Friday, 28 December 2012

Plans, plans, plans

Lately, I’ve been getting worse at planning.

The flip side of recently finding that really pleasant “it’s going to be alright”, contentment kind of happy is that I’ve lost all the ‘good’ parts of being the hyper-organised, over-thinking, always-early eager beaver which I used to be.

So, partly as a resolution to be more forward-thinking, and partly as a resource to use as a motivation tool for when I’m procrastinating instead of studying, here is a list of my four dreams/goals I have right now for life after Uni:

  1. An MA in Literary Translation into German at the LMU in Munich


  2. A PGDE in Primary Education at Edinburgh University


  3. A year spent as an EVS volunteer at SEEDS in Iceland


  4. A year spent TEFLing in South America (this photo was taken by my parents in 1980s Brazil)


So many acronyms, phew!

Hopefully these are the things which will keep me focussed and energetic when it’s half past eight in the evening (20:38 to be precise) and I have 180-odd pages to read about German novellas of the 19th century… After all, no matter how boring that is, it will indirectly and eventually lead me to my dream life of working part-time as a primary school teacher and spending the rest of my time translating German bestsellers into English.

Oh, and by the way, just to prove to you how much I love planning (and how flighty I am when it comes to career commitments), you can file this under “Fiona’s long and varied list of plans for the future”, also featuring…


Sunday, 28 October 2012

Make Yourself At Home

A couple of weeks ago, I prompted Ellie (who you must know by now) to write about a quotidian journey, which could get monotonous if you don’t enjoy its individual beauty. She wrote a wonderful post about her walk home which you can find here, and prompted me in return to write about how to make yourself feel at home when travelling or moving somewhere new.
So in the spirit of being strong within yourself and not calling your Mum every day (I’m guilty of having done this the first few times I travelled independently), I’ve prepared a five-point-plan of suggestions to overcome homesickness!
I never travel without a handful of teabags; it’s up there with “toothbrush” and “passport” for me when I pack. Obviously eating is a very primal urge and you’ll have strong emotions, memories and connotations linked to it, so if it’s something you can take with you, do.

There’s a lot to be said for diving straight into a new culture and indulging in the local cuisine, but it’s not cowardly to brew yourself a cuppa to enjoy. Equally if you have a weird favourite food (pasta, baked beans and cheese here, judge me all you like!), then make it, and scoff it down! Life isn’t just about sashimi, tagine and foie gras - though if that’s what does it for you then by all means, fly your flag!

I never used to listen to the radio before I went to work as an au pair. Stuck in a house which didn’t feel like home, in a family which didn’t feel like family, I came to rely on my mornings where I would tune into BBC Radio 4 and listen to whatever happened to be on at the time. Stephen Fry’s voice came to be my comfort blanket! Oddly, now that I’m back, listening to the radio makes me homesick for Iceland.

The point is that listening to the radio, reading a book you love, or watching TV shows or movies on your laptop is one of the best ways to tune out of any stress you’re having and relax into a familiar mind-set. And obviously, these stories have the added property of transporting you away from your situation, be it dire…  or actually quite nice!

When you’re away from home, it can have the tendency of feeling like empty time. It doesn’t matter if you’re on holiday and actually have no commitments, or if you’ve just started a full-time job in an unknown city; if you haven’t got a routine, or things to do, you can feel like you’re drifting. You’ll start reminiscing about all those happy days you had so much to do!

Well, everyone always has chores, so grab a pen and paper (or a laptop, you modern harlequins) and write yourself a to-do list. Sort out your finances, send your grandparents a postcard, tidy your room, sort out your jewellery box. You’ll be surprised how doing mundane things can make you feel far more settled! It’s also a good way to leave your house and your room. You might meet a friendly face in the queue at the post office…

Being by yourself might not sound like the best idea when you’re craving the comforts of home, but think about it: what is the one thing that was always there back home? You. You are that thing. The more time you spend with yourself, thinking, writing, reading, eating, the more you will find that you carry your home inside of you and can just unpack it easily wherever you go.

This is hard. Don’t expect it to work straight away. It takes practice. But soon you’ll find that having the space and the alone-time to do what you like and not be watched or judged, to fill your own time and not have it filled by others, is something you can cherish, and something which allows you to be comfortable wherever you are.

At the end of the day, what better way is there of feeling at home somewhere new? The best way to lose that homesick achey feeling and not pick holes in your day-to-day is to remember that it’s your life you’re living and it’s up to you to make the most of it.

And don’t play the “I didn’t want to come here” or “it’s not like I thought it would be” game. It doesn’t matter whether you bravely chose to move to Rio de Janeiro for the sunshine and are now missing England’s rainy skies, or whether it’s that your parents have sent you to an austere boarding school and all you want is your old room with it’s weird but familiar furniture, it’s still your life.

It’s easy to rely on the false friend of skype or phone calls but, though comforting and vital to your happiness, they don’t really help you feel at home. They help you feel far away from home, and if that’s all you have you’ll quickly find yourself having nothing to hold on to where you actually are.

So get out there! Explore where you’re at! Find new people to fill your heart, new tasks to fill your day, new stories to fill your mind, and new food to fill your stomach. Before you know it you’ll be moving on again, and will miss that which you never knew meant “home”.


Wednesday, 3 October 2012

Norway V: Headed Home

Norway Part I: “New” Old Oslo
Norway Part II: Arctic Train
Norway Part III: The Emperor’s Cairn
Norway Part IV: Trondheim and Troubles

At 11 I got on my night train to leave Trondheim(the last, thank goodness!) and woke up the next morning in Oslo, where I was met my a friend.
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We stumbled into a strange book fair where people dressed up on stilts, and we annoyed the guards outside the palace.  We also spent a lo-hooot of money on arcade games. The next few days were possibly the most chillaxing of the holiday, as I stayed with Ingvild and her family. They’re all nice. She’s hilarious. One of the weird highlights for me was watching Norwegian television, and I think my Norwegian improved a lot in the few days I was there. Sadly I took almost no photos – I think that says a lot about how good a time I was having!
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I loved the fact that in Ingvild’s town, outside some of the bus stops, people had put out garden furniture – very cute! And I think I found my dream house. It’s quite big.
Then, a bus, a flight, and another bus and I was back again on terra firma. Back in Oxford. Home.

Monday, 1 October 2012

Norway IV: Trondheim and Troubles

Norway Part I: “New” Old Oslo
Norway Part II: Arctic Train
Norway Part III: The Emperor’s Cairn
At this point in the holiday I was equally pleased at what I’d done, lonely from having spent two days with very little human interaction, and ready to see something new. At the end of my day of hiking, I got on a night-train to Trondheim.
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I’d heard lots of lovely things about Trondheim, and they all turned out to be true. It’s a bustling university town with the feel of a small city. There are lots of museums and art galleries, a plethora of independent cafes, and a majestic cathedral which is the site of the consecration of Norwegian Kings. After getting off my train at 7 in the morning, I stumbled sleep-drunk through the streets towards a spire I could see reaching above the rooftops, and let myself down on a damp and chilly bench outside the Nidaros Cathedral. I returned here throughout the day; it seemed like the anchor of the town.
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Crossing over the Gamle Bybro,, the Old Town Bridge, just past the cathedral, you reach the Bakklandet neighbourhood. Once again, I experienced the strange ability of Norwegian towns and cities to have very suburban-feeling residential areas practically in the centre of town. Bakklandet was absolutely wonderful, full of pretty painted houses and independent craft shops, as well as an enormous park and a castle. As I was walking around, taking photos of what seemed like every building, and elderly lady stopped my by the arm and said, in very broken but enthusiastic English: “You make photos, so you can tell to your family! You tell to them, Trondheim! Beautiful!”
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After exploring the area, I found my way to a cafe which a man who I had met back north had recommended to me. It’s called Anna’s Kafe and is unsurprisingly run by a very friendly woman called Anna. She is German and after au pairing in Trondheim got happily stuck there and has recently opened the wonderful cafe. I sat there until my battery ran out, finishing off some German Expressionist reading and eating copious amounts of homemade food. I left there shortly after lunch, and that’s where the day went somewhat downhill.
I forlornly wandered the streets of Trondheim in buckets of rain, trying to find somewhere affordable to eat dinner. I couldn’t, so I got a strange selection of snacks from a supermarket, had a mini-breakdown about money via text to my Mum (it went something along the lines of “WHY DOES EVERYTHING COST SO MUCH MONEY AND WHY DON’T I HAVE ENOUGH TO BUY FOOD?”)… and then pulled myself together.  I found a relatively comfortable bench in the train station, and from 3pm until 11pm I read books about the German experience of the holocaust. It was not the best end to what could have been an enchanting day, but the reality of travel is that sometimes you just have to buck up and sit tight.


Friday, 28 September 2012

Norway III: The Emperor’s Cairn

Norway Part I: “New” Old Oslo
Norway Part II: Arctic Train


So last you heard I’d arrived in Bodø, northern terminus of the Norwegian train network and bonafide arctic city. I’ll be honest, it didn’t look like much. Having been bombed by the Luftwaffe during the Second World War, it’s largely a testament to the influence of uninspiring cheap Swedish housing “1960s-style”.

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So, I made the snap decision to spend the one day I had there trying to leave, well, in a way in any case. The surrounding foothills were spectacular so I put on my hiking boots, packed up some nuts, carrots and yoghurt, and set off. I knew that the further (and higher) into them I went, the more likely I’d be to get incredible views of the islands to the west.


SPOLER ALERT: I WAS RIGHT! And what was supposed to be a snappy 5k wander up to a minor peak of 366m turned into a day-long exploration of the beautiful nature along the way.  I took every opportunity to be side-tracked, enchanted and led astray by little pathways and abandoned houses and glimpses of water through trees.

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At long last I arrived at the peak which is known as Keiservarden. This means “Emperor’s Cairn” and refers to Emperor Wilhelm the IInd who went hiking in the Norwegian mountains in the late 19th century.

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What makes this coincidence even more perfect is that Kaiser Wilhelm undertook this expedition only three years before the novel I was reading at the time was published. I truly felt in the 19th-century-German-aristocratic-explorer zone (if that even is a zone), complete with derpy jump photo at the summit.


It was a spectacular day. What made it even more perfect was that the solitude and silence of the woods and the mountain didn’t make me feel lonely, but independent; the physical exertion made me feel not weak, but strong. Long story short, hiking is bloody great and I’m really looking forward to doing it more in my future travels.

Next time -
Fun rhymes,
Good times.