Sunday, 19 March 2017

saga holiday

see these things by northern light
you'll never see them clearer
love's as short as summer nights
by northern light my dear

Luton is, quite possibly, one of the worst airports there is. Having got up and left the house by 3:30 am and driven for two hours to get there, I was still fairly tired. The experience of being cattle-herded through security and then rushed through to the gate was quite unpleasant but nothing compared to what happened next. Now, easyJet aren't renowned for their customer liaison skills but some of their employees could do with reminding that the herds of holidaymakers being corralled and prodded through the airport are paying their wages.

We were rushed through past an abrupt middle-aged woman with a face like Les Dawson who seemed to believe she was re-enacting the Sensational Alex Harvey Band's version of Jacque Brel's Next!  Whilst everyone was tutting and thinking how rude she was they were being forced down into what can only be described as the waiting room for Hell. We were told to move further in together as there were plenty more to follow. The stairway was so hot that people started to fear for the older passengers - there were a fair few retired and elderly characters down there. Panic started to set in. The problem was that the radiators were all on full pelt but as we were travelling with easyJet, it meant that we'd all piled on as many clothes as we could. The airline demand that you can only take one small bag on and we had decided, like most fellow travellers, we wouldn't pay their extortionate fees for taking any hold luggage. So there we all were looking like an old school reunion for Michelin Men being held in a sauna. Just as desperation had totally set in, we were allowed to board the plane.

An hour or so later they announced to us that they had finally managed to find the bit of the plane that wasn't working and so we finally set off.

I had read Njal's Saga way back in the mid 1970s and have had a hankering to visit Iceland ever since. Well, it's taken one hell of a long time but I finally went there last week. Despite easyJet's attempt to stop me from getting there and making it as unpleasant an experience they could, we were finally on our way.

To be fair, the journey was fine, almost comfortable. I'd been warned that Reykjavik Airport was difficult to navigate but it was okay. There was a little bit of  tension when we were told that we hadn't printed off our voucher for the transfer to our hotel but it seems that Icelanders tend to be fairly curt when speaking. They sorted it out quickly and we were onto the bus quickly.

The bus had complimentary wifi and was very comfortable. Efficient seems the best way to describe our initial impressions. We got to the hotel and, again, they were very efficient. The journey there allowed us to see the landscape I'd been looking forward to for years. Fairly stark and wide open - I thought East Anglian and Scottish skies were big but this was on another plane altogether. As for buildings, well they seemed very functional and quite industrial. We passed small settlements and lots of pipes. Reykjavik was just a larger version only with hotels. We seemed to end up on the outskirts.

After off-loading our bags into the room we decided to go into the city, even though we were tired from travelling. It was mid afternoon and although cold, quite bright. We set off. As we had no idea how the buses worked we had been told that the walk wasn't too long. So we wandered off towards the harbour. We walked passed various restaurants and hotels and eventually came to the main drag, Laugavegur, which boasted a "World famous penis museum" and loads more restaurants. We turned off and walked along the seafront towards the harbour. We could see the famous Hallgrímskirkja church on our right. We stopped along the way to photograph everything as tourists do. A group of Eider ducks quacked noisily as we took a photo of Solfá which is a sculpture by Jón Gunnar Ārnason, which is a dreamboat, an ode to the sun. It promises of “undiscovered territory, a dream of hope, progress and freedom”. This seemed to be very apt as we looked forward to the days to come.

We wandered about the small city centre for a while and realised that we needed to sit down in the warm for a while - the temperature had gone down a little - and began to look for somewhere to reat our weary bones. Mrs Dave was looking at the brightly coloured decor of one place when I realised it was The Laundromat, somewhere that had been recommended by a friend. Went went into what appears to have actually been a laundromat in the past and enjoyed their hospitality. There were washing machines washing what I assume were towels etc from the restaurant itself. We had a simple burger and chips* and a beer each. After a struggle with the bar staff to get my wallet off me and empty our bank balance, we decided to head off out into the late afternoon. I'm not joking, Iceland is probably the most expensive place I have ever been. It appears that the cost of living is twice that of ours. We were working at £7 per thousand krona. Let's just say that 1200 krona for a beer is a bit breathtaking. But that's nothing compared to later in the trip.

Meanwhile, we got outside and realised that the temperature had plummeted quickly and that it was starting to rain. We got up to the Hallgrímskirkja church and took a few photos but by now the wind was whipping the sleet into our faces and blowing us along. We decided to set off back to the hotel. Ah . . . the hotel. We could see it on the map but we had already gone off course and had set off in the wrong direction. With the weather now settled in for the rest of the night, we had to make our way back somehow. We were already knackered.

Mrs Dave began to bemoan my poor sense of direction and question my ancestry. After managing to walk totally in the wrong direction quite near to a small airport (not Keflavik which is where we had arrived) I decided to ask the only soul we could see who seemed brave enough to be outside during this arctic blizzard which was now approaching epic proportions. No, he had no idea even with a map where our hotel was but we worked out with him that we were heading in the wrong direction. He pointed us at least more-or-less in the right one and we set off again. To say that we were cold would obviously be an understatement. But cold, wet, tired and pissed off we indeed were. Eventually, somehow, we managed to get back to the hotel. We had seen parts of Reykjavik that probably don't feature in the official City tours but we got back to have just missed Happy Hour. Actually throughout the five days we were there we managed to miss Happy Hours no matter what time they were.

So we found ourselves back at our hotel totally shattered and very wet. As luck would have it, we'd eaten dinner and through foresight had some wine waiting for us in our room. We had been warned of the cost of alcohol and advised to take some with us. Two bottles of Californian Merlot for a tenner were procured at Luton airport after security and very welcome they were! So we ended our first evening in Iceland sitting in our pyjamas drinking cheap wine watching British television after a very welcome shower. Not exactly what we were expecting.

It hadn't been the best day of travelling we'd ever experienced but we had an early night excited by the thoughts of the next few days touring this very different country of extremes.

To be continued . . . 

* not very Icelandic I know but we were hungry. But more of that next time.

7 comments:

Brendini said...

I should have warned you that Icelandic rain is always horizontal, travels at 120 m.p.h. and that each raindrop can fill a sizeable pail.

Dave Leeke said...

Yes, that's how it is. We think the wind & rain coming straight from Siberia to Felixstowe is fierce. . .

Phil Cannon said...

Hi Dave. I'm lost. I mean why would you and Mrs. Dave travel all the way to Luton when there's a perfectly good Iceland in Felixstowe? Beer at £7 a pint? Burgers belief.

Don't trust 'em myself. Not since the Crash. Iceland, I mean - not Easyjet. But I wouldn't put it past them if they did. Occasionally.

May seems a long way off.

Dave Leeke said...

Hi Phil - I tricked a friend with a joke about Iceland in a similar way!

Actually, there were riots after the Crash and they put their bankers in prison. If we did the same perhaps we wouldn't have the situation we have now.

Anyway, as I'm retired I can possibly make an earlier meet. We're away skiing the week before Easter and I start marking in May (my two months of gainful employment!). Let me know.

Dave

Phil Cannon said...

Hey Dave.

Message me with your details at -

https://philipcannon5.wixsite.com/foliodna

Phil

Mike C. said...

Dave,

Always fancied Iceland until I saw a couple of films set there (inc. one where a farmer is humiliated while mounted on his mare, which gets, um, mounted by a stallion -- he shoots the mare, obvs) then thought, hmm, maybe not. The place appears to have been entirely built out of industrial units, prefabs, and beach huts from an IKEA catalogue.

Mike

Dave Leeke said...

Mike,

Yes that's exactly what the small towns and Reykjavik look like. Lots of corrugated metal too. I'm not sure about the horse thing. Evidently the Icelandic horses are so pure that if they're taken to other countries to race, they can't be brought back into the country. They aren't resistant enough. Some restaurants still sell foal, puffin and whale but they are very much in the minority now. Burgers everywhere, though! More about the food to come.

Dave