According to the local time it’s about 7:30 a.m., but there’s not even a shred of light. The runway is coated in snow, this feels more like a sled than a plane. It’s like an outpost to another world.
Ice coats the metal stairs leading from the cabin door to the tarmac. Each step is equal parts crunchy and slippery. The cold air sledgehammers the lungs. We are all loaded onto a shuttle, the chatter of morning radio churns from the speakers. It’s impossible to even begin to make sense of it, the radio hosts sound like Minnesotans who forgot that vowels were a thing. Icelandic is hopeless to decipher.
Radio host laughter: play Lady Gaga.
She sings in English, but listening to her sing in Icelandic could be something worth trying.
The airport in Reykjavik is small, but it looks exactly as you might imagine. The floors are hardwood, everything is impeccably clean, the bathroom sinks somehow manage to both wash AND dry your hands. I don’t believe in this Viking magic.
A little Internet is poached and a photo is posted to Instagram to prove that I’m here before we take off again.
The shuttle transports us about 15 feet to the plan, back up the crunchy, icy steps and aboard another plane. But now, the Icelandic air is trapped inside the cabin. It’s like a hypothermic magical spell. Frost bites to the bone in spite of layers of wooly warmth. The lights go out and we taxi for takeoff.
It’s closing in on 9 a.m. and it’s still dark as midnight. Meanwhile the motorways fill with commuters rushing to their jobs. It’s peak rush hour in Reykjavik.
Iceland is mysterious, and after seeing nothing of it only makes me want to see more of it.
The cabin lights shut off, and for a second it’s dark, until projected onto the ceiling in the middle of the aisle is a recreation of the northern lights. They may not give us free drinks…but hey, we get an artificial aurora borealis!
We take off, traces of moonlight reflected from snow discern land from sea. The faint traces of daylight illuminate the southern sky. I’m in no shape to sleep…even though I’ve only slept for about three hours. And so I watch as the sun rises, not from the west…but from the south. Early rays of sunshine gleam off the plane’s engines as stars fade into blue.
And finally, I sleep.
Who knows how long later, a bout of turbulence combined with an announcement from the cockpit wakes me. Looking out the window the arc of the Thames slices it’s way through London. Minutes later we’re on the ground, passing through customs and catching a train (more on the Tube another time).
We’re here to meet our friends Jon and Emily, and following some precise directions we find ourselves at their Southbank apartment.
After a few minutes of catching up we head right back out to the Borough Market for some chicken wraps and duck confit. The market is a bit overwhelming…a million smells cut across each thoroughfare. From pasties to pies to empanadas, duck to beef to chicken to tofu, it’s easily eclectic.
Lunchtime later and we’re off. Exploring Southbank. Things like a Christmas tree made of milk bottles with a continual stream of milk flowing onto the promenade. It’s actually kind of disgusting. But, hey…dairy farmers have a right to Christmas too!
We stopped by one of the Christmas markets (which is mission 1 for Lauren) and hung out by an open fire as the English version of the Christmas spirit sweeps over us. It’s just like the American version but drunker. As Jon wraps up some work, we wander a little further until we find a pop-up roller skating rink. It’s a tremendous find. I’m convinced that the only people actually skating here work there…and they’re pretty good. It’s as if they found a seam in time from 1985 (which I believe to be the epoch of peak-roller skating).
We cross the Golden Jubilee bridge to a place called Gordon’s Wine Bar. Basically, Gordon just took his ancient basement and started serving wine there. It’s like drinking in a secret cave, which for present company is more than appropriate.
It smells of moss and red wine with a faint hint of sewage. Every five minutes or so the cave rattles with a reminder that public transit here is incessant and predictable. And by candlelight against the rattle and hum soundtrack we catch up with old friends before heading down to Covent Garden. The mission is to see whether we can sneak a table at Homeslice..the answer is no.
And so we move on for some curry. A restaurant called Punjab fits the bill. I find the spiciest thing on the menu and eat it…it’s like eating flaming bricks. Delicious.
More red wine and a walk back to Southbank wraps the night…jetlag be damned.