The honeymoon

Well, golly. Happy New Year, everyone! 2016 is starting out kind of rough, what with all the icons dying. Yeesh.

But our trip was Great. I mean, c’mon, it’s Paris! The baguette and wine alone is worth the airfare. ;)

Champs Elysees

First night, Champs Élysées

However, there was a Christmas festival on along the Champs Élysées that meant that we were almost always walking through a party. We tried roasted chestnuts (smelled wonderful, tasted surprisingly mildly sweet and were squishy, not crunchy), had glühwein pretty much every day, and had street crepes, of course. Nutella et banane, let’s not mess about here.

Eros and Psyche

Psyché ranimée par le baiser de l’Amour par Antonio CANOVA (1757-1822). Commandé par le colonel John Campbell en 1787. Acquis en 1801 par Joachim Murat.

We went to the Louvre and saw the Mona Lisa, lots of paintings of Mary, Jesus, Joseph, Saint Sebastian, still life paintings that were a testament to the craft of these artists… I showed my husband the Delacroix canvases and he was suitably impressed by their castle sized dimensions. We saw sculptures of breath-taking beauty (such as my favourite one, above – Psyche being revived by the kiss of Eros by Antonio Canova).

We got up early one morning (not difficult with the jet lag) and walked down to Notre Dame, which was beautifully quiet. We were asked directions by another tourist, which was very flattering. We also ran to Shakespeare and Company and browsed the wonderful books. We visited the Musée Rodin where I realized that a sculptor’s version of rough notes and preparatory sketches are small rough sculptures in clay. By the end of that day’s wandering, however, we had murdered our feet.

The Gates of Hell by Rodin

The Gates of Hell by Rodin (also known as our shoes)

We went to Sunday mass at Sacre Coeur, which wasn’t as good as I’d hoped. Other tourists were quite oblivious to the actual real mass going on while they strolled through, and actually had the temerity to try to (and sometimes succeed) take pictures of the proceedings and generally ignore all the rules and requests of the working church (be quiet, no pictures, no hats). The main reason I wanted to go was to show my husband how lovely the music was – the nuns making up the choir must have to go through auditions before they’re permitted to sing. They were all very talented. Sadly, the pipe organist wasn’t to my taste this time. It sounded like they were attempting to improvise some acid jazz with those hymns. Didn’t quite make it. After lunch in Montmartre of a delectable savoury crepe and more glühwein, we hopped on the metro to Cimitière du Père Lachaise, where we got weirded out by being tourists in an active cemetery.

Oscar Wilde's tombstone

Oscar Wilde’s half protected tombstone – now with 75% less lipstick graffiti, and 100% more jerkfaces standing on someone else’s tomb to liplock the stone.

The meals we had were almost always delicious. There were a couple of cafes that were just alright, but we still had wine, coffee and bread and it was Paris. We found that staff were, with perhaps one exception, really happy to have customers. (The one exception being a fellow in the Cafes de Deux Moulins in Montmartre, who got a talking-to by the shift supervisor to pull up his socks after he almost lost a few customers by not seating them away from the door – he was also flabbergasted when I ordered a second round of café allongées.) Our favourite restaurants were Chez Clément, L’Arc Cafe, L’Étoile 1903 and the little cafe in Montmartre where we got our crepes and glühwein after church on Sunday, I think.

café allongée et croissant

But the first one was so good…

There were some human stories happening while we were there, like the beggars on the metro. One middle-aged gentleman would enter the train car, do his speech (name, age, children, no prospects, relying on the generosity of strangers, sorry for disturbing you) and move on to the next. Another was a dirty, barefoot women carrying a “baby” in a snowsuit like it was breastfeeding (it was a doll), and harshly crying out “Mesdams! Mesdamoiselles! Un pièce, s’il vous plaît!” Until she got distracted scratching and picking things out of her hair – eck eck eck. My husband later recognized her sitting on the street in the Latin Quarter begging, sans baby doll. There was a woman kneeling prostrate holding a ratty take away coffee cup along the Champs Élysées, wrapped in her head scarf, dress and a housecoat. Another – father, mother and daughter sitting with a hand written cardboard sign advertising that they were a Syrian family in need.

There was extra security at museums and the churches. We had to open our jackets, show them our belts, open my purse. At the Louvre, we had to go through a metal detector and run my purse through an x-ray machine. There were squads of soldiers in green camouflage marching through the city, with their tastefully coordinated black berets, black belts, black boots and black automatic rifles. Although I thought it was a faux pas to be in green when clearly the situation called for inner city grey. And four motorcycle police officers were on high alert on the Champs Élysées as four tourist girls straddled their motorcycles, taking pictures.

A woman tried to pickpocket me in the Christmas festival area, apologizing when I spun around to look her right in the eye after she tugged on my purse zipper.

After a moment of realization that the Musée de l’Armée in Paris would have knights’ armour and swords and awesome stuff like that, we went and spent a really cool time there. That was my husband’s suggestion. It was awesome to see these ornately crafted weapons and armour that actually had been used. The artisans who made these things were really talented.

We went to the Eiffel Tower two or three times, attempting to go up to see Paris from a height, but the line ups with the extra security were ridiculously long, so we opted for more glühwein, crepes and cafes and strolling along the Seine.

The Eiffel Tower

So after a week in Paris – walking, experiencing, drinking glühwein, eating baguette… we started our trek home. We took advantage of IcelandAir’s deal to do a free stopover in Iceland on your way somewhere, and we flew out of Paris on December 30th to spend New Year’s Eve in one of our favourite places.

10am

This is 10am on December 31st in Reykjavik, Iceland

We went to K-Bar for dinner on December 30th, and then visited with my Icelandic colleague for drinks afterwards and chatted pretty late into the night. On December 31st, we took the bus out to the Blue Lagoon Spa in the afternoon for a relaxing dip in the geothermal water and a “free drink” (included with the cost of our admission) at the swim up bar. We got our Gull beer and found a water outlet to poach in and enjoyed floating, relaxing… And then being hit in the face by ice pellets the size of ball bearings… It was fun.

Our New Year’s Eve dinner reservations were at Laekjarbrekka and the meal was wonderful. My husband enjoyed his slow cooked lamb, and I enjoyed my Arctic char. Then we walked towards where one of the bonfires was supposed to be lit and listened as the fireworks were going off all over the city. Iceland lifts the regular fireworks ban on New Year’s Eve, and Iceland Search and Rescue sells fireworks to everyday people so that they can celebrate, and Iceland Search and Rescue raises money for their work. Since the sun went down at 3:20pm that day, we rolled back into Reykjavik in the dark at 5:00pm, and seeing the occasional firework going off. We didn’t find the park where the bonfire was supposed to be, but we made our way back to the hotel so that I could warm up before the big show. We headed up to the top of the hill and Hallgrímskirkja around 11pm, and met up with a crowd of varying drunkenness as we all went to experience the spectacle.

The fireworks were, well, exhilarating. We were standing right underneath them. This video was taken by someone else (because I’m apparently terrible at taking iPhone video) but we were standing in front of the church in the video (which considering the couple of videos I’ve found uploaded to Youtube which were taken from behind the church makes me think…). I had orange ashes in the hood of my hoodie, and I was being hit with spent fireworks capsules. This is probably why other places don’t allow this sort of thing. But it was such a rush to be whooping and cheering with other people in the crowd as the people setting off fireworks sent wave after wave of explosives into the air. It was a very democratic celebration, and we stood there for over an hour marvelling that the explosions kept coming. Someone started a countdown – I’m not sure it was accurate, but we all joined in and screamed in the new year, kissing under the sizzling shrieking lights. The party didn’t stop then, people didn’t then say, “Well, alright, New Year’s here, off to bed!” Nope. The fireworks kept on going until well after 2am. However, we were dressed for Paris 10C, not Iceland snow and -4C, so I got cold again and we started walking back to the hotel by about 12:30 and probably got in around 1am. We snuggled down into our hotel bed, to warm up, and we didn’t go to sleep until after 2am.

We flew back on January 1st, which was why we were really good on New Year’s Eve – started this year out without a hangover! Yes! Getting through the Toronto Airport was stressful, but because our flight was late leaving, we did make it back to Ottawa and got to sleep in our own beds.

It was a lovely trip, and we’re definitely going back to Iceland to do our hikes. And we’re likely going back to Paris, if only to get in another few days at the Louvre, drink more great wine, eat more great bread, and maybe go see some of the countryside. There’s an entire country around Paris, I understand. :)

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Pre-holiday madness

I believe Radiohead said it most succinctly, “You do it to yourself, you do, and that’s what really hurts. You do it to yourself, just you, you and no one else.”

Ugh. So in an attempt to get my lead author responsibilities out of the way before I leave on my two week vacation (more on that later), I’ve been pushing myself, working overtime, as well as trying to accomplish all the outside-of-work things. Like baking for holiday celebrations at work, or going to the gym, or socializing. All of which I said to myself, “Self,” I said, “You can totally handle this. There are more than enough hours in a day. Ha ha ha! I dare say, it will be child’s play. Perhaps you should consider adding even more things!” (Imagine that transitioning into a British accent halfway through, because I sure am).

Unfortunately, it seems that the lead author responsibilities may not get fully resolved because of more than just not having two full work days to round out this week. I’m also waiting on the organizers to inform me of a few things and they are likely just as frazzled as I am. So I am doing my part and then, that’s all I can do.

I just did a bit of self-care and declined my husband and our friend’s invitation to join them in a post-game pint. Sitting, wrapped in my favourite fuzzy blanket, on the couch is pretty much what I want to do right now. Not that socializing with them would be taxing at all. But my body is crying out for me to just take this moment to relax and stop. So I’m multitasking by blogging while I sit. Because I’m apparently terrible at relaxing.

Two more days… Two not-entirely-full-because-of-meetings work days to finish everything and then we are on our way. Then two more family Christmas dinners, a friends brunch, hopefully a big movie… Some last minute laundry, cleaning and packing… And we’re on our honeymoon!

We didn’t take a honeymoon after the non-wedding in April, and we wanted Christmas Day to be for us this year, so what could be better than to plan a getaway that was for us over Christmas?

So we’ll spend Christmas in Paris, and then fly back through Iceland to ring in the New Year with almost 24 hour darkness and a trip to the Blue Lagoon spa, hopefully under starlit daytime skies. I’m beginning to get excited about it. :)

I may have time to share our experiences, but I won’t promise because it is supposed to be Us time. :) But I’ll post photos etc when I can.

And just because I started with it, here you go.

And home again

I started back fairly early. Our taxi arrived at Sandbjerg Gods to pick us up at about 8:45am and we headed to Sonderborg Lufthavn (airport). We were flying back to Copenhagen on the matte black supercool plane.

  
Totally rockstar.

I flew out with my Norwegian colleagues, but they were able to continue on whereas I had to pick up my bag and check in for the rest of my flights. So I had to leave the security area and go back in. Which ate up some time, at least, as my Heathrow flight wasn’t leaving until the afternoon.

I sat by the windows at the Yo!Sushi restaurant to have lunch. It was a cute multicoloured place with a conveyor belt carrying food around that you chose and ate.

  
It was fairly tasty, though I still prefer the sushi from my favourite place. But I was able to sit there, out of the flow of traffic and chill for a half an hour or so.

Then I stopped at the Starbucks right next door and got a nice warm chai latte, which I received when the barista called “Yenni”. The Danish J.

My gate was published by then so I started heading for gate D102. Which was past passport control. I stamped out of Denmark and was truly on my way home. I found more lovely seats on an upper tier heading towards my gate, but by that point I really needed to charge my phone so I sadly left the quiet, solitary, super comfortable chairs and went in search.

I found my gate and there was a wall outlet right beside a set of chairs near the deserted desk and locked door. It was baffling. There wasn’t a waiting area to speak of really. We were all confused because we could see people downstairs who looked like they were also at our gate. No, they weren’t, actually. We got pre-boarded and sent down to a holding pen. Then the next official lady started to allow us to board, first calling the business class passengers. But she was rushed by all sorts of people in our holding pen.

“Wait, no, you’re not business… Hold on… Ugh, forget it, fine. Go!”

Thus the rudeness of the mob meant that there was no orderly boarding process. I felt badly for her.

The flight from Copenhagen to Heathrow was quick, but we spent at least 20 minutes in a holding pattern waiting for clearance to land. While we were waiting, I took pictures of clouds.

  
And a neighbouring British Airways plane who was flying a bit below us.

When I got into Heathrow, I forgot about going through security again, so I ended up pounding 400mL of water from my bag so that I could keep my bottle. It was very handy for the long flight, to keep me hydrated. Once I got through all the checkpoints, I was face to face with the departures board. And I got a punch in the gut.

18:00 Toronto Delayed to 21:00, gate given at 20:00.

I marched over to the Air Canada Transfer Passengers desk and inquired. Yes, the woman said, I would be missing my last connection to Ottawa. They would provide me with a hotel and vouchers and rebook me on the earliest possible flight the next day.

I was so deflated. My schedule to get home had already been a gigantic slog that was another feat of strength (my trip to Sonderborg had been my first feat of strength that week). To add in an overnight stay in TO just made me want to cry. I wanted to be home.

There was also the possibility that I wouldn’t have clean clothes so I looked among the high end shops for a shirt to wear on the morning flight. The only one that would probably fit was going to cost more than $50 and was a sparkly silver that I knew I’d never wear again. So I risked it and didn’t buy anything.

I stopped in at the World Cafe for dinner and treated myself. As a rule, I don’t drink while flying because I have a hard enough time staying hydrated enough to feel human by the end of my transit. But I had a cider with dinner because, what the hell – I wasn’t going to be flying for three more hours anyway. I also may have had their deep fried mac ‘n cheese ‘n kale balls as an appetizer before a veggie burger topped with grilled haloumi cheese with a side of fries…

  
For the record, I did eat the micro-greens too.

  
Narm.

I bounced around Heathrow, successfully reading some of my book of yoga essays that my friend had given to me as a present during my nine wandering weeks. I had a big peppermint tea. I took off my hiking shoes and stretched a knot in my left calf and let my feet stretch out a bit.

Oh yeah, apparently Heathrow decorates for Christmas before Guy Fawkes Day. I didn’t mention it from my first passage on Tuesday, but…

  
Really, Heathrow? Really??

Don’t get me wrong. They are attractive interpretive trees (another was composed of bias bands looking like sparkle edged ribbons set on diagonals so that they built a tree), but it’s too early.

My gate was published even before 20:00 so I got to hustle to another far flung arm of an airport to wait for boarding of my flight.

  
I thought maybe I was wrong at this point. My footsteps echoed quite pointedly.

But I was right and it didn’t take long before we were rallying together to board. There was a prescreen process where a couple of officials looked at everyone’s passport and boarding pass. I couldn’t help wondering if it was to screen out potential Syrian refugees, because one man seemed to get many more questions than the majority of the white people going through. Hmmmm.

We had a minor mechanical thing that stalled our leaving, having had pushed back from the terminal already, and then just sat there for a while. So we had to taxi to a maintenance station to have maintenance staff reboot something, and then we finally took off, late. At that point there was no hope of me making my connection. So I tried my best to self-care during the flight. Alas, despite my seatmate leaving for the empty three seat row across from us (so she could lie down and sleep), I probably only got about 20 minutes of dozing while lying down across my two seats. I spent most of the 8 hour flight reading or writing in my journal. I would occasionally flip on the map to know where we were in transit.

  
Bye London.

When we touched down in TO, there was a helpful lady standing at the top of some stairs with a package for each of us who missed a connecting flight. We were given our luggage back, and we were given a breakfast voucher (which I forgot to use) and put up in the Crowne Plaza. After waiting for the shuttle bus and then waiting to check in at the hotel, I managed 2.5 hours of sleep in an actual bed (glorious) before I got up, showered, changed into my last outfit I didn’t get to wear (yay clean clothes!) and waited for the shuttle bus back to the airport. The lack of sleep was making me very wobbly.

  
Good morning, Toronto.

Happily, we took off and got to Ottawa quickly. I got choked up as the tyres hit the runway, I was so glad to be home. My husband  was waiting for me at the bottom of the escalator. And then, we went home and slept for three more hours. ;)

And that was my Denmark trip. I have a lot of work to do coming out of this.

The trail less travelled

We restarted our meeting punctually and slogged through the initial part very slowly. We hadn’t made much headway through our document before we stopped for a quick coffee break. We had a lot of work to do and we were all worried that the little outing we were planning after our quick lunch might eat into our productive time.

However we motivated ourselves and got through more of the agenda and our document before lunch. But still, the rest of the document seemed insurmountable and I considered staying back from our walk to help push our work forward. We had realized that many of us were supposed to miss the last scheduled hours of work this morning, because we all had flights to the rest of the world. So we really needed to finish our work by 7:30pm, since that was when our fancier group dinner had been arranged.

But even our co-chairs decided to go for the walk so I joined them. I walked with the forward, faster group, since my colleague and I had explored this route the day before.

  
And we kept following the path along the river. It was a gorgeous day, and we all were wondering at the great warm weather. I found a neat beetle on the path, if they needed any more evidence that I was (am?) a field biologist.

  
He has purple feet!

And then I found a little juvenile frog, who looked like a wood frog to me.

  
I had to zoom in to the maximum to get a halfway decent picture because he was so tiny and he kept running away from the crazy lady on the ground making weird happy sounds at him.

Then we were at our destination – a replica of the Nydam boat. One of the local group members told us about the discovery, all the broken weapons inside the boat, and their theory about why. Apparently the Nydam holy lake contained 5 captures warships, sunk into the lake as an offering to Odin, and the broken collected weapons from those 5 warships as well.

  
The ship in the shelter – they were re-sealing the floor wih tar. It smelled very piney.

  
Inside the boat – there was room enough for 30 oarsmen and 20 additional warriors. They usually fill the bottom of the boat with about 2 tonnes of rocks for ballast but they don’t know if the Angles (it was an Angle/German warship) would have done that. But otherwise the ship isn’t super stable.

  
The interpreter said that they had looked everywhere to find an appropriate tree for the keel beam – it had to be very large and an oak. They finally found one in the forest  nearby the lake and they were able to convince the landowner/farmer to allow them to harvest it for the boat rebuilding.

Because of the local history, the Nydam boat is in a German museum to the south, since they had been a part of Germany for about 60 years. So the landowner/farmer was quite happy to contribute to the rebuilding of their boat. The local group is also continuing to archaeologically excavate the holy lake site (now a field because the lake was filled with detritus over the years).

We headed back to our meeting and were very productive for the rest of the day. I credit the fresh air. We even finished earlier than we anticipated. Then we had some time before our fancy dinner.

  
The dining room of  the manor house.

  
The sitting room we had found in our explorations the night before.

  
The library with many Danish books.

It was a lovely meal and a good time to connect with different colleagues.

Now I’m on my way back to North America. I’ll blog about that tomorrow. :)

  
Danish outlets look so happy/cute.

  
Roses still blooming outside of our meeting place.

Sonderborg

On Wednesday morning, my colleague and I spent a bit of time in the morning exploring the Sonderborg waterfront and the Sonderborg Slot (Palace). It began still pretty foggy out and gradually cleared during the day.  

 
We walked along the waterfront to the marina, watching gulls (potentially silver gulls, according to the information panel for children) crack open common mussels on the promenade. The trees were strong and interestingly shaped and some of them were not identifiable by this North American biologist. We also saw a bigger sea gull dancing on the lawn of one of the marina buildings. He was really just standing in one spot, repeatedly shuffling his feet. We wondered if there was something wrong with him because he didn’t seem to be pecking at anything, just shuffling. Then I suggested he was the marina’s special dancing gull practicing his routine for that night.

  
Then we walked back to the Sonderborg Slot, or palace. It has been a palace for a long while, and you can tell that it has been rebuilt a few times by the mosaic of different bricks and stones. Some of those were due to damage from warfare, and others seem to be renovations. We walked around and explored a ruined tower that had been excavated. Unfortunately a rather deep puddle existed in the tunnel leading to the open room in the tower so we didn’t enter but there were tower stairs that lead down to a locked gate, where we could look in to see how large the tower had been. Sadly, the museum part of  the palace didn’t open until 1pm so we weren’t able to go inside and learn more of the history, since we had to go to our meeting – the whole reason we are in Denmark to begin with! But we did learn about the German bombardment of 1864 when the region came under German control, which ended in 1920 when it reverted back to Denmark.

  
Patchwork brick and stone on the palace

  
The ruined excavated tower

  
The wet tunnel

We walked into a couple of the town’s side streets nearby but then decided to just go to Sandbjerg Gods and to explore the manor grounds there.

  
Really cute houses in Sonderborg.

The taxi ride didn’t take very long and we dropped our stuff in our rooms and went for a walk on the Nydamstien.

 
First we met a curious Highland bull. The electric fence was humming.

  

 We took a well travelled and marked path through the woods, which were predominantly oak, beech and perhaps an ash (not sure which variety). It was actually very mild here so the trees were still turning colours and had most of their leaves. It was fascinating to see the hallmarks of long human habitation in the   area being borne out by some of the patterns of vegetation. We passed many raspberry canes and rose bushes travelling along a field edge, and then came upon a living fence of beech trees.

  
We turned around after we reached a fork in the road (one less travelled) because we anticipated the arrival of more of our colleagues. Which was fine because we were halfway through the 7.7 km circuit.

And then our meeting began in the afternoon, in a quaint building that had once been the farmer’s house who had tended the land for the manor, I surmise. It was really cute.

  

 The front room where we did not have our meeting, but the best picture I took… 

 More to come – we take the road less travelled in the woods and learn some local history.

Painting and preparing

I’m back in the studio/office tonight. I had a lovely visit over a lovely sushi dinner with a lovely friend, which usually ends fairly early because we meet up right after work. So now I’ve finished my chores and I’m reaching for the blue and white paint to work on the painting with the cirrus clouds again. But I thought I’d blurt out a quick blog post first.

My boss and I had a good chat today that actually encouraged me to do more painting. He’s also an artist and he told me the number of paintings he’d made/sold in the past couple of years, and I thought “Jeez, I need to paint more…”

Also, in a few days, I’ll be boarding yet another trans-Atlantic jet to go to a meeting for work. It’s going to be a quick trip, but I’m hoping to post a few pictures and impressions. This time, we’re headed to Denmark. I’ve never been, so that should be fun. I have to pick up some Danish krone tomorrow, and set out my clothes. Luckily, it looks like the temperature there is essentially the same is it is here now – between 8 and 11C – so my current coat setup and shoes should be appropriate.

Okay, just a quick one. I’m going to see how many canvases I can add to tonight. :) And still get a decent amount of sleep. ;)

Snapshot Saturday

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Flying in to Anchorage over glacier topped mountains.

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Two gigantic bears mounted in my colleague’s hotel lobby. The polar bear was 10 feet tall and 1200 pounds, and the brown bear was slightly shorter (though still close to 10 feet tall) and probably closer to 1500 pounds.

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Looking back to Anchorage from the Coastal Trail.

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A golden eagle sitting in a tree.