Wednesday, March 31, 2010

London's Battersea Zoo

Shirley stayed overnight at Sid and Sonia’s flat while the Glenns (Sarah, Brad & Brenna) stayed in a nearby hotel. We picked them up in the morning and Shirley drove us to the Hogsback Brewery where Brad and I picked up some of the T.E.A. beer (nothing like a beer run first thing!). Shirley had to press on, pick up Gemma’s wedding dress and then drive back home to Weymouth (about a 2 ½ hour drive back south). The Glenns and I went for lunch, wandered around a bit and then they went back to their hotel for afternoon naps (Brenna is only 2, so the jet lag and time difference was going to take some time to get over). They came back for dinner that evening and I was the chef again, this time my specialty, stir fry.

The next day I planned to day trip in to London with the Glenns. They were heading to Paris the next day for a brief 3 day trip before they would head down to Weymouth. We had a bit of a late start as they didn’t have a very good night’s sleep and then we happened to miss a train by all of one minute, if that...but they come every half hour so no biggie. I love traveling by train and this was Brenna’s first train ride and she seemed to enjoy it as well. There was a young couple sitting nearby and the guy was wearing a goofy lion hat. When Brenna saw it, she couldn’t help making her version of "what sound a baby jaguar makes": “Rrr-ow, rrr-ow!”...super cute. Once we arrived to Waterloo station (of course the ABBA song popped into my head), we jumped on the tube and worked our way to their hotel at Paddington. Brenna sure enjoyed the myriad of escalators, so much that she’d throw a little fit when we would get off of each one. The hotel room was a nice, but typical for London, super small. We then hopped back on the tube to make our way to Battersea park and zoo. Bren slept in the stroller as we walked about a kilometer from the Sloane Square tube station, across Chelsea bridge to the park. Ah, Chelsea, home of one of the better Premier League football clubs.

The zoo is home to a variety of animals ranging from lemurs to donkeys, parakeets to monkeys. One of the more interesting exhibits was the meerkats pen. There were a couple of parallel tunnels running about 10 feet down a slight decline. Sarah and I convinced Brenna to follow us down and once at the end, we could sit up a little bit and peer out a fibreglass dome in the middle of the enclosure. There was a meerkat furiously digging away not 6 inches from my head...nice! I also got a kick out of the talking mina bird saying “Allo” in a proper British accent. Great little zoo at a good price.

After the zoo we walked around a bit in the park but avoided the carousel section as we figured Brenna had had enough excitement for one afternoon. We contemplated heading to the Churchill museum but figured we didn’t have quite enough time. We also pondered the nearby military museum but after walking a few blocks our tired legs steered us towards locating a pub for dinner...or sorry, tea. The area around Sloane Square is teeming with fancy shops, but not good little pubs so we hopped on the tube and headed to Picadilly Circus. After a nice pub dinner, we headed our separate ways on the tube with the Glenns heading back to their hotel and I trained back to Aldershot. I do like London day trips.

Escalator excitement:

The meerkats, see the plastic dome:

Strange animal...can't remember what it was:

Brenna getting into it:

Reminds me of that bathroom in Iceland...

Saturday, March 27, 2010

The Day After

The day after the party, Sunday March 21st, we ventured down to Sid & Sonia’s favourite watering hole, The Funky End, to meet up with Claire & Dave, Matt & Carolyn, Claire & Simon and some others. The cake was finally cut and served after lunch (amazingly it had survived the party) and to everyone’s delight, not only did it look good but tasted great too (albeit super sweet). After some pints I was able to convince some of the group that we should venture outside to enjoy the nice weather of mixed clouds with some sun. We cruised by Sid & Sonia’s flat and picked up my Frisbee and went to the Municipality Park, only a few blocks from their place. Matt, Sid and I enjoyed chucking the disc around. It was my disc golf disc so it wasn’t always easy or fun to catch but the throwing was good. We moved on to the Garden Gate, a somewhat regular pub place for Sid and Son. The pints kept flowing, probably more than they should have been but I wasn’t the instigator near the end, nor was I one who had to get up in the morning to go to work!

Needless to say, the following day was a bit of a write off and apart from getting some groceries and cooking some chilli for Monday night’s dinner, I didn’t do much. Sarah, Brad and Brenna arrived on Monday afternoon, a few days ahead of schedule due to the British Airways cabin crew strike. Sid picked them up in the afternoon while my only aunt, Shirley, arrived from Weymouth after some doctor appointments in town. So we had a big group for dinner...the crew is starting to assemble for my other cousin Gemma’s impending wedding!

Sid and Sonia:

The princess:

The cutting of the princess fairy cake:

Friday, March 26, 2010

Arriving in Jolly Ol' England

My first full day in jolly ol’ England was a Saturday which was also a friend of Sid and Sonia’s 30th birthday. Claire was having a costume party, or as they say here, a “fancy dress” party in a private room in a pub in Ash Vale, a nearby community to Aldershot. The theme was “What did you want to be when you grow up?”. My options were a professional hockey player (tough to get hockey gear over here), an astronaut (could be done) or a doctor...we went with the doctor. Thanks to their friend Carolyn who is studying to be a vet, I had a stethoscope, scrubs and a lab coat. I was able to fashion one of those old school headlamps with my Petzel and Sid drew up a nice name tag for me (I was Dr. Feelgood from the Bleeding Hearts Hospital). Sonia was Snow White, with the complete complement of the seven dwarves. Sid was Iron Man and he turned out to be one of many super heroes at the party which included Spiderman (Simon), Batman (Anthony), a Teenage Mutant Turtle and Banana Man (Claire’s boyfriend Dave). Can’t say I’d heard of Banana Man before but he was well known to this crowd. Inspector Gadget also showed up but I’m not sure if I’d put him in the superhero category, but it was a wicked costume...err, fancy dress. Another fave was the 6’7 Care Bear, Cheer Bear. One had to go into the main area of the pub to order a drink and I imagine the regular patrons were having a giggle here and there. The birthday girl Claire was a princess, which was fitting with her spectacular fairy princess cake that Sonia and Sid had laboured over for hours over the days preceding the party. All in all, a fantastic do and Claire, you must be a special person to have your friends go to this length to celebrate your 30th!

Working on the cake:


Ready for the party:

Iron Man and Snow White:

The superheroes:

I discovered these two talking about each others outfits in the loo:

The 6'7 Cheer Care Bear:

Even John Lennon showed up:

The Birthday Girl Claire:

The Blue Lagoon

A common practice when leaving Iceland is to hit the Blue Lagoon as it is somewhat en route to Keflavik airport. I booked a bus to take me there for a few hours before catching a plane to England. The terrain towards Keflavik looked better in the sunlight (as opposed to the early morning overcast glow I experienced on arriving to this wonderful country) but it’s definitely a tough terrain with young, sharp volcanic rock mostly covered in moss. We could see the steamy plume of the Blue Lagoon from miles away. A power plant nearby supplies both electricity and hot water for a large portion of the nearby population, but it is a bit of an eyesore for one of the biggest hot tubs in the world. I felt a little trepidatious about leaving my bags in the bus as there weren’t many bags in the back yet the bus was full. Wasn’t everyone going to the airport? Would this same bus just hang around for a few hours? Well, yes, I had nothing to worry about.

I walked around a little outside the resort, checking out some lovely blue pools of warm water amongst the moss covered lava rock. Time to tub. Inside, I presented my ticket and received a plastic bracelet that had some electronic device in it that was used to lock and unlock your locker. It was a pretty cool system. You just picked any locker, put your stuff in it, closed the door and then a central panel would beep while flashing your locker number. As if you were Dr. Coy in Star Trek trying to get a medical reading, you held your bracelet up until you got the all clear signal and heard your locker lock. To open, you simply held your bracelet against the central panel again and voila, access to your personal belongings was granted.

There were numerous signs on what and what not to do. One odd one was that you were to shower sans bathing suit before going into the lagoon. I get the showering bit, but didn’t see what removing the trunks did...oh well, when in Rome. I ventured out to the lagoon but had to return to my locker almost immediately as it was too bright outside to not warrant wearing sunglasses. Once back in the hot pool, I waded my way around with my toes stepping in a fine silt resting on smooth rock. At times, patches of hotter water would pass by, at first I liked them, later I avoided. Sitting at the far end of the pool, I realized that hot tubs can be a bit boring when you’re by yourself and not allowed a beer! A woman from Wales struck up a small conversation with me and she was a civilian police worker who supposedly has had her voice on a few episodes of a British show I believe called “Traffic Cop”. After she waded by, I began to talk with another gentleman who had been sitting nearby. John was in his 60s and from northern England. He was a very interesting fellow to chat with as he was into traveling (he had just returned from Toronto and was going on an Alaskan cruise in a month’s time) and was also working on a masters German humanities in German! I applaud people who keep exercising their grey matter throughout their lives, one way to keep young. We chatted for half an hour or so and it made the whole lagoon experience much more fun. Thanks John!

I later caught an uneventful flight to England and was picked up by my cousin Sid and his girlfriend Sonia. We ended up staying up quite late, catching up and imbibing a few bevies. Let the next stage begin!

Leaving Iceland:

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Exploring Reykjavik by Foot

After a bit of a sleep in, Sissy and I had breakfast in the red building behind the main part of the hostel and then she attempted to figure out some work issues while I plugged away on my blog. By mid-afternoon, I decided to go for a walk to try and make it out to the breakwater that I had seen a few days before with Linda. There was an industrial type area that was much larger than I expected on the peninsula but a kilometre later and I’d found a walking path along the waterfront and then found one of the main breakwaters. It was a narrow walkway out to a little yellow lighting station that you could not walk two people abreast. I scared all but 4 birds, cormorants and ducks, which were resting 6 feet below me on the lee side of the concrete structure...sorry dudes, but there was no other way for me to get out to the end. I then back tracked and decided to follow the coastline to the west.

Mount Esja, the back drop of Reykjavik:

Looking back towards Reykjavik:

The breakwater:

I made my way to a church on a grassy hill that would have been sublime for playing bocce. From there I could see the south side of Reykjavik and back towards Keflavik, the airport. Inspired, I cruised along some walkways through a neighbourhood towards a lighthouse called Grótta. Realizing that time was getting short as I was to meet Sissy back at the hostel in 45 minutes, I began a combination of walking and jogging, trying not to overheat since I was wearing my fleece pants under my shell. I almost reached the lighthouse where I discovered that it is essentially on an island with a couple hundred meters of large boulders lined up to make a bridge across. Well, I’d made it this far, should a cross? Sure, but once I was half way, I looked at my watch, yikes, only 35 minutes to make it back to the hostel and it had to be 5-6 kilometers away...time to huff it back.

Bocce anyone?

A sculpture by the church:

Typical Reykjavik neighborhood:

Grotta Lighthouse:

The trail along the waterfront reminded me a bit of Dallas Road in Victoria. I jogged a few kilometers and then found the coolest and probably the best water fountain I can recall. It was an upright, obelisk shaped dark rock with a 2-3 inch thin stream of super tasty, cold water shooting up from the middle and then cascading down the side. I stuck my mouth over it and the water effortlessly flowed down my throat...yum!

Awesome water fountain:

Strange circular hot pool by the tub for one?

Nice Grafitti:

I did make it back on time and in fact Sissy wasn’t there yet. I took a shower and then she appeared and she planned to skype her mom in Germany so I grabbed a few groceries and began working on a noodle soup for dinner. It took longer than expected, both me cooking and Sissy skyping and we were almost half an hour late in meeting Osk and Kolla but thankfully they were 20 minutes late themselves. We chatted in a coffee/bar for an hour or two and then parted ways. They were super friendly everyone seems to be in this country.

Where did I see this in Iceland? was just in the men's washroom:

And this is what was in the women's washroom (no, I didn't take the pic...Sissy did!):

My new friends, Osk, Kolla and Sissy:

Another great day in Iceland!

Iceland's National Museum on St. Paddy's Day

As I’m writing this, catching up on the past few days, I’m 30,000 feet above the Atlantic, halfway between England and Iceland, looking down on a mostly complete layer of cumulus cloud 20,000 feet below with specs of ice visible on the water....sweet. I began the day with a bit of blog writing in the hostel and then bid farewell to Silke as she was off to the local airport in Reykjavik for her flight to Greenland. As I was clicking away on my keyboard, in walked a cute blonde woman (yet another?!?). It was obvious that she had just arrived and knowing that one often feels a bit confused and/or overwhelmed when arriving in a new place, I said hello. She reciprocated the greeting then questioned whether I worked in the hostel. After setting her straight, I found out that Sissy (that’s her nickname, real name is Franziska) is originally from Germany but is currently living in Vancouver! She works as an “imagineer”, creating visual concepts for primarily international clients. The project she’s working on right now is for an aquatic playground, that can be packed up in the winter, for a ski resort in Korea. We chatted for an hour or two before deciding to venture out to the national museum. This after I mistakenly got Sissy all excited about going to see a more "interesting" museum. I mentioned in a previous posting about flipping through a book called "50 Crazy Things To Do in Iceland". Well one was "Donate your Penis"...I had to read on. Turns out that there's a phallological museum in Iceland but unfortunately it's on the other side of Iceland...sorry Sissy. We did have a good giggle about it though...

We grabbed a bite to eat at a bakery and then walked about 15 minutes to the museum, which was located right by the University of Iceland. One bonus was that it was free admission on Wednesdays. It wasn’t an overly large museum, two floors, and a large portion of it was religious artifacts from times gone past. In 1000 AD, Iceland collectively decided to adopt Christianity (not sure exactly how that works.."Okay everyone, believe in Jesus now!"). The best part of the museum was a hands-on section where you could try on some different costumes. I donned a proper Viking helmet complete with chain mail and held a sword and shield for a few pics. Sissy took it a bit further and put on a woman’s riding outfit from the 1800’s and then convinced me we needed to take a picture somewhere else in the museum with a more suitable background. It was a dark blue, velvety type overcoat/dress but it was the tall, round, rigid hat with a cloak that made it unusual. Wandering around the main area of the museum with this costume produced more than one funny look from other museum goers. We did manage to get a few sweet shots and I even had to have a go with the hat!

Some artifacts:

Dave the Viking:

Sissy getting spooky:

My turn:

Sissy acting out Hansel & Gretel:

Somehow this was museum worthy...not sure if I'd eat it:

We headed back to the hostel as Sissy’s jet lag was kicking in. We picked up a few groceries and planned on a pesto pasta dinner. We opted to not go for this for dinner:

She napped for over 2 hours as I organized some pictures on my computer, did a little blog work and relaxed a bit. Being that it was St. Paddy’s day, we decided to head out after dinner to see how Icelanders celebrated this event (Iceland is only one letter away from Ireland). We were looking for the Dubliner pub I had seen earlier but we ended up in a different watering hole (I don’t think I even looked at the name) as we liked the music that two guitarists were producing. We luckily found a table right in front of them and grabbed a couple of cheap Kilkennys (only 450 krona versus the usual 8-900 on other nights). A couple of Icelandic women, Osk and Kolla, asked whether they could share our table...of course! They were in their mid-20s I figured and quite friendly. They knew one of the guitarists and were able to give us some good insight into life in Iceland. We stayed until closing time and then as we began walking home, we made plans to meet up with them the next night.


Locals Osk & Kolla:

Kolla's cousin and friend:

Sissy getting into it:

What a fun St. Patrick’s Day..or I mean Ánægður St. Patrick's Dagur!