Tag Archives: nature

Shore near Espoo, Finland

Enjoying the evening light in Finland

July was a busy month for me, with a week-long work conference to kick the month off, then 3 separate friends visiting over the course of two weeks, before jumping on a plane for some more work travel. It was an exciting month, seeing people I hadn’t seen for months or even years, spending time in the south of Italy, being a tourist at home in Turin, trying to wrap my head around some new (to me) physics, lots of meals in restaurants and relatively few nights at home.

In contrast to all that, Finland has been trees and rocks and water and evening light. I’ve been here for two weeks now, for work, and every day I’ve had to remind myself that I’m not on holidays, and I really do need to go to the office. Partly it’s the feeling of quiet here that’s (paradoxically) distracting me — if you’re going to be productive, isn’t that synonymous with being busy?

I’m staying just outside of Helsinki proper, on the shores of an inlet surrounded by reeds. In the evenings I sometimes go for a walk on the gravel path through the birch trees, following the edge of the water. A couple of weeks ago on a grey Sunday afternoon, I followed the path all the way to the top of the inlet, where a herd of cows graze near the water. The trees muffled the sound of the nearby motorway and I felt like I’d left the city entirely.

Sometimes I walk in the other direction, down to the edge of the open sea, which is protected by islands and calm like a lake. There are always midges, and sometimes when the water is very still I can hear fishes jumping up to catch a midge that has ventured too close to the surface. I’ve never seen the fishes, only the ripples as they dive back down.


PS: If you think I have become a person at one with nature, I should also say I have spent many evenings using the fast internet in my accommodation to frantically skim-read blogs and news sites and videos. My latest game is “how cheap can I get a flight to Perth for Christmas, plus an interesting stopover on the way?” Question for readers — is it possible to have a nice time in Bali if you aren’t interested in drinking or surfing???

Isle of Arran, September 2011

Another “where was Zoe?” catch-up post.

At the start of 2011, I’d planned to finish my phd by september. In july, we’d pushed the end-date back to early 2012 so I could write more papers. Which is great! Yay papers! But by september, the grey skies of a Glasgow summer and the apparent endlessness of my phd were getting to me, and  I was well and truly ready for a holiday. I don’t think my advisor was surprised when I emailed him one day and said, “I’m taking a few days off.”

That was pretty much all the prior preparation I’d made for this trip. The night before I was supposed to leave, I was madly researching places within a few hours of Glasgow, and had a gchat with a friend who had travelled in Scotland more than me, consisting mostly of me saying “where should I gooooo? I can’t decide anything and the weather forecast is bad everywhere :/” So, on the basis of a toin coss and his suggestion that “Arran is nice, it’s like a mini-Scotland, and it’s easy to get to”, I hopped on a train to the coast on a drizzly morning, with a backpack full of books just in case the rain kept up all week.

Arran turned out to be exactly the right place for a quiet few days away in autumn. Some things that stick out in my memory, in no particular order:

  • Seeing Goat Fell emerging from the clouds as they lifted a bit on my first afternoon:

    Goat Fell and lots of clouds

    Goat Fell and lots of clouds. I didn’t climb it, but the views from the top on a clear day must be amazing.

  • Not understanding more than 10% of what the landlady of my b&b said in the four days I was there. I thought I was ok with Scottish accents after several months in Glasgow, but not Aberdeen accents, it turns out. She was lovely though, as was her husband (who was in charge of cooking the full scottish breakfast every morning). They were both full of suggestions of places to see and optimism each day that the weather would surely clear up after a bit of morning rain.
  • Seeing plants and animals other than the pigeons, grey squirrels and rats that live in Glasgow: red squirrels! pheasants! sea lions! deer! those toadstools with the red caps with white dots! (true story, I had seriously thought they were fictitious, because they’d always been presented as the place where fairies live)
  • Sitting on the bus between villages on the west coast of the island, with the sea on my left and green hills on my right, and everything bathed in late-afternoon magic light. I was heading back to my b&b after an afternoon of hiking, and it is hard to imagine a more perfect autumn day.
  • Even getting some full sunshine one morning:


    Blue sky, warm sun, green grass…

(In case you’re wondering: in the end, I only read 1 of the books I’d brought — a rather depressing Margaret Atwood novel.)