Thursday, 24 October 2013

To my people...and the highland we shared...

On the journey of life, the most significant events usually involve people. Sometimes the journey we had originally planned comes to a halt and we abandon it  for a temporary detour. A detour is by nature  a turn off the chosen path. 

It's never easy to abandon a path that invokes passionate response for one less aspiring. Hard times drive us off the chosen path, pushing us further and further away from the path of dreams, while pushing us even harder to get back on the right path again.

But the experiences we have on the detour count too. What keeps us going on the detour is more than anything good people, people who are on the right path in life and people who too are on a detour in life.

A couple of months ago I ran out of luck in my life and drifted off my chosen path only to find myself on a detour. The detour was brief. Driven by determination to rise from the ashes, I found my way again, and soon return to my path of words where I do belong. New exciting challenges fill me with hope once again, and the very moment the call came, I felt my spirit burst from joy and experienced a sense of personal victory over the hardship of previous months.

But despite the remarkable opportunity I now seize with all my heart's desires, I look back with a sense of admiration for the people who up until the night before last, were my companions and colleagues, people who are all in their own way remarkable.

This last detour I shall forever refer to as "Autumn Fever". Autumn because it happened this autumn and fever because it resembled at times a feverish flu and at other times a journey of intrigue and even exquisite beauty.

The fluish fever resulted from my adjusting to long hours at the front desk and a shift pattern that simply doesn't work for my body clock. I am a person of regular hours and regular eight hour sleep. I like my weekends free to pursue my academics and spend time with my little family.  

I like to make dinner or watch my husband make dinner. I like to read my book of choice in bed an hour before I plan to actually sleep, and I like to watch non-sensical shows and movies at my leisure.

But for two months or so, I went against the natural currents within and worked unnaturally long hours and shift patterns unnatural to my bodily rhythm. As anyone who's ever worked in the service industry knows, it is a demanding industry and only fit for types for whom the rhythm of the job comes naturally.

Nonetheless, it was an intriguing experience that no doubt taught me more than just about my limitations. My personal inability to work long hours put aside, it was an opportunity to better myself and meet people solid as gold.

The sense of togetherness between the members of staff was unique and when we were all stressed, we worked together to make it all come together.  George Orwell's Down and Out in Paris and London often came to my mind as stress over flooded the corridors, rooms and the restaurant, but friendships were not broken.  Hard days were made easier with a Latté Macchiato from my favourite waiter whose charm won over the clients in a nanosecond. He moved across the room with an ease of someone in command of the room, and at the end of the night, the guests left satisfied for a night of deep sleep under the stars in the middle of an ancient lava field.

Each and every day began with a half an hour drive from an undisclosed location in the city of Reykjavík to the suburbs at the edge of the city, across the dramatic highland landscape so unique I sometimes wondered if there was indeed such a place to be found anywhere in the world. 

Every working day, the three musketeers rode through the highlands while the sun rose over the mountains in the early hours of the morning. It was the perfect resolution to an imperfect means of transport. 

The three musketeers is my term of endearment for my friends and colleagues who will continue to ride across the highlands with my replacement. Yes, it was not the job of my dreams and I look forward to starting my new job, but once in a while, on a beautiful winter day, I might miss riding into the sunrise in companionship of friends.

On my second to last day in the job, I found myself riding through grounds draped in dust of frost; the road too. The spectacular plains beneath the rising road was a breathtaking sight as the city horizon disappeared into the distance, and the lunar terrain of crude and choppy rock formations engulfed us in its vastness. 

In all my time of working at the secluded hotel with its raw and quirky design, I always felt privileged to navigate this world that is always visually enchanting. Every time I passed by the boulder at what must be the highest point of this wasteland, I imagined the sensation of being in the midst of this land as the grounds tremble to perfection.

I do realise this is entirely a figment of my imagination and that in real life, the experience would be terrifying, in particular if the boulder is liberated from its place in the world and probably frighten the three musketeers to death. Or squash us to death. Either way, my mind is irrevocably drawn to this fictional moment be it the dark of night or light of day.

Then as our motor transportation, a black delivery van in which I have spent plenty of minutes wondering whether I will throw up my dinner from motion sickness, a dinner that was at best of times a delicious feast of the ocean or meat variety, and at worst, an authentic Icelandic country dinner I wouldn't taste under any circumstances. 

But on my second to last day, I needed to take in the exquisite landscape like never before. I never knew this desolate universe hid so near Reykjavík city. As we descended down the final curves of the steep slope that is the narrow road, the enigmatic Lake Þingvallarvatn appeared at the horizon, sparkling like the Atlantic Ocean on a perfect frosty day in February. I wanted to inhale the fresh and unspoiled air so that I could feel it and see if the visual ecstasy was in fact as pure as the world made it out to be. 
The steep slope as the morning sky awakes.
In the final several hundred metres to our place of service, another sight caught my immediate attention. From the lowlands to the highlands and again in the lowlands, I was constantly watched by the guardian of the night, the man in the moon who rests when we wake and explores the world on his own terms as we sleep.  

In the distance, behind the mountains that seem too small to be actual mountains, the orange glow of dawn creeped ever-so-slowly bedazzling us with an impressive but modest orange morning glow. The sun was on fire but in an honourable submission to the man in the moon, as she hid her face behind the row of hilly mountains until all of a sudden she emerged in an explosion of light.

The surreal terrain is indeed a playground for the imagination through which curious minds pass through on a cautious but an enigmatic journey of discovery.

The two remaining musketeers will continue to ride the lunar pathway, or until winter conquers entirely and forces them to take the long way around the majestic highland. I will miss our conversation and the sense of camaraderie we shared.  

The wise man who was my always at my back and call when I solicited him for an advise or ten is a man of many talent. Words do not suffice in the most sincere of attempts to express how deeply I admire him for his rare and extraordinary view of life, and genuine kindness and loyalty to the people in his life. 

Then it's the young man of twenty, whose driving skills are such, I am sure he'd be in training to become a race car driver anywhere else in the world. No less important is the remarkable maturity in spite of his young age; a kinder and gentler soul is hard to find in this fast-paced world of ours.

Every now and then, we rode the highlands with a woman of a great spirit, a woman who is not only a credited professional but a mindful companion and always ready to lend an ear.

One weekend, we rode into work with an extraordinary woman with an incredible life story, a woman to whom I said, "you should document your life in writing". The reason I did so is simple enough. She has had an extraordinary life, traveling to all corners of the world and living a life so unlike any I know or will ever know. She blew me away with her inquisitive spirit and worldly experiences, and last but not least, incredible humility accompanied by a beautiful smile.

These people, these wonderful companions, made the professional detour a quest for a growing circle of friends. I may be on the right path again but the experiences of the last two months are not regrettable in any way. The job might not have suited me but the people did indeed.

The breakfast waiter with all his passion for equestrianism and the darling pony of a sophisticated breed of horses always greeted me with a smile on his face. The chef made me a cake on my last day, only mildly sweet just the way I like it. Then it's the former dishwasher from Sweden and Ghana, whose not only kind-hearted and compassionate but also wise beyond his years, a narrator of knowledge acquired through his heritage and passion for travels.

The two night receptionists deserve a mentioning as well. The aspiring script writer who exercises his discipline when engulfed by the night, and the footfall fan who is genuinely passionate about the sport. 

Ahead of me is the chance of a lifetime. And oh, I shall bathe in the opportunity and become a better and a more diversified writer for it. 

I shall also embark upon the job with the humility of a learner preparing to master an art, knowing for the sake of those who still hunt for the job that gives their life a purpose, that I am only as good as I am willing to learn. 

We are all searching for that opportunity, that chance to dance in the spotlight and leap into the air as the roaring crowd calls out our name. For some of my previous colleagues and friends, their work is their dream, their pride and joy even. For others, it is a temporary stopover as they navigate the world to find the profession that gives them a greater purpose.

...I have decided to call this next season "Winter Wonderland"... 

I hope against hope it'll be just that for my former colleagues in search of a dream.

The universal workability of the wheel of fortune depends entirely on the faith we place in the talent we claim to possess. 

Tuesday, 1 October 2013

Bubbletea Café... A Dairy Queen's Dairy Dream with Pancakes

Little Reykjavík is growing up. New cultural influences are finally native to my little city and a new generation of a multicultural descent is changing the once monocultural mood of the northernmost capital city in Europe.  

I love the new city I now call home. I love the energy brewing in the heart of the city and the artistic vibe that emerges from the little alleys and the colourful boutiques in old - some historical - corrugated buildings lined along the Laugavegur high street.   

Laugavegur is quite possibly the only high street in all of Reykjavík. Unlike residential boroughs in the UK, suburbs in Reykjavík are quite often just that, residential quarters with emphasis on the residential aspect. That means some suburbs are without a decent commercial centre and flourishing restaurant scene isolated to the city centre.

Luckily for me, my little borough, the Westside otherwise known as Vesturbær, has been around for a while. It's one of the oldest residential quarters in the city and many of the homes were built in the the post-war years, primarily it seems in the late 1940s and throughout the 1950s, and some even pre-war. The three-storey apartment building I call my home - and share with the best kind of neighbours a family of three can ask for - was built in 1946.

What I cherish with all my heart is that there is past to my present. History is written in the walls and in the very soil. The tall trees in the yard have been residents to these grounds since the very beginning, even longer, watching generation after generation go about their business every single day. The stories they could whisper in my ears...

Across the "rounded road" called Hringbraut is the oldest part of my borough with narrow streets and a beautiful old cemetery that overlooks the man-made lake we know as the Pond or "Tjörnin." 

The centre of Reykjavík is so much more than a commercial centre. It's vibrant in culture and rich in the flavours of the world. In-between the simple but detailed carving in the walls of the city - most noteworthy being the carving in the rooftops peaking over the edge to watch life go by - are restaurants that have been around for years and decades. New ethnic restaurants are beautiful markers of the new multicultural world that has finally caught up with us. 

Amidst the endless arrays of cafés is a new café, a café that is different from the traditional genre of cafés that so far have been prevalent in the capital city. The Bubbletea Pancake Café is bright and beautiful, a homely haven just a few feet from the original home of the newest and truly authentic Italian restaurant, Piccolo Italia. 

Bubbletea is where I go for my sugar and lemon pancake dessert after my Chicken Tagliatelle pasta dinner. 

It's where I go when I want something cool on a summer's day. 

It's where I go when I want a dessert that isn't sweeter than all that is sweet. 

I go there when I need a shelter away from pouring rain and when I fancy a fusion of dairy heaven and fresh fruits.

I love nothing more than the light but creamy dairy drinks they serve at the Bubbletea Café. It's the kind that is naturally sweet, an oasis that like the gentle passing of the River Nile through the golden sand of her desert banks, leaves one feeling refreshed and comforted. 

Yoghurt drink with mango and lemon..yummy!
The interior design is simple but delightful. The walls are painted in blue, green and purple and the large window frame faces the upper Laugavegur High Street. Bar stools are lined up along the glass frame and drinks rest on the high table, almost too tempting to resist. Inside are simple wooden tables dressed with colourful table cloths, and in the corner of the café there is a shelf with handmade souvenirs.  

The Bubbletea Café
The creamy drinks are flavoured with fresh fruits, and the customer can choose between a yoghurt drink or a milkshake. My favorite mix is a yoghurt drink with lemon and mango.

Then it's the pancakes... the perfect golden hue... soft and silky... it's about as perfect as it gets when topped with lemon and sugar.

A pancake with sugar and lemon - yummy!

Other options, well, they're seemingly endless with peanut butter, jam and cream and so much more. Being a creature of habit, I confess to having only tried it with lemon and sugar... always with my favourite yoghurt drink.

I've only just started to make my way down their menu and I am yet to try their coffee, after all, they do offer Illy, and it's a pretty decent brand. Neither have I tried their fruity ice-teas or hot tea drinks. 

I am even more intrigued to try a beverage with their special ingredient. The Bubbletea Café is very likely the only place in Iceland where Tapioca is available and being a curious traveler, this is the perfect opportunity to do a little bit of culinary traveling domestically. 

I am dying to try just about every single one of their drinks from the Special Drinks menu. It's the fusion of fresh fruits and tapioca that intrigues me. Most of the drinks on the menu contain tapioca. The infusion of exotic ingredients and dedication to create a feast for the palate is a divine combination, and for the health-conscious sweet tooth it's a safe haven to emerge oneself in natural sweetness. 

For a non-drinker like myself, it's such a joy to finally have a café where creativity is put to work to create something sweet and distinctive, something as enjoyable as a mojito on a saturday afternoon, something that gives an impression of a celebratory cocktail.  

The Bubbletea Café is most definitely the most exciting new café in the whole city of Reykjavík, offering an extraordinary selection of beverages and both sweet and savory alimentation suitable to all ages and tastes. 

The Bubbletea Café
It's the perfect place to spend an afternoon when you need a bit of colour in your life, and since tea and coffee and fruit drinks have little to none intoxicating effect on the body (unlike traditional cocktails and alcoholic beverages) it's possible to (literally) drown one's sorrows in seasonably fruity flares beneath the rainbow walls, and walk out into the sun intoxicated with physical wellbeing.