Friday, 30 September 2011

"If there is magic on this planet, it is contained in water"

Giant Gulfoss

I write this in a heated hotel room with the rain striking violently against the window.

Water in various forms is what I will remember most from my third day in Iceland-mighty waterfalls, rain (yes, still), bubbling springs, icy blue water in fissures, crystal clear rivers with trout and some more rain.

In fact it is so wet here I think I will have to start viewing rain, drizzle and downpours as three distinct types of weather just to diversify the forecast.

Gulfoss is perhaps my most vivid memory of the day. A raging, powerful waterfall that tumbles, layer after layer, and roars as it crashes into a ravine down below. I loved how the power of the fall made me feel so small and mortal. Gulfoss is the full force of nature unleasehed and no photo can really capture its startling energy.

Some of my favourite moments of the day were simply watching the scenery from the coach. We drove through clouds over the mountains, across rivers and through flat lava fields. There are little pockets of forests here now, thanks to a reforestation efforts ("we Icelanders can be very obstinate"). Strange forests of dwarf coniferous trees which are yellow, rather than green. They reminded me of toys.

A river and some of the beautiful autumnal colours

Everything in Iceland is a little otherwordly. Despite the cold, the ground gurgles and steams. Strange blue water bubbles out of underground holes like some giant underground cauldron. Plumes of sulphuric steam blow about and if you can tolerate the smell you can stand in them and warm yourself. It's all very weird and wonderful.

Steam drifting around

The day was punctuated with lovely surprises too. Whilst everyone was gathered around dozing Geysir, we hiked up the mountainside, beyond the other more adventurous tourists, to just below the precipice and were rewarded with an amazing view of the valley below.

At the end of the day we entered a geologist's dream at Þingvellir National Park. Here two tectonic plates meet and we travelled from one plate to another, marked by a series of yawning cracks and crevices. Or as our guide succinctly put it "welcome to America, geologically speaking".

A fissure filled with clear blue water

Another beautiful river

A church and the vivid Icelandic autumn hues

The rain continues, violent and heavy. Reykjavik's streets are empty of everything except the Atlantic ocean streaming down the hills and out of the drains. From my room it's beautiful. I've never seen rain this heavy in England, it must be North Atlantic weather. My waterproof jacket is hanging up, ready for tomorrow's adventures in this strangely wonderful place.

Thursday, 29 September 2011

"Has it stopped raining or am I just being hopeful?"

Like many before me, I saw Reykjavik through a sheet of persistent drizzle. The Icelanders do not even bother with umbrellas, going about their daily business oblivious to the wet. Miraculously, they still look immaculate, hair tidier than I can ever get mine. I can only assume that the Icelanders have evolved to possess hair which repels water.

Reykjavik would barely pass for a large town in England. Damp and tinged with an ethereal white-blue light, is still has a strange charm. The houses are mostly of metal and brightly coloured, a successful attempt to bring a cheery contrast to all the vast white sky. The dripping of water on leaves and clattering of rain on their metal roofs are two sounds which will bring me back to this city. The gardens have hopeful picnic benches, flowers and moss-covered lava stones. All very beautiful.

Leftover marigolds are everywhere, lingering in temperatures which barely reach double figures. The peripheries of the city are alight with the beautiful autumn colours.

This photo sums up my day in Reykjavik perfectly

And the highlight of the day? Possibly chancing across a lovely old cemetary full of twisted trees, metal fences and flowers.

We ended the day at Perlan, climbing a wooded hillside to the water reserves at the top. My inner child awoke again at the spacious undergrowth, asking to be crawled into. I only half resisted and crouched in a little glade with springy earth and trees instead.

View from Perlan. The smoke in the bottom left is from is from a hot spring

On the walk back to the hotel, I noticed that despite the rain I hadn't put my hood up or registered whether it was raining or not. Perhaps after just a day here I have already started metamorphosising into an Icelander.

Wednesday, 28 September 2011

Lava Fields, clouds and Skyr

The sculpture by the water at dusk

Iceland has been painted using a different palette of colours to England. Glowing oranges, mellow umbers and wet greys stand out in the ethereal landscape. The plane descended through twenty minutes of clouds to delight even the most avid cloud spotter. Swirling, teasing clouds are definitely in charge here. These are the two things that have made the biggest impression on my first day in Iceland-the vast sky of eddying clouds and the unexpected richness of colour of the lava fields.

Clouds from the plane, shortly before landing

The journey from Keflavik Airport to Reykjavik takes one hour but I could have spent forever on that coach, just looking out of the window at the lava fields. My inner child jumped from one slippery mossy rock to another, eluding one deadly fissure after another. The fields glowed with age and autumn-deep green moss covers the lava, orange grass grows between the rocks and everywhere are red plants and little pink flowers, all vibrantly defying the greyness of the sky and the land. The sky was heavy and the scene should have been dull but it was not. There is a strange, otherwordly light here that I have never seen before. A luminosity is in the trees, the grass, the sky which is utterly bewitching.

At dusk the tenacious clouds parted fully and everything turned a beautiful cold blue colour. We walked down to the dark water and took some photos of the clouds which still lingered over the mountains and had reflected some of the sunset. Sadly, my camera simply couldn't capture the colours and textures of the scene. I have a feeling that Iceland's magic evades many cameras.

An attempt at the scene that couldn't be photographed

Now I'm sitting here in my hotel room, eating Skyr for the first time, and have the heating on (yes, it really is that cold here). The strange sea and mountains will be waiting for me in the distance come light again. I feel every single one of the 1200 miles between hotel room 307 and Kent.

Tomorrow, hatted, gloved and skyred, I will take Reykjavik.

Monday, 26 September 2011

The Importance of My Holiday Playlists

I have spent about 6 hours listing, washing and packing for my holiday.

I have spent about 12 hours listening to music, trying to find songs I like for my holiday playlist.

My holiday playlists are very important. They'll become the soundtrack to my trip and evoke a montage of memories of my adventures many, many years later. The Playlist has become something of a holiday ritual for me now. I start hunting for songs weeks in advance, find out if there are any local bands I like, ask for recommendations (thanks to James, Alv, Kevin and Tom who contributed this year) and so forth. The list is at least as important as the clothes and chargers I pack in my suitcase.

There is one rule for the playlist: all songs must be new to me. No old favourites or current iPod playlist players. I think of the playlist as a tabula rasa for all my travelling memories to be imprinted upon-I'm a firm believer that music is one of the best preservers of memories.

The Last Waltz makes me think of dancing around Venice, 505 by the Arctic Monkeys reminds me of landing in LA one night with the whole city lit up and spread out further than I could see. Flamenco reminds me of the orange trees and mosaics of Seville. All of my adventures can be conjured up by a handful of special songs.

There are no rules for what songs can apply. Generally the playlists are comprised of:

  • New songs I have fallen in love with
  • Songs which I wouldn't usually give a chance, but think I could bond with outside of my normal routine
  • Songs which match the country, mood or landscape of the trip
My Iceland playlist is as follows. Most of the tracks are on my iPod (I know a couple Alv recommended are not as the band she suggested is Swedish and I couldn't download the songs easily)

Solefald – Loki Trickster God
Shimmering Stars – I'm Gonna Try
Chapel Club – Five Trees
Foster The People – Pumped Up Kicks
Foster The People – Waste
Sigur Ros – Gobbledigook
Gus Gus – Purple
The Drums – Money
Warpaint – Krimson
Garmarna – Vänner Och Fränder
Garmarna – Gamen
Asobi Seksu – Perfectly Crystal - Beach Fossils / Spirit Animal remix
Wild Nothing – The Witching Hour
The Shins – Spilt Needles
Abney Park – Herr Drosselmyers Doll
Ladytron – Moon Palace
Blood Orange – Can We Go Inside Now
The Drums – In The Cold
The Drums – What You Were
Beach Fossils – Calyer
Bombay Bicycle Club – Bad Timing
Bombay Bicycle Club – Beggars
Zero 7 – Swing

Sunday, 25 September 2011

Ode to the Begonia

Last summer I had a crush on a plant.

My Dad planted the most beautiful begonia in a blue terracotta pot and it sat proudly on the doorstep all summer.

It was rich, yellow, full and I adored it. When I was in the garden I could never stop staring at it. There are always many flowers in our garden but my eyes were always drawn back to the begonia.

I loved that plant so much that when it did finally start to wilt I was moved out of sadness to write a poem. It was the first poem I had written since my early teens.

Pale yellow and voluptuous in the clean morning light,
Petals bursting from your silken coral dressing gown,
Heads bowed humbly, oblivious to your own beauty,
Always waiting with a warm smile.

You. Yellow, silky, laughing and dancing
For the rest of the garden flowers,
For the reluctant sun,
For the frisky wind,
For a besotted me.

Is is your image I have framed and hung,
Pride of place in my mind,
For the coming of the black and white winter.

I don't even know where the poem came from after so many dormant years. It just bubbled up out of nowhere and was hurridly transferred to a scrap of paper.

Later when I reread the poem I couldn't relate to the 'me' who had written it- I don't write poetry anymore. I am poetic but I'm not a poet.

When my car broke a similar situation occured. During the tears on my last drive home, words began to form alliances, sentences were built. I had a poem in a raw form. When I got home, I got caught up in other things and the poem was gone. I couldn't even recall one line of the poem which had so perfectly captured my feelings at losing my first car.

Perhaps there is a poet in me...but where does he hide? And why does he come so infrequently?

Some more photos of the begonia:

Friday, 23 September 2011

365 Day Project Update

Most people have probably forgotten this....but I was (am) taking part in the 365 Day Project.

A malfuctioning laptop has been quite an obstacle in continuing with the project but I'm now hopeful that I'm back for good.

I have photos for most of the days I've not uploaded for but, understandably it's going to take quite a while to catch up on uploading. Also many of my photos are on someone else's harddrive so I'll need to retrieve those in order to complete May-August.

I love taking photographs above all else and I've really missed taking part in the challenge. To say I'm  very glad to be back is an understatement.

HERE is the link to my page so you can follow me if you want to and see if I can succeed in completing the challenge.

Wednesday, 21 September 2011

Farewell to Summer Cupcakes

Waiting for the bus in the morning, there is a distinctly autumnal chill in the air. A smoky scent lurks in the breeze, brown leaves skitter across the grass. Summer is breathing its last. I think that every season has something to offer...but spring and summer are my favourite seasons and I am always very sorry to see them leave. I made some summery strawberry cupcakes and also some orange cupcakes to acknowledge the start of the end of summer.

These are cupcakes flavoured with strawberry. The icing glaze is also strawberry flavoured.

Orange flavoured cupcakes with orange cream cheese icing

The Christmas and Hallowe'en cupcake decorations have already started to arrive in the supermarkets and I'm already plotting themed cupcakes for both...

Monday, 19 September 2011

Strange Manx Cartoon

I've found a weird and wonderful Manx language cartoon on Youtube which I've been listening to whilst online.

Manx is a minority language of the Celtic family spoken on the Isle of Man. It is closely related to Irish Gaelic and Scottish Gaelic (with which it is claimed by some to be mutually intelligble with). The language almost 'died' in the 1970s but, as with the other Celtic languages it is being revived by scholars and people are being encouraged to learn the language. According to the 2001 Census 2.2% of the population now have some knowledge of Manx (approx 1,689 people), compared with 1.1% in 1921.

I think the language sounds really lovely and hope the revival continues. I think it should be encouraged to acknowledge your roots and keep your culture alive.


Sunday, 18 September 2011

Ghost of a Child in my Photo?

I was sorting through my photos of Scotney Castle and in Photoscape I saw a shadow in the bottom left window pane. I zoomed in and saw what is clearly the face of a young girl. It is a bit blurred and indistinct but it's definitely there. I do not remember anybody being in the room and I simply cannot imagine that I would have taken a photo if there was somebody, especially a child alone, in the room. It was near the end of the day and my sister confirms that she does not remember there being any children there at that point-just a handful of adults.

For me the strangest thing is how sad the girl looks.

I might contact the castle and ask if there have been any sightings of ghosts in that room.

You may have to save the photo and zoom in.

I'm sceptical of many ghost photos but can't think of any other explanation...

Tyson is Looking for a New Family

It breaks my heart to have to write this but it has to be done. My sister has had a baby and due to time, accommodation  and money is going to have to give up her dog Tyson. The only thing I can do is make sure he goes to a good home.

Basic facts
Tyson is a Staffordshire Bull Terrier/Rhodesian Ridgeback cross male. He's 2 years old.

He's exceptionally friendly and affectionate and would not suit anybody looking for a guard dog. He's very outgoing and much more likely to befriend anyone he meets. He made friends with half of the population of Sheerness, including the staff in Tesco. He's lived with an English Bull Terrier and loves other dogs so he'd be fine to live with someone who already has a dog.
He injured his paw (grass seed) a few months ago and allowed both my sister and the vet to touch his paw no problem-there is no snapping/nervousness/fear biting in him so he'd get along well with children too. The only thing to bear in mind is that he's quite an exuberant dog so maybe not suitable for someone with a very young/small child. He is calm indoors.

He does know basic commands such as "sit", "go to bed" and "lie" but I would say these need sharpening for consistency. I don't think he had a firm, consistent trainer when he was a puppy so somebody who's trained a dog before or doesn't mind spending the time to teach, would probably be able to perfect his manners. He's a smart dog and eager to please so I don't think it would be difficult to train him to a high standard.
He likes being cuddled

He loves running-but always comes back to you! He's an active dog so probably not suitable for anybody who prefers lazy dogs.

He has no health problems. He's not been neutered.
He's very quiet and very rarely barks.
He's a very loving, affectionate dog with a lovely temperament and we're all really sad to see him go :(

Running with his favourite toy

Refer to my previous blog HERE for (even) more photos!

Please contact me if you're interested, or know somebody who is.

Friday, 16 September 2011

Tyson Leaves

The thing I liked most about Tyson was his unconditional love. Even when I gave off cross vibes after he urinated on my legs and shoes (albeit with happiness)and was initially wary of him he was never ever less than incredibly happy and excited to see me. As soon as he saw me I'd be leapt on and covered with dog kisses.

I can't remember the last time anybody liked me as much as Tyson did.

"Surely he jumps up at other people?"

"Not like he does with you. He goes mad when he sees you"


Always smiling

I feel like some love has just left my life-Tyson, I will miss you lots :(

Tuesday, 13 September 2011

Showers and shell seeking in Whitstable

A premature autumnal coolness and unexpected (and unwelcome) rain showers made today's trip to Whitstable very different to the warm golden sunsets and ice creams of previous September trips here. On the plus side the chips were, once again, amazing. Soggy with onion vinegar and gritty from numerous zealous shakes of the salt jar-just how I like them. Post-chips and in need of sugar, we zigzagged, via eaves and other makeshift rain shelters, to the coffee and donut stand and I ate a hot donut.

There was a melacholic air to Whitstable today. Perhaps it was the oppressive cloud cover and 'end of tourist season' weariness which hung over the town. The yacht masts whistled and jingled eerily in the gusts of wind and the sea looked murky and uninviting. The hand towel I brought to dry my feet should the urge to paddle take me stayed in my bag. We whiled away most of the time in the quirky shops which populate the main street and found some interesting things. I got some lovely fabric and cheap thread in a haberdashery opposite the chip shop.

There is a plan for this fabric which will come up on the blog at a later date.

My hunt for a secondhand teapot continues but the secondhand shops in Whitstable proved fruitless. As a consolation I did found a little glass bottle to keep my rosewater in. There are few things I like more than beautiful glass and it is only my lack of funds this month that prevented me from buying every glass vase, dish, decanter and bowl I found today. You can't beat secondhand shops for glass items. (unless you like things to match of course-secondhand shops are not for those who like matching sets!)

When the showers ended we headed to the beach (via the old fashioned sweet shop where we stocked up on fudge, sarsaparilla and aniseed boiled sticks and fizzy strawberry tubes) and walked up to the Old Neptune for a lemon and lime. The pub was warm and spellt of damp people who'd got caught in the rain too. I envisaged sitting in there in the winter and felt cheered. The rain considerately started (again) while we drank her drinks and stopped for an interlude when we left. We went shell seeking on the way back and found a nice selection of shells which I have plans for once I've found some waterproof glue (the end results will doubtless be blogged about here). The hunt culminated in 'stealing' two of Whitstable's famous oyster shells from the little mountain of them ("please do not take") near the yachts. They're quite pretty and could be made into something useful I think with a little imagination (and some strong, waterproof glue. I really must buy this glue).

The sky looked beautiful as we left. Some rays escaped through the clouds and the sea shimmered. I bet we missed a lovely Whitstable sunset.