My first Chinese New Year

4th of August 2017

I came to China in January. My house was not ready and the first month I spent in a hotel.

On the eve of the New Year I went for a walk around the neighbourhood.

There was something in the air. Everyone looked so happy an the excitement spread from one person to the next. A father walked ahead of me with his son. He was explaining the meaning of the new year to his son. The little boy was maybe 4 years old and I am not sure he understood much of the philosophy, but those 2 walking hand in hand I remember always. The love and comradeship between the father and son shone. This was my first experience of the bond between families in China. The bond that never brakes even though nowadays there is a generation gap.

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The lion got its read ribbon. Decorating the guard was of course necessary on this day.  When I see this one he always seems to be smoking! Smoking while taking care of the house is perhaps not appropriate.

I came across a beautiful florist while taking a turn into a narrow street.  I had to see this one. The decorations are something. The owners were happy to see me and even allowed me take some photos. In China people are not always willing to have their photos taken but I always asked and most of the time I got a big smile and a yes.

 

This evening it was bitterly cold and I had put on my warmest clothes. The shawl I had made from Icelandic wool some time ago and it kept me warm during those first days, and many more, because my house, when I eventually moved in, was freezing. Absolutely freezing.

After spending some time with the wonderful couple and drinking some tea to warm me I went on. During this time people do leave the cities and go to their home towns to spend the new year with their families. For many it is the only time during the year they can be together. Many younger people work in the cities while the parents live in the villages.  Then there are those who go to universities in other towns and everyone wants to spend the new year with the family. So there were not many people around where I was, but some.

I came across the fireworks shop. That was something. In every country there must be one of those. What would the new year be without fireworks.

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Oh, yes. This is where you can find everything you need and here we are smiling. The young boy is the son. The father is the salesman. They are related to the florists. A big country, China is, but so small! A long and thorough speculation about what to buy, what would be the most exciting and glamorous. Eventually the young men bought a huge cake and it crossed my mind that perhaps I should head home. The fact is that I am terrified of fireworks and don´t like them at all. We did not talk much, the night was young and customers wanted to take a look of the goods.

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Before I managed to get back to the hotel this beautiful young girl came to me and wanted to speak English. The excitement was there. She had already one burning and the sparks tried to catch me. I put on a brave face and we talked a bit. The young Chinese do want to practise their English and I was about the only foreigner in Fuzhou at this time.  This young beautiful girl lived in the neighbourhood, just as the others I saw this evening. Her whole family had moved to Fuzhou, some years ago. They had to because the government wanted their farm for modern houses and golf courses. The families have to move on and adjust in the new environment. Her family runs a small restaurant. They all cook but the father makes the best food, or so she told me and was proud of her parents.

What an evening. My first Chinese new year, a long time ago.

Hulda Björnsdóttir

My first days in Portugal – When I stole the bread from the landlord

4th of August 2017

Every morning, the car who sells the bread comes to Podents, where I spent my first months in the rented snake house.

I had seen him coming and one day I decided to go out and buy some bread in the morning.

The man was nice and he brought fresh bread, all kinds of breads and even cakes. Not expensive and when he arrived he blew the horn and gave the people some time to get out and become a bread customer. Sometimes the same customers and sometimes different ones.

One Saturday morning I was going for a walk. Every time I left the house I opened the door just a fraction,  to see if the snakes were there or not. Most of the time they were not but sometimes they had taken a sunbath in the morning and had a nap afterwards, just outside my door. Those days I did not leave.  This morning no snakes but I  noticed that on my gate there was a bag.

Since it looked safe to go out I  looked inside the bag.  2 small breads smiled at me.

How nice, the bread man had left them for me, without me asking. This was something new! The Portuguese were welcoming the strange foreigner who came all the way from China.

I waited for the bread man to knock on my door and ask for payment, but he never came.

The next time I bought my bread he did not mention it so I thought it was just a gift and said thank you very much. Those days my Portuguese was limited, very limited, but I knew how to say thank you!

 

These pictures are taken outside my condominium yesterday morning. I went downstairs early, just to take the photo to show you. My neighbours do buy bread every morning and sometimes, when I leave for my morning walk, the men are in their boxers, tiptoeing downstairs to get it before they leave for work. They do need breakfast and this is their first task, I think, in the morning. At least they are not dressed. My next door neighbour looks quite nice and has lost a lot of weight, perhaps working out!

When my landlord, the one who rented me the house in Podentes, and totally ripped me off, came to the snake house one  Sunday morning and knocked on my door, he had a bag in his hand.

A small bag with breads in it!

Right!  I realized what I had done when I took the bag from the gate. I had stolen the bread from my landlord!

I never mentioned it to him. I never told him who ate his bread. I never told him why he was hungry one Sunday morning, not long after I moved in. This is the first time, ever, I mention this. I hope he does not read my blogs. He is probably not a blogger!

Hulda Björnsdóttir

ps. If you get confused when you read my blog telling you about my life in China and then suddenly I go to my life in Portugal and then something else, I want you to keep this in mind. I am a Gemini, a typical one, and jump from one story to the next. You will get used to it and I might even manage to figure out some system, but for now please bear with me. I do realise it is difficult for normal people but I promise you. It is possible.

Hulda

 

 

What a wonderful day !

4th of August 2017

It is such a beautiful day here in Penela and I have to share it with you.

I woke up in the morning, late, after a nightmare, where my best friend had jumped from a house. She thought there were steps  down but nothing was there, just 3 floors down. We were outside. I ran down the stairs, around the house and there she was, standing up. I asked if she was ok. Yes, she said, but then got very pale and wanted to sit down. I was terrified and asked someone to call the ambulance and woke up crying.

What a night!

Thank God I got a message, in real life, from my dear friend on Facebook and at least I knew she was ok and well.

After something like this you need an uplifting moment. Something that takes away the horror of the dream. I went out, and stood on my balcony, as I do in the mornings, absorbing the beauty.

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It is like a painting.

The view is stunning. Everything is quiet. The birds are sleeping or at least resting. It is hot, 17 degrees and the sun shines like there is no tomorrow. The clear sky, the blue colour, the shadows and light playing, dancing a soft waltz that seems to last forever.

Sometimes we forget to enjoy the moment. The beauty in front of us is worth more than all the money in the world. On a morning like this, after having a horrible nightmare, I feel nothing but gratitude. Gratitude for being alive and being able to enjoy the paradise in front of my eyes.

I hope you all have a great day.

Hulda Björnsdóttir

 

 

Siesta in Min Hou

2. August 2017

In Fuzhou it is really hot. Min Hou is a suburb, about an hours drive from the city. During the winter its freezing cold but the summers are hot.

The workers begin their day quite early during the summer. About 5 or 6 in the morning. They take a brake from 1 to 3 in the afternoon. Most of the time they don´t go home, or at least if they don´t live in the neighbour hood. Then it is good to have a place where you can sit in the shadow and enjoy the nap.

My balcony was a good place to rest.

One day I arrived with my interior designer and we found the workers resting.  They did not move, just continued their rest.

After mowing in I witnessed a lot of work done in the houses next to me and opposite.

It was sweet to see the man give his lady a massage. They were bricklayers and worked as a team. A heavy work. They had to carry the sand and cement up 2 floors. I never understood how these tiny people could be so strong.

The little blue tracks brought the bricks and other material needed.

After the massage the husband had his reward. A bit of sex and then they slept in each other arms until the heavy work began, again. What kind of love is that? Beautiful and heart warming. When I left China they were still working in my neighbour hood  and I gave them some pillows and a dune duvet.  The next day I brought them bed linen. Beautiful one and they had tears in their eyes when accepting my gift. It took a long time to convince them to accept it but that is the culture here in my wonderful China. I am sure they never spent their money on anything like this but they deserved only the best. Sometimes we forget how wonderful it is to make our fellow human beings happy and surprise them by doing something different.

I had watched them for weeks and talked to them. I will never forget this wonderful couple and their wonderful hugs when I left.

The workers that took the siesta on my balcony when I came to see how my house was doing, became good friends. After I moved in they did not take a siesta on my balcony but they took care of my garden and made sure it looked beautiful and did not have any weed.

There was just one gardener  I did not get on with. We fought about my bushes. I wanted them high, he wanted them low. We fought, he screamed at me and I was pissed off. Eventually the house company got me another one to cut the bushes. He understood what the strange lady wanted and did what she asked. One day the other one was there again. I saw him. He saw me. We looked at each other. The workers stood around waiting for the fight. That day we just stared. The next day I meet him while having my morning walk. He said good morning and I replied. After that everything was ok between us, he did what the lady asked and the lady said thank you in Chinese. Problem solved.

Hulda Björnsdóttir

 

The traffic in China is interesting

2nd of August 2017

When I moved to China I had a car. Bought it on my second trip and it just waited for me.

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I decided it would be a good idea to spend some time exploring Fuzhou and getting the feeling. The feeling, of how it would be to drive there, was something. I came from Iceland where the drivers are mostly able to follow the rules and they can drive in a line. While observing the Chinese traffic, on foot and in taxis, I had the feeling they did not usually drive in a line. It looked to me that they drove like a sick sack machine. If there was a space they went there, no matter if it meant to break the line. Of course there were more bicycles than cars most of the time.

The behaviour of those cycling made sense to me. They waited for the light and then we all crossed the road. The cars also respected the traffic lights and waited.

This was more or less all the respect in the Chinese traffic, or at least so I thought.

Would I ever be able to adjust? Some foreign companies don´t allow their employees to drive themselves. Its too dangerous!   Of course they are foreigners, you know! I was going to live in the land and would be one of the locals soon.

One day my interior designer called me and told me he was leaving Fuzhou and would not be able to see me for at least a month. Now I needed to drive to my house, he said. I had been living in a hotel because the house was not ready when I came in January. Now the Chinese New Year was around the corner and everyone would go to their hometowns.

Mr Chen came, and we drove to the house. I drove, and he was convinced that I actually COULD drive! He showed me the easiest way, and gave me a map. In Chinese of course. Next day he would leave and I would be on my own. I had to go to the house every day to make sure the workers were doing what they should do.

Obedient as I am, I left the hotel in my car and headed to Min Hou. 3 hours later Mr Chen called me. Where are you? he asked.  I am on my way but I got lost, I replied.  I went back to the hotel, got some advise and headed again to Min Hou. Finally, late in the afternoon, I arrived. Mr Chen was not too happy with me. He had waited. I told him I needed to go back immediately because it was getting dark and I knew I would never find my way in the night!

Mr Chen went to his hometown with the family to celebrate the new year. I headed to the hotel and that would be a piece of cake. I now knew the way back. Well not quite. I got lost. It got dark. I had absolutely no idea how to find the bloody turn I was supposed to take. I called the hotel and asked them to pick me up. Where are you? they asked. I don´t know, I replied.  Can you find someone Chinese to talk to us? they asked. I looked around. Yes, there was a gate there and a security guard. I gave him the phone and he told my hotel staff where the woman was. The guard smiled at me and told me to wait for the people, outside the gate, not inside. They came. I was so close, so close and the turn was so easy. Of course I had someone sitting next to me in the car who knew.

The next day my new friend, the hotel  manager, took me for a drive and taught me how to get home. She said that it might be a good idea for me to practise again, immediately, so I would not forget.  I practised! I practised many times and eventually returned to the hotel. Are you ok now? my friend asked. Yes, I am, I replied and gave her a big hug. Everyone in the reception looked at me with huge smiles. They were happy. They would not have to pick me up again!  The next time I made it to Min Hou, barely, but after 3 or 4 trips  I was like a local.

I learned that Jing San bridge was not a bridge! And I learned to ask, before I came to the bridge, if I should take the left or the right. Most of the time the same people stood at my place, the one I stopped at, and after few days I got a salute from them. No more asking just heading to the right.

I do have a problem and have always had it. I get lost! Even in Iceland, where everything is small and not complicated, I managed to loose my way. Just imagine how easy it was in a huge country like China.

After a while I managed to drive around the country. The motorways in China are excellent. They are of course quite often under repair but what about it, you just take another turn, without loosing your mind. When I went to Xiamen and took some of my students with me, they were amazed at how good I was ! No GPS there, just common sense.

Hulda Björnsdóttir

 

Don´t come to my house !

1. August 2017

When I go to my garage I pass this door.

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Could it be that the people living inside are shy?

Or are they just afraid of a burglary?

The message is in my mind: “Go away” “Don´t touch anything” “If you try we will see when something has been moved”, and then what?

I often wonder about this door. I know a bit about those who live inside because it is in my condominium. This apartment is beneath mine.

Yesterday I was contemplating about how crazy this is.

The police came the other day looking for a person  they thought was living in this apartment. No one was at home so I went downstairs to talk to the nice police men. I have no idea why they are looking for the girl. I don´t know her and could not help them at all. This morning I saw the couple, if they are a couple, leave. I know they are in the apartment during the night. One day when they came home, late in the evening,  the man backed at my car while trying to put his in a parking spot. My car is damaged. Next time I saw the man I approached him. No, he had not hit my car, he told me.

I can´t do anything about this, because it is his word against mine and I was stupid enough not take a photo.

Putting up a defensive wall like the one in the photo speaks louder than many words.

I have never seen anything like it, but of course I have not seen everything !

I live in a condominium and sometimes it is quite interesting, being the bloody foreigner among the natives. Most of the people in the village are wonderful and really nice to me. Some of my neighbours are also nice and the ones opposite me are wonderful and helped me when I needed it.

Every  Tuesday and every Friday this happens:

There is a wash day. On Tuesdays it is ordinary clothes and on Fridays its bedclothes and pyjamas. The sun is shining and the laundry gets out. There is a law in the land. No laundry beneath your balcony!

I have been around Portugal, from north to south, and never seen anything like this except in Penela. How can you be so selfish and rude? Oh, yes, it is the bloody foreigner that wants to have her beautiful view not polluted by laundry. If the laundry was really beautiful and interesting it might be another matter, but this one has not changed for 6 years. For six years, can you imagine?

Now I have this wonderful glass wall around my balcony. The windows need to be cleaned. I wonder, if the neighbours upstairs have any idea that every Friday they wash my upper windows? Their laundry, their bedclothes, take care of that and those windows are even cleaner than the ones I clean.

How nice is that !

Being the foreigner in a condominium can be interesting, but, if you rock the boat, be prepared, there will be opposition and all hell will brake loose.

Hulda Björnsdóttir

 

 

My first days in Portugal

31.july 2017

Yesterday I told you how it was when I arrived in my new homeland and the snake told me to go away from my rented house. Leave us alone, he said. This is our house, and he swayed his tail and head, enjoying the sun and threatening to kill me!

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As you can see there are 2 houses connected. One is white and tiny, the other one is ugly and in fact just ruins.

The rented one is the white part. The big one is the ruins. Then you can see the road which is just for one car and the square in front of the house is also tiny. Everything in Podents, then, was tiny.  The snake came from the ruins and he was not the first one. More followed and I lived in fear of them from January until May, when my wonderful apartment was ready.

My apartment is in Penela, a wonderful big one and nothing like what I was offered at the beginning but that is a story for another day.

In this tiny village Podents is a supermarket.

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A nice elderly couple ran the market and you could buy some simple things there, like toilet paper and some cheese, you know, this and that every household can  not live without. On the photo above you see the white door beneath the balcony. That’s the market. The couple live upstairs and one day I was invited there. I had cut my finger and was bleeding heavily. The husband took me upstairs and put some bandage on it and also showed me the beautiful apartment. This couple took me under their protecting wings while I suffered in the snake house.

In my rented house, the snake house, there was no telephone. No heating. The house was freezing and the wind blew through a big hole in the bathroom. It never crossed my mind, thank god, that during the big hole in the bathroom I could have been invaded my snakes, not just one, many of them. That did not happen and while living there I did not realise the real danger I was in! Imagine me being killed by snakes in a rented house having  just arrived from China and waiting to find my future home. That would have been something and at least you would not be reading this now.

I arrived on Saturday. On Monday morning there was a knock on my door. The day before I had gone to the Supermarket and bought toilet paper and cheese. Was it the little lady at the door? No, it was not. Outside was a tall man, a really tall one, who told me he was there to take me to Penela.  Who was he? I had no idea. He explained that my landlord was his friend and my real estate agent was his son. Those 2 had decided the lady needed help and it was a good idea to use the time while the son was in Spain to show me Penela and help with some practicalities, like fiscal number, phone, bank account and these things you need where you live.

We went to the camera and I got a fiscal number which was step number one. After having a fiscal number all roads were clear. We bought a phone and I put some money in it. Since there were no busses from Podentes to Penela I needed transport. The owner of one of the coffee shops took care of that. When I needed to go home I would go to the coffee shop and when I needed to leave Podentes I called and they came and picked me up.

Well, calling from Podentes was not quite simple. The problem was SIGNAL or rather lack of it!

I had to leave the snake house, walk up the road, pass the supermarket and somewhere in the middle it was sometimes possible to get a signal. Not always, but sometimes. Several times I went into the supermarket and they helped by letting me use their ordinary phone.

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The spot just above the tiny roundabout was the one to use for the wonderful phone.

When in Penela I needed to eat something and found a restaurant. Not too expensive and the food most of the time eatable. Just Portuguese food and there I learned not to like the overcooked totally dead vegetables. Potatoes, a lot of them, with everything. The rice, Oh my, I cant tell you how my heart bled when I saw the rise. I just came from China where we have rice all the time. A properly cooked fluffy white beautiful rice, not this disgusting slimy horrible thing.  I love Chinese food and this was a culture shock. I can tell you that.

When the man was showing me around, on Monday, he told me there were Chinese shops in Penela so I would be able to buy everything I wanted, Chinese. Wonderful, I would be able to get my Chinese tea from there. Right, there are Chinese shops everywhere in Portugal but nothing  Chinese in them. They have loads of all kinds of stuff made in China, Portuguese stuff,  but nothing Chinese.  There are even Chinese restaurants here  and you can get chips there. A blasphemy. There is one Chinese restaurant in Coimbra that makes proper food or rather there WAS. They all adjust. Although in Figueira Da Foz there is one quite good and they have wonderful proper Chinese cousin, not adjusted. Not yet.

After taking me sight seeing the tall man drove me home and my life began. I had a mobile phone but no computer. There was no way for me to connect with my friends in China and let them know I was ok. I had to do something and the solution was around the corner. I just had to find it.

More to come

Hulda Björnsdóttir

 

 

 

The trip from China to Portugal

30.july 2017

More than six years ago I mowed to Portugal from China. I did not want to but I had to. My beautiful house in China, my car and everything had to go. The government did not want me, they just wanted my money and I could not get permanent residence and live in my house and use my car. No problem buying the house and all I needed. Selling the house was another story. Everything was  done to make it difficult for me. Of course I was a foreigner. I love my Chinese friends and my wonderful students. My neighbours were amazing and the fellow teachers did everything to make my life as wonderful as possible. It was just the government that was the hindrance.

I chose Portugal for my final destination because it got high recommendation as a country for retirement. I did a lot of research and found the big city in central Portugal, Penela.  and there I was going to live. On the internet it is not the same as in real life. It does not have 6.500 people living there. O no. In Penela there are about 500 people but rest lives in the municipal .

What is a municipal? It is the village Penela and several other small places i.e. a town or district that has local government.  The district has a population of about 6.500 people not the village.

Little did I know when I came here.

I found on the internet a small house in Penela. I did not want to rent a big apartment because there would be a lot of cleaning. I hate cleaning. It is so useless and the dirt always comes again. One of the tasks you do again and again but never see the final results. No, I was not going to spend my time cleaning a 5 rooms apartment. I found this house with one bedroom, kitchen and a living room. Looked good. I asked my real estate agent if the house would be a good idea and he told me YES.

I needed an address to send a few boxes to. Because I could not send anything out of China, since I was not a resident, I gave everything, or almost everything, but there were few very personal things I wanted to keep and those needed a home in Portugal.

I was told the rent was 600 Euros per month, a very good price! Little did I know. I accepted and began sending my parcels through China post. 2 parcels at a time. So far so good.

The flight and stop over and everything took 48 hours. I left Fuzhou and arrived in Lisboa 48 hours later. Lacking sleep and tired to death with my 3 suitcases I found a taxi that was willing to drive me to Penela. I paid the fare in advance.

He was nice. We chatted and he told me few things about the culture in my new homeland. Really nice man. We did not get lost. Had a good description from the real estate agent and after a bit more than 2 hours drive we arrived in Penela. Well, we had the address of the estate manager. No one there. Everything closed. We called. He was in Spain. When would he be back? After 5 days, more or less. My god. I was there. Did not have a home and the person who was going to take care of everything was in another country. He was a Britt! Well, the man told us to wait. He would call the owner.  We waited, me and the taxi driver.  If it had not been for the taxi driver I might have lost it and screamed at someone but he was calm and told me everything would be ok. I needed a place to sleep. I was collapsing.   We tried to find a hotel in the village. Managed to find one but could not drive to the entrance. Decided to wait for another call.

Eventually a man came driving a truck that could be from the last century. He spoke to as and this was the landlord. Obviously he just woke up from his afternoon nap and had a biscuit before picking up the lady. His teeth were really full of biscuits !

I took a deep breath, something was happening and I would be in a bed very soon.

The man told us to follow him. We did. I said to the taxi driver that this looked quite far away from Penela, when we had been driving for 8 minutes. I will not be able to walk to the centre. No, you wont, my driver agreed. After 15 minutes walk we finally arrived. This was not in Penela. I could not walk to the village and there are no busses. Seriously, This looked BAD, really BAD.

The owner told us to wait. The house had not been cleaned and now he needed someone to clean. 2 ladies came. We, me and the driver, stood there in the terrible heat. I was numb. The owner showed us his vine cellar. He turned out to be a big vine maker and the fabric was beneath the apartment. Huge equipment there. I am not a vine fan. Don’t ever drink and have no interest at all in red and white and whatever. My driver was interested. The owner gave us 2 bottles, one white and one read. Did I want it ? NO but since I can sometimes be polite, I accepted.

Before the ladies came to clean my driver put my heavy suitcases into the house.

I was invited to have a look at the house, before my suitcases got inside so I went to the gate and opened it.

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Dear God. There, in trap number 4, was a huge snake!

I froze. I looked at the owner and said with a hiccup : THERE IS A SNAKE !

He looked at me and said: Don’t worry!

How could I not worry? There was a snake waiting for me, telling me to go away from his property.

Oh, its nothing said the owner again. They come from the other building.

The other building? That building is connected to the one I was going to live in.

I almost died.

I was terrified, had not slept 48 hours and the good forsaken snake moved closer to me.

The owner took a stick and put it inside the curly snake, throwing it away. There you see, he said, no problem, it´s gone!

After a while the cleaning was over. I could go inside, the driver said good by and I went to sleep. What a reception I got.

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Hulda Björnsdóttir

Icelandic design

29th of July 2017

A friend of mine is an Icelandic designer.

She is different and her clothes like nothing else.

I love this wonderful design and every winter I wear her amazing clothes, but today I want to share with you some of them.

She lives in Akranes in Iceland and has her workshop there.

When I first met her she had a shop in Reykjavík and that was where I bought my first outfit. I had come for a visit from China and Iceland was horrible cold. I needed something warm, something that could protect my bones from freezing to death.  This was more than 10 years ago. Every year I add something and my collection is now quite amazing.

During the years the design has changed but she is truthful to her inheritance and the touch is similar.

Akranes is a small place but worth visiting when you travel to Iceland.

Here above she is outside her new workshop in Akranes  enjoying the beautiful weather. This is a playful design and I hope one day she will have an exhibition where her playful mood shows.

Even though the summer is not hot and sometimes it rains and the wind tries to capture you, the Icelandic nature is beautiful and that is where my friend Gerður picks up her ideas. If you visit her Facebook site https://www.facebook.com/gagadesign/  you can see more and even contact her while on your way north.

Iceland does not have a big population but I can tell you that the art is blooming there. There are singers, painters, designers, musicians and you just name it. Sport is also blooming in the country and many famous Icelandic football players  have been working for example in UK, Belgium and France. The conditions in Iceland are not the best in the world to practise football but the swimming pools are amazing.

Swimming outside, under the blue sky, with the snow flakes falling like stars is an experience you would probably not have anywhere else in the world. You get out of the pool and it is freezing. You run into the hot pot and enjoy talking to your friends or just absorbing the beauty, the winter’s beauty.

The summer nights are bright and no night. 24 hours of daylight. Can you imagine that? Some complain about the bright nights but you get used to it and there is always the possibility to put something over your eyes or even have black curtains.

The winters are dark. The spring is my favourite time in the country. Everything is waking up and the tiny sprouts that have survived the winter are peeking up from the soil. They smile at you and there is a promise of beautiful flowers, soon.

This is the atmosphere where my wonderful friend Gerður picks up her ideas when designing. No wonder she has so many admirers all around the world.

I hope you will visit her Facebook site and you can contact her there if you like.

Hulda Björnsdóttir

 

 

 

The story behind the orchids

27. July 2017

When I came to Portugal more than 6 years ago, my neighbour gave me 6 orchids. She was thinning hers out and gave me cuttings.

Never in my life had I taken care of orchids or put orchids seedlings in a pot. I was told what soil to use and someone gave me some tiny pots for the huge orchids. There they were, poor things, one cold winter in my balcony. To make the story short. They all died.

Not one survived.  I threw the pots away and named the ones I saw everywhere, the ugly ones. I was jealous. Of course. The ugly ones looked ugly and nothing special for most of the year but then one day the flowers came out and every garden in my neighbourhood was full of them.

I was never going to try this again. There was some Portuguese magic between the ugly ones and the people, that I did not understand. My friends mother had some amazingly beautiful orchids and I talked to them every time I came for a visit. How did she do it? They seemed to be blooming most of the year.

One day when I was taking my walk, a man in a house not far from me, was in his garden and I stopped to talk to him and admire his beautiful ugly ones. He had just planted some in new pots and gave me one. I took it home and killed it few weeks later. It was not my intention. I was going to take really good care of it. I just did not know how.

I tried some inside ones. They are different. Everything went the same way, they died.

Two years ago I got really sick and needed to stay home and could not travel around the country as I had done before. I was bored and needed to figure out something to do. Something challenging, more challenging than my illness. Guess what! The ugly ones, they were the best challenge I could come up with.

My friends mother gave me one in a pot. She, the orchid, gave me beautiful flowers and now I was sure I would be able to keep her alive. Oh no! One day all the leaves had gone. Was she dead? I would not let go. I nourished her, talked to her and told her stories. Then came the winter and I just left her alone.

My balcony was really cold and the wind blew heavily. Almost during the whole year. The apartment was cold. There is no insulation in houses here and I was paying a lot for heating during the winter. There had to be a solution. Yes. I could put up a glass wall or rather glass windows and doors around the balcony. That would solve the heating problem and even safe me money when looking to the future, the gas bill would be less.

Since the wall would come next October I began to experiment with the ugly ones again. The one my friends mother gave me had not passed away. She came around with happy leaves. I was not hopeless after all. Then I invested in 3 outdoor ones. They were on promotion and not that expensive. I asked the family, my friends who run the flower shop, how to take care of them and they sold me bigger pots and soil and I did everything right this time.

October came and I had broken my shoulder in September, but the men came with the wonderful glass doors and sliding windows for my balcony and I was happy. This winter I have been warm. I spent less on gas and the big surprise is that I am becoming an orchid specialist.

The ugly ones have become the beautiful ones. The one that I managed not to kill 4 years ago, an inside orchid, gave me flowers and opened the first one on the 23rd of May this year and is still blooming.  You can see her outside the kitchen window.

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There are 2 others, inside ones, that will bloom next year, I think, and some others have given my amazingly beautiful flowers all the time. I told Philip that I would treat myself with one orchid per month. That was 6 months ago. I am not going to buy anymore. I have got different colours and different shapes. The outdoor ones will bloom in September, I hope, and there are wonderful colours in waiting there also.

Now they are just in a green group protecting each other.

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The culture here in Portugal is to share the orchids. When you need to thin them you give your friends and neighbours one.

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One day I will be able to share mine. At the moment I am learning to keep them alive. I sing for them, talk to them, read for them and take care of them. They need love and nourishment just like we, the people.

Hulda Björnsdóttir