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.

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