28 February 2012

a daring fashionista or a rebel?

The year must have been 1924. Maybe 1925. The woman in the photo already well embracing the changes this decade brought.

She was dressed elegantly in a glittering knee length gown with a string of pearls at her neck and wrist and showing off the latest leg fashion with fancy stockings and shoes. Her hair was styled fittingly to the era and face artistically painted in the bold statement that is attached to the 1920s. From a scrawling on the back we are told she was "heading out for a cup of tea with friends". Or at least that's what she'd told her household...

This same woman has been identified in other photos recently found that were taken about the same time. The location is believed to be only a short train ride away from the house where she was living. Experts are suggesting that she attended a party held at a secret location where the drinks were stronger than tea leaves. Perhaps she was more than embracing the changes in a time where the masses began to sway the prohibition of alcohol. Perhaps this pretty face was a rebel at heart.

This night was a blast. I had so much fun simply preparing for it. Searching and finding the bits and pieces for my costume was fun. The ebay dress was simply perfect. Exactly what I wanted. Twenties style but more on the elegant side than flapper. I was so delighted when the seller accepted my offer and unlisted the item 9 days early. Researching again (had a 20s party for my 30th) and deciding on hairstyle and makeup was fun. Happily found a youtube on 20s styles for long hair. Took me a couple of hours to pull off but it was worth it. And the makeup is more silent movies glamour. The eyes shadowed at their highest on the inside and triangled down to the outer corner giving the added emphasis of frightened beauty who needed rescuing. A common role for women in the action movies. I pumped up the makeup by attaching fake eyelashes for the first time ever too. That really finished off the face. Pulling it all together was fun. I love the whole look though. All that I got worked together so well. In my opinion anyway.

The Prohibition Party was a ticketed event. The location shared only just a few weeks before the night. I popped upstairs to show the boy my full outfit as we both had dress up parties this weekend. He was awed and giggled. I sure looked different. Then I trotted out on my own to catch the train to meet friends. I did feel a little bit funny but at least it was normal clothes just from a different era. Once I'd met up with my friends it was great. After pre-drinks near by we headed off to find the party. It took us a good 15mins or more to find the place even though it was just "around the corner". Ha ha. It was held at the Old Vic Tunnels at Waterloo station. It was a fantastic location. You walk half way down a tunnel and then in a side door and along a bit more until we reached the entrance. When we handed over our ticket, we were handed USD$100 (Fake of course.) These tunnels truly made it feel like a secret location, hiding away from the law. We stopped by the cloak room and passed by a vanity table where you could get your hair or makeup done if you wanted and then through to the party. We stopped by the bar and I ordered The Gatsby from the cocktail menu stuck inside an old book. It came in a tea cup wonderfully keeping in line with the hiding of alcohol consumption. It tasted nice too.
We stepped into the next room where there was another bar with leather couches and wooden cargo boxes for coffee tables and a roulette table! We stepped up and handed over our USD$100 for chips and learnt how to play. Ha ha. That was fun. Especially coz I never lost a cent. I won a few times but it wasn't long before all my chips were gone. Some people were getting quite lucky towards the end of the night when I squeezed back in for another play after finding a USD$100 on the ground...and a friend gave me a $100 chip of his own. I didn't do any better though. There was black jack in the next room over as well. I watched my friends play that later in the evening but I didn't play myself. In another room off that (all these rooms separated by large archways) were tables and chairs and a big screen showing a silent movie with a live pianist adding the background music. The whole place was wonderfully set up. Even the toliets were dressed in the 20s. On the way to the toilets were a couple of set ups great for photos. Like the one we posed at with an old velvet upholsted chair and end table.

We sat around chatting at the tables for ages drinking our 'tea'. Eventually we were wandering about and returning and...repeat. Everywhere you went there were amazing costumes to admire. Everyone looked fabulous. And I do like this style. It was nice to be complimented a few times on my own. Particularly the makeup and it's hitting the mark. I only wish I'd ventured to the hall where the band was at the right times. The first few times I went past it was just music playing. I later realised these must have unfortunately been the times where the band was on a break. Later in the night I was there while the band was up and that was great. It was packed and we were always bumping others. I actually stayed for quite a while dancing by myself. If you know me, you'll know this unlike me. But there's something about this music that makes me feel like dancing. More than any other style. It was a thrill to actually recognise a good number of the songs. I was a bit disappointed that I only realised they were singing "Ain't nobody here but us chickens" towards the end of the song because it's a fun song. A silly one. The musicians, though I found hard to understand the words, were great at playing. Always love the double bass and the singer changed instruments a few times. Even playing the bagpipes for one song which was amazing (to hear it in 20s style music) and sounded awesome. I stayed with some of my friends until they kicked us out.
After figuring out where our bus stop was we caught the night bus home. Another first. (London trains make their last run at midnight.) By the time I got home, admired my artistry some more, made no attempt to resist a photo shoot and THEN had to take out all fourty one hair pins and scrub off the make up, I still slid into bed smiling at 5am. It was a fabulous, fun night. I'm so glad I went.

And I'd happily do it all again. ^^

19 February 2012

the land of ice and fire

Phew! It's been a super busy week. Now that I'm through it I can tell you about the week before. ^^

On Wednesday evening I rolled my suitcase along the London streets to the local tube station. It was the 8th of February. Winter in the northern hemisphere. At a station down the line I waited in my puffy down coat, watching trains pass causing the ebb and flow of passengers. Then round the corner she appeared. Smile on her face which my face replied to. Our long anticipated adventure was beginning.

Stephanie and I arrived at Heathrow airport in comfortable time. Already checked in we bought some tea and headed to our gate. We chatted and ate until called to board our airplane, named Hekla. We raised our eyebrows at the name. Being named after a volcano also known as the gates of hell was definitely an interesting start to our journey.

We sat on the plane, buckled in and ready, for an hour before we finally lifted off. This extra time to our flight though allowed us to watch the travel show about our destination and view the whole of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part One, which Stephanie had not yet seen. After our late delayed flight followed by an hour bus trip, it was the early hours of the morning when we walked into our room at Hotel Klettur in Reyjkavik, Iceland.

Thursday

We arose at 9am and peeked out our curtains only to find we couldn't see much. As we wandered down to the breakfast area we wondered when the sun would rise. It's pretty sleepy during the winter months in Iceland after all that partying over summer.

This day--and Saturday morning--was our exploration of Reykjavik and tourist shopping. This city, the northern most capital in the world, is one of colourful buildings and 'decoration' (aka. artful graffiti). Snowy mountains were a delightful sight across the bay. The names and words provided entertainment as we wondered how to even pronounce them. But the puzzle that first hit us was stillness in the streets. It was weekday. Late morning now and occasionally a car would pass by with just a scattering of people about. It was strange to think this was a capital city; especially since we both just came from London where we've been living recently. But I suppose it's to be expected when the whole country's population rounds to 330,00 or so.

After the various staff at the tourist information centre kept changing our minds we finally booked a day tour for the next day. We dragged our feet through a supermarket, sometimes guessing at what was being sold, and then on through the streets to the hotel where we rested for a while.


At half past eight we stepped through the doors of the elevator all rugged up. The lobby was filled with other rugged up people talking softly. We squeezed around to a spot on the couch and waited alongside them for our bus. This evenings excursion was particularly anticipated. One of those events that's on your wish list but as Australians has a good chance of not ever being done.

We rolled out of Reykjavik and along the highway and soon turned off onto a country road. Hoping but not entirely hopeful we gazed out the windows as we travelled along. There was not much to see. The dark night was all around, disturbed in patches where towns and highways lay. Every now and then a star or two could be seen for a while before it disappeared again. It had been raining in the afternoon and the clouds still lingered. The bus frequently stopped so the guide could step out and check the skies. Eventually we pulled onto a dirt road and were told our chance had come. In hopeful anticipation we stepped into the cold night air and stared up into the sky. The clouds parted and there it was, right above us. Aurora Borealis. I was stunned. Was that the northern lights? I looked at Stephanie and she looked back just as puzzled as I. In the clearness of the patch was a wide streak with perhaps a faint tinge of green, not quite cloud shape. Disappointment rolled in and flooded out my expectations. While the sky was the clearest my camera remained off. While I had expected that this natural phenomenon would be less brilliant than the pictures on the internet and in books, I was expecting colour. The phenomenon of this night was seeing how green the lights appeared when you photographed them. Vastly different. As the clouds filtered across the sky again it was quite hard to distinguish where the northern lights were. I was taking photos to see if those clouds I was looking at were actually the lights.
As we were heading back to the city we stopped in a street briefly as the clouds parted again and gave us all a better viewing. This time, further from town lights, the green was more noticeable to the naked eye. Stephanie got a few good photos with her mini tripod though I managed to take some ok ones too considering mine were all handheld. The guide obviously had a proper tripod and good camera to take this picture.

Unfortunately my disappointment tainted this experience. I hope in different, in better conditions with more luck the viewing of the aurora borealis could feel more magical. Since I plan to head somewhere further north at the end of this year in hopes to achieve a white Christmas (another on the wish list of maybe nevers) I think I'll try view them again.

Friday

A late night and an early morning is a mix that produces a sleep start. By breakfast the excitement of today's adventure had us fully awake. Soon enough we were aboard the bus heading along the south coast passing snowy, volcanic scenery. Iceland is situated just south of the arctic circle and over the line where the Eurasian and North American plates meet. All the geothermal activity makes this country a fascinating place. Active volcanoes, geothermal springs, glaciers, geysiers and bubbling mud mixed in with it's viking history. Iceland makes use of its geothermal treasury and most homes are heated naturally. The water that comes from the hot taps comes straight from the earth.

In our quest to experience Iceland and as much as our krona allowed, we had decided on glacier hike. We walked up the ash and lava rock covered ground at our expedition location. Already in harnesses (for the unlikely event of needing to be pulled out of a crevasse) we paused to strap metal spikes to our boots. With ice pick in hand, we stomped cautiously onto the ice of the glacier as we'd been instructed. Perhaps a little overzealous as we didn't need to stomp as hard as we all started out doing so. We found the crampons gripped amazingly well in the ice and were soon trodding along. The sound was an unusual experience. I think its one that will stick with me. An odd delight.


The glacier beneath our feet stems from the volcano, Katla. The same one our plane was named after. It's one of the ten largest volcanoes on earth and it erupts every 80 years or so. The last eruption being a little over 80 years ago. Our guides reminded us of the news events of the trouble caused in 2010 when the volcano Eyjafjallajökull erupted. Katla, they informed us, is a hundred times the size of that one. Previously unconsidered, the volcanic erruption, which would unleash tremendous havoc of lava, ash and smoke, would also cause great flooding as the glacier would melt. This knowledge, withheld until we were half way up, made the experience that more surreal. We saw pyramids of lava gravel where the glacier had swept it all together, various formations of ice sculpted by nature, layers of ash stuck in the ice. We caught a little flowing ice cold glacier water in our hands for a taste. Clean and fresh. We stopped at a narrow crevasse and our guide chipped at the ice and we listened to it fall in an almost crackling manner. That was apparently the sound the ice made when the volcano was disturbing the ice below. At another hole the guide chipped again at the ice but we never heard it hit anything. We did make sure we walked where the guides did and followed their instructions seriously.

And as if the sounds and sights and updated knowledge weren't enough, the weather kicked in its bit. They say here in Iceland, "If you don't like the weather, just wait five minutes and it will be worse". Once we were near the top--or rather as far as we would be going--it began to snow. That was a delight. It also meant more danger as the snow hid the dangers in the ice. We paused to eat a bit of lunch and then as we headed downward again along came the hail, then sun, then snow, hail, wind, sun, rain, wind, hail...

The glacier walk behind us, the bus pulled into our first stop on the return trip. We stepped off a moment of sunshine. Colours shimmered through the mist. Skogarfoss was showing off. Our last stop before Reykjavik was another waterfall, more casual than the previous one. It may not have been as grand but it allowed you to walk all the way behind it. Which we did and increased our dampness. Back at the hotel we had a quite night in.

Saturday

The morning we spent wandering the streets again as I mentioned earlier. We saw the viking boat sculpture, an icon of Reykjavik, and visited the Church of Hullgrimur which is the tallest building in the city. You can climb the tower there and get a broader view of the city. The bell is really loud when you're in the tower too. We continued attempting to pronounce icelandic words. Especially Eyjafjallaj√∂kull which according to the tourist t-shirts is easy to say,...“AY-uh-fyat-luh-YOE-kuutl-uh”. I still can't say it. It's the last 'll' that really gets me. It's quite a different sound from 'l'.

Our afternoon excursion ended up being the most anticipated. Being left till last. The blue waters surrounded by black jagged rocks and rising vapour as we approached had us buzzing. We walked through a valley of volcanic rock to a building that ushered guests through to the Blue Lagoon.

We braced ourselves a moment at the door. Then we pushed ourselves outside into the freezing cold in naught but our bathers. The air stung our skin and our hairs instantly pricked up. We walked quickly to the water's edge and stepped delightfully and carefully into the murky blue water that now tingled and warmed our bodies. There's something quite blissful about soaking in fabulously warm water in freezing winter temperatures. The blue lagoon was never more than about chest deep but we mostly sunk ourselves to our necks or pulled ourselves along with our hands, legs trailing behind, in the shallower areas. We floated all around the lagoon and played in the mineral mud that covered most of the bottom. In some areas it was so thick and squelchy, grey and gritty being mixed with the volcanic dirt, up to our ankles. It was textural pleasure. We stayed all afternoon. Happily soaking for hours. Covering our faces with the white mineral mud, the clean version, that they kept in boxes around the lagoon a couple of times. We spent some time in the sauna and the steam room. We had a cold mist shower and sat in cave. We stood under a pelting waterfall and let the pounding massage our muscles. We bought and ate ice creams from the in-water kiosk. We talked, played, laughed and thoroughly relaxed.
We did some cold stints traverse the bridges and paths to fetch cameras and take photos. The first half our pampering was really quite foggy and sometimes we couldn't see much beyond two metres. The second half was clearer and grew darker as the twilight came and the lights were turned on. But we got out in time to change and poke around the shop before catching the 7pm bus back to Reykjavik.

Once ready we walked into town and eventually decided on a place to eat. In a cosy pub we sat ourselves down for an icelandic meal. Sadly unable to try puffin, it being out of season, I settled for a jar (side dish/starter) of mink whale, a jar of icelandic cheeses and fruit and a lamb burger. The whale, which was only seared, was a bit too fishy and gross for me. I tried it but Stephanie finished it for me. The cheeses I mostly liked and burger was good. This day rounded off our trip nicely.


Sunday

I fumbled out of bed and across the room to my phone to switch off my alarm. I sank into the chair with a groan. It was too early to be awake. And that is what I complained about to Stephanie who was still in bed. But awake we needed to be. I hauled myself out of the chair and moved across the room. The light blinked on and I squinted a moment. We were now both half lively and moving about getting dressed and packing the last few things into our suitcases. We snacked on the last of our food stash and then pulled our weary selves down to the lobby to catch the 5:30am bus. Link
It's always a bit somber heading to the airport when it's for the return flight after a holiday. But we went satisfied. We checked in the quick way and then Stephanie slumped in a chair while I queued for some duty free tax back. I rumaged around a tourist shop trying to hurry as the duty free station took up more time than I'd hoped. I spent the last of my krona and then went to find Stephanie at the gate. We boarded the plane and settled in. As soon as our in-flight screens allowed us, we set Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part Two playing and watched it all the way home.

06 February 2012

snow in ol' London town

I'd seen it snowing when my bags arrived at my new temporary residence in London. (See post below about moving.) I'd got a bit excited and took some photos and then went back up to my room to unpack and settle in. At 10pm I was feeling weary and started moving toward bed when a friend messaged me to ask if I'd seen the snow. "It's still snowing?" I text back and excitement began again. She was on a bus making her slow way home. That means it'd been snowing all evening. I peeked out the window. Yep. Ground covered in white. I delayed going to bed and put on my jacket and boots and headed outside with my camera.


I walked around in delight. There was already about 10cm on all surfaces where the snow stopped falling. I've been in the snow before but I haven't actually seen a good snow fall for quite some time. Back in my hometown in Australia I like to say we get snow maybe once a year. It falls softly--for 10min if we're lucky--and then it's over. Occasionally it settles; maybe a few millimetres. Enough to make things look white-ish. This was a real snow fall! And it snowed the whole time I was outside. And it was decorating all the trees and plants. And I played. And, of course, I had to build a mini snowman. (Also discovered rolling a ball of snow in the snow DOES make it bigger; rather quickly in fact.) It was after 11:30pm before I came back in.
Today when I woke, I looked out my bedroom window. I smiled. There's something a little bit magical about seeing everything blanketed in white in the early daylight.

After a lazy morning in bed reading, I got up and dressed and pulled out my snowboots I recently purchased for my Iceland trip this week. May as well test them in the snow. So off I went trapsing the neighbourhood. The only proper snow fall we get in Australia is in the mountains so to experience it in the city was another first for me; one I wasn't sure I'd get this winter. Today, being a Sunday, was a lovely day for it. We'll see what I think once the regular week begins and public transport is used. With no road use needed and no time pressures I was able to appreciate this experience and delight in it.
I wandered over to Kensington Gardens (west end of Hyde Park) to experience a London iconic place in the snow. (I'd like to see the city centre in snow but I couldn't be bothered going that far today.) Here's Kensington Palace in the snow with Queen Victoria out in the cold.

There were lots of families out and lots of snow activities going on. You could scan the horizon line of the park and spot numerous snowmen. The snow here was closer to 15cm thick I reckon. A good layer to play with.

The lake was partly frozen too. It amused me to see some birds swimming in the water and some walking on it.
It sure gave the place a whole different feel. It really feels like winter this last week with cold temperatures and snow on the weekend. It's been lovely to experience.

04 February 2012

moving weekend

At the time of writing this I am sitting on the floor of my bedroom in London; pretty much in the centre. The half in front of me is completely vacant apart from the laptop power cord that runs from the wall socket to my lap. The half behind me is a complete jumble of mess, piled all over my bed and surrounding floor space. I'm not sure when my bed will reappear to welcome me under the duvet. (Doona in my Aussie lingo.) Right now I'm waiting. It's all I can do at present.

You see, it's moving weekend here in my London house. The family I work for (and live with) have decided to renovate the ground floor of their four floor skinny townhouse. The builders step in to wreak organised havoc on Monday morning. The result will be great with a brand new kitchen mixed in with the dining area and a new proper playroom for the boy and his coming sibling. But with the kitchen and play area in absolute chaos, it's really just easier for us to move out while it's being done. So all of us--dad, mum, boy, dog and I--are off, essentially around the corner, to my boss' parents' huge six floor London home. It will be an interesting six weeks for sure but at least one of the floors is practically a self-contained flat. I have a room and bathroom and toilet access one floor down.

So I'm in the middle of packing; trying to decide what I'll need for the next six weeks plus what I need for my Iceland holiday next week. I will be able to get back into my house but it's a bit more complicated with the builders taping the stairway with plastic to stop dust getting comfortable on the undisturbed floors. In the middle of all this there's a reshuffling of rooms. Since most of the first floor is being packed away into storage tomorrow, the parents are reorganising the study space; sorting what furniture will go into storage along with the first floor lot. The study is being turned into the coming baby's room and the sitting room is shuffling to include a study space for the parents. Today I've cleared the shelves and desk in my room and carted them downstairs as I'm trading for the dad's desk and shelves. They're being unpacked ready for moving into my room as I type.

Here I wait; not even sure if the furniture will make it to my room tonight. Hoping though. My room is such a mess. But to clear it up I'd like to organise myself onto these welcome pieces which will work much more satisfactorily than the previous ones. Then things will be clearer about what to take and what to leave here.

*Sigh* Ten months ago I came with 17kgs in my bag--plus carry-on, laptop and handbag. At least most of my accumulation is useful and appreciated and enjoyed.