Tuesday, 31 May 2011


This chalet near the seaside town of Hellnar just below Snæfellsjökull nicely mirrors the near-perfect natural pyramid of Stapafell Mountain, which in my eyes is an often-overlooked magical companion to the gorgeous glacier above it. Bárður, the guardian half-ogre/half human of the region, calls this special place his home.

Wondering how one recognizes an ogre? Here's a read about our Bárður in English by Ármann Jakobsson, a renowned local writer and professor of Icelandic (and the brother of our outgoing Minister of Education, Science and Culture, Katrín Jakobsdóttir, who is off on maternity leave.)

Note: the chalet has a yin yang symbol over it's door, but I have no idea who owns it....very curious.

Sunday, 29 May 2011


Even with a little digital compact, the Snæfellsjökull glacier* and it's volcanic mountain are easy to glorify. Blessed in many minds as a source of energetic and spiritual power, as well as being the start point for a journey to the center of the earth according to Jules Verne's fiction, this mountain is very special indeed.

*This link takes you to a very nice, informative PDF of the Snæfellsjökull National Park

Friday, 27 May 2011

World's Greatest Dad

This movie came out in Aug'09. I had it in my ext hard drive for so long but only watched it today. Great movie and nice soundtracks.


Very happy children frolic on slick hay bales at a farm in Mosfellsdalur, a verdant valley that connects Mosfellsbær, just outside of Reykjavik, with the ever-popular Þingvellir,* where the Eurasian and North American continental plates endlessly diverge.

For the more literary-minded, Mosfellsdalur is the seat of Halldór Laxness territory and one of the original settlement sites in Iceland from as early as 874, as cited by the Landnámabók, or The Book of Settlement. For the archaeologists among us, here's a nice paper from UCLA on Viking-age excavations in the area.

But none of those fancy things mattered today. The kids just played, fed the new-born lambs, held tiny bunnies and puppies and kittens, petted tolerant horses and a very grandmotherly hen, ate hot dogs and cookies and got as dirty-muddy as they wanted to. Despite even the rain, it was a perfect day.


Monday, 23 May 2011



Ben writes: There is nothing worse than building your hopes up on a planned event so that it's almost impossible to stop blinking with excitement, only to have your plans shattered by a most untimely eruption of a 'nearby' volcano. Mother Nature obviously does not care about my plans to go back home to Scotland for my favourite festival... So when I heard that she had blasted some of her angry dust high into the air and forced Keflavik airport to close, it made sense to try driving as close as possible to Grimsvötn to give it the proverbial 'finger'. Naturally, ironically, the volcano won that challenge as well, but we did get as far as Vik, and before beginning the trip back to Reykjavik we took in the beauty of Reynisfjara beach. To see the black sand and the amazing rock formations with the thick ash cloud of the volcano blocking out the sun was something I will not forget in a hurry... Which is pretty much what I think of Iceland on a whole. Totally unforgettable.

When not dashing out to enjoy the follies of nature and capture gorgeous photos in the process, Ben (who also created a brilliant electro track for our volcano: play loud ; ) works as a Quality Assurance Tester at Iceland's innovative and award-winning CCP Games.

(Here's a very cool video of our eruption with music by sigur rós : )  

Sunday, 22 May 2011


You don't get do-overs in life. You just have to move forward..

Friday, 20 May 2011


An easy day walk around Reykjavik, out from the city center, is an absolute must for visitors to get a true feeling for how peaceful and safe it is here. Here's an article I wrote for Packed magazine (page 35) describing a lovely walk, including the ethereal Öskjuhlíð forest pictured here.

Wednesday, 18 May 2011

The Queen, Ireland & Willy Brandt's Bendy Knees

I write this in the middle of the Queen's State Visit to Ireland.  Yesterday she laid a wreath to honour those killed by the British fighting for independence.  Today she visited the Croke Park, where the British Army fired on a soccer crowd killing fourteen.  Tonight she is widely expected to "acknowledge past difficulties" but not to apologise for past British actions in Ireland.

The whole event has got me thinking about the nature of reconciliation, as well as about the acceptance of history and its role in creating the present.  I <really> believe this stuff matters, and here are some thoughts on why.

War Breaks Out

At 4.45am on 1 September 1939 the German battleship Schleswig-Holstein famously opened fire on the Polish Westerplatte Military depot near Danzig.  The opening salvo of World War Two had been fired.  By 1945 the Germans had murdered a total of 3 million Polish Jews, some 90% of the 1939 population.  Often overlooked by non-Poles was the fact that a similar number, roughly 3 million non-Jewish Poles also died in the intervening 6 years.  Think about this for a moment: ONE in FIVE of the entire Polish population would meet an untimely and often unthinkably terrible end in the few years following this bombardment.

The Schleswig-Holstein Battleship

Warsaw Genuflection

Just twenty-five years after the end of WW2 the Social Democrat Chancellor of West Germany made a remarkable visit to Poland.  He visited the Warsaw Ghetto Memorial and surprisingly and apparently spontaneously fell to his knees in front of it.  The entire crowd of assembled dignitaries and journalists fell silent.  Brandt remained there in silent contemplation for some time.  I wasn't even alive in 1970 but the mere thought of this brings tears to my eyes.  It was the iconic "Warschauer Kniefall" or "Warsaw Genuflection".

A Truly Iconic Moment

He later explained "Under the weight of recent history, I did what people do when words fail them. In this way I commemorated millions of murdered people." 

This was 25 years after the end of the most murderous period in European history, committed by his nation.  25 years ago today takes us back to May 1986: Madonna was in the charts in with "Live to Tell".  It was such a short time afterwards.

Owning up to the Past

Brandt was not just there to carry out this remarkable act.  He had come to sign a treaty, which gave up all German land east of the Oder-Neisse line. This was an area not that far off the size of the whole of England.  That act hurt - really, really hurt: fourteen million lost their historic homelands.  This was where my German family had fled from in the depths of Winter 1945 - if you're bored and haven't already done so, read the fairly dramatic story here. My elderly German family could never forgave Brandt.  "This was our land, our home - politicians have no right to give away this to anyone" said my Great Aunt, Tante Ella.

Brandt's actions were however in my opinion an unavoidable, brave and necessary part of a process that Germany went through and is going through until today.  No amount of dropping to your knees, making (sometimes paltry) payments to Holocaust victims or foreign policy support for Israel will ever, can ever, make right the wrongs of the Third Reich.  What the German government has done though - sometimes to the point of self-flagellation - is to attempt to face up to its history.

In this, I am always struck by the contrast between the position in Germany and that in neighbouring Austria, where the cancerous myth of the "first victim" still pervades all too many minds.  Austria made up 7% of the Third Reich, but 25% of the membership of the SS - care to find that staggering fact in any Austrian school book?

Overwhelmingly, Germany has rigorously examined its role, its conscience, its actions and apologised unreservedly for its acts.  It has done things such as sign the Treaty of Warsaw - which caused enormous pain to people during this process.  It has also, however, created a space where its Jewish population is again thriving: now the third largest in Europe, and the fastest growing in the world.  Most of this came from post-Soviet emigration, but the fact is no Jewish family need live in this country: they choose to do so because is it considered on balance a safe place to bring up your kids and get on with your life.  It's obviously not all a bed of roses, but new synagogues are being built all over the country: not just in Berlin and Munich, but in tiny towns across the country like Hamelin, of Pied Piper Fame.  There is net emigration from Israel to Germany today.

Munich's new Synagogue: one of 6 in the city
Meanwhile in Austria, once home to the incredibly vibrant Jewish community of Vienna, the Jewish population stagnates.  There are a couple of thousand mainly very Orthodox Jews in the capital.  It took 46 years for Austria to recognise its role in Third Reich crimes.  It was November 2005, after court litigation and huge pressure from the USA, before Austria made payments to its few surviving holocaust survivors.  The contrast is self-evident and the effects of this different dealing with a similar past are fascinating.

(By the way, personally I blame Julie Andrews and Christopher Plummer in large measure for their horrendous historical white-washing of Austrian history in the Sound of Music.  That said, I'll still attend a sing along if you invite me.)

Hollywood in non-accurate historical portrayal shocker!
Where is all this going?!

I hope you have worked out where this is all going.  The British did not deliberately, with forethought, murder 20% of the population of Ireland in a space of just over 5 years.  However, at least 10% of the entire population of Ireland did die during the Potato Famine.  A further 10% minimum were forced to emigrate - this was a tragic, painful, dreadful watershed in Irish history.  Historians tend to agree its occurrence was neither inevitable nor avoidable; and the British response remains a source of burning pain and sometimes hatred for many Irish.  It came on top of centuries of subjugation and colonisation by the British and was followed by frequently brutal oppression and suppression.

A friend on Twitter told me last night there is a saying along the lines of "The Irish need to forget history and the English need to remember it".  My very personal interest in German history teaches me that gestures such as Willy Brandt's bendy knees are far from meaningless, hollow gestures.  As part of a proper examination of history and owning up to a country's past, a different reality can actually be created in the present.  I am convinced that German Jewish life would not be flourishing today if the country had adopted a different path post-1945.

Far from a hollow gesture

We do not live in the past and it should not poison our creation of the future, but we must learn about history to understand and shape things for the better.  My preferred path is a middle one between the Irish and English extremes in the saying above.  I hope, though, that through the example of Germany I have shown that a proper examination of history does have the capacity to change people's lives.  Seen like this, history matters SO much.

Time for an Apology?

For all of these reasons I believe that the Queen's visit, 100 years after our last king visited Ireland, can not have come a moment too soon.  Her laying a wreath does not mean nothing: it is deeply symbolic, powerful, and moving. A heartfelt apology tonight for all the many wrongs that Britain has done to its neighbour would cost absolutely nothing to do - and in my view is the least our Head of State can do.

Friday, 13 May 2011

Starbucks 50% off

If you haven't already heard, Starbucks is currently having 50% off for their drinks. It is a pretty good deal for people who can't afford Starbucks as it is a luxury to many. I heard the offer was worldwide!

It was my first time patronising the Starbucks in Glasgow. I've been to Starbucks in USA, Malaysia, and now, Glasgow. They are all similar be it the interior or the aromatic smell of coffee surrounding the place once the front door opens.

The Starbucks logo is the same everywhere but with one exception being a Starbucks in Seattle. Seattle has plenty of Starbucks. But, this particular one stands out as it had a different logo and it was always packed with plenty of visitors. If you haven't heard the story, well, its because Starbucks originated from Seattle and that particular store was the first Starbucks ever.
Me in front of the first ever Starbucks in Seattle.
Look at the crowd (lining up till outside) and the different Starbucks logo behind.

I do not drink coffee. So, I'd usually order a hot chocolate or ice blended chocolate and top it up with a biscotti. Starbucks biscottis are the best!

Well, a first visit to a Starbucks in Glasgow is definitely something blogable :)

12th of May: Nanakusa, Yates - Food for thought

When exams end, the cravings kicks in.
My hands were also itching and tingling to cook something since exams forbid me from enhancing my cullinary skills.

Egg tarts! Homemade! 5th try! I think I have perfected it!

After spreading the egg tart love around, a bunch of us headed out for lunch at Nanakusa, a japanese restaurant. Being deprived from Japanese food for 9 months made a spoon of rice at Nanakusa, tasted like heaven. We all had the lunch sets. Although the portions were small, it was definitely worth while to drown my tastebuds with Japanese food. Everything tasted good!

Edamame, Sashimi, Sushi, Maki






Like I mentioned earlier, it was a day to indulge! So, after lunch, we headed to Yates for some desserts. It was "Buy 2 for the price of 1". We had four plates of desserts. Three out of four were sinfully rich with chocolate. Delicious, nonetheless.

Caramel Chocolate pudding

Rocky Road Choclate cheesecake

Warm Chocolate brownie + ice cream

Warm chocolate melt + Ice cream

The aftermath of being sugar high:-

After Yates, the next stop was home to prepare dinner.
Filling chef: GC; Wrapping chef: GC + Alex; Fryer: Amy .. FRIED TO PERFECTION!

Alex made sambal dried prawns, while I made sambal ikan bilis.

Fried anchovies

My version of sambal ikan bilis

Alex's creation: Sambal dried prawn

My dinner for the night besides samosa and sambal:

Honey chicken and vege

The one bowl of uber spicy Alex's sambal was finished by mostly by him and Amy.
a huge bowl of sambal

samosa topped with sambal dried prawns

After much chatter with the lovely bunch, we were suppose to watch ANTM. Unfortunately, it wasn't loaded online. With plenty of free time, Choo Wei and Alex decided to make oatmeal raisin cookies. So, cookies for supper :)

Oh, what a day.

We craved,
We indulged,
We satisfied.... the tummy =D