Day 1, Monday 25th July: Leeds to Reykjavík

Greenhouse gas emissions (CO2eq): 361 kilos
Sigurðar saga fóts: 62/252

Trains and busses, as a rule, furnish much better material for anecdotes than planes. You find yourself changing in different cities. You see more scenery. For some reason you’re more likely to meet interesting people. To be fair though, the ride from Leeds to Edinburgh wasn’t that eventful; but the sun was out, and once we got north of Newcastle, you could see that the breakers on the North Sea coast were broad and rolling; the rosebaywillowherb along the tracks was vivid; and, once we were the right side of the border, the fields in Berwickshire were just ripening.

But actually, the plane WAS quite exciting. Partly for the amazing view of the lowland belt, and Loch Tay and the highlands and islands stretching hazily westwards before we ascended into the cloud. But more because I was in the seat next to the PORT OVERWING EMERGENCY EXIT! I’ve never sat next to the overwing emergency exit before. I had to be given special instructions about how, in an emergency, I had to pull down the big red PULL handle, then stow the hatch cunningly beside my seat. But I also had to check whether there was a fire or other dangerous obstruction to egress, in which case it was my duty to stand by the door directing my fellow passengers to safety. I was very excited (erm, admittedly to the extent that the air hostess looked a bit perturbed). But then I had to spend the whole flight trying to suppress the urge to pull the big red emergency handle. Which was quite a challenge.

Still, I was able to contain myself sufficiently that me and my dictionary got through TWENTY-SEVEN PAGES of Sigurðar saga fóts. So far, in fact, that I have finally got through three generations of Sigurður’s ancestors to hearing about the protagonist himself. And I landed in bright sun, which shone late into the evening, and was a great way to arrive.

So coming back to Reykjavík isn’t a voyage of discovery, but I’m kind of hoping that it’ll be a nice opportunity to reflect on some of the musings I didn’t share when I was living here. The musing for today is the SMELL. Not a smell like Paris or London, of dust and rotting food. But the smell of vegetation. It’s great, and I’ve never stopped appreciating it.

It’s not like I have a good sense of smell or anything. But we don’t have this smell in Britain, I don’t think. I mean, the centres of Leeds and Glasgow just hardly have any vegetation at all so that’s that; but lately I’ve been living near a park in Leeds and sometimes after a rainy night you’d step out of the house and catch what I think of as the smell of trees after rain, which is nice. (And twenty yards later I’d be on Burley Road and it would be a distant memory.) But Reykjavík doesn’t smell like that. The smell’s sweet and arresting and summery in the way that walking past newly mown grass is in Britain, but it’s a different smell. I think it’s mostly birch. Iceland’s not noted for its trees, but sometime not ever so long ago–I seem to remember people muttering about the 1970s–people planted a lot of birch around Reykjavík. It’s a species I got to really appreciate living in Finland. Maybe the superior fragrance of Reykjavík is just about species and quantity. But I feel like there must be other things too. Despite the national enthusiasm for driving everywhere, 300,000 people on a windy Atlantic island can only put out so much smog. As I noted on arrival from the airport, Reykjavík even smells good at the bus station. And then there’s the tendency for the air to feel cool and fresh. Leeds seems quite humid in the summer; Glasgow perpetually. Maybe foliage smells carry better on a fresh breeze? Either way, I like it.

I’m looking forward to returning to my old haunt in the Hlíðar, but at the moment it’s full of exchange students so for now I’m cadging a friend’s bedroom while she’s out of town. Nice house-mates, and a sea view! And the street’s called Ægisiða, or Ægir’s whirlpool. Ægir being a god of the sea. Though the sea here always looks very still to me. Anyway, I love this little bit of coast, looking across the bay to the president’s pad at Bessastaðir, whose white walls catch the setting sun and whose brightness against the vague sea and sky and land make it look like it’s sort of floating. (Yes, I did try to take a picture; yes, it came out as rubbish as you’d expect!) I’ve used a picture from here as the banner for the blog: it seemed a sort of auspicious start to the trip.


About alarichall
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4 Responses to Day 1, Monday 25th July: Leeds to Reykjavík

  1. Jaka says:

    Smell is hella important though somewhat difficult to express in a blog – photos are still always appreciated, some of us have never been to iceland, and have only seen photo’s that don’t make it seem very inviting…

  2. Pingback: Days 7–9, 31st July–2nd August: horticulture | alarichall

  3. Pingback: Days 40–49, September 3rd–12th: the Rocky Mountains (2) | alarichall

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