acb: (suitcase)
Once again, I find myself in Aberystwyth, a former Victorian resort town turned university town on the Welsh Riviera. This time, I'm here for iOSDevUK, an iOS development conference, which is being held at the university, located up a steep hill from the town centre. I arrived last night, and have had today mostly to myself; though the first sessions are starting in half an hour. I spent most of today wandering around the town with my camera.

Part of my visit has turned into an exercise for how much Welsh one can pick up by osmosis just by looking at bilingual signage; so far, I have inferred a few things, i.e., that “canolfan” means “centre”, “y” seems to be the definite article, and “-ydd” seems to work as a plural suffix; also, the Welsh word for “market“ (“markets” can be rendered as “marchnadoedd”) looks suspiciously Scandinavian (compare to the Swedish “marknad”). Were there a Welsh course on Duolingo, this would be the point where I'd start doing it, at least for the duration of my visit.
acb: (Default)
I'm typing this in a café named Roasters in Luleå, in the north of Sweden. The coffee's good (even if they don't seem to be familiar with the flat white), though the music, not so much. They seem to have a number of songs on shuffle, one of which is one of those saccharine torch-song duets they used to have in the soundtracks of big-budget Disney animations; you know the ones: piano chords, syrupy string orchestra, melismatic vocals with the requisite loop-the-loops to tick the “soulful” box, and the obligatory truck driver's gear change before the final choruses get belted out. It bespeaks a sort of romance preserved in formaldehyde, like a consumer-capitalist Lenin's Tomb of tacky sentiment plumped up with high-fructose corn syrup. But enough about the awful music.

Read more... )

Tonight I see Loney Dear. I'm looking forward to it.
acb: (suitcase)
And so, this journal (by now not so much august as septembral, if not late-autumnal) sputters, ever so briefly, back to life. Once again, it has to do with my being on the road.

Read more... )
acb: (suitcase)
I'm writing this in Reykjavík; today is our last full day in Iceland; we're flying back to London tomorrow.

We set off from Höfn on Tuesday morning, driving westward along the ring road; it was a beautiful sunny day. We stopped at Jökulsárlón (finding that the lagoon water was no longer frozen in sheets of ice, and the icebergs were actually floating freely), stopped in Vík for lunch and a short stroll, and then picked up a pair of hitchhikers (a Polish guy and Lithuanian girl who were working at a hotel some way up the road, and had taken that day off; the girl was somewhat reserved, but the guy talked a bit about the music scenes in Iceland and Poland; he plays trumpet and is from Kraków). We dropped them off at their hotel (or rather the staff accommodation, which is built from shipping containers; that seems to be a thing in Iceland), and continued on to Hveragerði. There we checked into our B&B, went for dinner to a local pizza restaurant (which was quite decent), and then went for a dip in the B&B's heated (outdoor) pool.

The following day, we went for a walk around Hveragerði (failing to find the famous banana greenhouses, though finding a pool with some heated outdoor areas), before setting off for Reykjavík. It had started snowing by then, though the lady who ran the guesthouse informed us that the ring road to Reykjavík is swept very thoroughly, as it's used by commuters and commercial traffic. When we got on the road, however, we found ourselves in the middle of a snowstorm; for a while, we could barely see the road ahead of us. We moved slowly in a column of other vehicles. Conditions improved considerably when we left the hills and entered a valley.

We checked into our hotel in Reykjavík (this time, staying in Kex, a former biscuit factory seemingly redecorated by Wes Anderson's set designers, and probably my favourite place to stay in a city of excellent accommodation options), returned the car to the car hire place, and then went to Bíó Paradís, a local arthouse cinema which also hosts a board game night on Wednesdays. We ended up playing a card game titled Kittens In A Blender with an American guy who turned out to be one of the MailPile developers.

Yesterday, we mostly walked around Reykjavík, did a spot of shopping (I bought more CDs at 12 Tónar and Smekkleysa) and wrote some postcards.

(Btw, more photos from the trip have appeared on my Flickr page; at time of writing, it's up to the (first, longest) visit to Jökulsárlón.)
acb: (icelandic post-rock)
I'm writing this in a room at the Hali Country Hotel, a hotel on a farm in the southeast of Iceland, just off the ring road that circles the country. Maeve and I stayed here for two days, and are about to check out and drive eastward to Höfn. (I highly recommend the Hali hotel, by the way; our stay here was great, as was the food in the restaurant.)

On Wednesday we rented a car (a Hyundai i30, which is not a four-wheel drive) and drove out of Reykjavík, setting off initially along the Golden Circle route, stopping by at Þingvellir (the site of the ancient Viking chieftains' parliament), Geysir (the original geyser, which periodically hurls water into the air) and Gullfoss (a large double waterfall). At Gullfoss, there were strong winds, and the path to the rock above the waterfall was (quite sensibly) closed off, so we just saw it from one spot.

Unfortunately, at around Geysir, my DSLR camera's trigger button had stopped working, meaning that I don't have any DSLR photos of Gullfoss. It mysteriously started working again by the following day, though, and is still working. At time of writing, I have filled most of the 8Gb memory card I bought for this trip.

After Gullfoss, we drove in the darkness through the small town of Selfoss, finding our way to a small B&B a short way out of town named Julia's Guesthouse, run by a pleasant German-Swiss couple who also keep three friendly cats, two budgies and a flock of chickens. (We chose it from online listings; it was the mention of the cats which swung it.) We drove up to the guesthouse (at the end of a country road) finding it empty, but as we were leaving, we met Mike (the German half of the couple), who was driving back; he recommended a restaurant in Selfoss to have dinner at, and said that he'd prepare a room for us. We had dinner (the lobster pizza was nice, more for the lobster than the pizza base, which wasn't quite up to the best of Italian standards) and then made our way back, where we were shown our room. We spent some time in the living room talking with Mike and Julia before retiring. The following day, we had breakfast there, consisting of freshly baked bread rolls and eggs from Julia's chickens, before setting out.

We first went back to Selfoss, to look at the Bobby Fischer Center, a museum to the late chessmaster who spent his last years in Iceland. (It consisted of a few rooms above a shop, with some photos, cartoons and news clippings, a replica of the table used in the Fischer-Spassky match in Reykjavík, and some tables where local kids play chess on weekends; the story there leaps abruptly from the 1972 chess match to Fischer being granted asylum in Iceland after some unspecified problems with the US and Japanese governments, not going into details.) Then we headed eastward, seeing the waterfalls near Seljalandsfoss (including one one can walk behind), and later hiking to Seljavallalaug, a geothermal swimming pool in a mountain valley, before arriving in the evening in the southern town of Vík. We checked into our hotel (the Hotel Lundi), had dinner and retired to our room, only to emerge later with our cameras and tripods; the northern lights had come out, and there were sheets of green light in the night sky. They lasted for maybe half an hour, but we got some photos.

The following day, we walked around Vík a bit, hiking down to the black beach (with its volcanic sand), drove down to another waterfall named Skógafoss and then hiked towards a lighthouse on a cliff, before making our way to our accommodation, which turned out to be one of a set of repurposed shipping containers. The morning revealed that the containers had a spectacular view.

That was Saturday morning; after a trip down to the nearby beach (on the other side of a mountain from the one at Vík, and across water from the lighthouse), we set off eastwards, for a longish drive along the ring road. Houses, farms and guesthouses became less frequent, and grassy fields gave way to lava plains, as we made our way past the large glaciers along the south of Iceland. By the late afternoon, we made it to our destination for the day, Jökulsárlón, a lagoon filled with glaciers.

As it's November, the lagoon was frozen over, with chunks of ice floating over sheets of ice; a faint creaking could be heard, and occasionally a snap as cracks formed and sheets of ice around the edges broke off. We spent an hour or two walking around there, as the light changed, from the late afternoon light, to a pink glow, then to full-on sunset and dusk. My photos will show up on Flickr shortly.

From there, we drove a short distance (about 15 minutes) eastward, before arriving at the Hali Country Hotel, where we had a room booked. We checked in, getting the key to our room for the next two nights, unpacking and making our way to the restaurant, where we had a delicious dinner of lamb soup followed by arctic char.

The following day, we drove to Skaftafell, where we had booked a glacier walk, only to be informed by the guide that walks had been cancelled due to strong winds. We went on a hike through the national park, up to within sight of a black waterfall named Svartífoss. At that point, we were standing on a mountain, with the path towards the waterfall leading over a narrow peak next to a precipice; there was ice on the ground and strong gusts of wind blowing. Not fancying the (somewhat heightened) possibility of falling to our deaths in the event of an inopportune gust of wind, we turned back and went back to the car.

The drive back was a bit more of an adventure; by the time we got back in our car, the weather had deteriorated somewhat. On the way there, we had driven over snowy roads for a section, but by now, the right side of the road was covered with ice and snow, to the point where cars heading eastwards stuck to the left (i.e., wrong) side, moving into the correct lane only when needed. Adding to this, we were running low on petrol. We found an unmanned, automated petrol station, but using it was an adventure as well, as the ground was icy, and gale-force winds and rain were lashing the ground. I managed to fuel up the car, and Maeve managed to manoeuvre the car over the ice back onto the relatively navigable main road, and we made it back to our hotel room. Later we found out that our weather adventure was due to a major storm hitting Iceland, closing roads further east and diverting flights from Keflavík airport.

Between the time I started writing this and now, we checked out of Hali and drove further east, and are now in the eastern Icelandic town of Höfn (pronounced “hup” by the locals). On the way, the weather was more pleasant (at least in the east of Iceland). Along the way, we stopped to take photos of an abandoned farm building, and later made our way to a set of geothermally heated outdoor hot tubs (which were pleasant, though would have been more pleasant were it not for the strong, cold winds one had to contend with between them and the changing rooms). We're staying in Höfn for one night, before setting off back the other way.
acb: (it's fun to compute (2))
I'm in Madrid for the SpainJS JavaScript conference. (As my recent paid work has involved JavaScript, I figured it'd be worth going to.) I flew in on Wednesday.

The conference )

I also ended up giving a lightning talk about my recent experiments in using JavaScript to write user interfaces for Max for Live (slides are here). It was only a five-minute talk, so I had to speed through it, but it seems to have been reasonably well received, and led to some discussion at the conference drinks.

Other than that, Madrid has been good; it's in the high 30s here, which is quite a change from it being 10º in Reykjavík a week ago.
acb: (Train)
This weekend, I went up to [ profile] indietracks' <i>A Christmas Twee</i> event this weekend, catching a train up to Nottingham yesterday afternoon, checking into a hotel there, and then catching the familiar Rainbow 1 to Ripley. (Ah yes, the Rainbow 1. I think that at some point in the next few decades, the Victoria & Albert Museum or some similar institution will have a retrospective on the 1990s rave-techno futurist aesthetic; alongside, say, the complete works of The Designers' Republic and a PlayStation playing WipeOut, they'll have some photos of Trent Barton buses.) Alas, as the bus was passing through Heanor, I realised that I had left the mix CD I had painstakingly assembled for the secret-Santa box in my bag in my hotel room. FAIL.

Other than that, it was good; attendance was a bit on the low side (a lot of people instead went to an all-dayer in Nottingham a few weeks ago), and I only knew something like eight people there (about half of whom were involved in organising aspects of the night). The bands were OK, though I wasn't blown away. The headliner was Phil Wilson of 1980s C86esque indiepop band the June Brides; they weren't one of the bands I've gotten into, so I couldn't say how good the show was; other than the fact that he did a skronky/jangly C86 cover of Kraftwerk's <i>Neon Lights</i>, which worked rather well. The other bands, Horowitz and Mascot Fight, were both OK though neither blew me away. (Mascot Fight's frontman going on dressed as a snowman was a nice touch, though.)

The actual event was in a marquee attached to the front of the station building on the Midlands Steam Railway, which appeared to be used for some sort of Christmas events during the day. There were animatronic reindeer and snowmen and similar winter wonderland denizens mechanically boogieing in the background behind the stage, which added a certain something to the festivities. There was also a whopping great steam train parked outside at the platform, its wood-panelled carriages shrouded in steam, which seemed to come up from beneath them. (I'm guessing that the actual steam is piped through the train to power/heat the carriages, rather than being converted to electricity in the locomotive.) Some carriages' electrics seemed to be in better shape than others; while some were very dimly lit, others were lit up like, well, Christmas trees. Being in the interior of a wood-panelled 1950s rail carriage, its lights flickering, and thick white steam shrouding the vestibule, was quite atmospheric, like something out of a David Lynch movie or something. Anyway, the guard's coach on the train had been converted into a disco, with DJs spinning records; in between sets, the train would be driven a mile or so up the line, then the locomotive would move to the other side and it'd go back, in time for the next band, while people sat around and talked in the carriages, drank ale from the bar in the buffet car, or else danced at the disco.

Staying in a hotel in Nottingham, I took advantage of this and took my laptop with me, managing to get a few things done on a remix I'm working on on the train there and back. (East Midland Trains generously provide power sockets in economy class, which is not bad for the £6-14 each way a seat costs if you book early enough.) I find these days that I'm most productive on music either in cafes or on train journeys (those of 1+ hours). Which means I should probably make more excuses to travel around the UK's railway network.

September 2015

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