Sorry for the delay
Where I left you last I had just bored my first of three flights to Boston, and at this stage things were still going quite smoothly. There was good news and bad news in Boston unfortunately. The good news was that they had a restaurant that made excellent pizza which I took full advantage of. The bad news was that every flight to England was already cancelled and although I was heading to Iceland, England was to be my final destination. This was not a good sign of things to come. I even wrote in my journal “What happens next will be bad.” With premonitions like that I should be a prophet. Unaware of my extra sensory skills at this point I optimistically looked forward to familiarizing myself with Reykavic airport.
When the airport would eventually make the announcement that Heathrow was in fact closed to all traffic I was less than shocked. Apparently Jack Frost had squatted over England and taken a giant crispy dump on London stranding people all over the world, and potentially me just not in Boston. Which believe it or not was a good thing because in addition to there being no flights to London, there were also no hotels left in Boston according to the anonymous airport intercom voice. It was day one of a Christmas disaster and I could already sense that Christmas cheer was already wearing thin.
Five hour layover behind me I was on my way to Iceland or as I would soon refer to it, my new home. Only having just boarded my flight I was ready to make a wide variety of generalizations about Icelanders. The most obvious, they are extremely blond. This should come as no surprise. I discovered while taking my seat that Icelanders are ridiculously nice and disgustingly polite. When the flight was called to board in an orderly fashion I went to find my seat, to my dismay I did not get a window seat. There was already a blond viking at my row of seats and he offered me the window seat. Then the third member of our row came and claimed the window seat as his. Independently of me or my influence my neighbors decided that I should get the window. When it comes to a window seat, there are north americans who would kill for less. After sacrificing the premium seat to me, the two Iceland natives became best friends and chatted like old chums. They really hit it off, although I never saw any numbers exchanged. As another rule for Iceland, the local language sounds like it is spoken with a mouthful of vaseline and lego. Less then an hour into the flight my neighbors showed me their countries most enviable characteristic, they are able to sleep anywhere. Their necks were craned in ways that you should only find in a morgue and they were happily asleep. Even the flight attendants were a different breed, they appeared to be happy and barely disgruntled which was unfamiliar territory. When charged with waking up the Icelander in the aisle seat she gently rubbed his hands to welcome him kindly into the nightmare of flying a transatlantic flight. I did not know what to make of this whole situation.
I did arrive in Iceland and surprise surprise it was dark. This frosty little island is substantially further north then I have ever been, and I would soon become familiar with the four our five hours of daylight that they are privileged to a day, but more on this later.
Before my flight to London I had a few hours layover that morning to kill, and what does one do in such situations? Assume the fetal position on a public bench in my gate while presenting my jet lagged behind to anyone unfortunate enough to be on the same flight. Being aware of the current weather situation brewing in London I checked with the customer service desk to see what the fate of my flight was. The exact words used were, “Your flight isn’t going anywhere.” She seemed startlingly confident, and given her strong command of the English language there was little error for any misunderstanding unfortunately. This bad news did not keep me up, Reykavic airport is offers the comforting atmosphere of a futuristic viking longhouse hybrid with a cottage vibe that made for an exceptional napping environment.
I woke up to the announcement that my fight was in fact cancelled, and that we were to wait in line at the desk I had visited earlier to discover our fate. The nightmare that I was being pushed into was the stereotypical Christmas gone wrong flight cancellation. Unfortunately this time I was not watching this as it appears on the news. Now I was part of the news as just another stranded idiot being punished for trying to fly at Christmas. Who could be so dumb to try such an impossible feat? Apparently me.
I waited in line, and was told that my flight was in fact cancelled. After which I was given a three paged voucher that given it’s intrinsic magical properties would give me transportation to and from my hotel, a room in the hotel and all my meals. I was less than thrilled, but given that people at Heathrow airport in the same situation were fighting for a slice of carpet to sleep on, things could easily be worse.
Unfortunately things would get worse. All victims of the flight cancellation had to collect their luggage unless your were relieved of this chore by the miraculous loss of luggage… All of my checked luggage was in fact loss. The soul surviving belonging of mine that I had checked in at Toronto and had made it to Iceland was a giant box full of bicycle bits. This was a troubling development. I asked at the luggage desk as to the fate of my worldly possessions. After showing her my confusing luggage barcodes she said, in her own kind words, “You flew with Air Canada? Oh well your bags could be anywhere?! Just file your lost luggage report at Heathrow.” Now having never lost my luggage I ignored the recommendation that I should pack some belongings in my carry on. Instead I brought books. Thus, now all I had was a bike and books.
I came out of the airport that morning bike box in hand to board my shuttle during the five hour sunset where what little light Iceland does receive proceeds to dance along the horizon for four or five hours. It might be romantic if it was not so miserable during the other twenty hours or so of darkness. It being day one on the island this seemed very novel.
The shuttle arrived at our hotel that looked more like a communist headquarters than a lodging establishment and I was given my room and free phone call promptly so that I could arrange my flight for the next day. I did so at the front counter as everyone waited while I was on hold. The masses were becoming restless and many aired their anger.
Fortunately for me I was the first in line, even with the unwieldy bike box to slow me down so unlike the rest I was quite pleased with myself. With my fellow travellers in my wake, I made the hike to my room so I could get changed into my bike. The elevator to my floor was old fashioned and had an actual door that you had to open, this was probably my favorite aspect of the hotel. An excuse to take the elevator was the highlight of my day.
My own room was efficient and spartan, and had a ‘trouser press’ which I never saw fit to use seeing as how I only had the one pair. With this strange contraption beside me I was finally able to relax. Watching television I realized Iceland is a strange volcanic rock. My favorite cultural masterpiece was a beer commercial where a polar bear draws a high calibre rifle to mowed down Santa from the sky, enough said.
Dinner buffet was also an educational experience. The people of Iceland love fish. Everything is either fish, or in some sneaky way fish infused. I had cheese that was made of some sort of fish medley. They are crafty in their obsession with fishy entrees. My meal was as you can imagine less than awesome.
With a full nights sleep behind me I was fully prepared to fly to England that morning. Preparing myself for victory I had the break feast of Iceland champions which also consists mostly of fish. I went to the airport, checked my bicycle once more, and waited in my gate. Passport control stamped me out of the country, and then my flight was once more cancelled. Again, I waited in line for food stamps and got on the bus. Again I went and collected my bike box, which was getting substantially worse for wear. Cardboard boxes were not designed for this sort of endurance travel. Upon boarding the bus with bike someone commented that at least we were seeing iceland, which I debated while making light of the continuous darkness, “Have we really seen Iceland?” Everyone laughed, and I felt better.
For my second night in Iceland I was in a substantially more luxurious establishment in a different town, Keflavik. My room for the night was without a ‘trouser press’ but the bathroom was one complete piece of plastic and felt like it should be in a space shuttle. Also it being my second night I branched out and made friends that I had arranged to explore Keflavik and dine with, Edouard and Matt.
Matt, deciding to reap the benefits of free wi fi, left Ed and I to explore the countryside in the dark. A local of the town gave rave reviews of the waterfront and downtown, while the hotel concierge said, “Ya there is really nothing here.” These were two very conflicting perspectives. The only thing that the two sources could agree on was that there was in fact one single Irish Pub in town.
Ed and I left the hotel for a brief trip to the waterfront, it was cold, dark and very windy. The waterfront was very much the same, and unfortunately the concierge was right there was really nothing. In addition with the wind kicking up we were sprayed with frosty waves. So far my first real taste of Iceland is nothing short of miserable. We abandoned the water front and searched out the pub in the abandoned streets of Keflavik. We found the pub, which was also abandoned by all drinkers and probably in large part to the prices. One pint was seven dollars. Iceland is a cold dark place, and that did not make it feel any warmer. With beer prices like that I don’t know what the locals do in the dark, or maybe that’s the point.
Ed and I returned having seen enough of town and just in time to enjoy our buffet dinner, which was described by hotel staff accordingly, “You get one meat, one fish and one vegetable.” It all felt like a classy soup kitchen, or that we were children and so long as we were well fed we would not through a temper tantrum. Fish aside, Matt, Ed and I sat down for our meal. At the conclusion of the feast I said, “Well, I honestly hope that we don’t all have dinner again.” We laughed, and I went to bed.
I retired for the night but did not sleep. The quirky daylight hours compounded with my jet lag was anhilating my sleep habits. My sleeping patterns were now more like a serial killer. I lied in bed and watched the news until I was informed that there was a lunar eclipse to happen that morning, the twenty first of December. As it would happen I was spending the shortest day of the year, in the darkest place I will likely ever be, Iceland, and there was going to be the first lunar eclipse happening on that very night in hundreds of years. If I was not so bitter about my predicament it would have been substantially more special than it was. Instead I shuttled back and forth between outside and the lobby at six in the morning watching the moon slowly hide behind the rock that we are all perched on. The hotel staff thought I was crazy, or maybe a chain smoker constantly needing a fix. When I explained the miraculous lunar event happening just outside their door the concierge showed no interest, she still thought I had gone crazy in the endless night, maybe I had.
I was first at the break feast buffet that morning and what a treat. This was the first meal that I had where I knew for certain nothing I ate contained fish, it was refreshing to be able to eat things to which the identity I was certain of. It was a good start to what would be me final day.
Still without my luggage, collecting my belongings to leave the hotel was a brief task. Although my flight was not until five that afternoon I got one of the first taxis at noon to the airport. I was sick of waiting at the hotel, I needed a new location to be idle. Also by arriving early at the airport I could jockey for the most comfortable position sit around and wait.
By this point in the game though my clothes were beginning to become less fresh. I had brought nothing to change into and I was on day four with the socks I had begun my trip with. At security I was asked to take off my boots and hand them over to security. My feet were stink grenades and just by unlacing them I was unleashing their fury. By taking those boots off I was pulling the pin and dropping the grenade in securities lap. I felt less guilty when I saw that the man handling my footwear was wearing rubber gloves.
I would survive security and it would also survive me and at our gate I again would meet up with Matt and Ed who had the same idea as myself about arriving early at the airport. Together we waited
Sitting there at that table I saw what would salvage the entire experience. There were scooters. Not motorized, but adult sized versions of the children’s vehicle of choice. This was the method of transport that airport staff were given to roam the building. It was like seeing a unicorn or a mermaid, it was beautiful. This vision of childish innocence nearly wiped the slate clean of all the inconveniences that I had recently suffered. Then like a whisper on the wind the scooter glided silently down the terminal and my flight was called to be boarded. My time had come and Iceland was done. After four days of travel time, most of which in Iceland I was finally bound for England without any luggage except my bicycle.
Now of course I can look back on the situation and laugh, but even at the time I found it fairly entertaining. I lived in a world dominated by vouchers, line ups and buffets. England ruled the world at gunpoint, but with a little snow the entire county shuts down and derails my travel plans. People might say well at least you got to see Iceland, but did I? I have intimate knowledge of their airport. I could tell you where the best places are to nap there, or how to get in line the fastest when your flight is cancelled, or where to get the most expensive pint in the North Atlantic. My one attempt at actual exploring ‘the rock’ in the darkness was an ill fated and regrettable expedition. I did not really see Iceland. A land where, despite it’s name, there was absolutely no snow or ice. The closest I saw was an extremely cold but not frozen puddle. Never did I see Bjork, only outrageously blond locals. Through all of it there are two words that resonate through this entire ordeal. Two simple words to live by. Fly. Direct. Oh and don’t be such a cheap skate when it comes to buying flights, because some how or another you get what you pay for.