Making Memories

One June night in the 1990s on one of my trips across the Atlantic, I had a layover in Iceland. About two in the morning, the airport was silent. I stood and gazed out the huge windows onto the red and glinting roofs of Reykjavik, the landscape’s harshness softened by the long slow gaze of the sun, earthy colours, empty, quiet sky.

I vowed I would return, and bought a single postcard to remind me.

This year, when I told people that my daughter and I were going to Iceland together, many of them said, “Oh, you’ll make wonderful memories!”

The thing is, as much as I like to travel, one place I really want to go is back to the past, to follow some of the steps I took and winding roads I travelled. I don’t think it’s nostalgia – more a curiosity to see if memory and place really do match. I’d like to keep my eyes open for things I’ve seen before, for clues and the footprints of the past, but usually there are no clues, just photos where everyone is a mile away, and my own fragmented memories which, although sometimes vivid pictures, are not linked to other events that would make sense of them.

I thought that my Iceland memory was recent enough to re-discover, though my head knew the country had changed as much as I had. An economic crash, a volcanic eruption that ground the world to a halt, a marriage and two children (that was my contribution to the changes Iceland and I had weathered) meant that things looked pretty different for both of us. This Nordic nation has ten times the tourists it had ten years ago, and I was returning with a child who was not even an inkling when I stood at the window during the summer solstice.

When we arrived in the rain into Keflavik airport, I tried to figure out what I’d seen that June night decades before. I didn’t notice any huge windows overlooking landscape and city. Then, as we bussed into the city I wondered, “How did I see Reykjavik when the airport is 50 kilometres away?” Reykjavik has a domestic airport on its outskirts: could that have once been the international one? I didn’t see many red roofs after the rain cleared. The buildings that I thought were wooden were mostly corrugated metal. 

It wasn’t until I got home and properly googled the airport – something I couldn’t have done or even imagined the first time round –  did I discover that Keflavik had been the international airport since after World War II. We left in early morning darkness, so I am none the wiser as to what the current view from the airport is, but the buildings that I looked out on were, most likely, the town of Keflavik itself.

Over the years the postcard has shuffled around with me although I hadn’t seen it for quite awhile. I found it once I got home; it did look pretty much how I remembered, but it really didn’t match my memory of the view from the airport.


At least the memories we made this trip are more robust.

Here’s hoping, anyhow.

And yes, reader, we did make some memories:

  • The ‘sneaker’ wave that could have totally soaked me only got one foot just as I was agreeably taking one more photo. A healthy fear of being a) a little wet b) totally soaked or c) totally soaked and pulled into the ocean was enough of an impetus to move very fast once that foot felt sea water. The subject – who of course had a head start on running from the wave – first responded with, “I wish I’d got it on film!” which didn’t go down well at first, but became one of my regrets too.
  • The northern lights serendipitously appeared on the one night we were far from the city: it was a highlight for both of us to spend the evening outside, watching them. When they brightened up and began to dance at about 1.00 am,  one of the guests woke me up with excited shouts in the hallway. I dragged myself out of bed and called my daughter, who was impressed enough to respond, “Cool,” before rolling over and snuggling further under her duvet and wool blanket.
  • All three of our tour guides have continued to be memorably quotable, absolutely.
  • The magic of ice: we saw huge diamond chunks of it on a black sand beach or floating in the lagoon Jökulsárlón, glowing sculpted blue on Breiðamerkurjökull, or glistening black in an ice cave on that same glacier.
  • Finishing our trip like prunes, after a long chill in the steam and silica-rich waters of the Blue Lagoon.



Our tours were with Arctic Adventures, who have small tours and great customer service (no sponsorship involved).

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