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A blue(bird) Christmas | France & Italy 2019

It has been so long since I last wrote, WordPress’ template has changed! Honestly, I have returned to this page numerous times to draft my post about our extravagant Christmas in Chamonix, but how does one use typed words to do such a whirlwind of a week justice?

So, let’s start at the beginning. While suffering a bout of homesickness in London, I looked up flights to head back to BC for Christmas (you know, back when the world was just a flight away?) The cost was immediately a deterrent, but I realized that I could spend a little less and celebrate the holidays the best way I know how – on a mountain. Not just any mountain, but Mont Blanc.

A plan quickly came together, and serendipity filled in the blanks. Heather, who was at this point up in Glasgow, didn’t take much convincing to join me on this mission, despite never having skied or boarded. Danielle, who was already planning on flying from Vancouver to the UK to spend Christmas with her gran, booked in to join us for the latter half of the trip. Before I knew it, I was wishing my colleagues a Merry Christmas, and en route to Chamonix!

Heather had already settled into our rental flat when I arrived in the evening. Located in the Alpine Museum, the flat was not without its quirks, but provided the perfect home-base for us to make the most of the town centre, while also allowing for cozy nights in watching Christmas movies. She had even done a grocery run, and picked up ravioli (at my request), yogurt, and the most incredibly decadent chocolate granola. On Christmas eve, Heather headed out for her first snowboard lesson, and I joined a Ski Club Great Britain holiday group for a lesson…in Italy!

That’s right. Just as I was walking to meet the Ski Club GB group at the chalet, I received a text from the rep reminding me to bring my passport. My passport!? I scooted back to the flat and Heather ran mine down to me. Never in my wildest dreams did I imagine putting on my ski boots in one country and skiing in another; the Whistler/Blackcomb Peak to Peak had up until that point been the biggest jump! Passport in hand, the group picked me up in the van and off we headed to Courmayeur.

The visibility was horrendous. The powder was marvellous. And the company? Absolutely lovely. Even though the group was doing a week-long development course together, they welcomed me into their fold and I learned so much from Faye, the instructor. I received a true education on the European style of skiing – switching out terminology of ‘in-bounds’, ‘out-of-bounds’, and ‘in-the-trees’ for the more sophisticated sounding ‘on-piste/off-piste’. As much as I love skiing, I have to admit the highlight of the day was lunch in a true Italian chalet. From the fur-donned benches to the warm limoncello, the focaccia, the risotto…need I go on? (Heading to the grocery store after this..) Best of all, it was Christmas Eve!

My heart was full by the time we got back to Chamonix. I bid farewell to my new, dear friends, and headed back to the flat. After such a magical day, I didn’t know what more to expect or plan for. Heather and I made some dinner, got changed, and headed out to the main street to a little brewery. It was here where serendipity intervened once again and we met Matt and Erik, two Americans who were staying in Chamonix with a group from their cohort of “Remote Year”. Spending each month in a different country for a year while working remotely, they were en route to Valencia next, and had opted to spend the holidays in Chamonix as well. Joining us for a beer, we cheersed to a Christmas away from the comforts of home. I thought of how lucky I was, to be spending Christmas with my best friend, in a snowy winter wonderland, and meeting phenomenally like-minded people who immediately felt like lifelong friends.

As the brewery made last call, we headed to a pub down the road as a group. Close to midnight, the power went out, and those left in the pub burst into song! I would not have been surprised had Santa burst through the door, there was so much Christmas joy swirling about us. Into the wee hours of the morning, Heather and I skipped home and I set my alarm to head out to Argentiere in the morning.

I was one of the first in the gondola line-up, and I realized that for the first time in my life, I was skiing alone. It had always been a rule growing up to never ski alone, but with bluebird conditions, and sweet corduroy runs, I trusted my wits and the mountain to keep me safe. I skied the smoothest groomers of my life; fresh tracks from the peak and down. As I skied, I said aloud, “the only thing that would make this better is if Dad could be skiing here with me”. Sending him photos and knowing that he’d be up Whistler Mountain doing the same thing made me feel better.

As much as I never wanted the morning to end, it was Christmas Day, and a day best spent with loved ones. Around noon I headed back to Chamonix to meet Heather, and we headed up the Téléphérique de l’Aiguille du Midi. I will let the photos speak for themselves; it was spectacular.

Both exhausted from the pure mountain air and excitement of the past few days, we opted for a dinner in and some Christmas movies. Pyjamas, a block of brie, and cuddled in blankets, it was a Christmas I will never forget for as long as I live. Giggling into our cheese, crackers and salami, we dubbed the trip, “lifestyles of the rich and famous, and us!”

Boxing Day was spent on the Le Brevant hill, where we indulged in mountain top doughnuts and I bought the world’s most expensive Powerade. We caught up again with Matt and Erik in the evening, and before I knew it, I was excusing myself from our fooseball game to rush to meet Danielle, who was arriving on the transfer from Geneva. I ran through the snowy streets of Chamonix, beyond excited to reunite after six months apart. We threw her luggage into the flat and raced back to Bar’d Up, where she was introduced to our little group and we immediately filled her in on our plan to take the bus to Courmayeur in the morning. Logistically, I wasn’t sure how we were going to manage, what with Danielle needing to still get her equipment from the rental shop, and the bus leaving bright and early. Again, serendipity spun its magic, and we were en route to Italy on a heavily-snowing morning.

We were advised visibility would be limited, but that was no bother to us. We headed up the mountain and after a few runs all together, split into two, with Heather and Danielle heading for some groomers and Matt, Erik, and myself getting a bit more adventurous. The more we skied, the better conditions became, and soon the clouds parted to reveal a spectacular view of Mont Blanc. As we skied into the afternoon, I was a bit apprehensive as to whether we would ever cross paths again with Danielle and Heather. When we eventually stopped to check in, it turned out they had headed inside for a bite to eat at a little chalet off a cat-track. It just so happened we were just around the bend from them! Paninis, hot chocolate, and a proper catch up about how we’d all spent the past few hours; favourite runs, hilarious falls, best attempts.

The only complaint I had about the day was that the hours were too short, and dusk settled in sooner than I was prepared for. The rest of the week played out in a similar way; incredible skiing, amazing meals, a whole lot of country music and dancing, and laughing with my best friends.

The world has changed so much since our week in Chamonix and our Italian ski-slope adventure, which rivals South Africa’s Cape roadtrip for top spot on the ‘best days of my life’ list. As we head into winter, I can only hope that magic visits once again. I have a good feeling it will.

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Exercises in Arctic diplomacy during the COVID-19 pandemic: New opportunities for learning

Every two years, the Model Arctic Council is held in the state currently chairing the Arctic Council. Participating students are selected from across the circumpolar Arctic and non-Arctic states, and work collaboratively to simulate the work of the Member States, Permanent Participants, Working Groups, Observers, and others who are involved in Arctic Council negotiations, in a course that leads up to a one-week residency at the host university. This year, coinciding with the Arctic Science Summit Week, the University of Akureyri was to welcome the class of MAC2020 from March 23 through 27. Tasked with representing an institution from outside their home state, students had been eagerly preparing their position papers and partaking in online seminars prior to the intended culmination of the programme in Northeast Iceland.  

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Arctic Frontiers Emerging Leaders Days 3 & 4| January 2020

Days No. Three & Four: Learning in and about the Lofoten Archipelago

During the course of my MSc, I read many an article about the United Nations’ and its protocols. One I became particularly familiar with is the United Nations Convention for the Law of the Sea. In fact, I’ve become so familiar with it that I am delighted when I stumble upon its acronym in any article or presentation; UNCLOS and I are good friends by now.

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Arctic Frontiers Emerging Leaders Days 1 & 2| January 2020

In Fall 2019, in the midst of completing my MSc dissertation, I was researching opportunities for youth to become engaged in Arctic issues, and stumbled upon Arctic Frontier’s call for Emerging Leaders with special interest in the Arctic. Their website announced, “Call for new candidates: Arctic Frontiers Emerging Leaders is now open for new candidates from business, public sector and academia!” I read how, as an early career and mentoring programme in the High North of Norway for young scientists and professionals, Arctic Frontiers was seeking aspiring Arctic leaders under the age of 35 to participate in the programme. Those wanting to learn more about Arctic security, Arctic economy and Arctic environment were encouraged to apply.

The programme promised to bring together 30 selected candidates from across both Arctic and Non-Arctic states to “participate in a blend of technical, social and cultural events accompanied by mentors from business, politics and academia” (Arcticfrontiers.com). Starting in the city of High North Norwegian city of Bodø, then continuing onboard the coastal cruise M/S Hurtigruten to Lofoten and ending in Tromsø, “the gateway to the Arctic”, where Emerging Leaders would join hundreds of other international delegates from myriad sectors at the Arctic Frontiers Power of Knowledge Conference, the programme I read about was something I couldn’t have conjured up in my wildest dreams. I submitted my application and took a deep breath…

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Masters of Science, distinctly | December 2019

Coming soon…

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Racing along the Jurassic Coast Path | November 2019

Aforementioned in Run, Write, Repeat, Jessica and I spent much of our time in Valencia exploring the city by foot as we trained for the Endurance Life Half Marathon. A combination of early morning, pre-heat runs and evening sunset jogs through the park kept us motivated and fit as we powered through our dissertations. Once back in London, Chris, Stephanie, and Harry joined us in our goal of racing along the Jurassic Coast Path. Adjusting to training in London was a bit difficult, but we persevered and encouraged one another with post-run selfies and a bit of healthy competition.

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Berlin Tattoo | November 2019

Having performed in the Royal Nova Scotia International Tattoo (2015), the Kremlin Military Tattoo (2017), and the Belfast International Tattoo (2019), I was well aware of the cross-cultural exchanges and learning opportunities that exist within the realm of the arena floor. Dancing in Berlin, however, during the 30th Anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall, over Remembrance Day weekend, was an experience unlike any other. A reminder that music is a universal feature of the human experience, transcending cultural boundaries, our International Tattoo Highland Dance team gathered in Berlin to perform with the European Union Pipes and Drums at the Max-Schmeling-Halle November 7-11, 2019. 

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West Highland Way | Day 6

And at the end of the day, your feet should be dirty, your hair messy and your eyes sparkling.


Shanti
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West Highland Way | Day 5

Still round the corner, there may wait, a new road or a secret gate.


J.R.R. Tolkien
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West Highland Way | Day No. 4

Don’t mind me. I’m as happy as a cricket here.


Jo March (Louisa May Alcott’s Little Women)
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West Highland Way | Days No. 2 & 3

I felt my lungs inflate with the onrush of scenery – air, mountains, trees, people. I thought, “This is what it is to be happy.”


Sylvia Plath
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West Highland Way | Day No 1

Whatever you can do or dream you can, begin it; boldness has genius, power and magic in it.


Johann Wolfgang von Goethe
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