Monday, December 31, 2012

2012: Annus mirabilis

What an amazing year it's been! This time last year I was in Santiago, Chile. I'm still in touch with some of the people I met there.

From Chile I returned to a wintery New York for about a month, where I ran the Manhattan half marathon in a blizzard. I then went to Texas for a get-together of the Dead Runners Society, which I've been a member of since 1996, and which included running the Austin half marathon. To Oz via Venice Beach for a quick visit to Albury before joining pal Joanne in Singapore. We took the train up through Malaysia to join the Kuching Wees in Kuala Lumpur for another half mara. To Sarawak for a couple of weeks, then to Bali, again with the Wees. This was the first of four consecutive weekends of competing in a half marathon: in Bali; Rotorua (NZ), where I stayed with my father; Vancouver (Canada), where I caught up with pal Sarah; and in Portland (Oregon), where Dead Runner friend Nangel and I ran the Hippy Chick half marathon.

On to New York, which really feels like home, for two months of training with great friends and racing over short distances (4 to 6 miles). A quick flit down to St Kitts in the Caribbean to meet up with Renee, a writer whose book about selling up and sailing off into the sunset I'd been told about and really enjoyed.

On the back of the summer training in New York I ran my best half mara time since 2009 in the Reykjavik half marathon held in August. I scored a third place in my age group against runners from all over Europe. The week before the race I spent on a trek in the volcanic interior beneath a massive looming glacier. Made friends with runner Maggy, originally from Namibia.

Florence in September was gorgeous. The Wees joined me there for 10 days. Min and I got some runs in around town, and we made some sightseeing trips to Siena, San Gimignano and the Cinque Terre. Met and spent time with Bettina, owner of the apartment I rented, and with artist Clare, and was chuffed to catch up with Albury best pals Sue and Neil. En route to Milan I stopped in Bologna to catch up with "B" buddy, Di. (We met in Bali in 2010 and have since caught up in Berlin, Brighton Beach in New York, Bologna ... and recently Melbourne.)

Back to New York for the rest of the autumn racing season. The Staten Island half was my ninth for the year. Hurricane Sandy devastated parts of New York in late October, leading to cancellation of the New York City Marathon, which would have been my fifth marathon and my second one in New York. Two days later I flew to Dublin, where I learned of a 25K race in Cork. An enjoyable run and a first place in my age group. Caught up with pal Marc, whom I met in Chile, and who showed me some of the country around Limerick and the west coast.

The final two half marathons for the year were in Penang, where I celebrated a joint Year of the Dragon birthday with Min and Sam and the Kuching contingent; and in Singapore (another first place). I'd flown with the Wees from Kuching, where we rested up for a week after Penang, for our fourth half marathon together in four cities for the year, and my 12th in 12 months in nine countries.

Besides all the training and running, I spent time with special friends in Santiago, New York, Reykjavik, Florence and Ireland, who all help make the world feel like my home. I saw lots of wonderful art and architecture, enjoyed some amazing theatre, walked through stunning urban and wilderness landscapes, read lots of great books, and watched many wonderful films and documentaries.

I've managed to stay on top of a demanding workload, and feel immense gratitude to my clients for continuing to send me interesting jobs. Some new doors opened during the year through referrals.

In Australia for the end of the year I spent some time with my mum and visited my home town for a few days over Christmas. It was a great chance to see family and good friends there, as well as my dogs Butch and Charlie, who are happy and healthy and very loved. I'll see my dad next week.

When I decided in late 2009 to sell up and live my life as a vagabond, I didn't doubt it was the right thing to do. But I don't think I could have predicted how amazing it is to live this way, and how well suited to it I seem to be. I've been really blessed with people who have come along everywhere I've spent time and made me feel at home in their world. Thank you!

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Catching my breath...

I was hoping to get into the routine of updating this blog at least weekly, and here it's been almost a month since my last entry. Apologies to the two or three people who read it!

Nothing much has changed: I'm still very busy with work, and I'm still running. But I'm now in Melbourne after spending 10 days in Kuching and a couple of days in Singapore.

Kuching is a home base. I love my Kuching family. Min rode his bike while I ran on a couple of mornings, which is the next best thing to running with him. I also lucked out with runs with fellow Aussie guests at Batik on a couple of mornings, especially with Jan who is often in Kuching from her base in Kuala Lumpur.

The ever wise Emily always manages to shine a clear light on anything that is troubling me. She's a treasure.

Kuching is always a busy place for me socially now, and it's always great to see the special people there who have been so nice to me. I wish I wasn't so pooped in the evenings, though; not everyone likes to conduct their social life around dawn, which seems to be my preferred time for catch-ups!

Min, Sam, and the kids Sean and Sara, and I flew to Singapore on Friday, 30th November for the Singapore half marathon.

After my very mediocre performance in races in Asia this year, I was chuffed to run a fairly decent time given the muggy conditions. It was good enough to get me first place in my age group based on net time. (I started in the second wave of runners.) The race organisers produced the most comprehensive statistics I've seen: I was 842nd out of 7,462 runners overall; 142nd out of 2,249 women; and 1st in my AG (out of 7). I finished ahead of 86% of all runners, including 79% of all the men. I passed 1,133 runners and 4 runners passed me. It was a pleasing finish to a year in which I ran 12 half marathons in 12 months in 9 countries.

We caught the show "The Jersey Boys", based on the Four Seasons, after the race. Love the music!! And I caught up with my friend Lorraine.

I really must spend more time in Singapore one day...

In Melbourne I'm staying on the river, right in town, with easy access to lots of running paths. I've joined in with a running meetup group for a couple of 10K Sunday morning runs and an evening run around the Tan (the path that circles the Royal Botanic Gardens). I've also run on a couple of mornings with people I've met through that group, as well as on my own. It's so pretty along the river, and I couldn't be closer, so it's not too hard to talk myself into going out for a solo run. In the mornings there are lots of crews from the various boat clubs that keep boat houses nearby out training, their trainers cycling along the riverbank keeping tabs on their technique.

This time in Melbourne is also a great opportunity to catch up with some special friends—Martyn, Bill and Sal, JB. I've seen a few films (the best was "Seven Psychopaths") and a couple of exhibitions, but my main focus is work.

My mum arrives this week for a few days before she and I head up to Albury for Christmas.

Monday, November 19, 2012

Bridge of thighs

Something like 30,000 runners competed in Sunday's international marathon, half marathon, 10K and fun run on the Penang Bridge. That's 60,000 thighs...

I had spent a night in Kuala Lumpur en route to Penang in the hope of catching up on zeds after a sleepless flight from Dublin. My thinking must have been a bit squirrelly (to borrow a Jack Reacherism) the next morning, because I opted to take a taxi the 500 km to Penang instead of my one-hour flight when the forecast thunderstorms rolled in. By the time the driver Frankie and I had agreed terms, and he'd transferred me over to his brother Chong's cab because it was Frankie's son's eighth birthday and he was taking him to KFC for a treat (well, that was the story he gave me...), the sun was poking through the clouds. It ended up being a gorgeous morning!

Caught up with the Kuching contingent for dinner: Min and Sam, Sean and Sara, Stephen and Alfred (running their first marathons), Swee and young Nick (Ivy and Keiren were sick), Laffy and Eng Hooi. By the time I got to bed it was 9.30 pm, and I had the alarm set for 11.30 pm. I got about an hour's sleep. Our early start was to accommodate walking through town (where the karaoke bars were still in full swing) to the race shuttle bus pickup spot, then getting out to the start to watch the 2 a.m. marathon kickoff. Our half started at 3.15.

It was a very long 21.1 km and very hot, even though it was still dark when I crossed the finish line around 2.5 hours after I started. It was my slowest half ever. [My official chip time was 2:16. I had forgotten that the clock had started 15 minutes earlier when the men's race began.] Min and Sam had to walk because of injuries. Amazingly, and so typically of Sam, she rescued a tiny kitten along the route and carried it inside her top for the last 4 km. It is now with one of the Penang girls who was competing and who has worked with Min's firm here in Kuching.

I got back to my digs – a very lovely heritage building in a secure compound – where for half an hour I couldn't raise anyone to open the gate. It was still dark. I was dripping with sweat. The laneway isn't lit. I was feeling a bit vulnerable and very, very annoyed. By the time someone finally heard the bell and opened the gate, I was in a bit of a lather. After my dummy spit, a shower and breakfast, I worked on an urgent job until I couldn't stay awake any longer. Had a nap and then finished the job and got it off to Polly in Hong Kong.

The gate in question... My room at Clove Hall was the one upstairs, under the gable.

Dinner at an Italian place on Weld Quay was to celebrate Min's and my Year of the Dragon birthdays: mine in October and Min's yesterday. There were about 16 of us. A nice finish to a whistle-stop visit to Penang. I didn't see anything except the bridge and the exterior of the Eastern & Oriental Hotel as I flashed past it in the cab on the way to dinner. I stayed there, in a grand waterfront room, in 1991 on my only other visit. I must try and get back to Penang again and take another look around.

Eastern & Oriental Hotel, Penang

A very easy flight direct to Kuching this morning. I spent the two hours working and trying to ignore the kid behind me who kept kicking my seat. Obviously, I still need to catch up on my sleep...

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Living the life of Riley on the Liffey

I've been staying in an apartment right on Dublin's River Liffey, overlooking Ha'penny Bridge.

Dublin ticks a lot of boxes for me: the city centre is compact and very walkable; there is some beautiful architecture; the food is great; it's got cheap and cheerful public transport; there is running support; and it's got a fabulous arthouse movie theatre. The Museum of Contemporary Art is closed for renovations (though they currently have an exhibition of Sidney Nolan's "Ned Kelly" series in a small ancillary building), and I didn't manage to get to the National Museum this visit, but I wandered through Trinity College and saw The Book of Kells and the fabulous Long Room of the library.

Trinity College Library

I'm now a member of the Dublin Running Meetup Group. I had two runs around the huge urban Phoenix Park with Shane and Nicole and a few others, one at night in the drizzle and the other mid-morning on the weekend. Both runs were around 10K.

Deer and the Papal Cross, Phoenix Park

The Irish Film Institute is just a few cobbled streets away on the other side of the river. I've seen three films: "Room 237" (various theories on symbolism in Stanley Kubrick's "The Shining"), which was a waste of time; and two new French films: "Rust and Bone" and "Sister", both of which I really enjoyed.

Tom Canton as Dorian Gray

I couldn't visit Dublin and not go to the theatre, and I was incredibly lucky to be able to see a stunning production of James Joyce's "Ulysses" at Project Arts Centre and, at the Abbey, Oscar Wilde's "The Picture of Dorian Gray". Both were fabulous treats.

Grant Smeaton in "Ulysses"

I've had a little breather this past week before another really busy work period starts, so I was able to take a few days off and go down to Cork and over to Limerick. In Cork I ran a 25K race called the Great Railway Run from Cork to Carrigaline. I didn't spot a railway line anywhere along the route, which hugged the shoreline for about half the distance and was very scenic. I was pleased with my time for the first 20K (1 hr 53 mins), but I flagged a bit in the home stretch. As I was the only woman in my age group I scored first prize: a basket of cosmetics.

Cork is a nice-looking small city on the River Lee and estuary

From Cork I took the train to Limerick where I caught up for the afternoon and evening with Marc, a friend made in Santiago a year ago. We had a fun few hours driving over to the Cliffs of Moher, from where on a clear day you can see the Aran Islands and five counties. It was windy and misty, so we couldn't see much at all, but you could still get a sense of the grandeur of the cliffs.

We couldn't see any of this, except for glimpses through the heavy mist

Saturday, November 3, 2012

Superstorm Sandy and marathon mayhem

I turned 60 a fortnight ago, and I'm not sure I can stand all the excitement.

Normally in New York my life's quite predictable: I'm up early with the raccoons for runs in Central Park with the 5:30 a.m. crew (Maria, Susan, Sarah, Lissy, Heather and Joe, Andrea, Natalie, Marie, Stephen...), this year in preparation for the New York City Marathon. I see films (Argo) and exhibitions (the very moving and wonderful Discovering Columbus, and Kalup Linzy's artist talk at the Met with Oz friend Rick), and sometimes a concert (Crosby Stills & Nash) or a play. I catch up for meals with old friends (CY, Jasper from Venice Beach, Sung for a birthday lunch, Selma and Murray whom I met in Santiago, Gene, mates Gary and Anne, and the running crew) and occasionally I make new friends (my dog friend Max's owner Ellen). And I work very hard at staying on top of my workload.

Discovering Columbus: The statue has been re-imagined by Japanese artist Tatzu Nishi, who has housed it in a temporary contemporary living room built in the sky, at a height of c. 30 metres. Columbus stands on what appears to be a coffee table, in a room complete with bookshelves, artworks on the wall, even wallpaper designed by the artist. The whole construction overlooks Columbus Circle. I found it very moving to think that Columbus, who has had only pigeons for company for 120 years, is temporarily at home to visitors. See more about the work here.

I've done all of those things over the past fortnight, in addition to having a landmark birthday. But the two main events have come right out of left field in the last week: New York was hit by Hurricane Sandy on Monday night, which has left devastation all over the region; and the New York City Marathon 2012 has been cancelled in its wake.

I stay on the Upper West Side, right next to Central Park. The park has been closed since Monday due to the severe damage it suffered. A few of us did the 8-mile trail run in the park last Saturday morning, when it looked glorious with all the autumn leaves. There were some trees and signs down in my area, and we lost internet access for most of Tuesday, and subway service until yesterday, but that's about the extent of the impact. But it's been a very different story downtown, where major flooding caused by storm surge has disrupted everything all week. There's been no power: no working elevators in high-rise buildings, no lights, no communications, no transportation, etc.

As the week has gone on we've seen that lower Manhattan wasn't even the hardest-hit community: Staten Island, Queens, New Jersey, and other places are still reeling. It's unprecedented, and it's not going to come good overnight. There are fuel shortages all over, and power outages still in many places. There is an overview of the damage as of this morning here.

New York Road Runners and Mayor Bloomberg tried to push ahead with the marathon, calling it this morning the "Race to Recover", but the wider community as well as many runners have been insisting it's just not right to go ahead when parts of the city – some of which are on the marathon course – are still in shock and need all the available resources to help in their recovery. The death toll for New York City is about 90, I heard. The damage is estimated at $50 billion. This afternoon the decision was made to cancel the race. I totally agree it's the right thing to do.

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Changing seasons in Manhattan

I arrived back in Manhattan on 1 October after whistle-stop visits to Bologna (to catch up with my Bali/Berlin/Brighton Beach (NY) pal, Diane, for lunch), Milan (for an early-morning flight) and Reykjavik (where I had dinner with Maggy). En route to New York from Iceland we flew over the southern tip of Greenland, which looked extraordinary from the air on a cloudless day. Snow and ice everywhere: massive sweeping glaciers, iceberg-filled bays, occasional lone towering icebergs that looked huge even from 35,000 feet; god knows how big they were below the waterline ...

I've been focused on my workload and marathon training for the past fortnight. I got straight back into doing morning runs with the 5.30 a.m. crew of Maria, Susan, Sarah, Lissy, Joe, Heather, Stephen, Sun and occasionally Natalie and Andrea. I get a lot of value out of my mornings, which start at 4 a.m. I usually answer emails for an hour relating to projects I'm working on before heading out into the dark – and, now, the cold – to catch a cab over to Engineer's Gate at 90th Street and Fifth Avenue to meet Maria and the others.

Last weekend I ran the Staten Island half marathon. Went over on the ferry with Susan and came back with Maria. My time was 5 minutes slower than last year, but I really enjoyed it.

I've caught only a few films – "Diana Vreeland: The Eye Must Travel" (fabulous); a new "Wuthering Heights" (with Sarah); and "Smashed" (with new friend Diane, an actor/singer/songwriter). Great to see some friends made earlier in the year, including Gary, Daniel and Anne. Had dinner with Lisa before she headed back up to Woodstock for the film festival, and breakfast with Caroline, who is moving to Vermont... A former neighbour from Albury, Kate, was in town and we had dinner last weekend.

Diana Vreeland

Last week I had a massage from Marie, and a consultation about my leg injury from Iceland (sustained on the first day of the trek when a heavy bench fell on my leg)... It's actually a bit of a worry, which I'll follow up on when I'm back in Kuching.

I've made friends with a dog in the building here: Max is a 4-year-old poodle x havanese. A gorgeous boy. His owner Ellen is very involved with Central Park PAWS, which I heard about two years ago when I wrote an article called "Walkies in Central Park" for a newspaper in Australia.


Another week of hard work and I should be able to take some time off ...

Saturday, September 29, 2012

Tapering in Tuscany

I'm meant to be training for the New York City marathon, but I seem just to be doing the tapering part. Since the Wees returned to Sarawak I've been focusing on my workload and haven't managed to get out the door for even one run.

Just a week or so after we walked the Cinque Terre trails there was a rock fall that injured a party of four Australians and closed the most popular trail, the Lovers Walk. You just can't do anything about ending up in the wrong spot at the wrong second...

Clare invited me to her house, bits of which date back to the 1400s, for her birthday lunch. The house is up on the hillside on the south side of town. The area has a very village feel, with narrow roads lined with villa walls and old apartment buildings, but it's actually just minutes from the Arno.

From a hillside above Florence

Absolutely delicious food, and really nice company. There were seven women. Clare's son, Leoni, did the serving; he was very sweet. I spent most of the time talking with Alison, who is from Seattle and is a film/documentary buff and dog lover. (She has a shitzhu named Lola.) Some years ago she wrote young adult, choose-your-own adventure books and now has her finger in many pies here in Florence. I also talked with Sheila, who lectures in art history.

I've visited the Uffizi and Accademia galleries to see some of their Renaissance and earlier art treasures, and Palazzo Strozzi for a big survey of Italian art in the 1930s. For some light relief I went to the Odeon with Bettina, who owns the apartment where I've been staying, to see a documentary about Woody Allen.

Antonio Donghi, "Woman at the Cafe"

Had a coffee with Carrie, whom I met through Clare. She designs bags and other "gorgeous things" (to quote Eddy from Ab Fab...) and has been living in Italy for nine years.

I finally found time to climb to the top of both Giotto's Bell Tower and the Duomo, to see Brunelleschi's dome up close. Both of these are right next to me. Fabulous views from both. I could just see my balcony. I'm reading Ross King's book about the building of the dome in the 1400s. Amazing.

Giotto's Bell Tower, and Brunelleschi's Dome atop the Duomo

Most of the time I've just been living in my neighbourhood. I really like Florence; it's a very liveable city. So I'm coming back next year for another month, this time in the spring.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

When in Florence, do as the Florentines do


I've been living la dolce vita in Italy for the past fortnight: mixing a heavy workload and pleasure on the banks of the Arno in Florence (Firenze).

I broke the journey from Iceland with a couple of days in Milan. It was my first time there. My hotel was within a short walking distance of a lovely piazza and park, Sempione, where there were lots of runners out over the weekend. I didn't manage a run, but I walked a lot around the inner city. Big crowds at the Duomo, where the body of the Cardinal of Milan was lying in state. Just beyond is the warren of streets that make up the fashion district. I checked out a big graphic design exhibition, and a fabulous one called "Kitsch", at the Triennale.

By train to Florence on Monday, a fortnight ago, where I have an apartment for the month right beside the Duomo. Brunelleschi's Dome looms over my little balcony. It's an area heaving with tourists and tour groups, but that's to be expected when there are stunning architectural treasures like Giotto's Bell Tower and the Duomo just a few steps away. I'm very close to the Arno River and the Ponte Vecchio, a dozen fabulous museums, two great fresh-food markets, a good supermarket, and countless leather goods stores. There is amazing art and architecture everywhere. Gelato is sold on every street corner. Locals ride rickety old bicycles over the cobblestones in the piazzas. Everywhere, I hear Italian being spoken, the most beautiful language in the world. The bells from the clock tower sound out the day.

Duomo and Bell Tower, Firenze

Brunelleschi's Dome as seen from my balcony

My adopted family from Kuching, the Wees, left this morning after a visit of just over a week. They are interested in everything and hardly paused for breath between excursions. I joined them when work deadlines permitted, including on two day trips out of town. The first was to the walled towns of Monteriggioni and San Gimignano, and to Siena to see the Piazza del Campo, the huge sunken piazza around which the Palio di Siena, a horse race dating from medieval times, is run twice a year. All very beautiful, ancient places.

The Duomo, Siena

Fresco, San Gimignano

Our second trip was to the Cinque Terre (the five villages of Riomaggiore, Manarola, Corniglia, Vernazza and Monterosso), on the coast of Liguria. We scored the most amazingly beautiful day to spend walking along the coastal paths between the villages that hug the rugged cliffs and travelling back to Riomaggiore by ferry. The houses are brightly painted so as to be visible from the sea when weary fishermen are nearing home. I'd love to go back and spend a couple more days walking there and hanging out eating seafood, walnut tart and gelato.

Manarola, Cinque Terre, Liguria

Mediterranean blues

The main galleries in Florence are still on my to do list. I did manage to see, with Sam and Sara, a huge exhibition about Marilyn Monroe, and some wonderful shoes(!),  at the Ferragamo Museum.

We spent a night at the opera – saw "Carmen" performed in the very intimate Anglican church St Mark's, with five performers, a pianist and a very funny MC – and an evening at the art deco Odeon cinema, where we saw "The Bourne Legacy". We had a sunset picnic by the graveyard of Sante Miniato al Monte church, above Piazzale Michelangelo, with views over the city; and a bus trip to Fiesole, which straddles the ridge to the north of town and dates back to pre-Roman times.

Fabulous to catch up with former Albury pals Sue and Neil, who came over to Florence for the day from Bologna. If they hadn't moved to Port Macquarie in 2009, I may not have thought of leaving Albury when I did. A good lunch with them and the Wees at Caffe Ricchi, in Piazza Santo Spirito, and a look through the flea market.

Min and I had four quality, hour-plus runs in the time they were here. Sara and Sean joined us for bits of two of them. We've run along both sides of the river, and up into the hills. Our last run (two hours' duration for Min, three hours for me) was along the perimeter of what had been the city walls to the east, north, west and south gates. We saw the sunrise from the heights above Piazzale Michelangelo, then came down to the river for a lot of criss-crossing of the bridges, including the Ponte Vecchio multiple times, for my last hour. Fabulous. Breakfast after two of the runs was at a little coffee place in the Santa Ambrogio market that the Wees had discovered soon after they arrived. Their apartment overlooking Sante Croce was on the third floor of a building that dates back to the 1400s.

Through a connection in New York I've met an English artist here. Clare Lillingston does beautiful paintings based on patterned motifs. I now have a copy of her book, Patternistic, and I'm hoping to see some of her work before I leave. We had a long talk over lunch at Caffe Ricchi last week, which I really enjoyed.

Friday, August 31, 2012

The earth moved for me today

Blue Lagoon

I felt a 4.6-magnitude earthquake whose epicentre was about 20K away on the Reykjanes Peninsula as a strong jolt at noon today. I was working upstairs in the 104-year-old Pisa Guesthouse and Restaurant, in the downtown area, where I moved yesterday for my last few days in Reykjavik. It was initially graded as 3.9 but felt (and proved to be) stronger. But no harm was done.

I've had my feet well and truly on the ground in the past couple of weeks. I'd had high hopes of a good time (around 1:55) in the Reykjavik half marathon (enough with the two-hour-plus halfs, already!) and actually crossed the finish line in a net time of 1:53:38. It was my best time for a half since the Brooklyn half in 2009 and was good enough to get me third place in my age group.

The age group I placed in isn't the age group I've been competing in all year, though, and I haven't had a birthday recently. It seems in Iceland you're grouped according to the age you turn in that calendar year. I was grateful for the third placing (I wouldn't have placed in my usual 55–59 AG), but it freaked me out to find my name suddenly among the real golden girls...

I think I've covered most of the Reykjavik metro area now with Maggy on morning training runs of 10K up to 30K.

When I haven't been taking my feet out for a run, I've been run off my feet with work again. This is a good thing. I haven't sampled much culture apart from seeing a couple of Icelandic films ("101 Reykjavik" and "Jar City", with Maggy) at the fine arts cinema Bio Paradis, and exhibitions at the Museum of Photography, the Art Museum and the National Museum. I even missed the famous Culture Night (on marathon evening), when the city goes a bit wild. I went with Trine (whom I met on the trek) to the Blue Lagoon, which is a geothermal spa a little way out of town set in a lava field. Very blue and very impressive.

From an exhibition of photos of Icelandic women by Berglind Bjornsdottir

The days are already three hours shorter and significantly colder than when I arrived at the start of the month, and I don't do cold...

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Surviving an eruption in the vicinity of Eyjafjallajökull

Eyjafjallajökull is the glacier-covered volcano in southern Iceland that erupted in 2010 and brought air traffic to a standstill in Europe. Our group of trekkers spent the fourth night of the Landmannalaugar–Þórsmörk walk near its foot. We weren't in any danger from the volcano; the problem was my bad mood, which I attribute to having had three sleepless nights. One of our group – three Germans, three Italians, three Norwegians, three Australians, two Americans, two Icelanders, one Nicaraguan and one Dane – was a champion snorer. As we were all in bunks in the same room in mountain huts, and the weather outside wasn't kind, there was nowhere to escape the sound, which went on at volume, all night long. I wasn't the only one to spit the dummy, but I spat it loudest and furthest. I'm not proud of myself. But after four nights I decided to cut my losses and return to Reykjavik with the first group instead of adding on a further walk that would have included our friend.

That aside, I really enjoyed the walking. The landscape is very stark and beautiful, with very little vegetation. Geothermal features, ice and snow, black sand, glacial moraine. 

Day 1 we took a bus from Reykjavik past Hekla volcano (which is overdue to erupt) to Landmannalaugar, and walked from there to Hrafntinnusker (about 12 km) through stunning, yellow-brown volcanic landscapes, iced-over streams and hot springs. Minutes after we arrived I nearly broke my leg when the heavy wooden bench seat I stood on to claim a top bunk toppled over, tossed me, then slammed on to my right leg. It took me a few minutes to get my breath and assess the damage. No bones broken, but some very sore contact points. (Yesterday, a week later, I saw a doctor about the bad bruising and numbness on my lower right leg, and he assured me I can run my scheduled half marathon this weekend.)

Day 2 (12 km) was a similarly wet and steamy landscape, with mud pools, springs and our first glimpses of the Mýrdalsjökull and Eyjafjallajökull glaciers. Mýrdalsjökull looked like a cloud bank, but was instead a looming iceflow on the horizon. Our hut accommodation at Álftavatn had flushing loos and an alternating scalding hot/icy cold shower. I didn't attempt any acrobatics. One of our bunkmates stormed down the ladder from her bed in the middle of the night to prod our snorer and suggest that he put a sock in it, but to no avail.

Day 3 (15 km) we walked into the black deserts of Mælifellssandur. It was sort of like being in "Dune". At one point we crossed a very fast-flowing glacial stream by linking arms and wading across together. It was in the hut at Emstrur that night that I blew my top. A shame, really, as we'd had a lovely dinner prepared by Kolle and Gudny and I'd figured I was so tired I was bound to fall asleep before the show started... Not so.

Day 4 we climbed and descended for 15 km with Mýrdalsjökull glacier off to our left. Our second crossing of a glacial stream. We finally saw our first real trees as we were on the approach to Þórsmörk. There is a tiny settlement here, and a bus connection to civilisation. 

Day 5 I took the bus back to Reykjavik with the two Americans, the Dane, the Nicaraguan and the two Australians.

Lots of interesting, very well travelled people among the group. 

The next time I sign on for a trek, for the purposes of full disclosure, I'll mention in the documentation that I react badly to sleep deprivation. And I'll take along some industrial-strength ear plugs.

Monday, August 6, 2012


What a great little city Reykjavik is, especially in late summer with moderate temperatures and cloudless blue skies. The living is easy, if expensive. The nightlife is wasted on me, having given up getting wasted, but I've been making the most of the long days. The city is pretty, with a working harbour against a background of stark mountains (no snow at this time; it must be stunning in winter) and a little lake in the centre of town. There's lots of parkland, and miles of running and cycle paths. I love the funky-coloured corrugated iron facades of many of the older timber buildings. I've been working all week, so most of the local attractions are still on my "to do" list, but I've done lots of exploring on foot in the evening and know my way around the town. There are also many excursions out of town and to other parts of the country that I won't have time for this visit, which definitely feels like a first one.

The main thing I've accomplished is to make contact with a regular running group that meets on three weekday evenings and on weekend mornings for quality training runs from Vestubaer swim centre, one of the geothermal pools in town. I've had three runs with them (c. 8 km, 10 km and 22 km). Maggy, a transplant from Namibia, has become my number one running buddy, mostly because she kindly held back on two runs to run with me! Yesterday she and I ran a half marathon at a fairly fast clip for me, which we followed with a dip in the hot pot (thermally heated pod) back at the pool. She is good, fun company. As always, running is a great way to get the lie of the land, parks, seashore, harbour, hills and city streets.

I got talking early in the week with a guy from New York who spends a lot of time in my Upper West Side neighbourhood. He and his wife both work in film and TV. There are a couple of movies in production here at the moment. He put me on to Cafe Babalu, run by another American, Glenn. I've had lunch there a few times.

Tomorrow I'm heading off on a week-long organised trek through some stunning glacial and volcanic areas.

I flew to Iceland overnight last Sunday after two weeks spent back in New York following my quick trip to St Kitts to visit Renee. Straight back into early-morning runs with Maria and the 5.30 crew. Ran the 4-mile Central Park Conservancy race. Saw documentary films with Sarah ("The Queen of Versailles") and Sung ("Planet of Snail"), and the Mira Sorvino film "Union Square". Caught up with Lisa, who was down from Woodstock for a night; for meals with new friends Gary, Anne, Diane, Caroline and Gene; and for dinners with Dead Runners Susan and Adrian, Mike, Michael and Mary at Fusha, and with Maria and Barry at Recipe. Morning regulars Maria, Susan, Marie and Lissy shared some of my farewell 14-mile trail run in Central Park last weekend, which we followed up with breakfast at Alice's Tea Cup on the Upper East Side (also with Sun). Also, just before I left I saw the Sydney Theatre Company production of "Uncle Vanya", with Cate Blanchett, Hugo Weaving, Richard Roxburgh, John Bell, Jackie Weaver ... It was a very Australian interpretation of this Russian classic.

Friday, July 13, 2012

Caribbean capers on St Kitts & Nevis

I returned to New York last night after a six-day flying visit to the formerly British-administered islands of St Kitts and Nevis, in the Caribbean. My main purpose was to meet Renee Petrillo, who with her husband Michael sold up everything about six or seven years ago, bought a 37-foot catamaran called Jacumba, and set sail for the Bahamas and the Caribbean. Renee wrote a book called A Sail of Two Idiots about their adventures, and now writes a blog, Island Babble, about life on St Kitts. I was introduced to Renee by email by a woman I sat next to on a plane from Miami to Belize City last November.

I quickly learned not to expect anything to go according to plan. You have to bend and sway like a tropical palm in the island breezes.

I stayed at Timothy Beach Resort, at Frigate Bay, which is on a beach and has a pool and a dock bar. It's a "resort" only in a lowercase sense, though.

On Saturday, Renee took a morning off from a totally insane workout program she has been following (appropriately named something like "Insanity") to run with me on a relatively flat six-mile course. The next day I joined a bunch of runners who run regularly around the golf course. Two of that group, Kat and Anthony, will be in New York for the marathon in November.

Renee and Mike showed me most of what there is to see on the island without going for a serious hike. St Kitts and Nevis are both in the volcanic zone, along with nearby Montserrat and other islands, and there's not much that's flat once you're away from the coast.

On Sunday we spent some time at a gorgeous private club by a beach. Renee and Michael shared a long story about what is going on with these sorts of developments. It 'aint pretty...

On Nevis, which we travelled to by ferry, Renee and I checked out a couple of plantation resorts, including the gorgeous Golden Rock. It's up on the slopes of Nevis Peak, high above the ocean. Very funky design and beautiful landscaping.

Basseterre, the capital of St Kitts, is ramshackle and without much obvious appeal. Cruise boats stay only long enough to take passengers up to Romney Manor (to see its gorgeous gardens) and a few other places out of town. The town centre has a clock tower and an interesting-looking restaurant overlooking 'The Circus". Nearby is a prison, and a stadium where the West Indies and New Zealand cricket teams played a match yesterday.

I went to St Kitts and Nevis to meet Renee. She and Michael were easy company, and it was an interesting time to talk with them about their hopes for the future.

Film note: Just before I headed south I saw the wonderful film "Beasts of the Southern Wild", which tells the story of a young girl and her father, and some other members of their small community, on the edge of an unnamed New Orleans at the time of Hurricane Katrina.