Home for the Holidays

There’s no place like home, especially for the holidays, and even more so when you’ve got two places to call home. It sure was festive to be in the Holy land in the days leading up to Christmas, but arriving in Reykjavik on December 23rd to a white winter wonderland and -10°c couldn´t have felt better. The days were super short but the nights were lit up with Christmas lights, northern lights and starry skies. I stuffed my belly with traditional Icelandic Christmas food – my favourites being delicious smoked and boiled lamb leg and home-baked flat bread (´laufabrauð´ or leaf bread – try it!). Some other delicacies I avoided, like rotten sting ray (stay away from ´skata´), but of course i stuffed my face with Icelandic hot dogs, appelsin og malt (a mix of non-alcoholic malt and orange soda) and regular flatbread that´s best for breakfast with sliced lamb.

the brightest part of the day in Dad´s valley

the brightest part of the day in Dad´s valley

I flew to Seattle on Boxing day, where me and my best friend Mike celebrated by finishing half a dozen bottles of assorted whiskies in 2 nights. Then it was up to Vancouver to have a sister day and celebrating my older sister not getting married on December 29th (yes, it was a momentous occasion, the guy is a creep and doesn´t deserve even the small toe of Kristjana´s left foot). Grandma and mom have turned into very similar grumpy old women, but I guess it happens to most mothers when their kids don´t stick around to keep them young and cool or in the loop.

a friends dog at his cabin

a friends dog at his cabin

But anyway, this isn´t a food blog and my mouths watering, but I´ll emphasize again how refreshing, clean, crisp and amazing it was to have a really cold, wintery christmas, making the inside of any home or shop (and outdoor hottubs and public swimming pools too) feel ultra cozy and the festive feeling of evening last almost the whole day. I celebrated with Dad and his neighbour, where we mostly just exchanged chocolates as gifts, but I was thrilled to find some Christmas cards addressed to me in the mail box and small gifts from friends come popping up when they made appearances.

NYE crew keeping it cozy in Whistler

NYE crew keeping it cozy in Whistler

New Year´s was a real highlight, a reunion of UBC classmates in even snowier, cozier, whiter Whistler where we house partied like we were still freshmen. We lit firecrackers inside and outside of my friends cabin and drank way too many bad shots of bad tequila and gentleman´s jack, which makes a gentleman out of noone. My hangover lasted 2 days, which is a sign you´re getting old, but 3 days later I´m on a plane to the Caribbean to heal all wounds and work on my tan. A week of temperatures below zero is about all I can handle anyway.

Advertisements

Vancouver, as a tourist

Everytime I come back to Vancouver, after more and more time has passed since I lived there and called it home, I feel more and more like a visitor and less and less like a local. People even ask me where my accent is from, and I wonder if I should admit to being Canadian or just play the Iceland card. The friends I have (or had) become fewer and fewer as time goes by, as the UBC 2008 alumni have moved back home or onto other cities with bigger things. Visiting UBC campus is nostalgic in many ways, since the university is always a sacred memory of the happiest and hardest years of your adult-forming life. But then you feel like an outsider there, and atleast 10 years older than all the youthful faces who have replaced you and stolen the constantly under-construction campus to become their own happy place. There are new buildings and faculties and programs sprouting up year after year, and its always tempting to try and find one where I would still fit in.

20140502-235346.jpg

cherry blossom arches

Atleast Vancouver city doesnt change much, all the familiar streets, cafes, sushi restaurants, and shops that I crave when isolated in tiny Reykjavik. There are still a few new buildings and unfamiliar store fronts, but not enough to know for sure that they’re new to everyone or just new to me who had never noticed them before. I stayed at the Pan Pacific hotel, which has a huge, new Cactus Club restaurant right on the water beside it. I had to go there to see what it was like and pay my dues, since I have Cactus Club to thank for my first waitressing job, and the main supplier of my travel income for 2007-2008.

20140502-235417.jpg

bear crossing!

April is the most beautiful time to visit Vancouver, since the trees start blossoming, all at slightly different intervals, so that you can always find a street corner or park covered in various shades of pink and white petals. There are cherry, plum, crab apple and even Magnolia trees that colour every spring pink, and Vancouverites celebrate them with an annual Cherry Blossom Festival. But the best thing about a flowery spring in Vancouver is that its still a snowy time in the mountains, and spring skiing in Whistler and Vancouver mountains stays open as late as May 1. I didn’t make it snowboarding, but I spent enough time in the outskirts of Vancouver to throw myself into an icy lake (felt like home, Iceland-home that is), and see a family of black bears dizzily crawling out of hibernation.

Vancouver is nestled between the Pacific ocean and its many islands to the west, a towering mountain range and ever-green forests to the north, the lush countryside of the Fraser Valley to the east, and of course the American border only a few km’s south. This kind of location can’t be beat by any other American city, but the damn rain always turns out to be a major party-pooper. If it wasn’t for the gray, rainy weather, which i basically a 7-8 month long season, Vancouver would truly be the most livable city in the world.

 

My Little Sister's Wedding

I grew up with 2 sisters, one older and one younger, raised by my mother and grandmother, sandwiched in a testosterone-dry family. We were raised slightly strict and conservative, with men out-lawed from getting too close to any of us. My mother remarried and divorced in a quick 2 years, and other than that the only men coming around were uncles and ‘friends’ I could never admit were boyfriends. Yet somehow we all knew Ruth, the baby of the family, would be the first to get married. We knew that when she was only 4 years old, still attached to my mothers umbilical cord, and grew up the most ‘domestic’ of us all, baking with my grandma and learning all my mother’ secret recipes.

the beautiful bride

Ruth went to Trinity Western University, a private school nearby my moms home town. She started dating a boy in her second year, and then we all started predicting when the wedding would be. It was still a light-hearted joke after they had been dating a couple years, but before we expected it, they were engaged.

After an 8 month engagement, finishing all their final exams, and graduating from University, they were married a week later. We weren’t surprised, but still scratching our heads with the unusual feeling of marrying off the baby in the family. Me and my older sister, unmarried and childless, were the maids of honour, watching in awe as our youngest sibling out-aged us somehow, as a youthful beautiful bride already starting her life with a man after all these years of being an integral part of our women-only family.

the original hen house

They were married  in a beautiful spring ceremony on an apple orchard in Kelowna, at the grooms home in the interior of British Columbia. My sister wore a $50 dress she found at a bride-swap fair, and layered it with lace from another second-hand gown the grooms sister found for her. She wore a belt around the smallest part of her waist, he hair down and curled, with lacy flats she bought somewhere for a few dollars, and looked like a million bucks. She glowed from the tips of her manicured fingers to the ends of her pursed lips, and her colourful bouqet made from an arrangement of flowers picked from the garden couldn’t distract you from her smiling face.

the getaway car

The wedding ceremony was simple; my mom catered it with home-cooked food, only a few people made speeches, and with no alcohol or dancing, it was over by 9pm. We watched the newlyweds drive away in a blue convertible 70’s Volkswagen bug, dragging behind them cans and balloons, and couldn’t help but feel a pang of loss at the sight of our little sister being the first chick to fully flee our home nest.

The Maritimes

the boats in alma resting on the sea bottom at low tide

The boats in Alma resting on the sea bottom at low tide

After five weeks in Montreal studying French, it was definitely time for a less academic, more “fun-in-the-sun” vacation, so last week me and my best friend Clio set off for an 8 day road trip through the Maritimes. We started in Montreal on a 14 hour car journey through Quebec and New Brunswick all the way to Halifax, Nova Scotia, right on the Atlantic coast. We got there with a random stranger who posted on craigslist rideshare for only $100 each, a bargain compared to the $200+ bus or $250 flight. Unfortunately for us, he liked to talk, and talk a lot, and mostly about himself. He was a mid-twenties, Italian highschool teacher (also hairy and chubby with greasy curly hair) who boasted about the grade 11 girls who had crushes on him and boys who aspired to be him. Once in a while he would bring up his ex girlfriends and how he only dated or had interest in gorgeous women. Oh ignorance, but entertaining at the very least.

After taking turns fighting for the backseat (where we could pretend we were sleeping and not engage in conversation), we made it safely to Halifax where a peer student that I met from the French program lived. Our host was Tim, one of the most friendly, positive, and energetic people I’ve ever met. He lives in a residence called Trinity House, run by members from the adjacent church, complete with a guest bedroom for two where we stayed. The times that Tim walked with us, he knew every person that was in anyway involved with King’s College, the oldest university in Canada where he studied. We spent most of our days doing the touristic clichés, and even though we were there from Monday to Thursday, we hit the town every night for some drinking and dancing festivities. East coast Canadians were super nice, and the food was great since we managed to feast on a $10 lobster meal each, sucker our way into some free street sausages, and indulge in the local brews. On our last night there, we saw a cover band called Mellotones play at the Seahorse, and they rocked out to some of the best songs with a 9 piece soul/funk band whose blonde curly-haired lead singer who could mimic Michael Jackson pretty convincingly inbetween playing his saxophone.

After Halifax, we took this door to door shuttle service to get to Prince Edward Island; it was about a 5 hour drive in an 11 passenger packed like a sardine can that started at 6:45 am, so, not very comfortable. Once we arrived in Charlottetown, PEI’s capital, we had the first, true summer day with 26 degree heat and no clouds in the sky. We grabbed fried scallop lunch at Peake’s, a restaurant right on the wharf, and made friends with a lonely guy at the table beside us. We chatted with him a bit, and when he realized we were out of towners looking for a nice beach to camp, he offered us a ride to Tea Hill. We spent most of the afternoon there sunbathing and relaxing, and then our rideshare that we had organized for the following morning from PEI to New Brunswick called to make arrangements for another early morning pick up.

He sounded really nice on the phone, but again, another random stranger from craigslist. He offered to pick us up then and take us to a beach closer to where he was staying so that the following morning it would be easier to accept, so we accepted. We moved to Bedford, to some secluded beach with more sand and calmer water. Chris, the rideshare guy, ended up being super strange and talking all sorts of contradictory information on the short ride over, so when he asked to come hang out with us on the beach, we quickly denied with some lame excuse. Then, being 2 paranoid female backpackers on a lonely beach, we decided to be stealth about our camping location by walking a few hundred meters over to this deserted mansion, which ended up being inhabited by an elderly couple with 13 Porches and 1 Mercedes. We camped on their lawn and told them about our safety concerns, so they made us feel nice and cozy on their perfectly groomed lawn and woke us up with bottled water and an offer to use their porcelain toilet. Since we had almost no other choice, we still met Chris in the morning to catch our ride to New Brunswick, and we were a lot calmer to share the car with his 60 year old aunty for the three hour drive.

In Fredericton, the capital of NB, we stayed with my roommate from Montreal. Matthew, or, more affectionately, Turbo, is a burly faced, lumberjack shirt wearing teddybear who is always singing or strumming his guitar. As you can imagine, he was also great company and a wonderful host, and we took a day trip down to Alma in the Bay of Fundy where they have the highest tides in the world. They say that their 10 meter tide differences make their harbor only accessible during high tide, and all other times, the boats rest on the ocean floor. Alma is a tiny village with a huge lobster industry, so for lunch, we feasted on more fresh lobster (and some snow crab) for about $6 – $9 each, and further indulged with the most amazing sticky buns I’ve ever had, complete with hot chocolate to drink. It was a chilly, misty day, so hot chocolate could not have been more appropriate as we walked along the incoming tide. On the way home we somehow got lost in Fundy national park, but since its only 20km around, it didn’t cost us much time, just a lot of confusion since there’s only one road through it and getting lost on the way out is quite an accomplishment. From Fredericton, we came back to montreal late last night, and tonight I’ll regretfully be parting Montreal and Clio. Tomorrow morning I’ll be waking up in New York after an overnight bus. Hopefully there will be no more Italians or Chris to share the long drive with…