about Hamlet – I’ve picked up a little bit from… you’ll never guess what – Thursday Next again – and I know a teeny-tiny bit because it seeps out into life – “alas poor Yorick” although I don’t know who Yorick is and “the play’s the thing” – but they don’t exactly stick to the script (they don’t stick to it at all!) and they throw in jokes and quotes and some I definitely recognised from other plays and other places so I really don’t know which ones are actually from Hamlet but assuming they stuck even slightly loosely to the plot, I now have the vaguest idea what happens. And they also provide croissants and tea/coffee/juice, so you can get fed and entertained.

Next job was to find an optician. An arm fell off my sunglasses on Monday. People are always telling me that the screw is coming out and I either tighten it up with my fingernail or I ignore it because it doesn’t actually fall out. Well, it fell out! I thought I was going to have to retrace my steps all the way back to the Big Purple Cow before it dawned on me that the missing arm might still be in my hair and it was but on Tuesday I had to go and find an optician to reattach it, because the sun is really out here and my retinas are getting destroyed every time I leave the building. The nice lady in the optician put in a new screw and tightened the other one and cleaned them with something that smelled of strawberries but it won’t be permanent because she thinks the thread inside the arm is gone – I’m inclined to agree, given how often the screw slides out. I’ll have to keep a closer eye on it in future.

Next was The Noise Next Door. I genuinely had no idea what to expect. I knew the name but I knew nothing about them and I wasn’t entirely expecting improv. The singing was a little less of a surprise. I enjoyed them, it’s always nice to go and see something new and enjoy it.

It wasn’t worth going home since the next show was in the same building three-quarters of an hour later (I have timed it; from the gate of my building to the gate of the Gilded Balloon is five minutes and two seconds, but it’s still not worth it). The next show was Get Your Own Back Live. Dave Benson Phillips has been doing this show for about the last three weeks – having appealed for any kids at the Fringe to get their own back on adults and only had responses from adults, he’s been doing an adults-only version on stage. But today was a special edition and he was very excited. On the Blue Team was captain Stephen K Amos and Will Seaward. On the Yellow Team was captain Ed Byrne and Patrick Monahan. Ed himself told me he was doing this and asked if I remembered it, so it would be rude not to go – and also, I was hoping to see him gunged, in which I was not disappointed. Dave was clearly not expecting anarchy, disobedience and misbehaviour on the parts of four comedians, all competitive and all apparently reluctant to be gunged (and Stephen forgetting very regularly “it’s a family show!” and using words Dave’s five-year-old son in the audience shouldn’t know yet). Cheating happened, trashtalk happened, fights broke out regularly, cold beans were eaten (I hated that bit), balloon animals were made very badly and then Ed and Pat were stripped of their shoes and socks, put in the chamber and thoroughly gunged. And had to stay there while the audience made their way out, because they were dripping and their feet were covered in gunge that they couldn’t track all over the stage. Photos were taken with soggy gunged comedians (not by me, but I did watch. The whole thing was hilarious.

The final show of the day was a second attempt at Fred MacAulay, a much more successful attempt and I’m very pleased that I didn’t just write him off. Fred of “boo!” fame lived up to the boo, delighted to shock and disappoint septuagenarians fans from the radio.

Tomorrow I have a lunchtime show and on Thursday, if the weather’s ok, I really should climb Arthur’s Seat. If I put it here, I kind of have to do it.

EdFringe 2015: Saturday & Sunday

I started Saturday by trekking all the way up to Princes Street to poke around the shop, had a late breakfast of croissant with jam (in a little jar; I have taken the leftovers home to have with the croissant that will be provided at Shakespeare for Breakfast on Tuesday), apple juice & hot chocolate in Waterstones, in front of a massive window that overlooks Princes Street and the gardens. Then I went outside, got on a bus and went off to its mystery destination, which turned out to be the seaside to the east of Edinburgh. I didn’t go all the way to the end of the line – I got off at a suitable bit of beach, enjoyed the spectacle of what looked suspiciously like a perfect cone-shaped volcano in the east, played with the waves, was surprised by how clean the water is and how many blue mussels there were and then, eventually, went back because it was getting on for comedy time.

  1. Tiff Stevenson, in a nice cool room with a sparkly chandelier
  2. Adam Hills, who had a massive queue going all over the hill
  3. Nick Doody, in a fairly warm cellar
  4. Massaoke, a big late-night mass karaoke event

It was raining when I came out of Nick Doody’s show and as I walked home down the hill behind the Tron, I heard a man slip on the wet cobbles and shout to no one in particular in a Scottish accent “Oooh! I don’t want to die!” which was almost as hilarious as anything I’d heard in the last couple of days.

Massaoke was fun but too noisy for my taste and too late, because it started at half past midnight and finished at 3 (I didn’t stay until the end) and also, it was pouring with rain – really, really heavy rain – as I was walking down to the Gilded Balloon. In all the kerfaffigans when my clothes went missing on Thursday, I managed to forget to pack my waterproof trousers but it was ok! Long before I reached Greyfriars, my trousers were so wet I didn’t care about it any more. They were stuck to my legs and they couldn’t get any worse. There are building works where the Udderbelly should be and a footpath around the edges – a footpath that was totally flooded. Fortunately, I arrived a bit early and the queue was inside (although no one knew where, so everyone just stood around in bars and corridors and on stairs and waited to be told to go in) and I lurked and dried off and wondered if I looked like someone who worked there because I got asked questions and directions every five minutes, and I also spotted Jarred Christmas, Al Murray and Jay Foreman. The Gilded Balloon is clearly the place for comedian spotting.

The rain had stopped by the time I left, replaced by a really thick yellow fog. At least, I don’t know if it was really yellow or if it was just the lights around the Gilded Balloon that made it look yellow.

On Sunday I got up a bit late, went outside to get some food, discovered that it was painfully hot and sunny, ate food and then went to the pool.

I have many opinions on the pool. It’s a bit too cold. It’s inside. There are no hot tubs or hot pots or bubble baths or slides or anything. There’s a fifty metre pool divided into two pools by what I presume is a removable pontoon. There’s a not-quite-warm-enough baby pool that’s almost as big as a standard pool, if not quite as deep. There are diving boards – big diving boards and a big five-metre deep diving pool. But the actual swimming pools were interesting because someone stomped on the bottom of the shallower lane pool and it sounded hollow. So I investigated and I’m 99% sure that the bottom is removable to make it deeper. Maybe even frighteningly deeper. Some Icelandic lane pools are four or five metres deep at the deep end. I went in the baby pool, leaned against the wall and felt the pool breathing, so I investigated underneath. Another false floor and this one you can push out by nearly half a centimetre. You just stand there with your back against the wall and your feet or knees on the floor and you can feel the floor moving around.

I came back from my nice swim (I did swim! I didn’t just investigate the floors!), had some more food, read, had a nap and then went out for my quietest day, just the two shows

  1. Craig Campbell, who I want to adopt
  2. Andrew Maxwell, who I also want to adopt

I only had 45 minutes between those two and they were at opposite ends of the city – well, opposite ends of the bubble that contains 95% of the Fringe shows. I was a bit concerned about making it in time but Craig finished earlier than expected and then – because I had a bus day ticket – I caught the 3 from Princes Street across North and South Bridges to Nicolson Square, which is less than five minutes from Teviot Row, which is just to the north of Andrew’s theatre, so I actually had 35-40 minuets to kill chatting to two ladies in the Gilded Garden – they’re seeing opera and spoken word and “heavy plays” and a bit of comedy and asked things like “and what sort of show is that?” when they asked what I’d seen and enjoyed. “Well…. it’s stand-up comedy. Pretty much everything I’m seeing is stand-up comedy.”

EdFringe 2015: Thursday & Friday

When they say “the Caledonian Sleeper is as romantic as ever!”, clearly they weren’t sleeping in the seats.

Oh, they’re not so bad. They’re nice and big, they’re laid out 2+1 which means I could pick a 1 seat and not have anyone next to me but when you come down to it, you’re trying to sleep in a seat for seven hours and that’s not very comfortable. I’m pretty sure I twisted some internal organs into the wrong place overnight. We stopped at Preston and Carlisle – don’t know why because you can’t get on there and I’m pretty sure you can’t get off either. I do understand why we stopped at Carstairs – in order to separate our sixteen-car train so half could go off to Edinburgh and the other half to Glasgow. By Carstairs, it was about 6.30am, the sun was up, people were awake and they were giggly, as if they were at a sleepover, instead of having spent a good chunk of the night awake and all of it curled up in a chair.

Edinburgh was not as quiet as I expected at 7.30 in the morning although I was later to learn that by August standards, it was very quiet indeed. By mid-afternoon, it’s extremely difficult just to move. But all that was a long way off.

I had breakfast of toast and apple juice and then went off to my flat – and when I say “flat”, I mean “student room”, which wasn’t available until 3pm but they did let me leave my luggage there. I ambled around a bit, went up under the castle, went to the Fringe shop and collected my tickets, eventually – the machine having malfunctioned and thus convinced itself it had printed tickets it had not. It took four people to sort that one out. But once that was done, I was essentially just killing time. I’d deliberately not planned much on the Friday to give myself time to recover from a night on the train and all that ended up meaning was that I was at a loose end and homeless. Somehow I stumbled across the Hop On Hop Off tour buses and that seemed as good a plan as any – get taken on a tour around Edinburgh, with a seat, kill some time. I did the full circle and then started it again until we got to Holyrood and Arthur’s Seat because sitting down there is a place called Dynamic Earth. I don’t want to call it a museum but I can’t think of any better word right now – it’s a series of interactive exhibitions on subjects close to my heart such as earthquakes, volcanoes, glaciers and tectonic plates. First exhibit is a room full of Scottish scientists discussing the various roles they played in our current understanding of the Earth, one a hologram, four others moving portraits – all surprisingly lifelike, actually. Then you go in a time machine to watch the creation of the universe and then in the earthquakes and volcanoes room and so on. They did have a few problems – their iceberg has melted, leaving nothing but a wood and mesh frame, and no surprise really, given that the room it lives in is about room temperature. The 4D flight is currently 2D because of systems failure when the plane crashed, so you don’t get the 3D glasses or most of the special effects, except the snowstorm. That still worked. It finished up with a show in the showdome – where it’s all projected onto a domed ceiling and that’s pretty impressive.

Even better, when I came out starving hungry because it was gone two o’clock and I’d last eaten at eight in the morning, I found that in their cafe you could make up a lunchbox, with apple juice and cheese rolls and so on. It didn’t say anywhere that it was for children so I went ahead and did it before taking the bus back to Waverley Bridge.

My room… is on the basic side and it has a fluorescent bulb so weedy I have to put the lamp on until I’ve been in the room for at least an hour. Flat 3 is split across two separate corridors and it turns out (on Saturday afternoon) that the kitchen is in the other corridor. I’ll investigate further in the morning because I’ve just eaten and I have no need to use the kitchen right now, or later on this evening.

First up was Jody Kamali, in the Clover room in the Med Quad – these are all run by the Underbelly and so everything is cow-themed. I’m not sure what to make of the show – teeny tiny room, audience of 19 of which at least three were children and I spent the first half an hour wishing I could escape without looking so conspicuous. But then people start to relax and get into it and you know it’s silly but you stop hating it and start going along with the silliness.

Second show – and last of the night – was Ed Byrne in an oven at the top of the tower at the Gilded Balloon. Not the sort of heat that grows over the course of the show – the sort of heat that hits you as you walk through the door and makes the entire audience fall asleep ten minutes from the end.

And that was it for Thursday and Friday. Having got to the Gilded Balloon via the Pleasance, I found the more direct route back with no problem, fell onto my bed- the train already seemed weeks ago rather than merely last night – and discovered that, student-style, it’s rock hard. Fortunately, that’s how I like my bed and I would have been very comfortable if not for the roaring all night from next door – air conditioning, I assume. If you’re not listening to it, it fades to a background whisper but the moment you notice it’s there, it becomes deafening.

Monday: trying to get home

I’d planned to spend Monday morning in the spa – if the hotel has one, it seems foolish not to use it. However, as the spa cost 3500kr, I decided to give it a miss and go into town and buy the glass volcano coasters I’ve been staring at for years. I collected my bus pass from reception, crossed the road to the bus stop and discovered that on bank holidays the buses don’t start until nearly ten. The Hilton is a little way out of town but not far and it’s certainly not difficult to get there – it’s on Laugarvegur so you just walk in a straight line until you crash into Lækjatorg. Of course, being a bank holiday, hardly anything was open – only really the souvenir shops. I acquired my coasters, got some juice from the 1011 – the leftover dregs of four-day-old Fanta wasn’t really what I wanted for breakfast – and then decided, since I had time on my hands and not much to do, I’d go and have breakfast in Eymundsson on Skólavörðustígur – right opposite the Thor Guesthouse where I’d started the holiday. I had croissant and orange juice sitting out in the sunshine and then went back to Lækjatorg in time to catch the 11 at 11.08. I’d been told the 11 would take me from Lækjatorg to the bus stop right by the hotel – it hadn’t occurred to me to ask what bus stop. Off we went and soon enough, I realised that I needed this vital piece of information. Well, I could see the Grand Hotel and I knew the Hilton was close-ish to that so I jumped off and found myself on an unfamiliar road with no idea where to go. I had a map but it didn’t seem to do much good. I found the road I was on but as the smaller roads branching off weren’t named, I had no idea where on the road I was. I could see mountains at each end and I could identify Reykjanes and Esja but I couldn’t get my head around the fact that Esja is north of the city and that I had to go north to get to the hotel. But I walked towards Esja and bumped into Miklabraut, one of Reykjavik’s biggest roads. That threw me completely. According to my map, that shouldn’t intersect with the road I was on at the angle that it did. I couldn’t comprehend it and eventually I had to conclude that I’d gone the wrong way. Off I went in the other direction and ran into another large road and a hospital. That road shouldn’t be meeting my road at all! It took so long for all the pieces to fall into place, that the road I was in had two halves and I was on the southern half, not the northern half. It was about 11.40 by this time and I was supposed to be checking out at 12 and being picked up to go to the airport at 12.30 (a piece of genuine genius; I’d planned to take the bus and drag my 18kg+ luggage down to Lækjatorg but instead – having realised that the luggage was heavy – I’d popped into the Greyline offices and pleaded to have a hotel pick-up added to my booking, which was about the same price as getting the bus and far more convenient). I stormed up the road, realising I was at least half a mile in the wrong direction and at least half a mile to go after that, hot, thirsty, angry and frustrated. I found a bus stop. The bus was due in four minutes. Surely that was more efficient than continuing to storm up the road. It was.

The lovely bus driver stopped at the right stop for me and pointed me in the direction of the hotel. I was fifteen minutes late. No one has ever shoved everything into a bag as quickly and as recklessly as I did. I checked out five minutes later, sweating like a pig, still breathless from my haste – and no one seemed to care that I was late for check-out and I probably had no need to panic – and then I spent half an hour sitting outside on the luggage waiting to be collected.

The coach trip was uneventful, the waiting at the airport was uneventful – except that all the flights go out within about an hour and a half of each other – that’s thirteen flights to North America and seven to Europe which is far too many for a little airport like Keflavik which was only really designed for about a dozen flights in a whole day. The non-Schengen zone was packed so tightly that you could hardly move. The main departure area has had a lot of changes since I was last there – the nice restaurants where I could have some of the bread without having the soup has transformed into a weird kitchen where you order hot things and are given a Nebari life disc which lights up when it’s ready and you can’t have the soup or salad until you’ve got whatever it is you want  – hot dog, burger etc – already on your tray.

My flight was an hour delayed and I’m pretty sure it took off even later than that. I passed the time watching the second half of Kingsman, the second episode of Fortitude – so I could point at it and go “I stayed there!” “Oh, that’s Henry’s house!” and “Look, you can see the towers!” – and finally the bits of Walter Mitty that were filmed in Iceland.

But the adventure wasn’t over when I landed, at 9.12 rather than 8.10. By the time I was back in my car it was 10.30. The ticket machine told me I owed £250 for parking – no, I prepaid and it sure wasn’t that much, so I had to dump my car the wrong way round on double yellow lines to go and see Customer Services who acted like this happens all the time, which it probably does and that’s why you should have somewhere people can leave their cars. I was struggling with the car, actually. For a start, I’d tried putting my foot on the clutch to start the engine, as the Golf demanded but Puffin doesn’t. I’d tried to put it in gear with my right hand. I’d tried to put my foot on the brake and succeeded in hitting brake and accelerator at the same time, which felt really reassuring for a trip along the motorway if I ever managed to escape the car park.

Nice and easy to get out of Heathrow, follow the signs to the M4. Which I did. M4, turn left onto M25, turn right onto M3, straight down it until I get home. I reached the M4 junction. Turn left for The West, turn right for Central London. Ok, that’s a left. I drove along the M4, expecting to hit the M25 in under ten minutes. How odd, I seem to have been on here for ages. Did I see signs for Slough on the way up? Hmmm. Maidenhead. Is Maidenhead inside the M25? I genuinely didn’t know. But I did know that Reading East isn’t and in much rage and fury and fear, I turned off, drove for miles down a road before finally coming across somewhere I could get to the other side of the road to get back to the M4 and head east back to London. I found the M25 turning! It was closed! Now tempted to stop the car on the hard shoulder and just sleep right there and forget ever getting home ever again, I continued on into London, wondering what was going to happen. How did I cross what turned out to be twelve lanes of traffic without even noticing? The motorway has clearly been moved. Ah, here’s the Heathrow turning, more than an hour after I left it! Here’s where I can go back on the M4 westbound again – this was a repeat of the morning in Reykjavik except at higher speed, in the dark and with decreasing hope of ever getting any sleep. It was 11.37 before I finally made it onto the M25 and quarter to two before I got back home. I am never driving to Heathrow again.

Sunday: flying back to Reykjavik

I started today with a quick trip round the three southern Eastfjord villages. Didn’t take long – there’s not much there and since it’s Sunday, everything is shut. The road winds around the coast – slow but picturesque. I wanted to go swimming but all the pools were closed, so I just did a tour of Fáskrúðsfjörður (“the French village”), Stöðvarfjörður and Breiðdalsvík.

At Breiðdalsvík you can carry on north up the Ring Road to return to Egilsstaðir or you can take the winding road back round the fjords. It seemed quicker and easier to take the main road, the state-of-the-art good tarmac road that encircles Iceland. Except for the stretch between Höfn and Egilsstaðir which has a large stretch of gravel. Fine, it was a good road, I could do 70kph on it fairly easily (legal limit is 80; I’m not quite that brave) but then I started to think that I seemed to be heading towards a horseshoe of mountains. Don’t know of any tunnel, so we can’t go through it. Can’t go under it. Can’t go round it. So evidently we go over it. Oh yes. The main road becomes a series of very steep, very tight bends on very loose gravel. I’m so glad I didn’t meet anything going the other way. This is the main road! Buses come up here! I implore you, look at it on Google Street Maps – this is the sort of road you could easily just fall off if you meet something coming the other way. No wonder absolutely everything you read breezily suggests taking the fjord road and neglects to mention that the Ring Road really exists. Now I understand why that particular stretch has “no winter service”.

Back in town, I had lunch outside the roadhouse – wish I’d noticed the supermarket sold Babybels days ago. Fresh baguette, babybel and orange juice. Not exactly exciting but honestly, the best food I’d had in days. That done, there was only one way to fill the afternoon. I have literally done everything in the east of Iceland and the airport is one kilometre away, so no need to get there too quickly for an 8.30pm flight. I went and killed time at the pool. Tried on some flippers – fun but managed to rub my feet to ribbons.

Once I’d had all I could of the pool, I filled it up, got some more cash out and took the car back to the airport where I killed more time cleaning nine days of picnic out, handed back the keys and sat and waited for my flight.

It was uneventful. Too cloudy to see much until we got back to the west. Þingvallavatn was nice and visible and we flew right over Esja – I could see the path I walked up last year – and then over the bay, Snæfellsjökull looking perfect off to the north, in over Reykjavik and then down. I’d been planning to get the bus home but common sense prevailed – I had no idea which bus and I had a bag of 18kg+ with no easy straps to carry it. I could get to Hlemmur, the main bus station but I didn’t know which from there and besides, it was Sunday night, 9.30 by the time we arrived. I didn’t even know if the buses were running. So I got a taxi and very decadent it was too. A taxi to the Hilton, how nice.

It was nice! Proper blackout curtains and a bath! I enjoy the hot pools and the hot tubs but it’s not the same as having your own bath.

Saturday: back to the east

I experienced something tonight that I didn’t even know was possible in Iceland. The shower ran out of hot water. As Iceland’s hot water comes courtesy of the magma deep beneath our feet, a lack of hot water must be an early warning sign of the apocalypse here. If the world ends tonight, well, I did warn you.
I awoke four miles west of Goðafoss, packed my stuff, had my breakfast, said goodbye to the Australian ladies and went to poke around the Goðafoss souvenir shop – the first such shop I’ve seen since I’ve been here, believe it or not – in the hope of finding the glass volcano coasters I’ve been eyeing for four years (failed) and set off east. Egilsstaðir is less than two hours from Mývatn and if I went directly, I’d end up sitting in my room for most of the afternoon. So I went and looked at the Krafla Geothermal Power Plant (the cooling towers have wooden slats! This is a space age power plant built while an eruption went on around it, and part of it is wooden!
I was thinking about going back to Leirhnjúkur but then I was reminded of Dettifoss, an extremely powerful waterfall in the desert north of the Ring Road. I would go there, by the west road.
Last year I took the east road, right from the north, from Ásbyrgi. That’s 53km of the worst road I’m legally allowed to drive on – so bad I wasn’t even sure I was allowed to drive on it. It’s rutted brown gravel track, like driving on a washboard, through a rocky brown desert that looks so much like the end of the world that they used it for it in Oblivion. I’d thrown my tent in the back in a panic some days earlier and the pegs on the back parcel shelf rattled and tinkled for every bump of those 53km. It took hours.
The west road is smooth, perfect tarmac. Instead of bouncing along at a terrified 40, I flew along gleefully at 90 and was there in no time.
The west bank is green, brought to life by an incredible amount of spray off the massive waterfall, whereas the east bank is all grey broken rock and devastation. It’s very scenic; I love it, but the two sides are very different.
I also paused at Selfoss, the smaller and less well-known of the two cataracts. That’s fun. The waterfall funnels about three-quarters of the water, the rest flows down around the top, where you’re walking. To get to see the waterfall, you literally have to walk through Iceland’s biggest and most ferocious river, Jökulsà à Fjöllum. Mostly it’s fine, it’s just little streams looking for an alternative way back down to the main river but there was one quite big stream, with half-submerged, pointy wet stepping stones and I just couldn’t trust my feet to do it. I approached the little crossing, whimpered and stepped back about a dozen times. I prowled the stream looking for somewhere else to hop across but this was my best bet. I was so close to the waterfall and the only way I could get to see it was to cross this insurmountable little step.
Finally I was saved by a nice man who, having helped his other half across, paused and held his hand out to me. Pulling on it, I jumped across without falling in the river and being washed down Dettifoss a couple of hundred metres downstream (a lot of tourists on the east bank getting far too close to an incredibly powerful waterfall). I took my pictures of Selfoss and returned, the step being a little easier in the other direction because you jump to the flat side of the central stepping stone rather than the point.
By now it was getting on a bit. I made a brief stop at the one and only bridge crossing this violent and frightening river, in order to walk half a kilometre back up the road to take a much-coveted photo of Hrossaborg – there’s a layby next to it but it’s at the wrong side, you can’t see its shape, hence the inconvenient stroll. From there, there was no real reason at all to stop until Egilsstaðir, 130-odd kilometres on. Brown desert, green desert, grey desert, green mountainous farmland, nothing to see.
By the time I reached Egilsstaðir, I was so tired I decided to pop into the pool before the final part of my journey, onwards to Reydarfjörður. That was nice but we were thrown out at six, which only gave me an hour, which isn’t enough to sit in nice hot water and daydream.
Tonight I’m back in Reydarfjördur, in the Fortitude Hotel. Not because I’m stalking Fortitude locations, just because it was available and cheap and sort of close to Egilsstadir. And now I finally realise that the teeny-tiny N1 across the road probably is that N1 as well, which I didn’t realise on my trip here last week, before I knew I’d be back. The Fortitude Hotel aka the Tærgesen B&B is where the hot water ran out. My room was up in the eaves, which was nice and it had skylights but the only covering was a sort of mesh blind that clearly wasn’t going to keep out the sun at 4am.
Tomorrow I have most of the day to get the stuff that’s been living in my car back into my luggage because tomorrow I fly back from Egilsstaðir to Reykjavik and then – and I’m quite excited – I’m staying at the Hilton, and that will certainly not run out of hot water.