Have a nice day…

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St Gile Cathedral on a very nice day

Grey. Gloomy. Cloudy. Cold. Miserable.

This is what I was told to expect from Scotland weather. “Pack your thermals!” they said. “You’ll miss the sunshine!” they trilled. All the while I la-la-la-la’d away such unflattering portrayals of my beloved Scotland. I mean, I had spent two nights here last year in the middle of January. Yes, it had been cold, but the sky had remained a clear crisp blue whilst the sun had pinked my chilled cheeks. And let’s not forget I was a happy little mitten-wearing-Brit until the ripe age of ten. I was raised to laugh in the face of overcast!

Despite the evident preparation that was my English upbringing, I nonetheless braced myself for a sharp, icy wind and stocked up on scarves, gloves, beanies and wooly socks. I was ready to face the frosty fleshless monster!

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Welcomed to Edinburgh with a dusting of snow

And then I arrived. It snowed. It was beautiful. I watched the flakes fall from the warmth of my cosy new flat and thought nothing of gloom and misery and cold. It was the perfect welcome. And once the snow had melted away, it seemed the sun was willing and ready to resurface with a vengeance.

“It’s sunny!” shouted my flatmate one morning with great surprise and joy. She insisted we make the most of it, so we went exploring the city. Down wynds and closes we went, across parks, through royal grounds, over cobbled stone streets and always under the ever watchful eye of the castle.

The following day I awoke again to a shout of “It’s sunny!”. Again we went outside exploring.

On the third day, I heard the same declaration. “It’s sunny!” That was when I knew Edinburgh was treating me to a special kind of hospitality.

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“It’s sunny!” at Edinburgh Castle

So continued the days, always with the surprised yet blissful announcement from my flatmate that the sun was once again gracing us with its presence. I knew I was being spoiled, but I didn’t care. Some days I even stayed inside to read a book by the bay window and soak in the sun through the glass.

And then came last Sunday. We had planned an “out of city” excursion to a castle ruin that called to us from what seemed like the edge of the world.

“It’s sunny!” never came.

Instead we awoke to grey, gloomy, cloudy, cold AND miserable. We were late to get moving, but undeterred nonetheless. On the train we hopped and arrive we did to the beautiful picturesque beachside town of North Berwick. It was just past 1pm, and despite the cold grey weather, the town was abustle with dog walkers, pram walkers, and just your average walker walkers (not the flesh eating kind, to any of you Walking Dead fans out there wondering otherwise).

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A little reminder of home in North Berwick

To get to the castle we needed to catch a bus just a little further out of town. When we arrived at the bus stop we realised we hadn’t accounted for the Sunday timetable, and had missed the last bus going out. I’m not going to lie, I was cold, cranky and disappointed. Though the town itself was an attraction, the castle was the primary reason for our visit. After seeing no taxi in sight and agreeing we were both too poor for such a luxury anyway, we retreated to the closest pub to ask if the castle was in walking distance and how long it would take.

The Ship Inn was warm. It was cosy. It was so very inviting.

Then this happened:

Katy to Bartender: Hello! We’ve missed the bus to Tantallon Castle. Is it in walking distance?

Bartender: Oh aye. It’ll take ye about an hour but it’s a nice day for it.

Katy: *laughs*

Bartender: [silence. strange looks]

Katy: [looks outside at cold, grey pit of doom] I’m sorry, it’s a nice day for…?

Bartender: It’s a nice day for a walk.

Katy: [looks outside again, confused]

Bartender: [gives directions and tells us to enjoy the “nice day”]

Once back out in the cold I asked my flatmate, who has been living in Scotland for several years, whether the bartender had been joking. She kindly explained that when she arrived in Edinburgh she had been equally confused by a tendency to refer to cloudy days as “nice” days, but after a while understood that the Scots seemed to be pretty happy with the weather as long as it wasn’t raining, hailing or snowing. Anything else was considered “good weather”.

And I couldn’t help but be a little humbled. I’ve been spoiled the last 17 years in Australia, where a day without sunshine is like a day without air. We thrive off it. But to those where rainy days outnumber sunny days, of course the average cloudy day where you can leave your brolly at home is going to be a “good day”. These little pleasures are all relative and we have to take the good no matter how it comes.

And so we walked. The walk warmed us up. We enjoyed the scenery in a way we wouldn’t have been able to on the bus and I daresay enjoyed the day a great deal more. Tantallon Castle was as eerily beautiful as the pictures had indicated and to look over the cliffs at the smashing waves under dark clouds was spectacular in itself. I could almost see the sieges and pirates and smugglers and battles before me. Novel ideas were running rampant around my head.

And when it was time to go home we decided to walk.

It was, after all, a nice day.

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G is for Galaverna

After spending a relatively mild few weeks in Germany, Poland, Scotland and England, countries usually known for their cold winters but which struggled to hit below zero whilst I was there, I arrived in Italy expecting much of the same. The forecast was for sunny skies and a tame 10 degrees.

Of course, it turned out to be the most bitterly cold of them all, with a top of minus four during my trip to Venice (but that’s another story).

Whilst the cold was moderately off-putting in terms of getting dressed into layer upon layer and mustering an enthusiasm to leave the house of a morning, it did provide for this wonderful phenomenon: galaverna.

Galavera in Ferrara, Italy

Galaverna. Galaverna. I kept hearing the Italians throw the word around but I’d never heard of it before and had no idea what it meant.

What in the bloody hell was galaverna?!

After several people tried to explain it to me using unfamiliar Italian words, I came to a rough understanding that it was a build up of frost from the weather being so damn cold over many days and not being able to thaw. I then proceeded to explain that there simply was no word for it in English.

Of course I was wrong.  The dictionary told me that ‘hoarfrost’ is the English translation for the Italian galaverna, and though I can’t say I’ve ever heard of it, perhaps those of you living in countries that annually reach temperatures below zero have.

For those of you who, like me, haven’t, it is described by the faithful online dictionary as:

Frozen dew that forms a white coating on a surface.

Yes yes, that’s all very good, but what the definition doesn’t explain, is just how beautiful it is.

The trees and bushes turn white with the build up of this ‘frozen dew’, which becomes more and more prominent as the days continue in cold succession.

What it ends up looking like is snow. Snow without all the slush and mud under your feet. It is, quite simply, stunning to admire as everything turns white.

While both hoarfrost and galaverna are two words I’m not familiar with, I find it fascinating that they exist at all. Not content with calling it ‘a build up of frozen dew’ or ‘frost pretending to be snow’, somewhere, sometime in history, someone actually gave it a name. I don’t know why this amazes me so, but it does. To be able to give a name to something so beautiful, really is quite gratifying.

That said, I have to admit that galaverna just sounds so much better on the tongue than hoarfrost. Don’t you think?

Galaverna in Ferrara, Italy

Living a Life Down Under

Australian Christmas Essentials

A short while ago I posted about my seasonal job working at the snow, which in Australia translates as working mid year in the June-August months, or thereabouts.  I know it’s all very confusing for those of you on the upper side of the Earth, but really it’s all very simple.  We still have the same four seasons, just in reverse.  So as you currently enjoy the warm sunshine and summer holidays, I am sitting here, wrapped in a blanket by the fire.

But what does this mean for Christmas?

At the time of my post, my magnificent blog friend, Angela Wallace, made a most valid request:

You’ll have to explain Christmas to me later, because I’m suddenly starting to feel unbalanced with the idea of hot Christmases and no hot chocolate if December is your summer…

You are not alone, Angela!  Now, as I grew up in the UK until the age of 10, I am more than familiar with a wintery Christmas.  As December approached during my school days in England, we would make Christmas cards decorated with snow flakes, snowmen and open fires.  The Christmas holidays would be spent frolicking outside in the snow, our mittens permanently attached to our fingers, and coming inside at the end of the day with red noses, rosy cheeks and a fatigue that only an entire day of absolute merriment can deliver.  On Christmas Eve we would leave Santa a mug of warm milk and a plate of chocolate biscuits.  Christmas dinner was always a feast of hot food to warm the heart (and the body) – a turkey that had been slow cooking all day, roast potatoes, parsnips and (always to my dismay) brussel sprouts.  I hold fond memories of those English Christmases and am grateful I had the opportunity to experience them as only the Europeans know how.

One winter morning in England a few years ago

An Australian Christmas is a different experience entirely.

When my parents first told my brother and I that we were moving to Australia, I was genuinely excited.  Mum had come back from a recent recon trip with a huge illustrated children’s book of Australia and a sing-along video, amongst other fascinating souvenirs, which succeeded in getting us most enthusiastic about the imminent journey to the land down under.  I honestly don’t remember once contemplating the thought of leaving my friends behind, or having to start afresh at a new school.  I was at an age where I just saw it all as very cool and a bit of an adventure.  The only time I cried was when I realised we had to leave our German Shepherd behind, and a brief moment when I found out I wouldn’t be around to participate in a skipping rope competition I had trained so very hard for.  Despite these two unhappy affairs, I never looked back.

I believe this enormous transition at such an early age truly contributed to how well I have adapted to every move since.  Back then, the internet was still in its very early days, and not yet commercially available.  Flights were expensive and snail mail was precisely as slow it sounds.  In hindsight, I was unreasonably optimistic in light of the circumstances that strongly indicated it would be some time before I saw or heard from my friends or extended family again.  But optimistic I was, and it hasn’t let me down yet.  Ever since, with every move I’ve made, I have always looked forward to what adventure awaits, unafraid of what I might be leaving behind.  I’m a strong believer that where there’s a will, there’s a way, and the technology of today is a testament to that.  Nowadays you need only an internet connection to keep in touch with friends and family across the globe, and although I have made new friends in Aus, I have since been able to reconnect with old ones in the UK.

But I digress.

In light of my optimistic attitude, I was not at all unenthused by the prospect of a Christmas without the traditional snow glazed trees and hot chocolate suppers.  Mum and dad had filled us in, and we were as fascinated by the idea of a hot Christmas as we were hopeful at spotting a koala up a tree along a suburban road, or a kangaroo hopping down the streets of Sydney. (Although this didn’t actually happen quite as we hoped, I can since assure all those non-Aussies out there, that there are plenty of places in Australia where they do exist amongst urban living.  Just the other night I took the dog outside and was greeted by an enormous kangaroo, taller than me and gawking like a deer caught in headlights.  I froze, and after a moment it took off into the night in a few huge bounds, the soft thumping sound of its feet betraying its graceful getaway.)

So what do Aussies do for Christmas?

Well, obviously every family is different, but generally speaking, Christmas Day will involve a BBQ.  It’s usually too hot to have the oven on inside, so a backyard BBQ or a barbie on the beach is the answer.  The beach?  I hear you ask.  Yes, the beach.  Aussies LOVE the beach and most beaches have BBQ’s under a nearby pergola, which on Christmas Day requires an early morning, some organisation and a basic knowledge of kung fu in order to lay claim to one.  Fresh seafood is the cuisine of choice, with prawn platters and smoked salmon followed by our national desert, Pavlova.

The 2008 Santa Claus Pub Crawl crew

A lot of Aussies will just spend the day as they would most summer days, lazing on the beach with a cool beer in hand.  The Christmas parties are never ending, and usually involve some kind of dress up theme and a pub crawl.  For a number of years I participated in a Santa Claus Pub Crawl, which involved dressing up as Mr or Mrs Claus and with a bag of candy in tow, ‘crawling’ the pubs along the Northern Beaches of Sydney, handing out candy canes to children and getting just a little bit more inebriated with each passing pub, and a little more sunburnt with each walk to the next.  I would like to take this opportunity to promote stranger danger, SPF 30+ sunscreen, and to encourage responsible drinking.

As is customary with the summer months, we too hold many summer music festivals, which a lot of people attend over the Christmas period.  Some people travel up north to the Whitsundays for even warmer weather, and some people travel down south to cool down, just a little.  Some people go camping, cruising or hiking.  As our school year ends around November, Christmas time is also a time for many to celebrate the end of their exams, school year or school life.

Whatever the occasion, Australians have this unusual knack of being relaxed, content and eager to forget all their worries and just have a good time.  Cheer and beer.  It’s their thing.  It’s our thing.

So Angela, and all, I hope this has cleared up some of the mystery behind how we manage Christmas in summer.  I do miss the white Christmases of England, but I can’t really complain about Christmas at the beach either.  We have the tinsel, the tree and the carols that come with any Christmas, we just do it a bit differently.

In the meantime, enjoy the summer, those of you all the way up there…yeah you!  I’m not jealous, because the funny thing about seasons is that they come around every year, and as it turns out we’re due for another summer in just a few months.  Now I’m going to get back to my fire and mittens, and despite the cold remain eternally content that I get to call Australia home.

N.B.  I can still rock a skipping rope.

~storytelling nomad~

I can’t move…

…my arms, my legs, my back.  Everything aches.  My fingers are even struggling to type these words.  Much editing is proving useful to making sure this post sounds as though it was written by an astute adult rather than a deformed domestic animal stepping on the keys, which, in case you’re wondering, looks more like this:

bjªfsijo¡L7 ^% )@*Ynd uy%!0-2 8ªnsv uhs$dw90la 68§∞2ey7husdG&%#_*

And yet, what a magnificent couple of days spent on the mountain.  Clear blue skies, very little wind, and many happy customers.  I woke this morning to a beautiful snowy mountain sunrise, as you can see;

Ben Lomond Sunrise

For so early in the season we have amazing snow cover at Ben Lomond at the moment, and were extremely lucky that our first open weekend was over a long weekend.  Tomorrow, this hard life (#notreally) continues as I head back up to the mountain for another couple of days at the snow.  I apologise for the brevity of this post, and the reasonable lack of content, but as soon as I can move my bones again with a respectable amount of agility for someone my age, I’ll be sure to make up for it.  If I don’t, punishment by death will ensue.

~storytelling nomad~