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Our Month in Oxford
Jul 23rd, 2017 by Dr Karma

The Boy and I left Oxford today.

We are knackered.

In addition all the colleges we visited and the Harry Potter Studio Tour, we enjoyed the following pubs:

Bear Inn; Old Tom; The Trout; The Mitre; The Eagle and Child; The Cow and the Creek; The Head of the River; The Oxford Retreat; Turf Tavern; White Rabbit; The Crown; Chequers; The Oxford Democrats Club (where we played Aunt Sally) (I may be forgetting a few, but I got to try some nice gins and the boy got to try some nice ginger beers). 

We at at many cafes and restaurants, notably these: Oxford Grill (fresh Turkish food); Kazba (Spanish); Shanghai 30s (a Michelin rated Chinese place near where we were staying); Nandos (a longtime favorite, although the Oxford one we visited wasn’t great); The Opium Den; The Old Tom (really great Thai food); Shezan (wonderful Indian); Chutneys (they did our closing feast–and it was great); and Cafe Loco.

We spent a lot of time in book stores, including Waterstones, opened by Phillip Pullman, checked out The Oxford Museum, did a sunset river cruise, peeked around the Modern Art Gallery, were overwhelmed at the Pitts River Museum,

A small part of the Pitts River Museum

watched an orchestra rehearsal at Saint Mary’s Church (and had scones in the cafe there–in basically the oldest college building in all of Oxford),

St. Mary’s

had a Sunday Roast, toured Blenheim Palace (the ancestral home of Winston Churchill),

My favorite spot at Blenheim

Mr Churchill

part of the palace

found our way into the Picture Gallery at Christ Church, got a fun and informative guided tour of Oxford Castle, took the students on a guided literary tour of Oxford, including the walkway that influenced CS Lewis and the Divinity Room, where many Harry Potter scenes were filmed,

CS Lewis walked by this every day; there’s a lion on the door and a lamp post a few feet away.

The Divinity Room

spent an hour an a half at the Rollright Stones (though our bus driver anticipated we’d only need fifteen minutes),

The Whispering Knights

As featured in Doctor Who: Stones of Blood

Students & I in a piece of art in the woods by the Stones

The Rollright Stones

gaped at The Ashmolian,

Ashmolean

Athena at the Ashmolean

Ashmolean

adored The Botanical Gardens,

Botanical Gardens

Botanical Gardens (or Wonderland)

took a bus up to the Oxfordshire Museum in Woodstock, saw scientific instruments galore at the History of Science Museum, failed repeatedly to stop a global pandemic in a board game cafe, experienced Alice Day

Getting ready for an Alice Day performance

The Story Museum

Alice Day!

. . .

Oh, and we read.

Lots and lots of books.

Each.

In London, I got to tour the Beefeater Gin factory, see The Philanthropist, Queen Anne, and Our Ladies of Perpetual Succor (meh–this is the first thing from The National Theatre of Scotland I haven’t loved), visit the Charles Dickens House, and check out the Gay Life in London exhibit at the British Library.

An amazing class–with wonderful, smart, invested students–got taught too.

at Jesus

Oxford: Portal to Fantasy 2017

The most dapper on-site coordinator

Oxford–we’ll miss you.

And we’ll be back.

 

 

 

 

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Iceland (2015)
Jan 5th, 2017 by Dr Karma

In the summer of 2015, Melissa and I got into Iceland in the morning one day. We stocked up on duty free alcohol at the airport (as the guidebook suggested) and tried to stay up to reset our clocks. We breakfasted, saw the Opera House, the famous ship sculpture (The Sun Voyager), walked down the shopping road (which, in one place, had a bunch of lost gloves all huddled together on fencing), hit a hot spring pool, where we learned about a magic swimsuit spinner/dryer, checked into our air b&b (we were expecting a room in a two-bedroom apartment, but we had a whole two-bedroom apartment, centrally located), went out to dinner at a mediterranean place (with the best baba ganoush I’d ever had), and then finally collapsed.

The Opera House from the outside

Opera House from the inside

The Sun Voyager

Monkey in the living room

Thirteen hours later, we woke up and went to the world famous penis museum. I have to say, most penises are gross, especially when in jars. I have now seen many whale penises and many mouse ones. There was only one human one, of a self-proclaimed lothario. A virgin has promised his, so we can see the contrast. And the man with the world’s biggest has promised his as well–they had a picture. It was frightening. One of my favorite things was a jar holding an elf penis (the jar looked empty; Icelandic elves are invisible unless they choose to let you see them (there are several myths about this, including one in which Eve accidentally curses some of her children into invisibility when they are dirty and she doesn’t want God to think her a slovenly mother)). And I learned things, too. For example, I had no idea that almost every other species not only has a dick bone–but a clit bone, too!!!

art at Gló

After having our fill of penises, we found our favorite lunch place: Gló. Highly recommended. Mostly vegetarian. Very fresh. Enormous servings.

longhouse

Then we ventured to the remains of a viking settlement, where we saw the excavation of a longhouse that would have held a family and 10+ animals.

 

 

 

 

And it just went on like that–beautifully, amazingly.

The highlights:

  • Convincing Melissa to do a beer tasting flight before dinner, not knowing their idea of that was five full beers. Each.

    4 of the 5 beers

  • Meeting Beth and Charlene, two of my friends from middle/high school, for a breakfast, since they just happened to be there, too.
  • Visiting the museum, with the Thor idol and the viking graves.
  • Seeing Hallgrímskirkja, the famous church.

    This was on the wall in the hotel across from the church–The Simpsons is everywhere!

    Hallgrímskirkja

    The back of the Leifur Eiríksson statue, which is in front of the church.

  • Eating really good food, the whole time. A favorite was a blueberry-marinated thinly sliced lamb at Laejarbrekka.
  • NOT eating “traditional” Icelandic food that ONLY tourists in Iceland eat now (including rotten shark, puffin, and whale). The puffins are endangered, and since we took a boat out to see them, we couldn’t eat one. They are fucking adorable. And they shouldn’t be able to fly–as evidenced by the ridiculous work they are obviously putting into it. They are always on/in/above the water, except when laying eggs. Rubbing their bills together is part of the mating process, and they generally mate for life. I have a note in my diary that says they’re like Cary Grant in My Favorite Wife, which I will assume was a code for: will mate with someone else one year when they can’t find their spouse, but will totally go to back to the spouse if s/he shows up.

    faux puffin

  • Staying up too late. The sun never really went down at all, so it was very hard to tell our bodies to go to bed.
  • Seeing four kids with their bikes and their packed snacks in the sculpture garden–obviously being all free-range and happy like we used to be.
  • Walking through the teddy bear room in the Museum of Modern Art–yes, they’re slightly melted. 

    the teddy bear room

  • Worrying about the UTI I had for most of the trip.
  • Wading into the Blue Lagoon, were Melissa had wanted to go for years and years (it was even worth missing the penultimate bus and having to wait in the cold an hour and a half for the last one). 
  • Attending a great conference and doing well there.
  • Meeting one of our writing assignments collection authors, who also presented at the conference (and who was also in Sweden with us this last summer).
  • Taking a tour of the countryside, where we saw a glacier (that, yes, has been steadily receding over the last couple of decades), and where we saw Kitla, which will likely be the next volcano to blow (every Icelander is signed up to get a mobile alert to evacuate–she’s bigger than the last one and is named after a female criminal who worked for monks with magic pants), and the hell volcano, believed to be the entrance to the underworld, and basalt columns on a black beach, and two waterfalls, and the folk museum (where we learned a lot about Icelandic history–it was settled in an unusually warm period; people ate lamb, lamb, more lamb, and lamb yogurt for variety; you might think they ate fish, but fishing was pretty dangerous, and the fish that were caught were dried and used to barter for all the things they needed to survive; once the first settlers cut down the trees, none grew back, so they didn’t have wood for fires or ships–basically everything had to be bartered for). We greatly enjoyed our guide, who told us legends and let us listen to Icelandic folk music. My boot broke on the black beach, so I hobbled for the second half of the day. All that we left in our Iceland apartment was my pair of broken black boots and a full bottle of alcohol that we didn’t get to.

    basalt columns

    melting glacier: see the drips?

  • Getting a surprise special reading at the conference closing dinner by the award-winning Icelandic author, Einar Már Guðmundsson. (Iceland is home to many authors and many bands. They value art and those who make it.)
  • Learning about the Icelandic language. English is widely and well spoken in Iceland, but Icelandic is valued and protected. They have a language council and a names council (Icelandic children must be given Icelandic names), although sometimes the language council words come too little too late, especially for technological terms–the kids just keep using the English word for dongle instead of whatever the council comes up with. In terms of those of us who might learn Icelandic, Icelanders are not super concerned about our accents or grammar, but the theory I heard for this is that it’s because we would be seen as forever foreigners. If I wanted to be an Icelandic citizen, I would have to change my name. Since I’m a woman, I would have to have “James’s daughter” as my surname, although he didn’t raise me and I didn’t even have his last name after I was four or five. So that’s a weird thought. Icelandic women are proud feminists and point to keeping their own name throughout their lives as evidence, but it’s strange to me to be defined solely by a blood father my whole life. I would ask to be my grandfather’s daughter, legally, if I had to change my name that way. I also learned that mothers of bastards aren’t allowed to give their children a man’s name unless the man consents. (I’m looking at you, John Snow.)

    Karma Walliessdóttir

  • Sensing that there are no cops in Iceland–we didn’t see any. My theory is that the country is run and protected by docents.
  • Missing the conference organized golden circle tour. The bus left at 9 from the conference hotel. Melissa and my b&b was about a 20 minute walk. Melissa’s alarm didn’t go off. I woke up at about 8:55 and ran to Melissa’s door in a panic.

Then she got to panic while I woke up enough to realize that it didn’t matter how fast we got dressed–we were missing it.

We decided to do our own tour–the circle is merely a route to see the natural wonders. We rented a car, and I navigated. The very first parliament in the world was out in the open, in Iceland, and we got to see where it happened. (Do not go to the visitor center–it’s up a steep hill with nothing but pay toilets. The cool part, the waterfall, is at the parliament site.)

One lingering question from the markers around the site: “The worst forms of incest” got the worst punishments. What are the worst forms? (If you were a woman being put to death for whatever reason you got to be executed, they drowned you.)

The golden circle road is beautiful, with goats and rams and cows and horses and purple lupins. 

Since we weren’t with the tour, we could follow the my pocket guide book’s recommendation for lunch: Efstidalur II–a working dairy farm. I had beef from their cows, trout from their river, ice cream from their dairy (a wall was glass against the barn, so we could watch cows sleep and hang out while eating their milk product).

The other sites along the way are The Gullfuss (golden) Waterfall (rumored to have gold coins lost somewhere) and the geysir area. Geysers are named after a particular one–Geysir, which isn’t currently active. But there are lots, including mini geysir and Srokkur (the churner). 

We also learned about Sigiour Tomasdottir, an early environmentalist and activist.

I would like to say that we learned the answer to this riddle: how many PhDs does it take to get the shower to work in our apartment? All we know is that the answer was more than two.

All in all, Iceland was wonderful. We’ll always miss it and long to return.

This wheelchair was meant for me, but I didn’t use it.

Monkey making friends

 

 

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