Monday, July 30, 2012

Tears shed for Shetland

It was sad leaving the islands. I got up early this morning and had breakfast with my friend Ann. Then I gathered my things and decided to walk to the airport.

The airport is in view from the hotel. Since it was such a nice day, I decided to make the journey instead of having the hotel drop me off. Thirty minutes later I arrived at the airport with my wheelie suitcase and bags. What looked to be a simple task was actually fairly complex. The roads wound around back and forth. I had to jump off the road if a car was coming. I also got quite a few perplexed looks from the coach bus drivers and taxis. The bus that I could have taken from the hotel passed me several minutes prior to my arrival. When I finally made it to the airport, I had shed a couple layers. I stashed my hoodie and polar fleece jacket in my bag.

The flight to Aberdeen was running late. That was a nice opportunity to sit and reflect on the last couple days. The flight went quick and I am now resting at the bar next to the Speedbird hotel in Aberdeen, Scotland.  The hotel is within walking distance from the airport, but there doesn't appear to be anything worth seeing in the vicinity. I'm currently going through a withdrawal process and am  taking the time to process and reflect on the experience I've had while gathering my thoughts for the plane ride home tomorrow.

Sunday, July 29, 2012

Island Girl

I've always known that I was an island girl. No tropical isle will catch my fancy, but the peerie craggy isles always lure me in.

The views of the rocks, the water, and the wildlife in Shetland are spectacular!!! I feel so at home here.

I spent my last day in Shetland soaking up everything I could. After taking the bus from Lerwick to Sumburgh, I dropped off my things at the hotel and set off for Old Scatness.

Old Scatness is an iron age settlement with roundhouses, wheelhouses, and a broch. It is just down the road from Jarlshof. It was discovered in the 1970s and excavated in the 1990's until 2006. While taking the tour, I saw the same archaeologist that showed my class the longhouses in Unst. It is amazing that these settlements are so close and it makes you wonder how many of the hills in Shetland could actually be old settlements.

After that I walked the mile back to the hotel and had a chicken sandwich, salad, and crisps. Then I set of again to explore. I started walking along the coastline towards Sumburgh Head. I made it as far as a field of cattle and was trying to figure out whether or not to continue. An English couple came up behind me and decided to go so I joined them. We walked all the way to Sumburgh Head walking past a sitting bull and past the point where a bird tried to spook me last week.



At Sumburgh Head there were still puffins, but not guillemots. The guillemots were so prevalent a week ago. It is only a matter of time before the puffins will be gone as well. The puffins come for a couple months to breed and then they migrate.

Mark, Linda, and I walked down Sumburgh Head via the main road. It was nice to have someone walk with. It was probably at least a mile each way. In a couple hours I'll have my last Shetland dinner and I hope to catch the sunset. Tomorrow I take the plane to Aberdeen.

Saturday, July 28, 2012

Winding down

Today I made my way back to Lerwick to stay for the day and overnight.

Since I've been here in the afternoon/evening for other events the last couple days and the fact that I'm starting to feel the results of a busy week, I tried to go with the flow.  I spent the day wandering around with my new friend, Patricia. We had a lunch at one of many Asian restaurants in Lerwick, went into some of the shops, had coffee by the pier, and had dinner at the Shetland Hotel before she got on the ferry to head to Aberdeen. In between we did a lot of walking around the city.

I have thoroughly enjoyed my class and the information I have gained about Viking Shetland as well as present day Shetland. There is an enormous amount of information that I would not have been able to learn without coming here. In the course of the week, I decided to take this class for credit so I can put this experience on my resume. When I get home I will be writing a 1,500 word essay about a topic that has impacted me. There are so many, so I will have to figure out how to narrow it down. It will most likely be specific to which aspects have helped me with the research for "Under Loch and Key."

Tomorrow I take the bus south back to Sumburgh and then Monday to Aberdeen. On Tuesday I fly to Amsterdam and then Minneapolis/St. Paul.

Last day of class

I usually look forward to Fridays, but this Friday was particularly sad. It was out last day of class.

We learned about Vikings in popular culture. I learned about numerous movies, television shows, and music with Vikings. Viking metal was a new form of music for me. I'll have to tell Will about these bands that have quite a following.

In the afternoon we went to the Shetland Museum to see more Viking artifacts. We had a farewell tea (I had a scone with cream and jam as well as a mocha). Then it was time to say goodbye to some of the people we had met in class.

A few of us stayed in Lerwick to shop and have fish and chips. We also toured the Up Helly Aa galley shed. Here they had shields, scrapbooks, and costumes dating back to 1928.

The Up Helly Aa festival takes place in late January. One man per year is nominated to be the Guizer Jarl. He is joined by his crew and they parade around the city making appearances for food, festivities, and dramatic sketches. At the end of the evening, the crowd gathers around a longship which is set in flames by a thousand torches. The festival marks the end of winter and looking forward to spring. There are some similarities between Up Helly Aa and the Winter Carnival in St. Paul. The 2017 Guizer Jarl was our tour guide. Maybe I'll come back and see the festival some day. You never know.

Norse folklore and boats

It's been a couple days since I've had wi-fi!

On Thursday we had class at the Viking Heritage Center in Unst. There we learned about Viking voyages and mythological creatures in folktales. It's amazing the stories that were passed down through the generations about trows (trolls) and njuggles (water horses). There was also a growler or greela (sp?) who would take unruly children and eat them. The things we tell our children so they will behave.

In the afternoon we went to the Unst boat haven to learn about fishing boats and then saw a replica of a Viking longhouse and longship. After that we took two ferries back to mainland Shetland back to Port Arthur House at the North Atlantic Fisheries College.

In the evening I ate comfort food of macaroni and cheese with salad and chips (french fries) and then it was off to a boat ride on the Dim Riv in Lerwick. We sailed on a replica Viking boat. It was a beautiful view of the city. We saw some seals poking their heads out of the water near the fishing boats. It was a wonderful way to spend the evening.

Many peoples tell folktales of the selkies that are seals in the water and human in land. Looking at the curiosity of the seals and the mystery in their eyes, I can see why such stories have been created.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Rock, Music, and Muckle Flugga

Today we learned about Norse mythology. I was so excited that most of the information I heard today confirmed what I have been researching the last several months. That means that everything mythological in my manuscript is on the right track.

Our afternoon field trip was to see three longhouses that have been discovered on Unst. We also saw a broch which may have been used as a fortress.

We walked up and down hills. There is scat of all shapes and sizes on the ground so much that after a while you stop watching your step because it's inevitable you will step in it.

I learned the hard way that it is smart to follow a path the sheep have created because sheep don't like getting their feet wet. I unfortunately stepped in a damp area and got mud up to my laces on my shoes. I was able to wash them off in the ocean at the beach, but my feet have been squishing in my shoes for the last several hours now.

Our final destinations were a 12th century ( I hope that's accurate) kirk, or church in honor or Saint Olaf and Muckle Flugga, the northernmost point in Great Britain. There is a lighthouse on Muckle Flugga, but no one lives there.

After dinner of mushroom stroganoff and another plate of sticky toffee pudding (Yes, I have a mild obsession with sticky toffee pudding) several of us went to see a music performance with fiddle, piano, flute, double bass, and percussion. They had lovely music and had a ballad about the Shetland Bus during World War II.

I'm now off to bed and now that I know I can pull a shade on my sky light, I sleep much better. It doesn't stay dark long here. It's possibly 4-5 hours per night of darkness.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Kubb and Hnefatafl

Today we learned about Viking games. We had fun playing Kubb in the courtyard around lunch time. It was a gorgeous day outside today to do so.

After dinner I learned how to play Hnefatafl which is similar to chess. We also had opportunities today to learn about runes, do some runic inspired art, go on a brewery tour of the Valhalla Brewery, walk to the beach, and have a traditional Viking feast. I plan on teaching Kubs and Hnefatafl to my students so if any of you would like to play a rousing game, we should get together once I purchase the kits.

For Peat's Sake

Most of the land in Shetland is barren and you can see the ocean from nearly every part of the island. The land itself looks like it's caving in. I asked my instructor why. She said that it was peat.

The Shetlanders use peat for fires and warmth because trees are rare here. She jokes that the peat keeps you warm five times: 1) cutting the peat from the earth, 2) putting it in a wheelbarrow, 3) taking it out of a wheelbarrow to store for drying, 4) when turning the peat to dry the other side, and 5) when the peat is burning in the fire.

Most Shetlanders have other means for heat and just use peat for tradition. Each property has peat rights when the owners/renters can harvest their own peat. You can see a lot of piles of peat drying when traveling around Shetland. A peat fire smells amazing. I'm glad I don't have to do all of the work to get it though.

Monday, July 23, 2012

Beware of the Vikings

I made my way to Scalloway on Sunday via two busses in the wind and rain.  The locals were right! The rain was horrible.  Man, it gets really windy here!

 On the bus a kind local woman with red hair, a go tee (not kidding), and who swore like a sailor helped me to my two bus stops. The driver drove so fast and the windows were fogged from the rain that I wasn't sure I would be able to identify the stops. There is only one lane for most of the roads in Shetland. When two cars meet on the road, one has to let the other pass.

I finally made it to my bus stop in Scalloway and walked for fifteen minutes in the rain with my luggage. I looked like a drowned rat when I arrived on the doorstep of the North Atlantic Fisheries College dorm.

I waited out the rain and let my clothes dry. When the rain died down, I made a break for the closest place to get food. I had gone three days without eating lunch now. I didn't want to stay long at the restaurant because I didn't want to get another set of pants soaked. It wouldn't be good to have two out of my three pairs of pants drenched.

It was eerily quiet at the dorm and there was no tv, Internet access, or anything to do. I was bored out of my mind. Luckily the morning came soon enough.

I started my Centre for Nordic Studies: Viking Culture course today! We started the morning with an overview of the Vikings in general and then about the Vikings in Shetland. In the afternoon we took two ferries to the island of Unst which is the northernmost inhabited island in Great Britain.

After getting settled, we had dinner at the resort. I had neeps and tatties, haggis, and there was a surprise: more black pudding. In addition I had some smoked salmon. For dessert I had sticky toffee pudding. Sticky toffee pudding has been at every restaurant I've eaten at so far. Luckily my father-in-law makes sticky toffee outing so I'll be able to get my fix once I get home.


So far I'm loving my class! The instructors and the students are incredible. I think it's going to be an unforgettable week.

Saturday, July 21, 2012

The road not taken

After breakfast this morning (fried egg, bacon, corn flakes, yogurt, and a grilled tomato) I sat in the lobby trying to figure out what to do today. As I was sitting there a visually impaired woman sat down next to me. A few minutes later I cleared up where I was going and asked the woman at the reception desk about transportation. The visually impaired woman, Ann, said she was going to get the bus as well.

We set off for the bus stop at the end of the road and spoke for quite a while. I was really inspired by her. She is originally from England, but now lives in Edinburgh, Scotland. She came to the Shetland Islands on July 12th and has been traveling on her own. She speaks with such precision that you would swear she was from here or she could actually see everything. Just watching her though, I have no idea how she finds her way around. She says she has an adventurous spirit and she refuses to let not being able to see stop her.

We parted ways when I got off the bus to see the Croft House Museum. Here I saw a renovated croft(farm)with a house, a byre (barn), and a water mill. I spoke with the custodian (that's what they call the person who works there) for a while and got to learn a little more about Shetland. After that I took a bus to the Quendale Mill. At both places the bus let me off a half mile or so down the road and I had to walk there. Neither time could I see the location.

At the Quendale Mill, I spoke with Alistair for a while about the mill. Most of the time I was there I was worrying about how I would get back to the hotel. The bus driver said he wouldn't be back at that stop until 5:45 p.m. (it was currently 1:15 p.m. He said I could probably take a path along the beach.

When I was done exploring the mill, Alistair also told me I could walk along Quendale beach, through the town of Toab, and down the main road past the Sumburgh airport, and to the hotel. Well, as I set off on this journey to the hotel, I had to climb over a fence, walk past a herd of lounging sheep and cows that gave me the stink eye and stood up when I walked by (there was no fence between us), I walked along a beach, climbed another fence, went up a hill, through the town of Toab, over the airport runway and down a main road until the hotel was in sight. I think it took about two hours and I believe I walked 4 or 5 miles in all. That's not counting what I walked to get to the two museums.



It was quite and adventure and if I wasn't so worried about getting attacked by a cow, ambiguous weather, wind, airplanes, and getting lost, I would have enjoyed myself a little more. Being that I haven't eaten for ten hours, I have definitely worked up an appetite for dinner.

Tomorrow I travel by bus to the capital city called Lerwick and then to Scalloway to the North Atlantic Fisheries College where my Centre for Nordic Studies: Viking culture class will start on Monday. Three people have already told me about rain for tomorrow. Hopefully it's not too bad.

Friday, July 20, 2012

Sumburgh (Sum bur a)

I arrived in Sumburgh on the Shetland Islands today. There are not words to describe what I've seen so hopefully a few dozen pictures will help.

I should have known Sumburgh was pronounced Sum-bur-a instead of sum-burg. Just like Edinburgh is E-din-bur-a. It sounds a lot better rolling off the Scots' tongues than mine though.

After checking in at the hotel,which is absolutely lovely, I headed to Jarlshof which is a 4,000 year old settlement. I saw the progression of homes from roundhouses, to wheelhouses, to brochs, and longhouses. Those of you who have my manuscript know that this is a crucial setting in my work.

Next I headed towards Sumburgh Head. The guy at Jarlshof pointed me in the direction of the footpath. I walked along a rocky cliff, over a fence that said "Watch for bull," and over unstable ground that had holes in it. When I looked in a hole, a bird cawed at me. I apologized to the bird and went on my way. Near an inlet two-thirds of the way there a large white bird with a yellow bill and dark markings on its face started swooping down towards me repeatedly and making a terrifying noise. I backed away and another one came. I walked with my hands over my head since they were 8-10 feet above me. After one more attempt and the same results I went back to the hotel and called a taxi.

The clusters of puffins on the cliffs near Sumburgh Head were breathtaking. It was a lot more peaceful experience than the previous bird encounter. I took numerous pictures and video. I cannot even begin to describe the sound they make. Now that I have been to the two places I wanted to see and I still have one more day here, I have time to explore other areas.

Black pudding

I spent the rest of yesterday evening walking around and reading.

I made a trip to the Shell station across the street and bought aBLT, Walker's salt and vinegar chips, and a black currant soda. I had to try the BLT because they had numerous signs claiming it was the best.

 I finally figured out how to use the tv after calling reception. You have to give it five minutes to warm up. The remote also didn't work. I went to sleep at 9:30, woke up at 10:30, and then again at midnight. I woke up ten minutes before my 6:30 wake up call.

When I went to breakfast at the hotel, I asked for what would be a traditional Scottish food. The waiter recommended black pudding. I also got hashbrowns (looked like and Arby's potato cake), and a ham and cheese omelette. After eating for a while and sharing several glances with the waiter, I pulled him over and asked what was in the black pudding (round cooked patty that is dark black. It is crispy on the outside and somewhat dense on the inside.  It is not at all like American pudding.) The waiter asked me if I was sure I wanted to know. I told him yes. He said it had blood and oats in it. I looked at my plate seeing there were only two bites left and told him it was good. I then felt obligated to finish the last two bites. I was the one who asked for a traditional item and he had warned me that I might not like it.  He came back later and told me he was preparing himself for that question.

 I am now leaving for the airport to catch my flight to Sumburgh on the Shetland islands. I am one toothpaste tube, a pair of socks, and a pair of underwear lighter. My purging of socks and underwear is like an advent calendar only it is counting the days left of this excursion and not counting up to an event. And hey who wants to carry dirty socks and underwear around with them for two weeks? It's better to leave them behind. That's why I brought my ancient undergarments. Now that I finally figured out how to work the toilet, the tv, and the shower, I am off again. What's next?

Thursday, July 19, 2012

One tired mama

I survived an eight hour flight to Amsterdam and then an hour and twenty minute flight to Aberdeen, Scotland. I probably could have made it one more flight to the Shetland Islands today, but I'm glad I gave myself ample time to get there.

It's been nearly eight years since I've done international travel and eleven years since I've been to Europe. Things have changed! I was not aware of the mini bag rule for liquids. Luckily all of my liquids fit into the tiny zip lock bag. Usually I check my bag with toiletries, but I didn't check any bags for this trip. Plus now they have tons of music, movies, and television shows you can peruse. I listened to Amos Lee, Gotye, Michael Buble, the Civil Wars, and Jonsi. I also watched one edpisode of the second season of Downton Abbey and one episode of Fringe.

One of my former colleagues from Linwood Monroe was on the same flight to Amsterdam. It was fun seeing her and catching up.

 The planes keep getting smaller the farther out I go. My plane to Aberdeen was regular size, but looked so much smaller than the plane to Amsterdam. They had us take a bus out to the airplane and walk up the stairs to get on the plane. I've always wanted to do that. I wonder how big the plane will be to the Shetland Islands.

Sleep was not happening on the plane so I took a little nap at my hotel in Aberdeen. I didn't let myself sleep too long because I want to sleep tonight. I'm so glad that my room was ready. I checked in around 9:00 and it said on the website they didn't start check in until 2:00. That would make for a long morning. There's not a lot to do around here. I am down the road a couple minutes from the airport. I think this will just be my cozy resting spot until I head to the island tomorrow. Too much time to do nothing, but not enough time or energy to do something.

I'm not sure when I'll be hungry again. We had a snack(pretzels, dinner (chicken, broccoli, potatoes, salad, cheese, cracker, and a cinnamon brownie) and breakfast (egg and cheese on a croissant, banana, OJ) on the flight to Amsterdam. Then there was an egg sandwich and apple fritter on the flight to Aberdeen. I feel like all I've been doing is sitting, eating, and sleeping. I'm so tired. I just looked at the menu. The prices look okay until you realize they're in pounds. So 13.95 for a hamburger or fish and chips roughly equates to $20.00.  I purchased breakfast for tomorrow morning. Maybe I won't be hungry until then.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Bags packed

Well, I've checked in online and printed my boarding passes.  Now I just need to do some final packing and wait for tomorrow.  I will get to the airport 3 hours before my flight as recommended.  Hey, it's been a while since I've done international travel.

While I'm flying I'll try to keep the news stories out of my head and pray that no needles are in my dinner and that my pilots are not blinded by lasers.  Most importantly I'll try to sleep.  Luckily my mom lent me her blow up neck pillow.

Today's been a relaxing day of going to the gym, attending to some final kitchen remodel business, going out to lunch, and heading to the library with Amelia.  "The Future of Us" that I had requested (I thought I had suspended the request until after my trip) came in.  I plowed through the first third of the book and could even finish it before my flight tomorrow.  Yes, Jay Asher, I may finish reading both of your books before getting on the flight.  Then it's off to Overdrive Medialand where I've requested two other ebooks from the library that should hopefully keep me busy and not completely drain my iPhone of battery-life.  I'm trying to pack light so I'm not carrying books with me.

While traveling I'll be trying the WhatsApp with friends and family.  It's a $.99 download, but texts are free.  It sounds like a better plan than the 50 texts from ATT for $10.00.  I don't want to be text counting while on my trip.  Plus I don't know how much it would cost for people to text me.  I wouldn't want someone to be charged $.50 for every text.  Plus I don't even know if I'll have reception that often on the island.  Listen to me, I've only been texting for two years and I sound like that's the only form of communication there is.

I will also check email and update this blog where I have wi-fi.

The next time you hear from me I'll be on my way!

Monday, July 16, 2012

Ready or not?

Some of you have probably heard of Shetland ponies and Shetland sheepdogs and perhaps Shetland wool.  But do you actually know where the Shetland Islands are located?

If you are a family member, a friend, or a member of the writing community that has had a conversation with me you're probably saying, "Yes, Liz, you've spouted off enough facts that it's dripping out of our ears.  Please move on to another interest.  You're obsessed."

Well, for those of you who are still reading...
The Shetland Islands lie 110 miles northeast of Scotland.  They are farther north of the Orkney Islands which are also property of Scotland.  Some say that the Shetland Islands are nearly equidistant between Scotland and Norway, which appears to be true when you look at a map.  The Shetland Islands are southwest of Norway. You can now see why it was the first stop for the Vikings even though it is not as well known as Iceland for being a Viking settlement.

There are about 100 islands that span 567 square miles with a population of a little over 22,000.  This is a fraction of the population of Eagan, the city in which I live.  Only 16 of those islands are inhabited.

There is so much to see if you are interested in geology, archaeology, nature, marine animals, birds, etc.  I will be only making it to two islands: the mainland and Unst.  The three main sites outside of my class that I look forward to seeing are Sumburgh Head, which is a nature reserve, Jarlshof, which is an ancient Viking settlement, and the Shetland Museum.  These are locations for my middle grade novel and places I have been dreaming about seeing in person for years.  I hope I can fit a few other sites into my journey along the way as I stumble across them.

If you are still interested in learning more about the Shetland Islands take a look at the following sites:

Shetland or Bust!

A couple people have recommended that I start a blog to capture the events of my upcoming trip to the Shetland Islands.

If you're wondering why I'm traveling to the Shetland Islands, the answer is simple and complex at the same time:

Simple Answer:  I'm attending a five day class with the Centre for Nordic Studies about Viking Culture as well as site-seeing around the island to do research for a middle grade novel I've been writing the past 3 1/2 years.

Complex Answer:  Nearly four years ago I came up with an idea for a middle grade novel.  The idea revolved around a present day coming of age story that takes place in the Shetland Islands and has to do with Vikings, more specifically berserkers.

I started drafting in December 2008 and waited until summer 2009 to continue.  It took me about one year to complete a first draft.  I had my parents, my critique group, and three former students read this draft and then had it critiqued by a local author.  After the feedback from all parties, I decided to make some critical changes that required completely rewriting the draft.  After being at approximately 47,000 words, I was starting once again with a blank page.  None of the first draft could be salvaged.

I was able to conquer 30,000 words on my own, but was struggling with the ending and how to embed more fantasy and suspense into the manuscript.  I knew there was something missing, but I couldn't put my finger on it.

During the fall of 2011 I was awarded the MN SCBWI Mentorship with Heather Bouwman.  Heather has helped me infuse more fantasy into the manuscript.  Her background in writing historical fiction and fantasy was a perfect fit for the vision of my manuscript.

This manuscript, which I now know to be called contemporary fantasy, blends historical elements about the Vikings, fantasy about berserkers and Norse mythology, and an authentic location of the Shetland Islands.

Two years later, I now have a new 44,000 word draft that is completely different from the first. I am happy about the changes I have made and each day it gets closer and closer to what I have pictured in my mind.  However I still am working on the ending even though I am very close.

The last several years I have been researching the Shetland Islands through books, local maps, Google Earth, Flickr, and YouTube.  I have been able to get an idea of what life is like on the islands, but am struggling to understand all of the facets.  The Shetland Islands was a stopping point for the Norse Vikings.  While the Shetland Islands are a property of Scotland, they have characteristics of Norway as well.  I've traveled to Scotland and Norway, but I cannot completely understand how the characteristics from both of these countries are intertwined together into one culture.

How else do you learn about a place but to go there?  After writing four grants and not getting one of them, I decided that I was going to make the journey regardless.  The time was right.  I had the help of a mentor author and was committed to finishing this story.

On another note:  With the passing of my dad in November 2011, I feel obligated to learn more about my roots.  My dad's background was Norwegian and German.  I feel that by attending the Centre for Nordic Studies and seeing archaeological sites where the Vikings settled, that I may be closer to my ancestry and to him.  Interestingly enough the protagonist in my middle grade novel sets off to the Shetland Islands and learns more about her family identity, and  I myself am doing the same.