Holed up in Oxford

I want to write a book. Correction, I am trying to write a book, and the only way it seems possible is to be in a cold, grey, expensive British town somewhere where I know nobody. I know one guy actually, but he’s a penguinologist researcher on site in Antarctica until February, so he agreed to let me squat his house and punish myself in isolation while writing some hundreds of pages about me. It is as boring as it sounds, but some people (like myself) May want to read it one day.

img_6231

Cornmarket Street, Oxford

I arrived January 18th, and didn’t leave the house for the first week, except for one grocery shop. The only non-book writing things I did were: take a bath, watch one Tarantino movie, and drink red wine. But it wasn’t so bad, January in Oxford… not compared to Reykjavik at least.

img_6228

Oxford’s famous Covered Market

There are leaves on the trees and the parks still have green grass. Birds chirp every morning and when the sun does show its face for a moment, it actually gives warmth. The grocery shopping here is a fraction of what things cost in Reykjavik, but mostly I’m here because there’s noone to call or meet for coffee, and noone showing up to distract me. I feel like I’m becoming a crazy cat lady without the cats.

img_6235

Malmaison, former prison turned Boutique Hotel

The wonderful thing about writing a 60,000 word book is it makes a 500 word blog seem like a piece of cake. But after a very productive week I decided to go to them if they wouldn’t come to me (people, not cats), so a weekend trip to Bristol is underway. A couple of days away from my computer screen should do me good, and I’ll finally hear the sound of my own voice when I speak to another human again. Can’t wait.

Advertisements

Wandering France

Christmas is a wonderful time to be in Iceland, especially for the food and lights, and New Years Eve in Reykjavik is like nowhere else on earth, but this was also a nice time to travel since so many others are also on holiday now.

I met an American in Tuscany 6 years ago and we stayed in touch over the years. She came to Iceland in 2016 and met me in Mauritius for my birthday 2017, and we decided on meeting in Paris to celebrate 2018. It was going to be a cheap and cosy holiday, since we had my friends flat in Republique to house-sit, but when he dropped off the face of the earth without leaving any keys, we were pretty much homeless in Paris.

img_6012

Girls night out in Paris

Luckily for us, Stef had a friend who was housesitting and we crashed with her for 2 nights. Those nights were well spent, eating cheese and drinking red wine. We ended up out for a night near the Moulin Rouge, and dragged a Christmas tree home with us on the 4am saunter back past all the open sex shops.

img_6065

Mont Saint Michel

We had 10 more days in France without any attachment to Paris, so we decided to travel. We went to Normandy to see the infamous Mont Saint Michel, which looks unreal even to the naked eye. We carried onto Bretagne, where we visited the riche towns of St. Malo and Dinard and stayed in the capital Rennes.

img_6043

Chateau du Vitré

Facebook told me I had a friend in Bretagne I had forgotten about – I couchsurfed with a metropole named Al in French Guyana 6 years ago and he lived in Corlay. It’s a village most have never heard of but they are famous for inventing their own breed of horse (who are great steeple chasers) and Al’s brother had a cottage there. We celebrated New Years Eve at midnight there, and barely missed it since we were the only 3 people in the village and couldn’t see or hear a sound of life from anywhere else. It was the quietest NYE party I’ve had yet, but the most champagne bottles drunk per head.

img_6083

Dinard, on the coast of Bretagne

Our trip carried on thru some more charming places in Bretagne, like the Abbaye de Bon Repos and the lighthouse and pink rocks of Ploumenach. We found a cheap blablacar to Tours and thought “we’ve never been there” and went. It has a nice church and a yellow cobblestoned city center, but the most beautiful chateaus and wine villages around the region are more worth the visit.

img_6144

Annecy in the Rhone-Alpes

My wandering in France ended in Lyon at a horse friends house. She works in a hospital and offered to photograph me with her x-ray machine. I picked my left shoulder as a subject, since it clicks sometimes and thought maybe we’d see why. She had a day off and took us to the mountains, Annecy at the edge of the Rhone-Alpes and up to the snow in Semnoz to have a snowball fight. We ate raclette, and bread and wine and more cheese, for most meals of the day, until my flight home the 5th. But it was Alicia’s birthday the 5th, so it was appropriate to have cheese and bread and champagne for breakfast and my last meal in France.

Alicia´s champagne birthday breakfast

Now its time to cheese and wine detox, at least a couple of kilos, and stop eating so much white bread. How do French people stay so slim?

The 26 days of Christmas

Christmas in Iceland is special for a lot of reasons, like the food, weird yule lads, short days and northern lights nights, but nothing beats Christmas in Iceland because we have 26 days of it.

Christmas starts 13 days before Christmas eve, when the first yule lad comes down from the mountains. After all 13 have come down, one by one per day, we celebrate Christmas on Christmas eve evening, usually around 6pm. We have smoked and boiled lamb with green beans and red cabbage, and open all our gifts that night, and Christmas day is spent at home with friends and family doing very little except eating the leftovers and cooking and baking more Christmas food.

Christmas Eve was spent eating smoked lamb with these two handsome men

The smelliest night of Christmas is arguably December 23rd, what we call Thorlaksmessa, when people boil pots of fermented stingray for hours without ever adding water, so the ever-increasing, pungent smell of ammonia quickly absorbs into your hair and clothes (and takes a couple of washes to get out).

The loudest day of Christmas is New Years Eve, which Icelanders more appropriately call Old Years night. Iceland is the only country in the world where you can actually hear the New Year arrive, since the intensity of fireworks climaxes at midnight like an out-of-tune percussion symphony. It’s also a pretty smelly night if there’s no wind, since all that smoke from a million kronur of explosives creates a fair bit of pollution.

The last of the fireworks

The hottest day of Christmas are the “brenna” or bonfires. On New Year’s Eve and the last day of Christmas, various neighborhoods around Reykjavík collect huge piles of inflammable junk – furniture, pallets, Christmas trees and even mattresses – and create fires as big as houses. It’s a way to clean out your closets, literally and figuratively, and burn away all the baggage from last year to start clean.

The last day of Christmas is the “Thirteenth” (þrettándinn), January 6 when the last of the 13 yule lads has returned back to the mountains. As I write this, Reykjavik has started to light up again, as everyone finishes the last of their fireworks. It’s only legal to fire fireworks during Christmas, so after midnight tonight you could technically be fined. The city will be even darker tomorrow since Christmas lights and decorations will also get put away. The sidewalks of Reykjavík have already started filling up with Christmas trees that won’t be needed to be cut down again til next year. The radio will stop playing Christmas music, and the harsh reality that the last day of Christmas does not mean the last day of winter will start to sink in. A couple of days ago, the street lights never shut off automatically because the cloudy skies and lack of snow meant the daylight never became bright enough to convince the sensors that it was day time.

the first Saturday ride of the year for these horses and horsepeople

For most, this is a time to buckle down the budget, face impossible new years resolutions, and start the year fresh and optimistic. We do have the assurance that days are getting longer, already for 2 weeks now, and we finally start to notice the difference. For the horse people in Reykjavik, its time to bring the riding horses into the stables and start training. For me, its a time to hole up and write a book, and book the cheapest one way ticket out of here until summer.