Tuesday, 29 November 2016

In love in Iceland - Day 1

It was a treat to myself.
Or should I say to my inner seven-year old pony-mad self?
The little kid with the blonde plaits and scruffy jeans who liked nothing more than to muck about with ponies.

I had arranged a Northern Lights Ride with Responsible Travel.
Three days of Icelandic horses.

On the first day I met this guy whose name was the Icelandic version of Storm.

 I wish I'd written the names down but the others in the party (all Germans whose youth and style and general self-confidence made me feel a tad old and silly at times, though the fault was mine, they were lovely), were less horse-mad than me and I had to temper my enthusiasm a little so as to at least make a show of a stiff upper-lip.

Storm was afraid of mounting blocks, which made the first day challenging for me with my arthritic knees. He also seemed to be startled by the sound of ice cracking, which I thought was amusing since he must hear it often, until the guide pointed out that perhaps he was spooked by the elves. More on those guys later!  

Storm and I got along like long-lost buddies. And he even performed a tolt for me which is, if you've never experienced it, like going into fifth gear on the smoothest road in a Ferrari after bumping along in a wheelbarrow over stones. Make sense?

The weather was not conducive to riding, a sharp frost on top of snow. Thick ice that made the horses  slither and slide but never, not once, stumble, and thin ice that broke under-hoof plunging furry legs into deep and freezing muddy water.

The farm lent us warm outer-clothing and I had ski gloves and thermals so I was warm and toasty. And Storm had his double coat of Icelandic hair. 
In the afternoon we had new horses. I'll call him Blackie. 
Blackie was a bit of a boy! Not as sure-footed as Storm, not willing to tolt, prone to getting left behind. It was a little nerve-wracking, especially since the afternoon ride was through a fast-flowing icy river and up and down some steep paths.

I started to get anxious. I am good at anxious, anxious having been my constant state for many years.

And then I thought, relax and let it be.
And so when the others got too far ahead and Blackie's bouncy trot was too hard on my back and he got so fast he stumbled, I let him him have his head and he cantered and instead  of being tense and stressed we caught up with the end of the ride with him doing a good impersonation of a rocking horse and me laughing and happy.

And that was a major lesson for me.
The letting go and trusting.

So, seven hours in the saddle over some pretty challenging terrain, a fantastic first day!

Thursday, 24 November 2016

Reykjaik Rocks...

The airport seemed to be full of young people, adventurous young people with tons of outdoor gear and some serious hiking boots, and I felt a little old and out of place, until I reminded myself that my own luggage comprised serious riding boots, and my hat, and new chaps, gloves, thermals and waterproofs. 

I had also come to Iceland for an adventure.

The trip to Reykjavik was fun. You buy a ticket for the FlyBus from the booth near the exits and then wander out to the bus where a burly chap loads the luggage and a nice lady driver enquires where you are going. And then you set off, driving into the sunset, over lava fields, with tantalising glimpses of the seashore and little house lit up with Christmas lights, and snowy mountains in the distance, until you reach the city.

The driver will then tell those staying at city-centre guesthouses to get off and transfer to a minibus for the remainder of the journey, so it's all out with your luggage and into the minibus whose driver has a wicked sense of humour and calls each passenger he drops off his 'favourite new friend'. I was the last favourite new friend to be deposited at my guest house which would, in the past, have made me nervy and sitting on the edge of my seat, but I was in Iceland and I was taking things as they came.

The Sunna guesthouse is spotlessly clean and located right near the church whose spire towers over Reykjavik, which is excellent for a person such as me who has no sense of direction and can easily get lost in a large room. It's also an eco-guesthouse, committed to cutting down on waste and not over-using resources. My room was on the ground floor which, with that church nearby and a busy, busy road outside was noisy and that would, a few days ago, have had me scuttling to reception to ask to move somewhere quieter but, hey, Iceland, chill-out, no problem. I had earplugs.

And so to find somewhere to eat.
There's a place nearby called the Loki Cafe; in the evenings the upstairs is where you go for authentic Icelandic food, It's really friendly, perfect for a single diner who is prone to being shy.

The menu is limited, which makes choosing your meal simpler and a bit more interesting because you can;t chicken-out and stick to the familiar. Even so, I think. I was a tad cautious because I chose the fish and potato gratin.

I declined to try the shark fermented in urine. Yes, seriously, the Icelanders eat this, or so they assured me, I watched a Japanese guy try one mouthful, it did not seem to have been a happy experience.

And then desert, a pancake filled with skyr and topped with a caramel sauce and cream.

I kind of got the feeling I'd be eating a lot of fish during the trip.
That suits me but I had to smile at the sign on the wall, it would have made my non-fish-loving ex-husband's heart sink.

And so back to my guesthouse to prepare for bed.
I know that Icelanders like to rock and roll that the city comes alive at around midnight, that out there there would be some serious partying going on, but I'd had enough excitement for one day. It was time for a cup of herbal tea and bed.

So earplugs in and lights out and time to sleep.

Tuesday, 22 November 2016

Rebooting ...

It had been eight and a half years since I boarded a plane, the last time being a short hop across the Channel when I was house-hunting in England before moving back to take up the job with The New Employer. 

Goodness, how different life is now, all these years later.   

Here's the thing ...
Sometimes we need to reboot our lives, return to a Restore Point, turn back the clock, mentally, at least. I came to that conclusion recently when I was leafing through a box of my mother's photographs and found some of my own that were during a holiday in Finland with The Rags. I was taken-aback by how relaxed and happy we looked, well, how relaxed and happy I looked, especially when I glanced in a mirror and saw how sad and stressed I had grown. 

Now, I can't completely turn back the clock. I can't bring back the loved-ones that I have lost in the last 12 years. I can't take away the stresses that almost broke me and I can't undo the physical and emotional effects of cancer.   

But I can chose to be, once again, that relaxed and happy person. 
So I set to thinking how to achieve that and the first thing that occurred to me was that I needed to get back my confidence and courage. And what better way to do that than to leave a rather wild and storm-battered Britain and head for somewhere I have never been.

To embark on an adventure ...

 And once there, to explore, to discover, to re-discover my sense of fun.

I'll update you with what, precisely, that entails tomorrow. For now I am sitting in a hotel room in a place north of Reykjavik watching snowflakes falling and wondering what the management would say if I went outside to make snow angels. Have I ever mentioned how much I love snow?

Friday, 18 November 2016

A Sunday in Roscoff ...

When I'm in Brittany at the same time as my friends Jill and Simon, Jill and I try to arrange a Girl's Day Out in the company of Hilary, another friend who is a permanent resident of the village.

We usually take it in turns to decide where we go and what we do, suffice to say it always involves a good lunch, a little exploring and a great deal of talking and laughing. Which is the perfect recipe for a Sunday.

Last Sunday there was some discussion, it was Jill's turn to decide, she wasn't sure, I was longing for the sea, Hilary mentioned Roscoff but since I would be driving ...

I've never been to Roscoff, unlike Hilary who frequently catches a ferry from there to Plymouth. It is, of course, in Finistère, which I always think of as wild and 'foreign', and a little like Laurie Lee and the notion of not venturing further than the next village in the valley, I tend to stick to my own turf, but it was a sunny Sunday and we had a fair wind and so ...  

Roscoff it was ...

In the distance you can see the île de Batz - Brittany tourist board link here. Ile de Batz is a beautiful little island with sandy beaches, legendary dragons and serpents, exotic gardens and a lighthouse that you can visit.

Next time, we agreed, we'll spend a day over there.

As ever we learned something, this time it was a history lesson, that Mary Queen of Scots, also of France, having been betrothed to François II, arrived in Roscoff in August 1548 at the tender age of six.

We had lunch at L'Auberge du Quai just round the corner. It's a really nice restaurant with friendly staff who do not look superior if an English diner speaks less-than perfect French, and an extensive menu, naturally leaning towards fish but with plenty for meat-eaters. I had fish soup, salmon tagliatelle and the apple tart with salted caramel sauce. It was delicious but next time we are there we promised that we'd throw caution to the winds and share a huge platter of fruits de mer.
When in Finistère etc ...    

After lunch we wandered...
Into a chocolaterie.
What a happy wandering that was!

Tempting, so tempting but all I bought was a box of macarons for The Ragazza.

My friends, who like to window-shop, remarked on my tendency to walk with my gaze upwards, why was that, they wondered, until I pointed out the architecture the angles and corners of roofs, the little turrets, the lace-dressed windows and the stone facades. Ah, yes, they agreed, look up...

As we walked we could hear music, beautiful music, it was coming from the church in which there was a concert in aid of the children of Madagascar taking place. If we had known we would have bought tickets, we agreed, what a shame, but still lovely to be able to enjoy the music as we passed by.


We popped into a salon de té, Not for tea but to buy a present for Hilary's husband - a large china mug decorated with horses and ponies and donkeys. While we waited it was beautifully gift-wrapped, bien sûr.

The tide had come in by the time we began to head back to the car and was lapping at the foundations of the buildings that back onto the seashore. I was fascinated by this, by the proximity of the water, the sound of the waves on the rocks, it seemed a little wild and dangerous, in an exciting way.

As I said, that's how I see Finistère.

And it occurs to me now that the roots of that may lie in the relationship I had with a man from Finistère when I lived in Brittany - a rather wild and dangerous liaison but one that was exciting and never, ever dull.      

I've always been secretly fond of demons and devils :)