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  • January 2020

    Tue, 28 Jul 2020 20:57:00 GMT

    In a rotten omen of things to come, I started 2020 quite ill with flu-like symptoms, and had to miss a New Year's Party. I was just about well enough a few days later to, in a move that would be shocking now, travel to London on the train for a couple of art exhibitions I'd booked. For the other weekends, I watched Frozen 2 at the cinema, signed An Important Thing, and made vegetarian haggis for Burns Night.

    Olafur Eliasson at the Tate Modern

    I only spotted this during my Christmas & birthday break, and this was the final weekend In Real Life was exhibiting. I was mostly there for Din blinde passager ("Your blind passenger"), a mist-filled room that I imagined would be like the excellent yellowbluepink by Ann Veronica Janssens which I saw in 2015.

    The lobby area was showing some of his art before the exhibition proper, and so stepping out from the lift to the exhibition floor was quite a surprise, with the whole area lit in a monofrequency lamp, turning everything monochrome in a shade of an oppressive-feeling near-sodium yellow (in fact, having looked it up, it may be exactly sodium yellow).

    The first couple of rooms felt like a bit of a let-down, with things like a collection of isometric objects and a set of three wave generators, and... a projection of a window.

    origami: now in sodium yellow!

    hmm yes, I got the inspiration from my school science teacher. And from the colour yellow.

    These people don't seem to have noticed the ART behind them and are instead looking a little confused at the wave machine. But it's not yellow at least?

    I quite liked the moss wall.

    While some of the items definitely felt like filler, and one of the headline exhibitions, Beauty, was out of order (a little guttingly, though I didn't know what I was missing at the time), the exhibition won me back over with The Seeing Space, a small curved mirror on the wall that people were queuing to look at, then walking away from a little confused as to what the fuss was about.

    However, once you walked into the next corridor, which was darkened, it suddenly became apparent what its purpose was:

    As people on the other side peered at it confused, their faces on our side were magnified and distorted, depending on their distance from the two-way convex mirror:

    I liked it.

    Next up was the thing I'd actually booked to come see, the 90-metre corridor filled with mist. The visibility was low enough that I could barely see my own feet. It was variously lit in regions of white and (you guessed it) sodium yellow.

    Overall I think I preferred yellowbluepink, which was in a more square room, and lit in colours that I preferred, but honestly I'll go for anything that immerses me in a strong light, and I loved it. The museum also did a good job at not letting too many people in at once, and I often had periods where I could neither see nor hear anyone in front or behind me.

    The front-of-booklet piece was Your uncertain shadow, which was neat because it made a virtue of the audience, but my favourite non-misty exhibit was Big Bang Fountain, which we unfortunately weren't allowed to take photos of, though sensibly enough because it took place in a completely darkened room. In the middle was a fountain of water, which was regularly lit up in a quick burst of white light, such that the water appeared to be frozen in place until the next burst, where it had changed shape. A clever effect.

    Your Uncertain Shadow

    Big Bang Fountain, from the merch outside.

    The exhibition finished with a sobering set of photos taken from the air of glaciers in Iceland, the Glacier Melt Series

    The Moon at the Natural History Museum.

    After leaving The Tate Modern, I went to the Natural History Museum which was exhibiting The Museum of the Moon, a giant spherical reproduction of Earth's Moon. Ian Visits had raved about it, but I was left underwhelmed, not least because the room seemed to be used mostly for parents to sit down while their children ran around screaming.

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  • December 2019

    Sun, 26 Jul 2020 20:52:44 GMT

    In December I had Sean and Lexie stay over at mine for Samathy's birthday weekend; her partner Lex had arranged for us to surprise her by turning up on her doorstep on the day. It was great to see everyone! We played some board games (including the Star Trek VHS game) and went out for dinner in the evening. The next weekend, I flew out to Tromsø for my second visit.

    Tromsø 2: Polar Night

    I'd seen the summer solstice in my previous visit; this time I was there for the winter solstice, during polar night when the sun never rises.

    The difference was stark; vivid green hills and blue skies replaced with snow absolutely everywhere (even covering the roads) and lit up with sodium lights. This was the view from Varden at midday on the 18th:

    Saturday - Nattmålsfjellet

    I arrived on the 14th, though I snoozed through most of the day because I hadn't quite put together when I booked the flights that I would need to be at the airport at 0400, which even makes getting to check-in from one of Gatwick's hotels a challenge! In the evening we went for a walk up to Nattmålsfjellet. With the chance to see the Northern Lights this trip, I wanted to make sure I was out and about around the time they would peak, though we didn't see any this evening. According to Emily I was drunk with tiredness too, so perhaps just as well!

    Nattmåls in the dark

    Sunday - Åsfjellet

    The next day, we went out for a longer walk to the top of Åsfjellet

    Comparing this with my summer photos is bizarre

    Angel action shot!

    One of my favourite shots of the holiday

    Nearly sunrise, but never quite getting there.

    I got a little unnerved on the way back down; our tracks were covered by snow, and what was an easy bit of navigation in the light was a lot more tricky as the light quickly waned. But we found our snow angels, and followed some arctic hare tracks back down the hill. When I was happy I knew where I was, I cheered up quite a bit and did some grippy skiing in my snow shoes.

    The Week

    I was working remotely during the week, since although it's dark enough for aurorae most of the day, the physics of the auroral oval mean that unless there's a huge solar storm (and we're currently at the nadir of the sun's 11-year cycle, so that's unlikely) the best time to see the lights is a couple of hours either side of around 2200. It was cloudy almost every day during the week, anyway!

    I did have time during my lunch break to walk up to Varden and back, and stand by the radar dish at the top, looking down at Tromsø.

    The clouds cleared on Thursday night and so we went to Nattmåls again. We got a tiny amount of activity, which I was just about picking up in greyscale, but Emily says she saw green (and she has better night colour vision than me). My camera picked it up too.

    Saturday - Rismålhøgda

    On Saturday Tim joined us and, despite having the same time flight as me, he wasn't dead on his feet, so we walked up Rismålhøgda. I did a lot of zoomies down the hill. It was fun and slightly unnerved Emily.

    In the evening we had traditional home-made rømmegrøt, which is rice pudding with cinnamon.

    I bought some pudding rice when I got home, intending to make some, then totally forgot. As it happens I had homemade rice pudding (with nutmeg though) the evening I wrote this, wondering what the heck I'd bought pudding rice for in the past. (The rømmegrøt was nicer.)

    Sunday - Trehørningen

    After a walk up to Varden in the morning, we played three escape rooms after lunch! Arctic Escape holds the title for the world's northernmost escape rooms, so we couldn't pass them up. And they were all really good too! I've reviewed them on my escape room blog here.

    By coincidence I finished off the winter visit with the same hike as when I visited in the summer, to the top of Trehørningen and back. This was a tougher climb than expected towards the top, as the snow had been refrozen to quite a hard slippery surface. Coming back down was worse but I don't remember anyone slipping too badly.

    I flew back the next day and, expecting this to be my last trip to Tromø, at least for the foreseeable future, felt a profound sense of sadness as the plane took off. Once again the Arctic has been very special for me.

    Rest of December

    I actually travelled back to my parents rather than home from Tromsø, spending the night in a Gatwick hotel before the train journey, arriving in Budleigh mid-afternoon on Christmas Eve, and I stayed there until the day after my birthday. For my birthday my parents organised a trip to a birds of prey experience where I got to hold a number of big birds. I also got a reference book I asked for, for organising a vegetable plot.

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  • Canada November 2019: Part 3

    Thu, 18 Jun 2020 19:24:00 GMT

    I spent eight nights in Canada in November, and for the final two I was in Vancouver where I chilled out in the park and on the beach, saw the city from above, and walked across a wobbly bridge several times.

    Part 1, Part 2.

    Sightseeing in Vancouver

    I left The Canadian train shortly before 0900, as it had arrived at Grand Pacific Station perfectly on time, largely due to strike action stopping a lot of freight trains which apparently often hold it up. So I had a good amount of time to wander around all the little sights I had lined up before checking into my hotel. Grand Pacific Station had no (working) wifi and I still didn't have a working SIM (and wouldn't for the rest of the holiday), but fortunately I had at least printed out some bits and pieces, and had Vancouver downloaded on OSMAnd.

    First I went to Dr. Sun Yat-Sen Classical Chinese Garden but it wasn't open that early in the morning, so I took a detour to see the Gastown Steam Clock first. On the way I saw a town hall or similar sort of building displaying a Trans Day of Remembrance banner.

    Choo choo

    I walked up to the nearby waterfront briefly, before going back to the Chinese Garden to sit down, have a snack, and get my bearings properly. On the way I ran into Guy-From-The-Train-Who-Reminded-Me-Of-Malcolm-Reynolds, who wished me a nice trip.

    The garden was peaceful and pretty quiet at 10am on a Thursday.

    From there I walked back to the Skytrain station at Grand Pacific Station and caught the metro to the waterfront proper, where I ambled along the path from the food court to the edge of Stanley Park, past a lot of expensive boats and yachts.

    The attraction I had in mind at Stanley Park was the totem poles there, but what took me really by surprise was Stanley Park itself.

    I walked around the north side of the island for a bit before spotting a path into the cedar woodland, and consulting my map, decided to walk to the high point there. The woodland itself was stunning, and I'd chanced upon more good weather again, just warm enough to burn off the mist at the lakes half-way up.

    A sea-plane passes overhead; I saw a couple land and take off on the river later.

    From the top there were good views of North and West Vancouver with Grouse Mountain behind, across the lengthy Lion's Gate Bridge.

    I walked back down to the South West of the island through beautiful cedar woods.

    Check-in opened for the apartment suite I'd rented nearby (Times Square on Robson Street) in the West End, which was near Robson Park and a good choice, being near the park itself as well as English Bay beach, which I walked down to before dinner, finally free of my rucksack!

    The sun set a few minutes before 1700 and it was a good one. I just took it in, sitting on a piece of washed up driftwood, before walking along the beach to where I found an inuksuk (stone landmark).


    I waited until it got properly dark, with Venus and possibly Jupiter next to it too. I wrote a diary entry while the sky was darkening and I sound very relaxed in it. I found a Japanese place on Denman Street to eat at, then went back to my apartment to plan my day for tomorrow and sleep.

    (Not the) Grouse Grind

    I got up early the next morning to catch the bus to the base of Grouse Mountain, aiming to finish the Grouse Grind walk before lunch. The Grouse Grind is an 850m climb up Grouse Mountain over 3km, and was more-or-less my #1 item to do in Vancouver. Unfortunately when I got there I found out it was closed for maintenance! More guttingly, it was due to re-open the very next day, when the weather was forecast to be bad, and I had a schedule to get to the airport too, so I had to cut my losses and took the cable car, usually a treat to ride down after climbing the mountain, up to the top. To compound my woes, a class of school children turned up at the same time, and I ended up crammed into a single car with them all.

    The attraction of Grouse Mountain was all in the Grind, it seemed; at the top was a small lodge with a cafe and gift shop, and they were setting up a few things for their Christmas ice rink and reindeer petting (I wonder how they got the reindeer up there), but none of it was open yet. I found the top end of the Grind, lamented for a bit, then caught the cable car back down, thankfully a fair bit emptier this time!

    The view was pretty, at least!

    Anyway, Grouse Grind becomes my new Pen Y Fan. I'll be back!

    After an erratic bus journey back to the hotel (there's an hourly bus after a change, and the first one didn't show up!) I treated myself to some doughnut holes and a hot chocolate, then rested a bit before heading out to Capilano Suspension Bridge.

    Capilano Suspension Bridge

    Serendipitously, there was an advert for Capilano Suspension Bridge in my apartment's lift, letting me know that its Christmas after-dark attraction opened today, this Friday. Capilano was on my itinerary already, but I rearranged to go to this as well, arriving around 1500.

    I seemed to get there at a reasonably quiet time, and once through the somewhat confusing ticket area, the space around the bridge made more sense. It's essentially a tourist/open air market through the surrounding cedar rainforest, leading up to the bridge itself.

    I have to admit I hadn't really done my homework on the bridge and was mostly going because it was on everyone's must-see list, so I was delighted to find out that it was a rickety-looking footbridge that bounced and wobbled delightfully as you walked across it!

    Not to mention that it is slightly dizzingly high above a ravine.

    On both sides of the ravine there is a nature trail; I did the far side one first since I'd just crossed the bridge. This meanders through the cedar wood, mostly at ground level though elevated in places, especially close to the ravine, and there's a separate tree-top walk that goes high between the cedar trees, each connection a swinging bridge itself. The lights, which I presume were just there for the evening opening, were pretty in the late afternoon light.

    I crossed back over the bridge and walked the second trail, which starts off as a one-way metal footpath bolted to the ravine edge!

    The trail makes its way back to the main entrance through somewhat artificial but pleasant rock-garden style landscape. There's a restaurant in the main area but I spotted that there was also a booth selling (vegetarian) poutine, and I realised I hadn't had any yet in Canada despite it being something close to a national dish there. My diary says "it was ooookay!" Slightly cheesy chips with gravy, not much to go wrong, really. I had a warm cider to go with it.

    By the time I'd eaten it was fully dark, so I did another round of the area. While the park had been pleasant before, with cosy fairy lighting and gentle music in the dark it really felt magical to me now; I was nearly moved to tears at one point in the treetop walk.

    View from the treetop walk

    View looking up at the trees and treetop walk from the ground

    The bridge itself

    Back on the entrance side of the bridge, the cliff-face walk had an illuminated tunnel with lights changing colour in patterns, and the rock garden was very sweetly lit up.

    Before leaving, having been there around three hours in total, I popped into the tourist shop and bought my fridge magnet for the trip, along with a half-litre ceramic stein I thought was pretty, and later demonstrated that there's always a bit more room in your luggage if you try hard enough. (I was prepared to throw away underwear for it, but ended up not needing to!)

    Leaving Vancouver

    I had one last morning in Vancouver and the weather had closed in again, so the Grouse Grind was definitely out. Instead I walked around the whole sea wall perimeter of Stanley Park island, clockwise from English Bay Beach. Aside from a fun-run in the short section between there and Second Beach, it was a lovely quiet walk with not many people around. The weather just about held off, so I didn't get too wet before heading back to the hotel to collect my bags and go to the airport.

    It's sad to leave a place feeling like you could have spent a lot longer there, but on the other hand I'm happily looking forward to returning at some point in the future. I'm sure there's plenty of things I could still do (Vancouver Island, for a start!) and it's comforting to know there's a place that will welcome me back when I return. Thank you, Canada!

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