Tuesday, October 9, 2018

London's Inevitable Draw

The funny thing is that I didn't used to think I was a London fan.

Nothing against the city (I'd been here a couple times, years ago, before moving to the UK). It's just that there are so many other places I want to go! Why go back to London, where I'd been before, when I could go somewhere new instead?

But then I went to London last year (that was my one weekend away that I was able to sneak in, before grad school got intense and stayed that way), and I had so much fun. I think it helped that I came with a goal (see as much theater as possible) rather than being simply a tourist in general, not sure where to start in such a big city.

Whatever the reason, I fell for London. (And this from a not-a-city-person!) I feel about London the way I feel about New York City: would never want to live here (spending any amount of time whatsoever on the Tube makes me hate EVERYTHING), but what a fun place it is to visit.

Now, as my extended research/wrapping-everything-up-in-Scotland trip is wrapping up, I'll be flying out of London tomorrow. Leaving via London was the only affordable option, but I'm glad of it – I get one more night train down from Scotland (night train!), and one last London jaunt before I officially no longer live in the UK.

I get to spend two days in London, and I feel fortunate. Here, have some glimpses:

My hostel looks out on St Pancras, seen here in gorgeous early morning light.

My fannishness always seems to come out in London, too; I'm staying near the location that serves as the exterior for 221B Baker Street on BBC Sherlock, so I popped over there yesterday and had breakfast at the café downstairs, right in front of the famous door. It's goofy, but it made me very happy.

These have been two utterly gorgeous days; yesterday I wandered around in Regent's Park (and saw a heron??), strolled into Camden Town and then a ways along Regent's Canal – which might now be my new favorite part of London. Houseboats and ducks and swans and a hippie vibe and this amazing hidden water-and-green-space winding right through the heart of the city.

Last night I saw Underground Railroad Game, a play about racism and the legacy of slavery in the US. It's a play that's powerful and uncomfortable, and apparently has been making a splash in both the US and UK. Today I saw Othello at the Globe Theatre (as in, the one that's a reconstruction of Shakespeare's theater), with André Holland (of Moonlight) among other excellent actors.

I was a groundling (standing room on the ground on front of the stage) just like in Shakespeare's day, which means much of the action happened about four feet from my face! Standing through a full-length Shakespeare play isn't fun, but it was worth it for the price (£5! for excellent professional Shakespeare!) and even more for the close-up view of the stage.

Among other things so far, I also dropped in at the Tate Modern, continued the culinary tour of places various friends have recommended, and had a long ramble along the Thames at sunset.

I knew the Thames was tidal, but I didn't realize just how great the high-low tide difference was, or that there are places where gates open in the railing of the walkway above and steps lead down to the sand beach that's revealed when the tide is low. It was really cool to see people playing on the beach right there on the Thames in the middle of the city.

London can be a lovely place, which I think is the other thing I didn't expect in a city this big, bustling and sometime chaotic. (Seriously, the Tube at peak commuting times...sometimes it's too crowded to even enter the station, let alone get to a train.)

But London at dusk, from the south bank of the Thames? Even those big ugly skyscrapers look pretty in that light.

Sunday, September 23, 2018

God dag, Stockholm

So, this is going to be an interesting week, as my brain attempts to interpret every bit of language it hears or sees as Icelandic. It's not Icelandic, it's Swedish. I'm in Sweden. Looks and sometimes sounds like Icelandic, but, Sweden.

I can't even say hello (god dag), because my attempt comes out something like a cross between Icelandic and Dutch. Which, no, it's definitely not that.

But, yes, hello Sweden!

It's sort of odd, because I didn't come to Stockholm for Stockholm. (I picked the public library that seemed best for the research I'm doing; to be honest I was kind of hoping for Oslo, because Norway is the Scandinavian country I know the least. But you go where the evidence leads you.) So I hadn't thought at all about what Stockholm is like, or what one does in Stockholm. I'd completely forgotten that it's a lovely place! Here's the sky this evening, from my hostel window:

I love Stockholm already. Cars stop for pedestrians. The evening light is lovely, reflecting off the buildings. The city is full of parks. Everything seems to be named after Astrid Lindgren. And the LIBRARY, OH, LET ME TELL YOU ABOUT THE LIBRARY.

Today, before starting my research proper tomorrow, I went to check out Stadsbiblioteket, the city library. (This isn't even the library I'm here to study; it's another amazing library.) As you walk up the stairs, it's like emerging into some great temple. But a temple of books:

Pictures don't do it justice at all. Imagine my face the whole time I was in that room; it was something like this:

And that's just the main room; there are also side rooms for nonfiction, and spaces for quiet study, and a wonderful children's section with children's books in so many languages (always my kryptonite). Children's books in Farsi! Children's books in Sami! So many children's books in Finnish. A whole shelf of Icelandic.

Here's the "baby carriage parking area" – can't say they don't know their audience:

So that was the library; other than that I've mostly just been getting my bearings (and some groceries) before diving into my research all this coming week.

Good lord, I must be in Scandinavia. So many yogurt products and variations on yogurt products:


Saturday, September 22, 2018

Back in Aberdeen (but not for long...)

Hello again, my lovely River Dee:

Yeah, it's been a whirlwind. After moving back to the US from the UK in July, I'm now already back in Europe. (Though just visiting.)

The point of this trip was 1) a friend's wedding, and 2) some research I needed to do for my master's thesis. But as always, I added things...

In the past just-under-a-month, I've been in:

Iceland, to once again be part of the Melodica Reykjavík Festival, and to see some of my dear people there. This is only the third time I've been part of Melodica, but it feels like something that's always been, and is essential. I really didn't think I would be able to make it to Melodica Reykjavík this year, but I needed it so much that I made it happen.

Germany, for a friend's wedding and to see more of my dear people there. It had been two years since I was last in Berlin (and nearly four years since I moved away) but once again it felt like I could simply step back into my life that was there ready and waiting for me. Two years is too long to be away from the place that's still where so many of my friends are. I hope I can get back sooner next time.

Scotland, to knuckle down in the uni library and get a lot of work done on my master's thesis, so I would be ready for the research I need to conduct next week. Also to wrap up loose ends I didn't have time to deal with when I left so precipitously. (Hello, boxes that still need to be shipped to the US...)

Now I've just arrived in SWEDEN, where this coming week I'll be doing a case study of a couple of really excellent public libraries. I got a grant to fund this research and everything – feels pretty unreal. And amazing!

God kväll, Stockholm!

Saturday, August 18, 2018

A Highlands Jaunt

I'm now back in the US sooner than expected and will be finishing my research & dissertation from here. BUT, just before I left Scotland, my friend Lisa came over from Germany to visit me, and among other things we took what was (for me) a long-awaited trip into the highlands: to Cairngorms National Park.

The Cairngorms are a big swath of mountains and forests basically right next to Aberdeen, and all year this was at the top of my list of places I wanted to visit, but the nature of being in grad school meant I didn't find the time to go there until my final week in Aberdeen. So it goes! It was beautiful and totally worth it.

We did a circle, taking the train north to Inverness (another nearby place I finally got to for the first time) then down around the other side of the Cairngorms to Aviemore, and into the national park to stay in Glenmore. For the route back we went the other way, south to Perth and Dundee, then back up along the beautiful eastern coast – including a stop in Stonehaven for the Highland Games!


(Nope, sorry, still haven't learned how to embed that link so that it shows a cover image instead of just text...even though you'd think Google Photos and Google Blogger would play nicely together, no?)

Saturday, July 7, 2018


There's been an unexpected visitor round our place, these last couple of days.

Thursday, June 21, 2018


Happy solstice! This was the sky just after midnight last night in Aberdeen:

You can see that it's dark but not completely dark – there's some definite blue going on behind the banks of clouds. (And would be a lot more blue, if there weren't so many clouds...)

Orkney and Shetland have what they call "simmer dim" – those twilight summer nights that never get completely dark; the sun goes down, but the sky never moves beyond an extended twilight. But I wasn't expecting quite so much light in the sky at midnight down here in Aberdeen!

Today, on the solstice, sunrise was 4:12 am and sunset will be 10:08 pm. Contrasts rather wonderfully with the 3:26 pm sunset of the winter solstice! (Here's my post from then, half a year ago.)

Friday, May 11, 2018

Photos from Iceland (in January)

Months belated, because I am both way too busy and also a really absurd perfectionist, but now finally, in May, I've finished putting together albums from my most recent time in Iceland . . . in January.

There's a:

REYKJAVÍK ALBUM (including my wondrous rapture at the sea, the snow, the stunning light; beautiful times with good friends; and did I mention the gorgeous, gorgeous light)

and an

ÍSAFJÖRÐUR ALBUM (including romps through the beautiful, snow-covered fjord; celebrating the return of the sun after the deepest part of winter, wonderful friends (and a wonderful cat), and my study of what daylight looks like in a northern fjord in January)

As always, it's the irritating Google Photos set-up that doesn't always show the captions...and the captions are much of the fun and work that goes into it! So click the little "i" symbol if you want to read my hopefully humorous thoughts about the pictures.

Wednesday, May 9, 2018

Home again (for a given value of home)

I'm back in Aberdeen, where I arrived yesterday to bafflingly warm weather and a profusion of springtime flowers the likes of which we hadn't yet even dreamt of up north in Orkney.

It turns out my apartment building is surrounded by cherry trees! And apple trees! And daffodils! Aberdeen, usually so gray, has burst into sudden life.

Also, I made a map to show where I went during my month (plus a week) in Orkney. It's crudely drawn, but it gives as sense of it.

First, here's a zoomed out version that shows where Orkney is in relation to the rest of Scotland, and includes my trip up from Aberdeen by train and short ferry, and back down by overnight long ferry:

 And here's the map zoomed in to just Orkney. I managed to get to 10 different islands (there are 70 total, 20 inhabited), which I think is not bad at all, considering I was also working full time while I was there! Here's a visual representation of my time on Mainland (lots of parts of it), Hoy, Rousay, Lamb Holm, Glims Holm, Burray, South Ronaldsay, Westray, Papa Westray (Papay) and North Ronaldsay:

Monday, May 7, 2018

Greetings from North Ron

Greetings from North Ronaldsay, the northernmost of the already quite northern Orkney islands. (Why yes, I do have a pattern.)

I finished my INDESCRIBABLY FANTASTIC fieldwork placement at Orkney Library a week ago – though they must be thoroughly sick of me by now, because I hung around in the library most of the next days, too, working working working on my coursework. (The assignment deadlines come furiously one after another both during and directly after the period where we're also required to be focusing full time on the fieldwork placement...the system is not terribly well thought out.)

I've been so grateful to be able to stay on in Orkney a little longer (I don't have hard and fast appointments back in Aberdeen until this coming week), which means I've been able to see a little more of the islands, even though most of my time I'm frantically working on assignments. Hence these couple of days on North Ronaldsay, where I've been partly exploring the beautiful coast, and partly working on assignments from a window overlooking the sea. Despite the looming deadline stress, it's a very good life. 

Incidentally, the only way to get to this particular island (aside from the ferry that goes only once a week!) is by tiny 8-seater plane. It was definitely the smallest plane of my life, and it was SO COOL. Here's a view over the pilot's shoulder, coming in to land on North Ronaldsay:

Now sharing the hostel with me are an adorably enthusiastic group of bird-watchers (North Ron is a major stopover for migrating birds, and the hostel here is an offshoot of the bird observatory). I'm getting up early tomorrow to go with them to see the "mist nets," where scientists catch, tag and release birds so populations can be monitored, before I have to head back out to Kirkwall then on the overnight ferry back to Aberdeen. 

Oh, and? North Ron, in addition to being beautiful (and covered in birds), is home to the famous seaweed-eating sheep. Yes, you read that right. Fences keep them out of the farmland of the island's interior and on the communal coast, where they live primarily on seaweed. They (the sheep) seem pretty chill about it: