Iceland: Arrival

(Photos here.)

June 9

We (lnhammer and I) woke at dark o’clock to a cool desert morning and a thin crescent moon, and met our taxi in that over-awake state which goes with having too little sleep. Only as I got out of that taxi at the airport, and saw the dawn sky brightening, did I realize that I should have appreciated that dark more. I would not, after all, see true dark again for more than two weeks.

I felt something in me unwind when, two flights and many hours later, we reached Boston/Logan airport’s international terminal, with its mix of accents and languages, of people heading to many places gathered in this one place–the terminal’s sleepy energy was calming, somehow. I felt, for the first time, like I really was about to leave U.S. soil–and to leave the stuff of my day to day life behind. Already I was remembering that I didn’t need to stress all the small details of that life quite so much–or the large ones either.

As it turned out, we did get to see one more sunset in Logan, after all. I’d forgotten about that.

I managed only a couple hours actual sleep on the plane. Once, through a sleepy haze, I saw the outline of southern Greenland out the window, fuzzy through clouds. Four and a half hours after our evening takeoff, we set down in Iceland–where, of course, it was early morning.


June 10

We took the bus from Keflavík’s airport into Reykjavík, where the familiar city hostel–we’d started there on our first visit, too, five years before–was a comforting sight. Outside, the wet clean smell of the air, the chill damp breeze that cut through my fleece–they felt good, and they told me I’d left Tucson’s desert summer far behind.

The first day overseas is always a strange one, everything seen through a haze of tiredness. After scrounging up some groceries for an early lunch (tasting skyr for first time in five years; remembering its sour taste and chalky edge), lnhammer decided to regroup in the hostel lounge (and a visit to the nearby botanical gardens), while I decided to walk off my restlessness (because you can be tired and restless at once) by heading for the city center, where I visited the Tjörn–pond–behind City Hall, as well as the National Museum, which was closed five years before.

It was a little strange, being here a second time. Our first visit, everything we saw was filtered through a layer of newness, but now–in Reykjavík, at least–that first layer of unfamiliarity had been peeled away. Re-learning my way around was subtly different from learning it the first time.

A few random observations:

– The ducks and gulls on the pond behind city hall–a loud, unruly group, flocking to the bread children threw their way. Once, for no reason I could see, the gulls all took flight at some signal of their own. The air filled with hundreds of white wings, and the pond grew nearly bare. Yet through it all, the few swans in the pond sailed on, unconcerned.

– How strange that it was only the swans I’d remembered from my first visit.

– Coming upon an unexpected graveyard, filled with grass and dandelions and 150-year-old graves. I guiltily snuck in through an unlocked gate, only to find an interpretive sign–in English–when I left again, through a different exit. Guess I was permitted there after all.

– The National Museum, with its well-done overview of Iceland’s history, from settlement in the 9th century to the present. A worn sword; a hoard of thin silver coins; woven homespun; runes written on wood.

– A boy in the museum gift shop, a soccer ball in one arm, swinging a toy axe with the other. Past and present meeting.

– Small mistakes: forgetting exactly which bus stop was the right one; forgetting the shape of the power outlet, which meant my adapter didn’t quite fit. One forgets things, in five years.

– An Icelandic hotdog, everything on it. The crunch of dried onions.

– Taking a hot shower without guilt, knowing the water is geothermally heated.

– Smelling the sulfur in that water, a reminder of where the heat came from.

– Low gray clouds, so low you could almost touch the water in the air. But then, shortly after, unexpected blue. Weather changes quickly here.

We headed to bed hours before twilight that night. (Meaning: somewhere between 8 and 9.) In the morning, we would pick up our rental car and head out of the city.

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