Happy Birthday to me

This year’s attempts to celebrate my birthday with a party or gathering of more than one other person failed miserably after my ability to chose where in the world I’d be was taken from me. Air Iceland and Icelandair seemed to gang up and make sure my birthday plans couldn’t be made until hours before my actual birthday, when I finally landed back in Reykjavik after being stuck in Greenland for five extra days.

I’ll have my cakes and eat them too

We only planned to go to Greenland for three days, so we nearly tripled our holiday. I was there as part of a birthday celebration precursor, since Steve and I had bought the trips as birthday gifts for each other. After the fourth flight was cancelled, it meant I had missed my onward flight to Denver, where I was meant to celebrate my birthday with a Canadian friend for the first few hours, and then fly to LA for a red-carpet movie premier and meet Oprah. It’s hard to replace Clio, or Oprah, but we started planning a birthday party with the other stranded passengers in Ilulissat since we’d slowly started to accept we were never getting home.

cocktails at Sushi Samba

After I finally landed in Reykjavik a few hours before the 26th, I learned the Denver flight had been cancelled, and I was rebooked two days later. This now meant I had all 24 hours of my birthday in Reykjavik, but it was a Monday and noone even knew I was in town. Even with last minute notice, I still got taken out and treated like a princess Sunday night, to dinner at Sushi Samba and a suite downtown, complete with a bubble bath full of bath salts and a bottle of cava at midnight.

At Sumac, post-birthday

I spent February 26th at home with my father, who is more often a resident at the hospital, so that was the best birthday present in itself. I went thru some memory lane moments, eating lunch and dinner at restaurants my parents had owned when I was a child in Iceland. Katrin’s culinary birthday saga went from Italia to Austur India Felagid, the East-Indian company, and ended at the Grill Market for a desert only kings and queens deserve – I’ve never had a more beautiful or complicated birthday cake! Before finally flying out the 27th to Denver, I ate lunch at Reykjavik’s best new restaurant, Sumac Grill + Drinks, with a couple of friends from New York, making it the second smallest birthday event I’ve ever planned.

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A very extended weekend vacation in Ilulissat

My GBF Steve has a birthday in February, like me, and we agreed to buy each other vacations to Greenland as birthday gifts. Air Iceland was beginning winter-season flights to Ilulissat for the first time this February, so a package deal had never been cheaper, or a better idea.

Steve and I landed in Ilulissat. Little did we know we wouldn’t see that plane again for 8 days…

We flew three hours across three time zones and landed on the West Coast of Greenland. At 69°N, we were well into the arctic, the northern most limits of human inhabitation, and -25°C with a little added wind chill brought temperatures down to the limits of my bodily functions. No matter how well we dressed, we would still shiver and cramp up, making peeing a more often necessity. The moisture in our nostrils would freeze within seconds of being outside, but breathing through your mouth just created a lot of frozen steam around your face. My scarf crisped up around my chin, and Steve had a frozen beard and moustache.

Ilulissat harbour

We were staying three nights in a self-catering apartment, which was basically just a basic hotel room with a sink, fridge, stove top, and some strange half-microwave-half-oven that we managed to bake biscuits in. Ilulissat had more grocery stores per capita than I´ve ever seen, with extended opening hours, even on Sundays when the entire village seemed to be sleeping. There was, sadly, a shortage of tomatoes, and fresh products like butter and milk were rare finds. Oddly enough, so was fish, even though we were in an active halibut fishing port, since I guess most of it is processed for export.

dogsledding with Greenlandic huskies

We accomplished all of our big tourist to do´s in the first three days. We visited the town, browsed some of the gift shops and sampled the night life (Steve, slightly more successfully than I). We spent a whole day dogsledding along the ice fjord, where an injured dog got to hitch a ride on the sled with us and Steve held him as tight as he could; more so for the warmth of cuddling than the musher´s request to not let him get away. They smelled like fishy poop, which would get splattered under our sled as they ran, and I was so fascinated by their ability to poo while running full speed that I always watched and cringed at the nauseating smell.

these look out points kept getting better and better

What was meant to be our last day in Greenland was spent hiking to some look out points over the UNESCO heritage site, the mouth of the Sermeq Kujalleq glacier that´s been designated a protected area for outstanding beauty. The ice-fjord, filled with sea ice, snow, ice bergs and birds was incredibly beautiful, breathtaking not only because of the ice-cold wind blowing off the fjord. We realized the next morning, on a shorter hike for one last look before our 12 noon departure, that our flight had been cancelled, and spent the day exploring further up the fjord.

Icebergs from the Kangia, the Ilulissat icefjord

I often made the joke that no-one gets stuck in Greenland for only one day, but at least three, and Steve and I were thrilled for the first couple of days of repeated cancellations. We had been moved into a four-star hotel, with three and a half meals per day plus drinks on Air Iceland´s tab. We made friends with the other stranded travelers, and the ones with bigger wallets took a sight-seeing helicopter flight to the mouth of the icefjord.

going out on the sea, which we barely saw under the seaice

On the third day, when I really thought we would leave, Air Iceland didn´t even schedule a flight, but rebooked us on the fourth day. We were still grinning, now with two full days of adventures to be had in Arctic paradise. There was a yoga class at our hotel, and some of the passengers organised an art exhibition to hear local artists speak about their work and sell some drawings. We tried to get on a sailing boat but the harbour kept freezing over and trips were getting cancelled and backlogged, so we organized with our Greenlandic fisherman captain to go out on his trawler for a little ice breaking. By the fifth day, we had already started making plans for snowmobiling, but there was finally a plane on its way to Ilulissat. Now the weather was good in Reykjavik, Ilulissat, and at the emergency landing airport in Nuuk, which had separately all been reasons for previous cancellations. We kept checking in for our flights, picking window seats to have the best views, but every confirmed flight would slip away around breakfast time and the hotel would extend our stay another night. Our theme song became a rendition of Eagle´s hotel California – “you can check out anytime you like, but you can’t ever leave.”

finally getting ready for take-off

Ironically enough, the weather in Keflavik was so stormy that big plane, long-haul flights got cancelled, even as we were landing in Reykjavik, so the flight I thought I was missing to Denver never even left. Now, I was stuck in Reykjavik, with a lot more stranded passengers than our group of twenty in Greenland that had eventually become like family, at home in our own hotel. I wasn´t sure how one could have so many flight cancellations in one week (it´s definitely my personal record), but I also wasn´t sure where I´d rather be stuck – at home or on the road?

Newbury & London

I finished my time in Oxford with one day off for sightseeing, and treated myself to a concert in the Sheldonian Theatre. The student orchestra was playing Beethoven’s 7th symphony, and the second movement is amazing live, especially in an English Grade I listed building where the only way to be invited in is for a graduation ceremony. I was on my way to London to study wine, with a slight detour to Newbury.

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inside the Sheldonian theatre

Newbury is kind of a out-of-the-way place, where few stop, but most have heard of. There’s a surprising little ex-pat community there, and I managed to find one Portugese couchsurfer to host me. I met a wine dealer in Oxford from Majestic cellars in Newbury who was registered in the same wine program; I was going to London to cram years of sommelier knowledge into five days. There would be a two-and-a-half hour exam at the end of the week and I hadn’t started studying, so we planned to share our knowledge and complete a few mock exams.

My Portugese couchsurfer was an excellent partner for drinking wine, and whiskies, and I learned plenty about wine and wine hangovers. Newbury itself was a small, quaint little town on a river, with more second-hand shops than cafes and restaurants combined; you only had to chose if you wanted to support the Red Cross, helicopters for kids, or OXFAM in your shop choice. I noticed more teenage mothers than I’ve noticed anywhere else; most had bad teeth and were slightly overweight, but they all got on very well.

The West London Wine School in Fulham offers WSET Level 1, 2 and 3 courses, and usually the Level 3 is taken over six or twelve weeks of evening courses. They also offer Level 3 in five, eight hour days, if you can commit to forty or sixty hours of pre-course study. They send you a text and work book that would take at least that long to finish – which I only received in time to read the first three chapters – and then a wine specialist speaks at you, reciting textbook knowledge like it was his childhood memories.

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tasting the best of Italy & Chile, and comparing Bordeaux reds

Our teacher was Jimmy, a young, VW van traveler, who had personally been to most of Europe’s best wine regions and vineyards. He knew the soil types and wine makers names of each little French appellation, and made all the students feel as unprepared as we were. The exam included two blind tastings, which I think I passed, but the essay-written part of the exam wasn’t even as difficult as the multiple choice questions. One question gave the name Graciano, and asked if it was a Spanish white, Spanish red, or Portugese red or white wine grape – it wasn’t even like you could deduce from process of linguistic elimination (it’s a Spanish red grape FYI).

I stayed with my Lawyer friend Becky, who worked ridiculous hours but managed to wine test in the evenings with me. We had some Picpoul de Pinet white wine, Bordeaux reds, Rioja rose, and sparkling cava, improving our ability to taste and discuss the effects of wine. After forty hours of tasting dozens of wines and learning the minute details of over a hundred of grape varietals, vineyard management, wine making, tasting and food pairing, I wasn’t ever quite sober enough to analyse my own progress… but I hope I passed.

Front Page: The Province & Vancouver Sun

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being a page 3 story is awesome. being the full front page was flooring. The Province, Feb 2, 2018.

I had a half-an-hour interview over the phone with Glenda from the Vancouver Sun late Thursday night, and she surprised me by turning it into a front page story within a matter of hours – for The Province and the Vancouver Sun. Read the full story here.

 

 

A Day in Cardiff

I went to the capital of Wales for just a day, and devised a Cardiff-in-one-day sightseeing plan. It’s only an hour away from Bristol with plenty of connections to England by train and bus. I arrived by bus and started my self-guided day tour in the rain.

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the backdoor of Cardiff castle, as seen from Bute Garden

The bus station is in Sophia Gardens, so take a stroll there, and over the bridge to Bute Park and you’re in the city centre in ten minutes. Stop by Cardiff Castle and meet the bird man – he carries a pet owl and falcon around to keep the seagulls out. Walk around the castle walls – there’s lots of interesting architecture and plenty of stone animals to be seen.

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the many facades of the Cardiff Castle wall

Next, explore the Castle quarter. There you can find the Cardiff Central Market and a handful of other arcades and covered lanes. St. John the Baptist Parish church is worth a visit. Take a slight detour east to see Chapel, the 1877 church now used as a trendy bar and restaurant.

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Chapel Bar & Restaurant still looks more like a chapel

Hop on the 5 minute train to Cardiff Bay from Cardiff Queen street, where you can take pictures of the Wales Millennium Centre and Roald Dahl Plass. Mermaid Quay has bars and restaurants, and I got a coffee out on the pier at Coffee co. lounge. Stop at a local pub, like the Cardiff Cottage or Cambrian Tap, and try a pint of Brains.

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the Cardiff Castle is tiny compared to nearby Coch or Caerphilly

If you’ve got more time or your own transport, perhaps you can also go the two places I missed: Castle Coch and the medieval Caerphilly Castle, the largest castle in Wales. Send me a postcard if you go – Arnarholl 1, Reykjavik 116.