The flight to Reykjavik was from London Gatwick and as this involved the thoroughly unpleasant ordeal of using the M25 London orbital motorway we set out the night before and stayed at the Gatwick Radisson Hotel next to the airport on an excellent overnight deal that included free car parking.
This should have made things relatively straightforward the next morning when we had an early flight to Iceland. Of course this turned out not to be the case. We woke up in good time but then inexplicably dawdled about and missed the airport shuttle bus and had to wait for the next one to arrive.
This shouldn’t have been a problem but although they were scheduled to run every fifteen minutes this involved a forty-minute delay while the driver fiddled about while he waited for a guest who was checking out of the hotel at the pace of an arthritic snail. When we finally arrived at the airport there was a fast track booking in service, which we got all the way through to the end when it asked for credit card details used in the original transaction.
As this was twelve months ago naturally we didn’t have them so we had to abandon the process and queue in the old fashioned way. It looked like we would surely miss the plane, but just when I was about to give up and go home the checking-staff finally called us to the front so that we could get through on time.
Ordinarily this would not have been a problem either, you don’t need too much time in the departure lounge after all, but on this occasion we had a vital transaction to make.
Iceland is notorious for the high price of wine and beer because the Government imposes heavy taxes; this is ostensibly to reduce the scourge of alcoholism but probably just an excuse to raise excessive revenues. We needed some sensibly priced wine to take with us so after exchanging sterling for krona, we made straight for duty free to make the important purchase and bought two boxes of wine that we calculated would be sufficient to see us through the three days. Then followed a quick sprint to the departure gate and arrival with only minutes to spare.
This was a British Airways flight so there was a level of sophistication to which we have become unaccustomed in our travels with the budget airlines and here are just a few things that British Airways do better than Ryanair; on this flight there were comfortable leather seats, flight attendants in smart uniforms, ample legroom for stretching out, a bag of breakfast, complimentary drinks and a pretty blonde Icelandic girl in the seat next to me and whilst we were in the air we had nothing but good things to say about the airline.
Things changed however when we arrived in Reykjavik and here is something that Ryanair do better than British Airways; they remember to put your luggage on board the same aircraft as you and deliver it to the same airport at the same time.
Arrival in Reykjavik started well enough with duty free being helpfully opened for arriving passengers and I was able to purchase moderately priced beer to see me through the three days and after this important purchase we waited for the luggage to arrive on the baggage carousel.
And we waited for quite a while longer than usual because although one bag came through quickly, there was no sign of the other. Luckily for me it was mine that had come through. We watched the conveyor belt complete about five full cycles and a forlorn pink suitcase go round at least four, when it began to dawn on us that the bag probably wasn’t going to come through the little hole in the wall where the luggage came from.
Apologetic staff at the arrivals desk confirmed that unfortunately the bag was still in London but assured us that it would arrive the next day and be delivered directly to our hotel. This was British Airways and they seemed to display a degree of confidence and efficiency about their handling of the situation so we were certain that this promise would be fulfilled.
After completing forms about the missing luggage we were obliged to explain the situation to the Icelandic customs officer who was a bit unnecessarily sharp with us and who seemed to be showing an unnerving amount of interest in the alcohol supplies that were the equivalent of eight bottles of red wine and six litres of beer. I don’t know if we had too much but he waved us through anyway with a charmless sneer and we went through to the arrivals hall to pick up our hire car and after completing the hiring formalities discovered that it was cunningly hidden at the very back of a car park with hopelessly inadequate signs to assist. Welcome to Iceland!
We had landed through a thick grey sky heavy with rain and outside the weather was wet and not at all inviting. It wasn’t heavy rain, just that low cloud and mizzle that is cold, damp and depressing. Reykjavik was about a fifty-kilometre drive and it was across a barren lunar type landscape with black granite rocks and no vegetation at all except for vibrant green moss that was stubbornly clinging to the boulders.
Approximately three-quarters of Iceland is completely barren of vegetation and plant life consists mainly of grassland which is regularly grazed by livestock. The only tree native to Iceland is the northern birch but humans of course have damaged the delicate ecosystem because birch forests were heavily exploited over the centuries for firewood and timber. Deforestation resulted in a loss of critical top soil due to erosion, greatly reducing the ability of birches to re-establish themselves. Today there are very few trees in only a few isolated areas of the island.
This was an unfamiliar terrain unlike anything that I had seen before and it reminded me of a tray of freshly baked muffins that had risen quickly due to the heat and had split and cracked as though some mighty force from below and heaved them up through the earth’s crust, which of course is exactly what had happened.