Tuesday, 19 November 2013

End of an Era

London, my beloved city of London, is changing. She is maturing, distancing herself from her days of late nights in establishments that once upon a time were the very centre of Snakebites and flirtatious encounters of youth in heat.

In recent weeks and months, sudden news of unsuspecting closedowns have come as a surprise to this now-once-upon-a-time-resident-but forever-a-Londoner-at-heart. 

London is a city that brings out the nostalgia in me and as memories pour down on me my face lights up with joy. I have wonderful memories of good times with friends, solitary times with a grande latte in one hand and a wrinkled book in another, and beautiful summer days with my then boyfriend and now husband.

It's the city where I watched my first Rugby Union World Cup match in 2004, where I watched a moving performance from the cast of Les Miserables, and where I lived in a beautiful semi-attached brick house in North Finchley.

It's where I got my first real job as a professional and where I fell in love with the man who is now my partner in life.

I never feel like an outsider in the city. London is home to anyone who wants to make it a home, and who wants to lead a life full of beauty and intrigue. It is a multicultural city in the deepest sense of the word. Residency is not dependent on birthright, race, gender, sexuality, religion, and overall, cultural background. 

To be a Londoner is to live in the city and love it with a tender heart.

But despite the city's exuberant spirit and heart of a wild rose, an era is indeed coming to an end. The era I knew to be the London of my bursting youth is slowly disappearing.

In 2003 and 2004 I got to know London for a few months and I immediately felt a connection to the city. However, at the time, I wasn't quite ready to stick around for the summer as I wanted to spend the summer far away from the cityscape on a beautiful little island.

Then in 2005, I was ready to make a deeper commitment to the city and returned to find a proper professional job and proper place to live. With both goals accomplished (and while accomplishing them) I so enjoyed my life in the city that never sleeps. 

As before, I frequented my usual beverage establishments from previous years while discovering new ones along the way.

An old-time favourite remained to be the Walkabout. Yes, it could be bit cheesy at times. But maybe, just maybe, it was the slice of cheese that made a night out at the Walkie in Temple, Shaftesbury Avenue and even the one in Covent Garden, such a carnival. The Temple was my absolute favourite. The mood was light but amicable, and the nights were a mix of youthful enthusiasm and liquid happiness. 

Much to my surprise, news of the original Walkie in Shepherd Bush and the Covent Garden one, reached my ears early this year. I hope the Temple one won't be met with the same fate but who knows, perhaps the face of London is changing and a new chain of international bars will be the new hangout for the natives of the nations down under, as well as everyone else.

Even more disappointingly is the shocking news that the Slug and Lettuce in Fulham is closing its doors. The reason it is particularly upsetting is the fact that it holds a special memory of a night I'll never forget. 

After a couple of months of convincing myself I was not interested in my now husband as anything more than a friend, I had to catch my breath when an attractive female showed him the interest I had not   allowed myself to do. Thankfully, he picked up on my sudden burst of realisation and we've been together ever since. 

We have always talked about going back to the Slug and Lettuce for a snakebite or two when we are in London, but it simply never happened and I suppose it's too late now.  The memory lives on whether the Slug and Lettuce is open or not. It just would have been something special to return if only for one night.

Being a young person in London with family an airplane crossing away, it is the friends who assume the support role of a family and that is enough in a city where life is about discovering your identity and have an adventure.

The blue house (not the house with the blue door if you catch my meaning) in Notting Hill continues to be my dream house in the city. Photo by JB.

Flat sharing, Sunday sessions, weekend trips out of the city and even to the mainland, riding the night bus home, and experiencing a truly serendipitous encounter with a man who literally comes from the other side of the world are just among a few fond memories I cherish oh so much.

Granted that the last surprise turned out to be a South African richer in kindness and patience than any man I'd ever met before (despite my having frequented an Aussie bar over the years, and yes, scoping out a few native men while at it) is truly the most beautiful chapter in my London story. 

Portabello Road is as charming in autumn as it is in the height of summer. Photo by JB.
Perhaps, as we have grown into a new life together and learned a great deal since about the people we are and want to be, the city of London is changing too. Perhaps, it is time for a new chain of bars to be the place of legends for a new generation of twenty-somethings in search of adventures. 

Change is, after all, the natural rhythm of life... 

Sunday, 17 November 2013

Lightning and Snow

In the wee hours of an enchanting wintery morning, the residents of my quiet borough were woken up abruptly by a rare phenomenon. A lightning struck at the rooftop of Hotel Saga, one of the more established hotels in the city, striking an aerial and causing temporary breakdown in a radiotelephone network.

The encounter caused a roaring explosion heard in several boroughs in the city and certainly caught my attention. We can see a section of the hotel and the rooftop from our bedroom window and had the blinds been up, we'd actually seen the occurrence for ourselves. At the very least, I would have seen the flicker of light in the distance.

Hotel Saga in the background. Photo by JB.
But I only heard the lightning strike from the other side of my blinds. Nonetheless, it was an extraordinary way to jumpstart the day (not that I didn't go back to sleep…).

It was simply the perfect start to a perfect winter day.

The perfect snowfall - just enough to light up the world. Photo by JB.
And as winters go, I wouldn't mind a mild but a snowy winter season like that of today. 

As is to be expected, I was reluctant to retire from the comfort of my cozy home on this cold winter day. At roughly 10 o'clock in the morning, I could no longer avoid the dreaded first toilet-break for my adorable dog Emma. It was surprisingly refreshing to step out into the bright morning and let her do her thing. There are times when the weather is not so perfect and I have rushed her to finish as quickly as she can, but this morning it was lovely to step out and feel the sun's warm rays.

It was still cold and as Sunday mornings go, it's always tempting to do as little as possible - no matter how perfect a day is, the cold always comes as a surprise.

But when I finally did leave my warm bubble, it was more than worth it.

My borough Vesturbær on this beautiful Sunday afternoon. Photo by JB.
A dog takes more pleasure from playing in the snow than us humans are ever capable of doing. My Emma's thick and fuzzy fur is warm and soft. She is not restricted to the layers that I pile on as the days grow colder and is unafraid to roll in the soft snow without feeling the cold on her paws. She so loves the cold snow and devours it every time she takes a bite from the frozen grounds.

Her fascination with the world, the way she holds her head up high no matter how strong is the wind, or how the snow flakes blow in her cute Labrador Retriever face, is illuminating and a gesture to actually look out into the world.

Life in little Reykjavík - ever-so-slightly enhanced. Photo by JB. 
Each season is magical in a unique way. Winter is always going to be cold in the northernmost capital of the European continent, and at times, exquisite beyond belief. The snow lights up the dark winter days and the mood changes. Even the fading plants glow on the snowy grounds and the whole world is a striking contrast to the grayish clouds above. It is as if the world is draped in a transcendent veil.

In the cold snowfall, all exposed flesh is unsheltered from the cold and the cheeks turn red while my Emma's fur is nearly as white as the snow. A thin set of gloves no longer suffices.  

Wool gloves with fleece interior is what it takes to survive a cold Sunday afternoon...

...and probably not a bad idea for tomorrow's -5°C as the car windscreen won't clear itself.

Emma's playground. Photo by JB.  
The month of November is never more appealing than on days like today.  Despite having to get used the early onset of darkness, the daylight hours are worth enjoying in this very first month of authentic winter.

And if it weren't for my dog, I'd probably miss out on days like these. And that would be the real shame. 


Monday, 4 November 2013

EverLasting Impressions...

Iceland is a peculiar place to visit…

The landscape is extraordinarily beautiful. On a cold day the pure crispy air strikes a sharp blow that sends vibration throughout the whole body. The willful spirit that dwells in the depth of this enigmatic land is never more striking but on such exquisite days.

A beautiful Sunday afternoon in the Reykjanes Peninsula
On such a day, greeting or bidding farewell to Iceland, is a lasting memory like no other. Journeying through the landscape at Reykjanes Peninsula is indeed a journey as vibrant as a classic Van Gogh draped in wintery array.

The orange glow of the sun spreads majestically over the horizon in the late afternoon and casts a spell on travelers passing through the lunar landscape.

The romantic in me is tempted by Lady Temptress's sensational introduction to the world of golden dawn and dusk paired with winter's silver dust drifting in the wind. I am constantly amazed how the two contrasts, the morning glow and the long night, meet halfway in the most magical of moments.

The vast space of nothingness separating the capital city and the Keflavík International airport is no wasteland despite the gloom of November rain or the wild North Atlantic wind hurling across the ancient frozen lava fields.

It's a world beyond the grasp of human existence, wild and ravishing, yet cool and dry, even soft in-between the sharp raven-black lava rock. 

All photos by Júlíana Björnsdóttir
...Iceland is truly a strange place...