2018 Recap + 2019 Goals

Posted on December 30, 2018 under Life

Arriving in Glasgow after Christmas; seeing Trixie Mattel’s one woman show; first snow of 2018 in the Glasgow Botanics

Well, another year has come and gone and now it’s time to reflect on the past 365 days. In 2018, I finished my Master’s degree (and, if I may brag, I graduated with distinction after receiving As in all my classes and on my dissertation), refined my academic interests and created several projects reflecting them, moved back to Canada, left the job I’d had on-and-off since I was 19, started a new job that made me much happier, made new friends, lost a pet, travelled quite a bit, helped my dad become a Canadian citizen, got two new piercings, and read a fair amount. I have (mostly) ironed my sleep schedule out after years of intermittent to chronic insomnia. Obviously, the end of the year was really stressful since my dad had a heart attack at the beginning of this month, but he is recovering well and I have high hopes for good health and lots of family time in 2019.

The Beast from the East hitting Glasgow; adorable Ashton Lane; seeing Arcade Fire in London

Here’s how I did with my 2018 goals, which as usual I set and promptly forgot about:

  • Finish my MA with an A average: I most certainly did achieve this goal. I was really nervous after I turned in my dissertation even though I’d only received good feedback on it, but I ended up getting straight As. I thought I would get a B+ in one or two of my classes, so I was very relieved when I got my grades back.
  • At a bar in Soho to celebrate Aisling‘s birthday; spring in London; a sheep at golden hour on the Isle of Skye
  • Complete all my readings and screenings before messing around on the internet: Honestly, I cannot remember if I did this or not. I didn’t make a conscious effort to do it for most of the year, so probably not. However, I did keep on top of my readings and screenings for the most part. When I was writing my dissertation over the summer I pretty much exclusively worked on it first thing in the morning. So… half pass?
  • Get fitter: I was on and off but mostly off with this, but I would say I’m overall slightly more fit than I was in 2017. Still would not call this one a resounding success. I have been getting a lot of steps in lately, though.
  • Scottish highlands; sand dunes in Doagh, Ireland; holding a lamb in Dingle
  • Read 30 books: This time last year I said in all seriousness that 30 might be pushing it a bit, but I hit 30 in July and ended the year with an even 60 books read. This is obviously my biggest success of 2018, aside from the whole graduating from my MA programme with distinction.
  • Keep to my beauty budget, consume mindfully, and enjoy using what I have: I will do a separate post on this because it’s a Big Thing, but, yes, I think I was generally successful here.

Standing in two seas at once in Skagen, Denmark; Vestmanna, Faroe Islands; coconut raspberry ice cream in Burlington, Ontario

As usual, I was moderately successful with my goals without managing to make any huge changes in 2018. I expect 2019 will be more of the same!

Honestly, 2019 is pretty up in the air for me. I don’t really want to get into it all right now, but I’m not sure where I’ll be (literally, I don’t know where I will be geographically located) this time next year, so it’s a bit hard for me to set goals knowing that my circumstances could change quite substantially by summer. So, here’s what I’ve come up with.

  • Read 50 books. I think I can probably surpass this, but I may not have the same amount of free time by the end of the year. (By the way, I work 40 hours a week with an hour commute each way, so it’s not like I’m actually swimming in free time at the moment.)
  • Reduce my “to read” list by 2/3. I love the “want to read” feature on Goodreads, because whenever I find myself inside of a bookstore I miraculously forget every book I’ve ever wanted to read and have to whip out my phone to consult this list. However, the list is fairly long, which makes me a bit anxious. I don’t want the list to ever get so long that it becomes unviable: I genuinely want to read every book on it! So this year I’m going to prioritize books I’ve added to this list. I’m going to throw myself another little challenge and say that anything added to the list prior to 2015 that I haven’t read by the close of 2019 will be deleted from the list, because if I haven’t read a book I marked as “to read” SEVEN YEARS AGO I am never going to. Anyway, the list is currently 57 books long, so I will have to read 38 from the list to complete this goal.
  • A bush just moments before a thunderstorm; sunset in the south of Toronto; testing out portrait mode on the iPhone X on Jet
  • Work out at least once a week. Last year’s goal of “get fitter” was very vague. This year I need a better benchmark. Last year when I was actually actively trying to get fitter I worked out 4-5 times a week, but I have been very all-or-nothing about the whole thing, hence the low goal. Basically I’m saying that when I’m in a good place I will definitely exceed this goal, but I have set it low so that I can reasonably force myself to meet it when I’m not really in a working out phase.
  • A great Starbucks moment; a catvoyant; my new haircut
  • Learn to cook dishes from 10 different countries. I love food, but I do not enjoy cooking. This is something I’ve been trying to get over for years, and I don’t really know at what point you have to admit “fake it ’til you make it” isn’t working, but I’m still faking it. I have decent cooking skills and I can follow a recipe, so this isn’t so much about becoming more skilled as it is about trying new things and continuing to force myself to like cooking. I kind of doubt that I will find great joy in the activity by December 31, 2019, but we can all hope.
  • Stop popping my zits. This was an unofficial goal four years ago, and I lasted about two weeks into 2015 before going ham on my face. However, the rare occasions when I manage to resist temptation, I am always amazed at how quickly zits heal – and without any of the gross scabby phase! I’m going to try to be a lot better about popping some salicylic acid onto my zits and letting them die naturally. Maybe this time I’ll actually manage to break the habit.

I’m not aiming terribly high this year, but I’m hoping to work on forming better habits and becoming a better adult. See you in 2019!

Receiving my Master’s degree; a cow spotted in Edinburgh; at the summit of Arthur’s Peak in Edinburgh with my brother

Spring 2018 Travels: Denmark and the Faroe Islands

Posted on June 12, 2018 under Life

I don’t really remember how this trip was shaped into its final form. Initially, the whole point was for my parents to visit me and show me the Scottish Highlands, since it seemed ridiculous for me to get my Master’s in Scotland and miss out on that breathtaking beauty. Then Ireland seemed like a good idea because of its proximity to the UK and the fact that me and my mom had been wanting my dad to see it for years. Denmark was just a bit of indulgence, really. I’d been to Copenhagen back in April 2015 and knew instantly that my Nordic-loving mom would love it, so it’s natural that we wanted to go. How exactly we decided to tack it onto the itinerary I’m not entirely sure. As for the Faroes, my mom has wanted to visit for most of her life, and it seemed criminal not to go if we were already going to be in Denmark.

My dad was not interested in this leg of our journey (or from being away from home for so long), so when we finished up in Ireland he flew back to Toronto and my mom and I were on to Denmark. We flew into Aalborg, a charming city in the north of the country. My impression of Aalborg is based on a very short time there during which all we really did was go out for dinner to Dalle Valle, an incredible buffet-style restaurant that I heartily recommend. That’s because we were in Aalborg overnight simply so we could get up to Skagen, which is a two hour train ride away.

Skagen is incredibly quaint. The town is lovely, filled with cute yellow buildings. However, we were not visiting for the town. No, we wanted to go to Grenen, the northernmost point in Denmark, where the Baltic Sea and North Sea meet. The quality of light at Grenen is unlike anything I’ve ever seen, the colours of the beach almost otherworldly. Pictures really don’t capture its incredible, bizarre beauty, nor what it looks like when the two seas meet. I realized at many moments throughout this trip that there are some places which are so special that they can only truly be appreciated in person, in the moment. You have your time in these incredible places, and you leave, and that’s all you get. Grenen is perhaps the most extreme example of this phenomenon that I personally have experienced. In photographs, it looks like a nice beach. In person, you can see the waves coming in from different angles, perpendicular, and you feel that this place has a quality that is entirely its own. There are some places in the world where you feel very small, and Grenen is one of them.

I first found out about Skagen and Grenen back in 2014, so this trip was four years in the making. It was an incredibly blustery day and a lovely ten degrees Celsius – but after years of wanting to be here, I had to take my hiking boots off and stand with my feet in both seas at once. The water was painfully cold, but I don’t regret it for a moment.

I think this photo best captures what I mean about Grenen being almost otherworldly, its colour palette just extraordinary.

After walking about 8km out to Grenen and back to our hotel, we had a lovely sushi dinner at Genki. The next morning, we were up early to catch a train to Copenhagen. We only had one full day there, which we spent wandering around city center. We did pop into the National Museum of Denmark to see some more bog bodies as well as some wonderful archaeological artifacts. We also had the most amazing Danish brunch at Café Europa. If you’re ever in Copenhagen I highly recommend trying this out. It’s entirely different from North American brunch and incredibly delicious.

Me and my mom were just talking about this meal the other day, and we both agreed that it was the culinary highlight of our trip. Be warned, though – it’s not cheap, coming out to about $60 CAD per person.

I was not moved to cart my DSLR around with me in Copenhagen, but here are a few shots I took with my phone:

Taken at King’s Garden, which houses Rosenborg Palace. The expression on the lion’s face cracks me up.

Christiansborg Palace and its cool rectangular hedges.

On Sunday morning we were off to the airport to fly the Faroe Islands! The airport in Vágar is the smallest one I’ve ever seen, with only two gates. (There are only two airlines that fly in and out of the Faroes.) It also has the most beautifully-situated parking lot in the world:

For those who don’t know, the Faroe Islands are an autonomous country owned by the Kingdom of Denmark. They have their own language, Faroese, which to a North American outsider resembles Icelandic, though Faroese people all seem to speak Danish and English as well. The entire country has a population of just 50,000. The climate hovers between about 6 and 15 Celsius year-round. The highest temperature ever measured there was 26.3 degrees Celsius, which is just 79 degrees Fahrenheit. I mean, 26 Celsius would be quite a mild day during the peak of summer here in Toronto, so for that to be the basically unheard of extreme in the Faroes is shocking to me!

Our cab ride to our Airbnb in Tórshavn was absolutely incredible. The Faroese landscape is like nothing I’ve ever seen. It’s endlessly mountainous but without trees, and everything is a strange yellowy green. Tórshavn, one of the smallest capital cities in the world, is filled with the cutest houses on planet Earth. We spent our first day there wandering around the historical district of Tinganes, and I was captivated by the architecture. There were daffodils everywhere, and I noticed a lot of windowsills were crammed with plants and trinkets. And I absolutely loved the use of colour, especially against the dark grey and black that many houses are painted.

We also stumbled upon the lovely Tórshavn Cathedral as we wandered:

Tórshavn is such a wonderfully picturesque place – we wandered all around the town and it was never anything less than adorable. I mean, really:

The next day we took a boat ride from the town of Vestmanna, dipping into little enclaves surrounded by incredibly high cliffs. The scenery was stunning beyond belief, and in the shallower parts the water was a vibrant turquoise unlike anything I’ve seen before.

Elephant rock.

I mean, really, this water was insane.

On Wednesday we took a bus to Klaksvík, second only to Tórshavn in population. It was a horrible rainy, grey day, and we walked along the water with the wind whipping at us. The fog made for some nice pictures, though.

In the end, the inhospitable weather was totally worth it, because after our walk we got on a 12-minute helicopter ride back to Tóshavn. I’ve never been in a helicopter before, and it was one of the coolest experiences of my life. Flying above the stunning, unique Faroese landscape is something I’ll never forget. When we landed, new passengers boarded the helicopter and we watched it take off. The force of the propellors was way stronger than I’d imagined – it almost whipped my mom’s phone out of her hand!

On Thursday we were meant to take another day trip, but unfortunately it was cancelled at the last minute. It also happened to be a holiday in the Faroe Islands, so everything was closed. We walked around a little bit and took pictures of the unique Vesturkirkjan (which you may have noticed in some of the pictures above). Ultimately we took it easy since we’d already seen most of the small town and there was nothing else to do.

Bet you’ve never seen a church quite like this…

It wasn’t a complete wash – we took the money from the trip refund and had delicious sushi at Etika. We actually had Japanese food three times in Denmark and the Faroes – it might seem like a strange area to eat this particular cuisine, but they are huge fishing cultures and the food is always wonderful and fresh. I’ve had sushi several times in the UK and it’s always pretty underwhelming, whereas it’s been consistently fantastic in Nordic countries.

On Friday we had another beautiful drive, this time to the airport. We were back in Copenhagen for the weekend, our trip winding to a close. Again, we only had one full day, which we spent walking around and enjoying the beautiful, sunny weather. We checked out Christiania, the so-called hippie quarter of Copenhagen, and had Danish hot dogs for lunch. (Everyone hypes up the famous hot dog place in Reyjkavik, but I’m telling you to go to Denmark and get a hot dog wrapped in bacon. It is way better.) We also did a bit of shopping – our entire trip had been focused on experiences rather than acquisition, so we did a bit of damage on our last day, spending a lot of time in Cos as well as Sephora. We went for our third dinner at Dalle Valle (our second being the night before…) and then went to bed early.

On Sunday morning we flew into Edinburgh, where we took a bus to Glasgow. My mom went off to the Glasgow airport hotel in preparation for her flight back to Toronto the next morning, and I went back to my flat. And thus five weeks of travel were concluded!

Spring 2018 Travels: Ireland and Northern Ireland

Posted on May 21, 2018 under Life

Prior to this trip, I’d been to Ireland twice, once in late 2014 and once in early 2015, and my mom had visited as a teenager in the 70s. But my dad had never been, and we both knew he would absolutely love it, so we pressured him until he relented. My dad is often a reluctant traveller, but always enthusiastic once we arrive. (See also our family trip to Italy in 2012.) We planned our Irish trip loosely, knowing where we would end up in the evening for the first eight days and then flying by the seat of our pants for the last two. All three of us had things we wanted to do, as well, but for the most part we went where our whims took us. Personally the thing I wanted to do the most was hop on over to Dingle Town to see Fungie the dolphin, and you will see how that turned out!

We started with a hilariously short flight from Glasgow to Dublin, a city I first visited in December of 2014. We repeated a bit of what I’d already done, including the National Museum of Archaeology (to visit my favourite bog body, Old Croghan Man, who made me have an existential crisis in 2014), Kilmainham Gaol (which neither of my parents had done but which I insisted they experience), and Trinity College Library. We found it slightly annoying that you have to pay €14 to see the Book of Kells just to enter the old library – you can basically see the Book for a nanosecond if you’re lucky since there’s such a crowd. Me and my mom had already “seen” it before and my dad didn’t really care about it, but we attempted to get a glance since we’d paid for it. In the end it was worth the ticket price because my dad adored the library, which was basically the only thing he actually wanted to do in Ireland prior to the trip.

We saw two other libraries while in Dublin, too. At the suggestion of a characteristically chatty taxi driver, we headed to Marsh’s Library next to St. Patrick’s Cathedral. It’s a small library dating back to 1707, and they had on an exhibition of books that had been stolen from the library and either replaced or returned. Some of them had crazy stories attached – booksellers who would find 200-year-old books and return them to their rightful home, things like that. Plus, who can say no to perusing beautiful old books?

Kilmainham Gaol and Marsh’s Library

We also went to Chester Beatty Library and checked out their exhibition on the Coëtivy Hours, which consisted of a lot of tiny, intricate illuminated pages. Though the whole library seems wonderful, we were getting pretty tired so we ended up ducking out after we’d seen the book of hours. However, the library is completely free, so it’s worth putting on your list if you’re in Dublin!

Finally, we stumbled upon the Douglas Hyde Gallery on the Trinity College campus, which was having a free exhibition of artist Tamara Henderson’s textile work. Her creations are so special and interesting – some are purely beautiful, some are bewilderingly lovely. She’s also Canadian, and from the abundance of Maritime paraphernalia tucked into her work I would assume an East Coaster.

At this point I don’t feel the need to return to Dublin. There are a lot of really amazing things there, but it’s also very touristy and I think Ireland has a lot more to offer. However, if you are in Dublin, it’s a great city with beautiful architecture and a fascinating history. Everything I mentioned in this post is worth doing, but if I could recommend one thing it would be Kilmainham Gaol. I’ve done it twice and it was incredible both times! It illuminates so much about Irish history, from the famine to the cruelty the Irish people have experienced at the hands of the English to the Easter Uprising of 1916 which eventually led to Irish independence. It’s a bit out of the way from other tourist destinations, but it’s totally worth it.

After our day in Dublin we headed up to Northern Ireland to see the Giant’s Causeway, which was on my mom’s bucket list. Obviously, words really don’t do it justice, so here are some pictures:

We also stopped at the Dark Hedges on our way back into the Republic. I haven’t watched Game of Thrones in years so I 100% did not care about them for that reason – they’re just a really cool thing to see!

We moved on to the northwest of the Republic, ending up on the Inishowen peninsula in County Donegal. This is where my mom’s ancestors are originally from, although we don’t know exactly where they lived. This is probably the corniest North American Irish person thing to say, but being there was really nice because it made me think of my extremely well-travelled grandpa, who loved Ireland and who was the one who discovered where our ancestors came from. The last time I travelled a lot I kept a dedicated travel blog and he always commented on my posts to share his experiences in the places he’d been to or funny quips about the places he hadn’t. I thought of him a lot while in Ireland, and though it’s been over a year and a half since he died I truly feel his presence when I’m travelling. He’d love to know that we were up in the OG homeland.

County Donegal was beautiful and rugged and full of sheep (and lambs). I probably saw at least a thousand lambs over the course of the trip and every single time we drove past one I’d yell as if it was my first time ever encountering one. We drove past many on our drive up to Malin Head, the northernmost point in Ireland. At Malin Head, me and my mom hiked out to Hell’s Hole, a chasm in the cliffs. What a beautiful place! Again, pictures are better than words here:

From Malin Head we headed to Doagh Famine Village, a remarkable place. Ireland has quite a few famine villages that you can experience, but I’m willing to bet that none are as incredible as this place. It’s a true labour of love, run and guided by a man who lived in one of the small houses there until the mid-80s. He’s dedicated his life to teaching people about poverty around the world, and he is so passionate and well-read. I got to drink a shot of Irish moonshine (called poteen, or poitín in Irish), which was not necessarily enjoyable but which was cool nonetheless. (Unsurprisingly, it’s made of potatoes, so it’s quite similar to vodka.) It’s really hard to describe what the famine village is like – it’s not polished, it’s a large-scale DIY project, and it’s so compassionate. Another thing I’d highly recommend that’s off the beaten track!

Here’s a window from one of the houses in the village. Each house was white with a different bright colour used to brighten up the trim.

And a beautiful vista from the adjacent café:

In Sligo we saw a double rainbow, and then I went to bed early because I had to be up at 6 the next morning to go back to Glasgow for under 24 hours to do a three-minute dissertation proposal presentation. (Crushed it, by the way!) When I got back to Ireland, I met my parents in Galway. Hilariously, I have now stayed in Galway twice without ever actually exploring the city at all – it’s just such a great place to stay for access to day trips in the stunning County Clare. I would also like to point out that our hotel had a cat named Wayne, who I bonded with very quickly. One morning I opened the door to find him lying on his back waiting for someone to rub his belly. Obviously, I was more than happy to oblige.

From Galway we went over to Inisheer, the smallest of the Aran Islands. Back in February of 2015, I went to Inishmore, the largest, and loved it. However, everyone who says Inisheer is more beautiful is correct. It’s a lot more wild and less touristy, though I imagine it’s pretty busy in high season. On Inisheer I bought a lovely hand-knit Aran sweater for €90. Having knit my own sweater I can confidently say that’s a steal!

Here are some pictures I took on Inisheer – I didn’t get too many because the sun made for less than ideal photography conditions. (I know, bummer – it was sunny literally the entire time we were in Ireland!)

A pair of calves who followed us but became immediately shy when we acknowledged their presence.

As we were waiting for our ferry back to the mainland, Inisheer’s own dolphin started swimming around in the harbour with a guy in a wetsuit. (She’s a wild dolphin – he wasn’t her handler or any type of professional dolphin wrangler, just a dude.) I have never seen a dolphin in the wild before, much less in Ireland, much less so close, so it was a very cool experience and definitely rendered my years-long desire to see Fungie moot. (No offense to Fungie. I just probably would not have seen him so close, and the unplanned serendipity of this encounter was much nicer than chasing after Fungie in a boat.)

We did, however, head to the Dingle Peninsula the next day, stopping at the Grange Stone Circle on the way. We found a stone with some offerings to the fairies, and a local woman told us that it was actually one of the biggest days of the year for fairies. My mom and I left a 50 cent piece I found on the beach on Inisheer as well as a loonie in honour of my brother’s friend, who died two years ago.

On Dingle, our first stop was the Gallarus Oratory, which is over a thousand years old and still fully intact.

Then we went to our Airbnb, where our host informed us that there was a place in a nearby town where you could HOLD LAMBS!!!! Of course I told my parents that we would definitely be doing this the next day.

You guys. Oh my god. This is the best thing I have ever done in my life. No joke, every single day since then I have thought “I wish I were holding a lamb.” They were so cute, and so chill. They have been held a million times and they truly do not care. Well, except for this one tiny boy, who I fell in love with but who would not let me pick him up. He kept running away and yelling at me in his tiny, high-pitched voice. I still think of him as the one who got away…

BUT SERIOUSLY LOOK AT HOW CUTE HE IS.

We then checked out the Beehive Huts:

Of course, we stopped to admire more of the scenery on the peninsula:

We also made it to the Western edge of Europe, which is extraordinarily beautiful. I mean, hey, I guess if you’re going to be the last part of Europe before you reach endless ocean you might as well be gorgeous, right?

Now that I’ve seen a lot of Ireland, I’m pretty confident in saying that Dingle is absolutely unreal. The whole country is beautiful and I have enjoyed all of my time in Ireland (even the trips I took in December and February, when the weather is awful), but Dingle is something else, man.

Reluctantly, we headed off Dingle and through Killarney National Park, itself a gorgeous place:

And then we were up the next day to drive to Dublin so that we could catch our respective flights – my dad back home, me and my mom off to Denmark!

As I’ve said, I have truly fallen in love with Ireland each time I’ve visited. For such a small country, there is so much to do and see there. The people are unfailingly friendly, the landscape is beautiful, the history is rich and fascinating (if also heartbreaking). I genuinely think it’s a foolproof trip to take at any time of year, but I have to say that mid-to-late-April is possibly the ideal. The weather was gorgeous the entire time we were there, but the country wasn’t completely overrun with peak season tourists. And, well, there were baby animals everywhere. Who can even argue with the facts? I can’t recommend Ireland in general enough, but if you want the best experience possible spring is the perfect time.

Next time I will share you with you my adventures in Denmark and the Faroe Islands, which are very different from Ireland to say the least!