Yes, 2017 has been a year of big birthdays for us with my Dad turning 60 and Ben turning 30 earlier this year and now, here I was this weekend, celebrating the big 3-0.
Ben and I decided that we would celebrate our birthdays here in Sweden this year, doing things that we otherwise wouldn’t do. For his birthday back in July, we spent a night in a Silver Mine – in the world’s deepest suite in fact. And until a few weeks ago we were unsure of what we would do to mark the occasion of my 3oth when, on a recent trip to the open-air museum Skansen, when my brother and sister-in-law visited, we learned that they offered glass-blowing workshops.
I have a big crafty creative side and glass blowing is something I have wanted to do for a long time – so I booked the day off work, and was excited to try this new technique…
We planned to make an ornament and a glass each. First of all, we made the ornaments…
Then came the glass making time…
Needless to say, I now have an even bigger respect for skilled glassblowers – the blowing part was was a lot harder than it looked… the pros made it look effortless (we did not!)…
…but we were pleased with our makes…
and I continue to be in awe at the beauty that glass can create in the right hands…
The weekend was full of celebration including a wonderful afternoon tea with my in-laws at Ulriksdal Garden Centre (we were enjoying it so much that we forgot to take pictures). And I am so thankful for the well wishes that arrived from around the world in the form of greetings, cards and presents. I may live far away from many of you, but you are dear in my heart.
Oh… and of course we celebrated with a winter-inspired release from Narrow Skies…
I can’t believe we’re in August already. The long Nordic days are beginning to fade and today’s wind and rain even had a little Autumnal feel (as an Autumn lover I don’t mind saying this). Summer in Stockholm has been warm but we haven’t seen as many hot days as the last few years. But sadly, in this global-warming world, anything can happen…
Since my last post, we celebrated Ben’s 30th 155 metres underground! Due to other commitments, we couldn’t fit in a longer break so, determined to celebrate in style, we headed to the world’s deepest suite in Sala Silver Mine (about 1.5 hours North-West of Stockholm).
After a guided tour of the vast caves and dinner in nearby Sala, we headed underground for the night. While our surroundings were a little creepy, it really was a remarkable place to be – amongst the historic and vast network of tunnels and caves, with only a walkie-talkie to communicate with our guide above ground (in case of emergency).
We survived the night (although admittedly it neither of our best night’s sleep ever) and decided to head to a Moose Park (Älgpark) which happened to be only about half an hour from the Silver Mine. Since moving here, I have been really entranced by the Scandinavian wildlife. That said, so far I have only seen a moose in the wild at quite a distance. (They can be pretty dangerous so maybe that’s a good thing…!) Anyway, this moose park turned out to be great and really was a fun way to spend the morning…
We’ve also been using the summer to continue writing new music (as usual) and have released one new track from our new project as Narrow Skies – which has been getting some great traction which is exciting! The complete 3 track EP is released on 25th August.
Through travelling to so many contrasting places together (over 30 different countries to date), we have gradually discovered the type of holiday we need for restoration (and luckily for us, we have similar tastes when it comes to this): remoteness, nature, and a few adventures.
Getting to Islay was an adventure in itself as we opted to take a direct flight to Edinburgh and then drive to the ferry port at Kennacraig, where you then take a two-hour ferry ride across to Islay. To break up the journey, we spent the first night at a Bed and Breakfast not far from the port before continuing on our journey.
The scenic drive through Scotland was just breathtaking – we were too in awe to take many pictures of the route and the ones I took on the way back just don’t do justice to the panoramic views.
The road though mainland Scotland
Out on deck during the ferry crossing to Islay
View of Jura from the ferry
I loved the journey – being in a car ferry reminded me of childhood trips we would take to France – and we even caught glimpse of a dolphin from the deck.
After disembarking, we stopped off at Coal Ila distillery on spec and were pleasantly surprised that they had availability on their next tour and so our whisky journey began. Caol Ila seemed more mass production focussed with much of their whisky being produced to create blended whiskies rather than single malts. Still, it was a great place to stop and learn about the distilling process for the first time.
Our drive to our accommodation took us from the very north of the island to the very southern tip and took around 40 minutes to drive (which gives you a sense of Islay’s size). Always ones for adventure, we had planned to stay in a highly-recommended Stormpod (a renovated large caravan built into the hill behind it and covered with turf for protection from said storms). Our view overlooking the bay packed with wildlife was enviable – and as it turns out, not a dull moment can go by when you are seal spotting…
View across the bay
This one wasn’t at all camera shy
Stormclouds in the distance
The weather was particularly good for the first few days (a rarity for Islay we were told) before a storm set in (and the Stormpod’s protective design came into its own) but this just added to the adventure…
This adventure walk was cut a little short due to lack of visibility
Jura in the clouds
With us both having developed a taste for whisky in recent years, we were intrigued by the several distilleries on Islay which are renowned for their peaty (smoky) taste. We loved learning more about the whisky-making process and in total visited 7 of the 8 distilleries on Islay, as well as visiting the distillery on the neighbouring island of Jura (the terrain here was possibly some of the most spectacular I have ever seen – again the pictures don’t do it justice).
Iconic shots of these distilleries on Islay
This yellow flower on thorny bristles coloured the landscape
Stunning views and wildlife was everywhere and Islay may not be a destination everyone thinks of, I would definitely recommend it – whether you are a walker, nature-appreciator, whisky drinker or general Scotland lover… this really is an island paradise.
Oyster catchers on the beach
View through the window of a castle ruin
April- September is considered as the touristy season on Islay and we had booked the rest of our distillery tours in advance, which was a good idea as they often only operate in small numbers and sometimes tour buses can come and book out an entire tour. If you plan to go to Islay, you may also want to avoid the Islay Festival of Music and Malt at the end of May as prices can be high, and accommodation hard to come by.
All in all, it was a great vacation – made even better by the fact that we were able to visit two sets of friends on the way home in Glasgow and Edinburgh. Oh… and enjoy this on a casual Tuesday night…
Well, almost. While I had certainly hoped for a white Christmas at the end of 2016 (as always), it was not to be…
In the following early months of 2017 we have faced many icy cold days – complete with a snow-covered landscape (on and off) and frozen lakes (complete with many ice-skaters of course!).
But having spoken to many locals who have been around a lot longer than I, it seems that the Swedish weather may be a little more confused than ever…
This isn’t the first time that weird weather has affected Sweden in recent years. Our first summer here (2014) was hot and humid interspersed with freak thunderstorms that flooded underground stations and caught everyone by surprise. The following winter was surprisingly mild with very little snow, and then in early November last year (2016) Stockholm experienced its snowiest day for 111 years which brought the city to a standstill and halted public transport (not an easy feat in a country whose infrastructure is designed with sub-zero temperatures in mind).
One of the things I most love about Sweden is being able to truly experience winter alongside the contrast of each season – the colours of autumn, the freeze of winter, the awakening of spring and the midnight sun of summer. And the seasons do come – but now with a very unpredictable rhythm it seems. We could be in for another scorcher of a summer, but right now it’s -2°C outside and I can’t see it! The buds and early flowers of spring are fighting to hold their ground against the frost and we are all wondering when spring will truly arrive.
Many might argue that it is not unusual to see snow in April here in Sweden – and no, it’s not. But it is the erratic nature of the weather that causes concern… Today, we woke up to a covering of snow on the ground – when two weeks ago we were enjoying the sun, thinking about picnics and Ben was wearing shorts!?
I see a change.
People who have known this place for much longer than me talk about this change.
The media reports on record heatwaves and snowfalls based on years of scientific data.
Still many people don’t want to talk about this change… this climate change.
But if it is affecting the seasons so visibly like this… it makes you wonder… what else is it doing to the things we can’t see?
A blog post has been brewing in my mind for a while now given the state of well… everything! And aside from the much discussed politics of Trump and Brexit, a significant, divisive (and perhaps equally alarming) ‘blame culture’ also seems to be on the rise.
Whether the state of the current political world is related or not, many articles seem to be popping up about ‘Millennials’ – that is the generation (of which I find myself a part) born from the early 1980s (specifically 1982-2004) who are often characterised as narcissistic, entitled, and tough to manage in the workplace – as outlined in this video by Simon Sinek.
Interestingly, in my experience, the majority of people sharing this video are firstly those who are (by luck of their own birth date) not of the ‘Millennial Generation’. Don’t worry though – if you, like me, are a Millennial, I like to think that there is still hope for us! But seriously, it is much less often that people seem so willing to share similar videos or writings on their own generation’s weaknesses. No, rather… we seem to live in a blame culture and we would rather blame the other.
So, for the sake of balance, here are a few things that we have to thank millennials for:
And of course, it is the Millennipreneurs who are taking entrepreneurship to the next level and yes… with the likes of Spotify and Facebook being great examples of successful startups created by Millennials
The problem with generalisation
While trends over time are fascinating by their very definition, generalising an entire generation puts people into boxes, allows for voices to go unheard and creates and ‘us and them’ culture.
It is, of course, easy to look for a scapegoat for society’s problems and we all know that statistics can be manipulated and used to prove whatever you want them to. It’s easy to for people to generalise specific generations – examples include the stereotypes of the parenting problems of Generation X and the Baby Boomer‘s economic drain on society. But I don’t feel it’s appropriate to infer that this is the case for every person who happens to be categorised by this specific terminology. The fact is that while general trends can be interesting, I would argue that when we do it to focus on the negative, it isn’t at all helpful and only serves to create more social barriers across society as a whole.
And as this world seems to be tearing us apart so rapidly from every angle, I think a more constructive response would in fact be to not be drawn into the blame culture of what divides us. Finding things that divide us is easy. The challenge is to come together.
‘Unity is strength, division is weakness’ – Swahili Proverb