December 25th-31st

December 25th

Dog in a Christmas Day sunbeam.

Christmas dinner table and tree.

December 26th

On the road again, continuing the Christmas road trip with a southern leg.

Crossing over the St Lawrence River.

Winter wonderland in New York state.

December 27th

Arrived safely in West Virginia, and all the lights are lit.

Sparkle lantern, rather than a snow globe. :)

A winter village, lovingly assembled by my DH’s family.

December 28th

My morning yoga spot, where I’m trying to recover my back from the hotel we stayed in halfway through our trip down.

Some Canadian content in our lunchtime excursion into town.

Some local wildlife wandering through the back yard.

December 29th

Last stop in the Christmas road trip – a grandpuppy in Virginia.

December greenery.

Wine, knitting, a fire, and chatting after dinner.

December 30th

Our trip back north was fairly quick and easy. Some rural Virginia as we trekked cross country to rejoin the 81.

Leaving Maryland for Pennsylvania.

Bucolic New York State and finding the snow again.

December 31st

Nee Year’s Eve party at our friends’ place. Full of fluffy pets, hilarious kids, and lovely adults.

Mmm, fondue…

Fireside knitting and chatting again.

Mmm, midnight pie.

I finished my Hitchhiker scarf! Binding off did happen this morning (January 1st), but only because sleep had to occur last night. ;)

And I borrowed time on my friend’s swift and winder to prep several projects worth of wool – skeins I bought in PEI this summer.

December 9th

Last sunrise in Barcelona

Good omen at Charles de Gaulle airport as we were trying to find our next flight.

That was the cruise at the beginning of December. I was going to post one entry for each day, but I didn’t obviously do that here. I did do it on my Instagram and Facebook, but I will put together a compilation of the remaining December weeks for the rest of it, to catch my blog up. :)

December 4

I’ll gradually catch up. I don’t want to overload the blog with posts tonight.

Here’s my post for December 4th, our outing to Lucca and Vinci.

An example of an interesting regional architectural style on the first church we encountered upon entering the medieval town walls of Lucca.

Someone’s gorgeous “window box” of plants and succulents.

Then we headed up to Vinci, and learned about Leonardo da Vinci’s (Leonardo from Vinci) life.

The beautiful countryside in Tuscany around his birthplace.

There were olives on the olive trees lining the path to the house.

Then we went to the Leonardo da Vinci Museum to look at his designs and machines. Such brilliance.

Rainbow angles on a piece of marble showing Leonardo’s hoist.

And as a bonus – The olive groves around Vinci.

December 3

My trip to Pisa, Italy in a few shots:

The Square of Miracles

The dome in the Baptistery, which has amazing acoustics.

The 24 karat gold ceiling of the Cattedrale Metropolitana Primaziale di Santa Maria Assunta.

The bones of Saint Rainerius, patron saint of Pisa.

The slightly-less-Leaning Tower of Pisa (viewed from the side it is leaning to).

Technical difficulties

Sorry for the lack of posts. I’m hoping this will go up. The wifi I’ve been using hasn’t been allowing me to do any uploads in the past day. And the day before, I was kind of a mess of no sleep from my trans-Atlantic flight, and my body was in emergency shutdown mode that had me trying to nod off every time I sat down.

Hopefully I’ll be able to post something later today. We’re off to Florence for our Da Vinci excursion!

Norway first

I know, it’s the first week of July and I started a new theme, but I also just had a week-ish long trip to Norway that I’d like to write up. I’ll write about this month this weekend.

So, Norway! It’s a bit of a haul to get there, at least according to the flight plan that I ended up getting. About ten hours of flight time, with a couple of layovers, so another couple of all nighters to get there and back. But I happily had pretty good seats. The only leg that was a little awkward was the short hop from Copenhagen to Oslo where I was sitting next to a man with broad shoulders. I’m not exactly a shrinking violet myself, and often have trouble sitting next to people who also have shoulders… or hips… but he was very considerate and I think we collectively tried not to infringe on each other too much.

Once I bobble-headed my way to my hotel via a (very expensive) taxi, I dropped my things and headed to the Viking Ship Museum, following my usual routine of forcing myself to stay awake at my destination until a reasonable bedtime. And wouldn’t you know it that my “oh, that’s only like 4.5km from my hotel” turned into “oh dear, I may have bitten off more than I can chew…” as my body made me realize that, yes, I had just been sitting still for eight hours on a transAtlantic flight and been pressurized and why was I putting myself through this?

Don’t get me wrong, I enjoyed the warm, fresh air, finding the Royal farm on the outskirts of Oslo, and the adventure of following my map and making my way around an inlet of the Oslofjord to get to the museum. I made it to the museum with a whole 45 minutes before closing time! And it was entirely worth it.

Thank goodness that the Vikings buried these ships in such a way that they were preserved. They were awesome. It was really cool to see how big the ship was and some of the things that were buried with the people whose grave it was.

I was also hoping to get to the History Museum during this trip but alas my timing didn’t line up. I was there for a conference, after all, which also took place during working hours.

I stayed until the museum closed and stopped to have a waffle with jam at the little café outside. Then I walked (slowly and painfully) back to my hotel area, after stopping at a roadside fruit stand and getting myself some nectarines and green apples for my room, for snacks. I needed to have dinner though, and the restaurant in my hotel was sadly a chicken and ribs place, so I popped into a tapas restaurant around the corner called Delicatessen for dinner. I had a lovely little dinner of green beans, grilled shrimp and bread with aioli. Then I slept for 12 hours…

The next morning, I had breakfast at the somewhat typical (in my small experience) and delicious Scandinavian breakfast buffet. Basically any kind of breakfast you could want, they offered. Delicious amazing oatmeal, eggs three different ways (scrambled, sunny side up or soft boiled), various breakfast meats, pancakes, cheeses, cold cuts, pickled herring (yum), fresh veggies, fruit, yogurt, granola, muesli, cereal, breads, juices, coffee, tea or hot chocolate… it was great. I found I was able to eat heartily and not be starving by the time lunch rolled around. And to even question if I needed lunch.

Since I had a little bit of time before the conference started, I headed to Vigeland Park to do some journaling and see the sculptures. It was a lovely place bustling with people strolling and touristing, and children having outdoor education classes (I think?) I sat on a bench in a shady spot and journaled for a bit and then had to move when I was very nearly the unfortunate receiving surface of some sparrow poo. There were a lot of sparrows taking little dust baths in the fine gravel of the pathway along the benches, and other birds flying around. What I roughly identified as a European robin species (?) landed in the garden next to my bench and seemed to put on some sort of display, ruffling up the feathers on its back, fanning its wings cup-like towards the ground on either side of its body, flaring its tail and opening its beak. I wasn’t sure if it was alright or suffering from the heat, but it eventually left, so I guess it didn’t get the response it wanted.

Oh yeah, and I think Oslo was experiencing a bit of a heat wave when I was there.

But back to the sculptures. So apparently, Oslo gave Gustav Vigeland this area so he could create his legacy there, so the park and everything in it as exactly as he wanted to present his work. It was lovely.

I didn’t get to see all 200 of the sculptures here, but I did get a sunburn, because me.

After this little adventure, I had to go to the opening of my conference! The conference was small but really great. I’m really glad that I was able to attend it.

I tried to pay attention to my surroundings to see more of Oslo while I was there working. I noticed a lot of Teslas driving around, but I also noticed the gas prices on my last day being about 16kr per litre, which is about $2.52 Canadian (which is much better than the 164kr I thought it was which is $26 per litre…)

I was there quite close to the summer solstice so I was experiencing some of southern Norway’s longest days. This was a shot of 11:09 pm on June 26th from my hotel window. Unfortunately, my hotel didn’t have air conditioning so I had to try to balance having my window open all night to get cooler air into my room with also needing my blackout curtains pulled, and that my room overlooked the street with the tram line. I didn’t get a lot of sleep last week.

I was delighted by their downtown corvids. I kept an ear out for the rough calls of ravens, and I was not disappointed. I found one hanging around a little strip of park that was on my way to the metro every day, and one day, a raven was also taking a bath at a little sidewalk fountain. They were lovely. This one was calling from the tram lines, just before the park.

I was also there for Oslo Pride week, so on our conference dinner evening, which took place down at the Oslo Opera House, I walked past the big street party that was going on in the downtown core near one of the universities. It sounded pretty fun.

I did walk up the opera house, twice, that evening. The first time on my own when I arrived down there, just because one of the conference organizers suggested it as a fun thing to do (it was). Although there is a ton of construction going on down by the water so the skyline is kind of interrupted by cranes.

The clearest shot I could make, but very interesting building designs going up.

And the second time was after dinner with a few people I had sat with at dinner. It was much cooler the second time since the sun was going down.

There are even cranes in that one!

The rest of the conference went by quickly and then it was time to return home. I set my alarm for 3am on Friday (which was 9pm the day before back home) and took another (more expensive because it was “overnight”) taxi to the airport (complete with detour around the closed offramp for the airport). Luckily the fare for the taxis is agreed upon before your trip starts so that sort of thing doesn’t hugely increase your costs.

3:05am, June 29, Oslo.

The trip home was a bit long – 22 hours or so in transit. But the flights were again fairly smooth and easy. And I came back to Canada and another heat wave. Hello summer!

I definitely want to go back and do a tourist thing. Maybe head up along the coast, and get as far as Lofoten. My friend highly recommended it. Heck, maybe I could even get up to Tromsø. :)

Farewell, Norway! Until next time!

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. :)