From Toronto With Luggage

The freedom of saying goodbye to luggage and hello to recylced air, mini hamburgers, and a country wrapped in midnight 18/7

How many pairs of jeans can you survive with? How about sweaters jumpers: how many are too many? Do you really need to bring shampoo? You also have to consider shoes, coats, hats, books, laptops, phones, cables, office supplies, rain gear, medication, kitsch and whatnot … The simple truth is, no matter what you want to bring with you, it will likely end up being too much.

Prepare to make some tough choices. Don’t worry, these choices will get easier as time grows short. Prescription meds? Best bring those. Heirloom kettle in the shape of a puma? That can stay. In the first hour or so, every choice will meet with deliberation and careful consideration. Even the puma will find its value weighed fairly. By the time you’ve whittled things down, weighed your luggage, and whittled some more, it is easier to justify leaving things out than adding them in. In the end you’ll be left with a finely-honed suitcase, an epitome of efficiency and planning.

Yeah, ok, so you found space for some board games, a few Doctor Who knick-knacks … and maybe a PS4 … but you’re not an animal!

At the end of the day, you will regret some of your choices. There will be things you wish you’d brought, things you thought you had, and others that you have no idea why you still own.

Watching our luggage (of which we had more than 2 people could handle) trundle off down the airport conveyor was one of the most surreal experiences I’ve had. We both audibly sighed with relief knowing that it was out of our hands. Now we were simply left with what we could carry, plus the obligatory neck pillow.

It’s also an interesting feeling to be sitting in an international terminal, in your home country, without a return ticket. Reality starts becoming very real, very fast. That’s not to say that it feels stressful. At this point we were still riding a peculiar high of elation and excitement. For Em, it would be her first real visit to the UK. For me, it would be my first flight over the Atlantic and first time on a new continent; officially the furthest I’d ever been from home.

I didn’t care that we were flying at night and would likely see little beyond stars and a whole lot of nothing. We were still exhausted, sore and stiff, and looking ahead to 10 hours in a fuselage before our destination. Yet, this was exciting! Not to mention that we’d be flying via Iceland.

Iceland had been on my ‘must see’ list since I’d picked it for a geography assignment in grade 6. I’ve always found the country to be fascinating, always wanted to visit, but never thought I’d find the opportunity. Our stopover was limited to a couple of hours in the early morning, but that didn’t matter.

On the plane, I was ‘that guy’: The Tourist. Wearing my CBC shirt (purchased from Pearson Airport) I snapped pictures of everything. I’d love to know what the IcelandAir staff thought. They were extremely nice, so I’m sure their take was nothing more than, ‘at least he’s not airsick.’

Other than half of every announcement being in Icelandic, and the location of the stopover, nothing much was very different from any other flight I’ve taken. Iceland, of course, desperately wants you to stay with them for a few days, in which time you’ll spend those precious tourist dollars. As such, everything on the flight has a decidedly tourism-centric bent. Every visual cue is meant to entice visitors. The air safety video? Set in the wilds of Iceland, featuring a happy, attractive, outdoorsy couple enjoying the landscape in a variety of ways which parallel safety procedures. All food is proudly Icelandic. Even the chocolate bars arrive wrapped in beautiful – and collectible! – images of Iceland. Suitably enticed, we ordered a platter of these:

They were undeniably airline food, albeit good airline food. Beyond that, I split my time between watching an Icelandic cop show on the seat-back and staring expectantly into the pitch darkness outside the window.

With a population just over 300,000, a third of which live in the capital, Reykjavik, it’s not surprising that the view from above appears rather sparse when landing outside of the city. The collection of lights below depicted a tight, well-planned, collection of buildings hugging the shoreline and dotting the area around.

Welcome to Keflavik!

The airport itself is very modern and a decent size. It is, afterall, the only international air hub in the country. In appearance, it wouldn’t have looked out of place along the coast of British Columbia. Much of the interior was made up of sharp angles and jutting lines, adorned with large wooden elements and local artworks. It managed to look very foreign while encompassing some of the aesthetics you often find in Canadian aboriginal-inspired architecture.

The place also managed to be staffed by some of the friendliest airline employees I’ve ever met. I struck up conversations with several security guards, both of which ended with recommendations of things to see.

A brief chat with the duty-free attendant had us all but promise to return sometime for New Years Eve, which we’ve been told is off-the-hook.

Sadly, as it turns out, the sun doesn’t rise until almost to noon during the height of winter. Aside from the terminal and 20 metres of snow surrounding it, we wouldn’t see much of Iceland other than travel banners and distant lights. We considered it an enticing sample; an assurance that we would return to spend some serious time there.

When we do, however, we will be sure to bring a bag full of Krona. Beautiful the country may be, it’s also notoriously expensive; a notoriety that’s well earned if the cafeteria is any indication.

Like many of the not-so-great decisions people make, this one was brought to us by the letter ‘alcohol’. Before anyone judges us, allow me to explain. Em and I are avid users of an app called Untapped. It’s essentially a tracking service that lets you log beers that you’ve tried, as well as where you tried them and what you thought. In this case, we couldn’t resist adding something local to the list, not to mention checking them in from a place that none of our friends had likely checked in from before.

… this reasoning also saw me finding room in my carry-on for an extra assortment of local brews and candies because, well, I thought we could do with a little bit more to carry.

Em and I were hungry enough that we didn’t stop to examine prices before grabbing a few quick items. Tucking a couple of wraps onto our tray, we also topped up on coffee and snagged a couple of cold local beers. We didn’t even really think much about it when the bill rang up at £45. It wasn’t until we were in our seats that the shock hit us. Some quick math put our meal at roughly $80 Canadian Dollars, officially setting the bar for the most expensive cafeteria meal we’ve ever had.

Conversion math from CAD to GBP is one of the most painful processes you will ever have to undertake. Especially considering that, at the time of writing this, the dollar is sitting at a lovely $0.50 on the £.

Two hours is really not long to spend on a stopover. Being early in the day, and also directly after Christmas, crowds were non-existent and we had a shockingly smooth trip between gates. Before long we were in the air, once again over the Atlantic and bound for Heathrow.

The view remained dark as pitch for some time; however, when it did eventually began to brighten, we were treated to a spectacular sunrise.

Tune in next post for Adventures in Heathrow, or, How to Transport Your Luggage on the London Underground: The Shock, Awe and General Annoyance of the Local Population.