I didn’t completely grasp the significance of the soccer game I mentioned yesterday – Iceland beat the Netherlands (in Holland) and are now one point away from qualifying for the European Championship. So of course people were being noisy. They were watching the game on an outdoor big screen near the hotel, but once it was over they dispersed quickly (if nothing else, it was cold) and by the time we went out it was pretty quiet. We wandered round looking for the ideal last-night restaurant – for me it would have been easy (they all serve great fish) but if you strip away the burger and pizza places, Ally usually has a choice of maybe two things, one of which is always beef. Eventually we settled on a place called Torfan, where I had blue ling and, after all of that, Ally had beef. But it was a charming spot, with a feeling of being away from the fray. Actually, the main fray was over at the next table, where a couple of (we assume) academics and (it seemed) one of the academics’ somewhat younger girlfriend were discussing the whole span of twentieth century politics and culture in the kind of way that Woody Allen used to regularly parody. On this occasion, they got to close the place down. As we walked back afterwards, late night Reykjavik - the real Reykjavik, some might say - was plainly settling into place.
We were up good and early the next morning (I think the water in the hotel smelled like sulphur, but in the circumstances that was a nostalgic reminder of our experiences), and then for a while we flirted with disaster. Given Iceland’s horrendous cab fares, we'd made an online booking for the airport bus; we understood it would pick us up at the hotel at 7.45 am and get us to the airport at 8.30 am, which seemed OK for a 10.30 am flight. Actually though, the hotel pick-up only got us to the bus terminal at 8.30 am (if it had been on time, which it wasn’t), with the airport an hour or so beyond that. This only slowly dawned on us along the way, raising horrible fears of a brutally self-inflicted own goal – obviously 9.30 is logistically early enough for a flight leaving an hour later, but who knows how strict an individual airline might be regarding its stated policies? We tried to check in online from the bus, and Ally managed it, but getting there a couple of minutes behind her, I received a message that check-in was closed for our flight, thus raising a possible scenario where Ally might be allowed on the plane and I wouldn’t be. Anyway, in the end there was no line at the check-in counter, the woman seemed entirely unperturbed at our lateness (does being in the mighty Saga class increase their tolerance for such shenanigans? – it couldn’t hurt I suppose), there was no line at the security gates either, we did some duty-free shopping and still had twenty minutes in the lounge to calm down before walking to the gate. So I don’t know if we ultimately learned anything from that. But for anyone thinking that this vacation diary should contain at least a little bit of unbearable tension, we did get a dose of it at the end.
Beyond that, it was an uneventful flight home. The lunch selections were blue ling and beef…seemed strangely familiar. I finished rewatching the old Japanese movie (by the original Ozu) Tokyo Twilight, which I’d been getting through in brief chunks on various flights. I finished this week’s downloaded edition of The New Yorker and started on this month’s downloaded edition (which conveniently went online this morning) of the British movie magazine Sight and Sound (which, astonishing to reflect, I’ve been reading cover to cover since 1980 I think). Ally continued with the John Irving book and watched Ben Stiller’s Secret Life of Walter Mitty (some of which may well have been shot on the same road we drove along, given the prominent presence in one sequence of the pipe from the geothermal plant). IcelandAir is a somewhat self-effacing airline – even their safety announcement is in English with Icelandic subtitles. We didn’t watch much TV in Iceland, but most of it also seemed to be in English, without local subtitles. I mean, having almost all your programming dumped on you from somewhere else…where are we, Canada?!
Well, I suppose it’s been clear enough how much we enjoyed the trip. Leaving aside the complexities of the airport bus website, everything fell gracefully into place. We now have reasonable maps in our heads of the downtown of two more notable world cities. We spent time in some beautiful locations so unrelated to our normal frame of reference that it’s hard to process we were actually there. We went on long walks without seeing anyone else. We had great food and the usual string of quirky incidents along the way. And this was all with the knowledge of being lucky enough, and happy enough in our normal lives, that we didn’t want or need anything more from the trip than it gave us – at the end, we just wanted to go home. As I mentioned before, it would be wonderful to take that extra benevolent, easeful vitality you have on vacation and keep it closer to the surface of your normal life, but perhaps that would merely make normal life dysfunctional, and so is a necessary failure.
Given we have enough vacation ideas for several lifetimes, I don’t suppose the chances of us returning to either country are particularly high. Iceland is a relatively easy direct flight from Toronto, so maybe that will be a deciding factor in some future calculation. On the other hand, it would be extremely beguiling to pick a couple of more or less random Finnish destinations, as we did with Inari, and build a trip around them. Well, we’ll see… As for today, we arrived on time and got through Pearson in record time. We unpacked and settled in, and a while later I went to fetch Ozu. As always, he was deliriously happy to come home, and we all celebrated by running around like idiots. Once again then, I conclude the vacation diary with the key piece of evidence that all is back as it should be.