Friday 29th: Heathrow to Gatwick to Keflavik to Reykjavik to Akureyri

Today started earlier than I would have liked considering it was a lunchtime flight and I was already at Heathrow. However, for Excellent Reasons, I was flying out of Gatwick.

My flight next week is coming back into Heathrow, arriving quite late and it seemed to make more sense to run around between airports on the outward journey, when I had the time in the morning rather than on the way home.

I got up, moved as much of my food as I could from my hand luggage into my hold luggage, pushing it up to 17.1kg in the process. That’s a lot considering I don’t really have much luggage but it includes my tent and camping stuff. This is why I’m sceptical about people who talk about “lightweight backpacking”, who think you can get all your camping stuff in a bag half the size of my hand luggage.

Let’s just run back to yesterday. I stopped in Ferndown for fuel, discovered that their pumps aren’t long enough to reach around the car if you go to the wrong side and that the minimum delivery isn’t 2 litres because I managed to pay for 150ml, most of which splattered all over the floor. From Ferndown, my satnav app claimed it was an hour and a half to Purple Parking at Heathrow which seemed wildly optimistic, especially as it was claiming half an hour by the time I reached Fleet. And yet I don’t think it was too wrong.

Purple Parking T2 is less urban than the one I used last year. From J3 on the M4, you turn left, right, left, left, find yourself in a narrow residential street (with two houses strung with blue and silver lights – just hanging from the roof, hanging straight down, covering windows and all) and at the end is a single-lane tunnel-bridge and then… if it wasn’t for the tunnel, I’d say it was an industrial estate that was recently flattened, except that the tunnel won’t admit anything larger than a minibus. A field? I don’t really like handing over my car keys to a stranger but at least the other Purple Parking looked like a real car park rather than a field being turned into a temporary car park by an opportunistic local as a large music festival approaches.

And then there’s the real fun – getting into a minibus alone with a stranger in the middle of industrial west London. The minibuses are supposed to run to T2 but since I needed a Hotel Hoppa bus, it didn’t matter to me which I went to, so he dropped me off at T3.

I couldn’t find the Hoppas. So off I went, carrying my bag, sometimes dragging it, thinking that it didn’t feel as light as it had when I left home, and made my way to the Central Bus Station. That’s not where Hoppas go. A nice National Express lady told me to go to T2 bus stop 9, demanded that I put my luggage on a trolley and off I went back to where I should have been in the first place.

So this morning I took the Hoppa bus from the hotel back to the airport, loaded my 17+ kilos onto a trolley and bounded off to the Central Bus Station. For some reason, I’d booked my coach from T4, the only terminal I wasn’t going anywhere near, so I enquired whether I could still get on the coach from the bus station. I could but it would be a different coach, a 230 instead of a 747 and my ticket got a bright orange Authorisation to Travel sticker stuck on it proclaiming that I could get on a coach that wasn’t the one I’d booked.

The coach didn’t smell good but as long as I didn’t breathe too much, it was quite pleasant. I quite enjoyed being at lorry-level on the motorway, noticing that the entire drive, I only spotted one driver with both hands on the steering wheel.
I flew from North Terminal – the one that seems to be halfway through a major building project. The trolleys here are coin-operated. I didn’t bring any UK coins so no trolley for me. However, when I checked in, I was upgraded to Economy Comfort and given a lounge invitation. The only thing is that it does appear this particular lounge is open to the general public and I probably could have ambled in without the invitation.

Still, it’s quite exciting to help myself to juice and cake and sit in a big spinning armchair in front of a huge TV and know that I get a special seat when I get on my plane. I asked why I’d been upgraded but the nice man who checked me in didn’t know. But it didn’t seem to be happening everywhere – he had to go on a tour of all the check-in desks in search of a lounge invitation.
Economy Comfort it may be but I’m pretty sure I was sitting in the Saga seats – the magazine said the seating in Economy Comfort is 3+3 but with the middle seats kept empty to give you more room and the Saga seating is 2+2 and there were definitely only two seats, wider than normal, with more legroom than normal (and a longer stretch to the screens). I was given complementary headphones, the offer of free food and drinks, a little basket of chocolates was brought round and I turned left as I boarded the plane for the first time ever. I dimly remember I once booked an Economy Comfort seat instead of plain Economy because it was £2 more expensive and I thought I could manage that but even then, I don’t remember turning left. I’m not entirely sure I’ve ever been on a plane that had an option to turn left.
The downside – and it would have happened whichever seat I was in – was that our slot was delayed. We sat just outside the gate for ages and then we sat near the top of the runway for ages. Initially, the screens weren’t on and we were getting bored but even so, by the time our wheels left the tarmac, I’d already watched 46 minutes of Kingsman.

Having started the film so long before we actually started flying, it was finished nearly an hour and a half before we landed. I’m used to having time for one episode of something or other (Two Broke Girls on my first several flights) and then a couple of Shaun the Sheeps (now not available) but I had so long. I tried watching The Flash but I don’t know anything about it or him and the first episode available was number seven, so I gave up on it. I started watching the first episode of Sherlock but by the time they found the dead lady in pink, we were coming over the south coast of Iceland and that’s much more exciting than Benedict Cumberbatch with much bigger eyebrows than I remember. I saw Vatnajökull and Eyjafjallajökull and various rivers emptying themselves messily into the north Atlantic and then we were coming over Reykjanes. I think it’s the first time I’ve had a really good at Reykjanes from above. It looks so flat, with very obvious volcanic ridges, continental cracks visible from the air, huge bald swathes, little patches of volcanoes rising up here and there, and the Blue Lagoon is little more than a smudge. Meanwhile, on the horizon ahead of us Snæfellsjökull was looking perfect, Esja and Akranesfjall off to my right. We flew out over the Atlantic, swooped round in a long slow loop – I’d never really seen exactly where Keflavik is, or that the runway more or less runs north-south. That’s a pain for flights from Europe which come from the south-east and flights from the Americas which come from the south-west. As we came round, we’d lost enough altitude for Reykjanes to suddenly become 3D – those volcanoes were suddenly soaring from the lava field, the Blue Lagoon and Svartsengi, the power station next door, were sending up columns of white steam, houses and waves and boats became visible and then boulders and then we were coming down on the runway.

I haven’t been to Iceland for a year. Keflavik has changed a lot. I knew the departure area was changing – that was already a work in progress but now all the signs have changed from yellow on black to a rainbow of colours on black. The little mini supermarket has now turned into two separate booths for Flybus and Airport Express and the supermarket now occupies the corner where the tourist information was. The door I used to go out of is now an emergency-only door and where there used to be one or two of each kind of bus, there is now a great long line because there are now so many flights that the buses don’t meet the flights – they just have a row of buses waiting for the constant progression of passengers.

I got on the Flybus – Reykjavik Excursions. I’ve always gone with Airport Express – Greyline, previously Iceland Excursions and I feel sort of guilty but they don’t drop off at the Domestic Airport.

Unlike my National Express this morning which was more than half empty, this bus was full. I don’t particularly enjoy sitting squished in next to a stranger, half my luggage on my lap, trying to see over the top of it and people’s heads to see what’s out the window.

I wish I didn’t have to be dropped off at the Domestic Airport. When my first flight was delayed, I was worried about missing the connection. Needn’t have bothered. I had two and a half hours to kill at an airport with nothing but a row of seats and yet I had no other option, not with my luggage. There’s nowhere to store it and you can’t really walk to this particular airport. I’ve walked from the closest public bus stop before and it’s a long way if you’ve got luggage. That was fine for the first hour, when I hadn’t eaten all day. I sat and ate. But there’s still another hour to wait.

The Edda at Storu Tjarnir, my ultimate destination tonight, only has wifi in the violently green lounge downstairs. I land in Akureyri at 9pm, then I have to pick up a car and drive half an hour or so. I don’t think I’ll fancy sitting in the lounge at midnight updating my blog so this is it for Friday.

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