a cuppa tea with me

So I think I told you about my recent toe-dip into the world of online courses? Where I signed up for the wonderful Blog with Pip eCourse with the supernice Pip Lincolne? And I actually kinda sorta did it? You might have noticed a few little changes around here – a bit of a spring clean, if you will – like my fancy new banner (thanks so much Katie!!), and a whizz-bang updated About Me page, and a few other little bits and bobs.

Anyhoo. The other bloggers and I are partaking in a big ol’ cuppa-tea-and-a-biscuit sesh. In the VIRTUAL WORLD! And I’d like to invite you too! You can get to know a little bit more about me, and if you like, you can do the same on your blog, or post a comment about what’s happening in your part of town. Hang on a tic, Imma gonna pop the kettle on and get us some donuts.

Let's have a salted caramel donut instead

Aforementioned donut (it’s salted caramel)

So! I’m Wembolina (obvy), I live in Melbourne (in Victoria, not Florida), and I’m a researcher & writer by day, a social-media-type person for a few different companies after hours, and a cook/dog-walker/cat-patter/reader/crafter/writer/downloader-of-great-TV-shows by night! I live with my luvverly fella and his two (teenage) daughters as well (but I haaaaaaate the term ‘stepmum’, because I don’t have warts on my nose and I don’t lock them in the cellar and we actually all like each other quite a bit). I’m trying to be better at going to the gym and I secretly love the big crossword that comes out in the summer newspapers… I’m also weirdly protective of our wheely bins.

My favourite things to do are eat (!) and drink (!!) with people I love, and people I am getting to know. Having giant Jenga parties with new friends, where we chow down on excellent food while drinking white wine spritzers is in my top 10 things favourite things to do, along with strolling aimlessly with le pooch, watching Degrassi with the girls, and having excellent adventures with my fella.

Some nerds playing giant Jenga.

Some nerds playing giant Jenga.

My favourite place to be? Eeep, am I getting old? It’s in my backyard… Watering plants and eating tomatoes and chatting to whoever might be around.

Favourite food and drink is a toughie for me, because I love just about ALL food and drink! But because we’re in the midst of a heatwave (so it’s sadly not ideal tea-drinking weather) today my faves would be an icy cold beer and a big slice of watermelon. Maybe not together though.

Remember this guy?

This guy was so evil I had to eat him…

I find in-spa-ray-shon in many, many things; weird things I see, conversations I have, and things I read. But the best inspiration comes from people around me – I’m pretty lucky, because I have some wonderfully ace people in my neck of the woods, who make me think differently and outside da box ALL the time!

This year I made a resolution to educate myself more. I want to know more about how brains work and how people operate, so I’ve been reading books on thought processes and the like. I loooooove learning new things, so I’m keen to do more course-type things too (especially around WRITING!).

Some favourite blogs… Well, there are blogs I’ve been reading for aaaaaages (and always love) like Meet Me At Mikes, My Darling Lemon Thyme, banana meet-cute, Gourmet Girlfriendand nothing matters when we’re dancing and ‘Voir Tales (among others!!) to blogs that I’ve discovered through doing Pip’s course, like Grow.Cook.Sew, Little Wolff, miss and misters and Think Big, Live Simply. There are SO many MORE incredible bloggers who have done this course, and I’m super excited about getting stuck into what everyone’s been doing!

So that’s me! What about you? What are some of your favourite things to do, food to eat, places to be, inspirations and blogs, and what do you want to know more about in 2014? And what would your reaction be if you discovered your wheelie bin had been INADVERTENTLY TAKEN BY A NEIGHBOUR/THIEF ON BIN DAY???

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challenge: a to z of travel

I visited my luvverly friend Bron’s blog a few days ago, and found this (via Andrew Petcher) and I thought “Holy A to Z Batman, I’M gonna do that too!!!”.

So here it is! My A to Z of travel:

A: Age at which you went on your first trip abroad

I would have been about 11. My folks took me to the UK for a 6 week jaunt through the countryside. I remember one night when we were staying in a B & B (a converted barn near some woods – very quaint!) I couldn’t sleep because something was plaguing me; I got up, went to see my parents (who were enjoying a glass of red wine by the fire) and asked “Does Santa Claus really exist?”. They were a little drunk, and didn’t hold back on the truth… Sadface.

Something else I remember about this trip was having a glass of orange juice on the flight between Singapore and Heathrow and throwing up all over myself. There was a group of high school kids on the plane on an excursion and one of them made a tiny fluffy toy koala for me, to make me feel better. It really helped…

B: Best foreign beer you’ve had and where

ANY beer in Asia is the best. It actually doesn’t matter if it’s the worst beer ever, there’s something refreshing and thirst-quenching and delicious about an icy beer on a sticky, humid afternoon. It’s even more delicious if you’re on the beach, or in a hammock, or both.

C: Cuisine

The most memorable meal we had on our latest adventure was probably at Robinson’s in Croatia. The only way to get there is by boat (or 4 hour hike) and it’s on the most amazing rocky beach… There’s no electricity, so everything is cooked either on a BBQ or in a wood-fired oven (somehow they keep their beers and wines cold, which were equally delicious in the hot afternoon sun!); tables and chairs are set up under the trees overlooking the water. You order your food (freshly caught fish, crabs, prawns, mussels), order your drinks, go for a swim, then you’re called in when your lunch is ready. It was SO delicious and so flipping beautiful…

Our lovely friends Sarah & Ben, waiting for lunch

Some bobbing swimmers

Fish, squid, prawns: nom, nom, nom

D: Destinations, favourite, least favourite, and why

Iceland is definitely up there with the favourites – I’ve never been to the moon (does that surprise you?) but I kind of imagine it to be like Iceland. No trees, just rocks and moss and crazy bubbling pools of mud. The peeps are friendly and wacky and hilarious (and super styling too), and their sense of culture blew me away – I loved how knowledgeable everyone seems to be on their ancestry (so many Icelandians have VIKINGS as distant relatives!!).

Least favourite… Hmm…. Umm… I would say Caracas, and I would say that as a copout. We didn’t actually leave the airport, but had to spend a few hours there on our way to El Yaque. We had NO local money on us, there were no ATMs in the terminal and no money changers (though a LOT of people came up to us, whispering ‘Cambio? Cambio?’. We later discovered that Venezuela has two currencies – the official currency and the black market currency); I hadn’t eaten all day, was hangry and tired and on the verge of a major hissy. After trudging around the terminal we FINALLY found an ATM, got some cash, but when we went to get food, THERE WAS NOTHING VEGETARIAN!!! I settled on a packet of chips and a ginormous cup of lemonade and that tided me over.

E: Event you experienced abroad that made you say “wow”

We arrived in Oslo on a rainy, cold Sunday afternoon. After checking into our hotel, we went for a walk to get some lunch and our bearings. After a salad and a  coffee and a weird pastry near the central train station, we walked further up the hill, turned a corner, and were suddenly in front of a church surrounded by a sea of roses. I’ve never seen so many flowers; the ones closest to the church were brown and withered, while the ones nearest to the street were vivid shades of red, yellow, white. The bombing and shootings at a nearby island had taken place a few weeks prior; I’d had no idea we were staying so close to where the bomb had gone off. Seeing the flowers, the written messages to lost loved ones, the Norwegian flags, the open displays of grief, made my jaw drop. I had to spend a few moments alone after seeing this; it was an absolutely devastating sight.  F: Favourite mode of transportation

Riding a camel through the Saharan desert is pretty incredible. A bit bumpy and terrifying (you’ve definitely gotta trust your camel!!) but amazing when all you can see for miles is red sand and your camels shadow.

camelwalk

G: Greatest feeling while travelling

The greatest – and most terrifying – feeling I felt was not knowing what was around the corner. You get on a plane or a boat or a bus to somewhere you’ve never been (and often somewhere you know very little about) and when you get there, and you see the sights and smell the smells and hear the language and the voices and the laughter – even the cars honking – and it’s really exhilarating. And you’re kinda in the hands of the Gods most of the time as well – you get sick and you miss flights and you can’t find accommodation – and learning to let go of the need for organisation and heaps of planning and all the jazz, just going with the flow, is what makes you a traveller and not a tourist. Don’t you think?

H: Hottest place you’ve travelled to

Like Bron said, Melbourne gets pretty hot (it was 47 degrees a week before our wedding a few years ago); Morocco gets pretty boiling. New York summers are pretty revolteh hot too!

I: Incredible service you’ve experienced and why

Definitely Abel and JC and all the porters on our Inca Trail adventure. Their gift of the gab, kindness, hilariousness, bag carryingness, cake bakingness (not to mention all the other incredible meals we had each day), and (gulp) the whole ‘carrying me down the hill’ thing was really above and beyond.

J: Journey that took the longest

Ha. Definitely the Inca Trail. That counts, right? 42 kms up and down, through sickness and health, hot days, cold nights, squat toilets, bruised toes and ALL THOSE STEPS it was definitely the most epic journey I have EVER been on!!!

K: Keepsake from your travels

Probably this blog. Awwww. And maybe this tattoo on my wrist, that I got on a trip to London when I was 23. I had just broken up with a boyfriend and was having my first ever overseas ALONE trip (I started in Japan, then had a few weeks in London, then had a week in Barcelona – with minimal skillz in Espanol); I decided I needed to document the trip (this was before the days of blogging), so popped into a tattoo parlour in Soho. I met an artist called Dingo, who flat out refused to tattoo my wrist. He held my wrist up to me, like I’d never seen it before, saying “No! I won’t do it! I won’t mark this lily-white skin…” (yes, he actually said that) “… what about your job? What are they gonna say if they see a tattoo on your wrist??? What if you want to go to the RACES???” (I’ve never been to the races in my entire life, and I don’t plan on going anytime soon). I finally wore him down, explaining that it would be inconspicuous, it wouldn’t be garish or bright or over the top, and he agreed. Before he started, he looked at me and said “Now listen darl, if you want to yell and scream and call me a motherf****r, that’s OK. You won’t be the first, and you won’t be the last”. He was a nice fella.

No need for name-calling

L: Let-down sight, where and why

The Amazon. BECAUSE WE DIDN’T GET THERE!!! Does that count?

M: Moment when you fell in love with travel

My first trip with Rich cemented how rad travelling is. My solo sojourn mentioned in K was great, but I struggled a bit on my own (more out of loneliness than any actual struggle). Travelling with Rich has always been easy and fun and having someone to share the sights and food and cocktails with, for me, is the bees knees.

N: Nicest hotel you’ve stayed in

Rich and I had a super lah-di-dah trip a few years ago to the Maldives. It is SUPER cray, yo. Over-water huts, white sand, clear water… you get the drill. We were picked up from the airport in Mali at around midnight, then got in a speedboat (that smelt like frangipanis) and were given refresher towels THAT WERE ACTUALLY TOWELS AND NOT BABY WIPES and bottles of water, and then we sped out into the black night. After about an hour of sailing the high seas at high speeds, the lights of the island came into sight. We were met at the jetty by a man in a golf buggy, who drove us to our hut (which was actually bigger than our house… and then some). There was a plate of antipasto on the table, along with a bottle of champagne and some flowers. Neither of us are hugely into champagne, but we guzzled that baby back, despite the fact that it was after 1am and we’d been flying for over 17 hours. After our champagne and antipasto feast, we took a moonlight swim in our own private SEA GARDEN under our hut which was amazing (but a little bit scary). During the day, puffer fish and baby sharks bobbed around in our sea garden (hence the whole ‘fear’ thang). The staff were divine, the food was amazing, and the digs… well…. I don’t think we’ll ever stay somewhere that fancy ever again, but it was so bloody amazing!!

Are you a postcard? NO! You're a photo from the Maldives!

O: Obsession – what are you obsessed with taking photos of when you travel

Dogs and cats. Hands down. I have hundreds of cat and dog photos. One dog, eight angles.

O hai cat!

Wass that?

Just chillin'

P: Passport stamps, how many and from where

I got a fancy e-passport just before we embarked on le world tour, but I still have a pretty nifty collection of stamps – from the start of my p-port to the back, we have: Indonesia, UK, Iceland, somewhere called Dobova, which I think is in Slovenia and I think we got this on the train, Norway, Singapore, Venezuela, Costa Rica, Croatia, Brazil, Turkey, Canada, Peru, MACHU PICCHU, the USA is in there somewhere too (but I can’t find it – yikes!).

Q: Quirkiest attraction you’ve visited and where

Blood Manor.

R: Recommended sight, event or experience

Hmmm…. The White Night Hike in Iceland is definitely a must (provided you’re there during summer). Strolling around in the daylight AT NIGHT is definitely rad, not to mention eating soup and cake and drinking wine in your bathers in a hot spring. Do it!

S: Splurge – something you have no problem forking out money for when travelling

I have no problems at all forking out cash for an experience you couldn’t have anywhere else; riding a camel and camping in the desert, learning how to make ceviche in Peru, going for a hike at midnight in broad daylight – spending money on things you couldn’t experience at home is important, I reckon.

Ceviche. I MADE THAT!

And. Food and beer. Not all the time. But I think you’ve gotta have at least one amazing meal in each place you visit, and you definitely need to try the local brew (or wine, or cocktail – whatever takes yo fanceh!!).

T: Touristy thing you’ve done

I feel like it’s kind of impossible NOT to do touristy things in New York. The city that never sleeps is the perfect place to take cheesy photos, eat ridiculous food and immerse yourself in BEING A TOURIST rather than a traveller. Hire a bike and ride around Central Park (and stop to watch some beat-boxers or break-dancers or a weird dance troupe who seem to rely on flexing their pecs and psyching out their minimal audience with intense stares and glares); go to Serendipity3 and try to finish an icecream sundae (you can’t); go to Rockefeller Plaza and pretend you’re Liz Lemon; eat a slice of pizza in Greenwich or a bagel from a street vendor; revel in the accents (“I think that baby lady done want her some SOO-SHI”, said a man handing out fliers for a Japanese restaurant in Times Square, when Eva went to take a pamphlet but decided against it…). NYC is the greatest place in the world to be touristy. Yay!

U: Unforgettable travel memory

We had a stupid amount of fun when we were on le world tour, and I’ll treasure every single second it (even the annoying times were unforgettable), but my absolute favourite travel memory is definitely my birthday in Slovenia. It made my love for Rich multiply by about 80,000 (which I didn’t even think was possible but IT DID!!!!).

V: Visas – how many and for where

Just one. For Brazil. And look where that got us.

X: eXcellent view and from where

When we climbed onto the roof of an art gallery (that had a tree growing through it) in Rio and looked out over the favella, my breath was well and truly taken. In a sea of mostly brown and grey square, squat dwellings, there were blocks of red, yellow, purple and green buildings; I’d liken it to a magic eye puzzle, but I feel like that lessens its awesomeness. I’d also liken it to a patchwork quilt, but I feel like that makes me sound like a derb with no skillz for adequate descriptions.

Y: Years spent travelling

32 (age now) minus 2 (age started) equals 30. From those long drives as a kid to visit family in Queensland to my first time riding a horse on the New South Wales Central Coast, to visiting Beatrix Potter’s house in England (clad in my knitted “people finger” gloves), to espying a tank of baby turtles at a market in Tokyo, to moving to Canada to further my career in the film industry, to moving home again because I was too in love with Rich, to the Maldives and Bali and the Philippines and Vietnam, to…. the world tour. Travelling is definitely in my blood. I’m happy to stay put though… for now.

Z: Zealous sports fans and where

I feel like Y & Z should really be reversed, because Y is kind of a nice point to finish on. And because the only sports fans I encountered were at a baseball game in Toronto, and… well… I was expecting WAY more out of control fandom and I just didn’t get it. Short of singing their teams song, hand on heart, balancing hotdogs and beers and giant tubs of popcorn on their knees, that was about as passionate as they seemed to get…

Do you wanna have a go? You should! Epic list, BUT FUN and a great way to remember past trips… Woot! Let me know in the comments if you do it on YOUR blog!

san jose to la fortuna

It may surprise you to know that I have ‘Do you know the way to San Jose?’ stuck in my head. For three days now. And I only know that first line. So it’s quite an annoying earworm…

But I’m not surprised that that song was written. Do you know why? Because there are hardly any street signs in San Jose. There are signs pointing you in the general direction of where you want to go (San Ramon, Volcano, Aeropuerto), but no ‘Main Street’ or ‘San Jose Way’ or anything like that. Apparently peeps get around based on the location of an old tree, or a supermarket, or a big rock.

Anyhoo. We arrived in San Jose on Monday afternoon after a loooooong day of waiting, flying, waiting again, wandering around the airport, eating, flying again, our second flight actually flying 45 minutes longer to avoid weirdy weather patterns, then finally, landing in San Jose to grey clouds and drizzly rain and a cool breeze. Our driver, Frankie, sped us away from the airport in his rickety ol’ hatchback, cursed a traffic jam, shook his fist and yelled sarcastically ‘Gracias, GRACIAS!!!’ at an equally rickety hatchback that cut us off, and (this was the best part of the drive) stopped the car on train tracks. Yes, train tracks. Isn’t the first thing you learn in driving school NOT to come to a halt on train tracks?

I could see a train approaching, but fortunately, the traffic was soon moving again and we were off before we had our own ‘Super 8’ moment.

After about an hour of speed, squealing wheelies, and honking horns (not to mention the tunes spewing forth from an AMAZING local radio station, which featured – in this order – ‘Turn back time’ by Cher, ‘I should be so lucky’, by Kylie, and ‘Crazy’ by Icehouse – brilliant!!) we arrived at our destination: a small guesthouse on the outskirts of town.

Ken, the keeper of the inn and dad of the family, welcomed us with two beers, and a muy bueno dinner of garden rice, salad and fried plantains. Nom!

Happy pooch

When kittehs attack

The next day, after an equally nommable breakfast, we packed our bags, patted the family pooch, wrestled off a coupla kittens, and we were off, on the road to La Fortuna with our driver, Leo. Leo spoke little English, and we speak little Spanish, so it was an interesting drive and a good opportunity for me to brush up on my Spanish language skills (even though, when he was asking me if I was feeling sick, I thought he was asking about the weather, and replied enthusiastically ‘Si, si, bonita!!’. Aye yae yae!

After three hours of highway, winding mountain roads, steep gravel tracks, and a stop to buy lychees from a boy on the street (a HUGE bag for $2!!), we arrived at our destination: Finca Luna Nueva Lodge. On the road in, Leo stopped the car, opened the window and whistled. I looked out, and there, right in front of my eyes, was a SLOTH!!! CUDDLING A TREE!!!! Tres amazement….

And then – equally amazing – when we walked into our room, THIS INCREDIBLE TOWEL SCULPTURE WAS ON OUR BED:

Towel art, ala Dog (note the leaves used for the eyes and nose, and the petal tongue)

But of course, there are dangers that come with being in the middle of the jungle. Since we arrived, all I can think about is:

a) seeing a snake

b) seeing a tarantula

Each of these thoughts is then met with the more horrific thought of:

c) what if said snake/tarantula bites me/lands on me when I’m strolling about the place in a humidity-induced stupor???

So for every tarantula/snake thought I have, I think immediately of sloths, and their funny smily sleepy faces and their stupidly long limbs, and that’s usually enough to put the slithery, poisonous, hairy-legged fears to bed. Not in MY bed though – ew!

earworms

It seems that with every stop we have along the road of our world tour, a song or phrase gets stuck in my brain and goes around and around until we leave. It’s frustrating. But also kinda funny to see what earworm will come next.

When we were in Oslo, I constantly had “The cat from Norway got stuck in the doorway” in my brain. Have you read that book? I loved it when I was a kid – “My cat likes to hide in boxes”. Full of great lines like “The cat from Greece joined the police” and “The cat from France likes to sing and dance”… Good times. I saw no cats in Norway, and definitely no cats in Norway stuck in doorways….

When we were in Sweden, every thought I had was with the voice of the Swedish chef from the Muppets. At times I was tempted to grow out my eyebrows and wave ladles and spoons about wildly, but there were no utensils at hand. And growing your eyebrows reeeeeally long takes time and effort… And ain’t the most flattering of looks.

When we were in Croatia (and this was the MOST annoying), every time we saw a cat, I would get the theme song from the Snappy Tom ad stuck in my brain. Only instead of ‘Australia’, the earworm sang “The cats of Dubrovnik have made their choice, Snappy Tom”. And the earworm had a thick Balkan accent…

Now that we’re in Turkey, there are THREE earworms on the loose:

In another Muppets reference, “Istanbul not Constantinople” has been doing the rounds (the one that’s sung by the rats – weirdly I can only find this Spanish version on You Tube, but it’s still the same song)

Remember that episode of The Simpsons where Homer goes on a business trip and Marge arrives and finds a turkey behind the bed? And he sings “O Margie, you came and you found me a Turkey…. On my vacation away from work-y”.

That’s been in my head A LOT.

Today we arrived in Cappadocia, and as soon as we saw the first sign into town, the earworm started to sing ‘California Love’ by Tupac only that stupid worm replaced the opening “California love” with “Cappidociaaaaahhhh”.

Be gone, earworm!!!!

Do YOU have any earworms you’d care to share? Like…. when you’re in your car at the traffic lights, do you ever break into J-Lo’s “Waiting at the Lights” “Waiting for Tonight”? Or sing MC Hammer’s “Pyjamatime” “Hammertime” when you’re getting into your pyjamas? Do tell!

so long, reykjavik

I’ll miss your endless days of light, your weird fat drops of rain, your surprisingly excellent coffee, your pretty ladies with printed tights and beautiful capes, your Christmas jumpers (heaven!), your unlocked bikes outside shops and galleries, your friendly cats and your colourful rooves…

See you again soon, I hope!

cycling to bjork’s house

The death of the hard-drive a few days ago really threw a spanner in the works when it came to writing about Iceland. When I got it back on Thursday afternoon, it took ages to reload everything back onto it, then there was no time to write on Friday because we spent the day at the Blue Lagoon and then flew back to Heathrow on Friday night, and had no internet access at le hotel…

Excuses excuses!

Enough of that!

Iceland is AMAZING!! Reykjavik is a beautiful, stylish, bustling little city, filled with cobbled streets, underground coffee shops, people dressed up as whale tails, handing out pamphlets saying ‘Meet us, don’t eat us’ to passersby, and cats! Cats everywhere!! Friendly cats, up for a pat and a cuddle ALL THE TIME! Cats that would cross the road to meet ME, rather than me stalking them, as I tend to do in Melbourne… I had a lot of great cat time here.

Everything is Reykjavik is quaint and cute and cosy and safe. It’s super lovely.

On Tuesday morning, Rich and I were up bright and early, had a bowl of muesli in our little apartment on Framnesvegur and made our way down to the docks for a tour of Reykjavik by bike. We got there stupidly early, so had a coffee at Haiti Cafe, then had a little wander around the docks.

At 9.45am, we met Ursula, a New Icelander (which is a MUCH nicer term than ‘immigrant) from Germany who was leading our group. She wheeled all the bikes out of a big shipping container, and I was given the bike named after Iceland’s most famous export: Bjork.

Rich was on the Magnus.

Away we went. First stop was the concert hall, a massive glass structure (kinda reminiscent of ACMI) on the harbour, built a few years ago when Iceland had zero money, as a way of attracting more tourists. Not sure that it has worked for them – the country is still in financial ruin – but the building is pretty amazing; like a giant glassy honeycomb.

After that we stopped at ‘the most famous hotdog stand in Rekjavik’. I didn’t see too many other hotdog stands, but it was the only stand (nay, restaurant) in Iceland that boasts Bill Clinton as its most famous customer. Ol’ Bill sure gets around – two bowls of noodle soup at that pho place in Swanston Street AND a hotdog with mustard in Iceland (he was too sissy to get one with the lot, because of the onions/public speaking thing)…

Riding on, we paid a visit to Parliament House, where the infamous Kitchenware Revolution was staged in 2008-09. When the country slipped into financial crisis, its politicians were seen doing very little, so the peeps of Iceland staged a mass protest outside Parliament House. Rather than getting violent and throwing rubbish bins (as we have seen at multiple G20 summits), a group of Icelanders descended on the lawn outside with their pots, pans and wooden spoons, and sat outside making a ruckus.

Unfortunately, someone got a little out of hand and set fire to the town Christmas tree (a gift from Denmark) so now there’s a permanent patch of dead grass in the lawn… The group sighed a little in disappointment at the news of the burning Christmas tree – the ultimate Scrooge (but for a pretty good reason, I guess).

Onwards and upwards, we cycled to the University, around a lake, Ursula pointed out Bjork’s house (a square black house with trickets on the windowsills – very unassuming and quite beautiful), then we rode back down the hill to the docks.

When we dismounted our trusty 2-wheeled steeds, we were tired and a little damp (Iceland is quite drizzly at this time of year). The perfect solution? Lobster soup on the dock. We joined two Canadians and two Americans in a funny shack on the waterfront, devoured our soup with big chunks of bread, then slowly moseyed back to Framnesvegur for a little nap…