Homesickness and the Holiday Season

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Last year, I wrote this blog post in the hopes that it would help me get over those seasonal blues that seem creep up on me around this time of year. It has been tough being away from friends and family during Christmas, but I’m hoping this year is different.

What has helped so far this year is the location of my new job. I am right smack in the middle of Gloucester city center and I get to walk by that glorious cathedral every day. I know I go on and on about this cathedral, but of all the ones I have been in it still holds a special place in the “love of old feats of architecture” part of my heart. The morning sun was particularly stunning on that day and I took a detour on my walk into work so I could snap some pictures.

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The city center is all decked out for Christmas, too (pictured above is College Green, my favourite alleyway in the city). I love coming out of work to see all the lights turned on as I make my way to the bus stop down the high street. There are a few Christmas trees set up, but knowing some citizens in Gloucester, those sparkly baubles will be smashed to smithereens soon enough!

It has been remarkably mild, too, which is a stark contrast to the weather situation back in BC. I must say, I do NOT miss freezing cold weather. It’s a little hard getting into the “winter vibe” of the season when it’s warm enough to wear a light jacket, but it was very cold a few weeks back–cold enough that I had to put on my toque–and I was like, “Yeah…not into this.” Insta-chapped!

Another silly thing I find myself pining for (HA! Puns!) is the smell of evergreen trees. Christmas trees are often imported to this country from Norway and I just miss that scent. I think it goes back to my childhood and having a tree all set up and decorated. I used to love just sitting near it and watching the lights blink and catching the scent every now and again. So, I decided to do something drastic and buy a Thymes Frasier Fir candle. When I worked at Chapters, I used to get so excited when these came in and I would make a point of wandering over to the section and taking a whiff. I definitely paid more than I would for a candle, but I am pleased to say it was worth it! It’s burning while I type this and it smells divine.

As for new traditions, I am always on the lookout for new things to do in and around Gloucester. I may need to do more research on things like light displays and what not–including events going on at the aforementioned cathedral. For now, though, I will enjoy all the various ways the Brits enjoy Christmas and, as always, attempt to get in on their fun all while sprinkling in some bits and pieces that I know and love, too.

Upcoming Awesome

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There is a chill in the air today, but it was so gloriously sunny that I just had to spend my last, work-free day out in it. Okay, so I went into a Starbucks, read boring documents (and started a new book) and sipped at my free drink (thank you, Star Points), but I was not prepared for suddenly lower temperatures. I don’t even know what I’m saying…the high was 9 degrees celsius, but dang, when that wind picked up it was cold.

I mentioned this is my last “free day” as I am (finally!) starting a new job with the local government on Monday. I was interviewed well over a month ago so, yes, it’s been a process, but I have my start date at last. Seriously, every time I have started a new job here there have been complications, so I wasn’t too surprised when even more arose with this particular one. But, things are mostly sorted and this unemployment spell will soon be over!

I went to London last weekend to attend the Canadian Remembrance Day service in Green Park. I attended the service last year and completely by accident, too. I had wanted to go to the memorial anyway to leave a poppy only to find it cordoned off from the general public. A quick ask around and I soon learned that there would be a service–so I stayed to take it in.

I’m really glad we were able to go again this year. We brought along Pete’s mum, too, and had a short, but sweet day trip to the capital. I even brought along Canadian money to give to the girl selling poppies (the dang pin on the poppy did a number on my thumb a couple of times, though–stabby stabby!). The weather was quite mild, too, which was a lovely bonus. I’m not sure when next we’ll go to London, but I’m sure it will be within the upcoming months. We always enjoying going there.

And now my brain is tuning into Christmas and all the activities going on in Gloucester and Cheltenham. Next weekend is the Victorian Christmas Market in Gloucester, so I’ve made a note in my calendar about that. We haven’t gone before, but those sorts of things are fun to check out. Um, I mostly go for the food, haha! The market in Cheltenham will be starting up on December 3, but if I’m being honest, I was quite disappointed with it last year. The only great thing about it was learning about the existence of The Great British Cheese Company. We may have gone back several times to buy cheese from them. Our favourite, Smokey Redwood, actually sold out…as in they had none left, not even at the source! Dang it. I hope they’re back this year as they are one company I don’t mind giving my hard earned money to.

That’s about all that’s going on around here. I have no trips or any other things of that nature planned in the near future, but 2016 promises to be a doozy on that front. I hope even a few of the crazy ideas Brit Boy and I have conjured will come to fruition. Until then…here’s to the upcoming awesome.

How to Infiltrate an Oxford College Without Really Trying

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A week ago, my mother-in-law asked if I would like to come along with her to Oxford for a geocaching and bus/train adventure. She warned me that it would be an early start (we had to catch the bus at 6:40am), but I have been itching to go back to Oxford for quite some time. I haven’t been there since my first ever visit in February 2014! So, it didn’t take much to convince me.

We ended up buying tickets called Cotswold Discoverers which could be used on certain bus lines and on the train at specific times of the day. It cost us £10 each to travel from Gloucester to Oxford and we could use that same ticket to take the train home. What?! Just for kicks, I checked how much a return train ticket would set me back had I gone my “usual route”—it was £46. Ack! These tickets were amazingly good value and I may have to take advantage more often.

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Our wanderings soon led us to the grounds of the beautiful Magdalen College (who am I kidding, all the college campuses in the city are gorgeous). We happened upon a few chaps who were installing a new gate! Look, a crane holding a gate, that’s something!

We needed to get into the grounds and cross a nearby bridge, so the workmen very kindly let us walk by once the gate was safely on the ground. The entire area in which they were working was actually blocked off, but I guess we didn’t look too much like trouble makers and they let us pass.

They probably shouldn’t have done that because this is when all our troubles started.

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Upon making our way to the bridge, we happened upon this door—and it was locked. See that bridge there? That’s the one I was aiming for! To make matters worse, there were people walking around on the other side. Gahhh, that’s where we want to be! We decided to make our way back to the workmen and sheepishly walk past them yet again. They let us pass, but not before remarking that they really “shouldn’t be doing that”. Ack!

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We ended up meandering around and going nowhere fast, but the grounds were massive, so it didn’t really feel like we were trapped. Well, trapped we were and it was incredibly frustrating! Every gate we came across was locked and every bridge that appeared on our map was inaccessible. We started to wonder if we should turn around and try our luck with those poor workmen again, but were too embarrassed to walk by them a third time. Soo, eventually we just kept on walking until a kindly young gardener took pity on us and unlocked the gate we were trapped behind.

“How did you even get in there??” Yeah, um, best not to ask that, bud, haha.

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This entire time, we were looking for a geocache and it wasn’t until this point when we were informed that our coordinates weren’t correct. Even though it got annoying at times, it was a beautiful place to walk around. There really are worse places you can find yourself locked in!

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Yes, the college has a specific area cordoned off for deer. They had quite a few deer in there. I remember seeing this last year and thinking how ridiculous it all was! Cool? Yes. Over the top fancy-ness? Uh huh!

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After this series of fails, we decided to keep riding the fail train because we struggled to find the exit now that we were on the right side of the fence. We ran into two students who very kindly told us which direction to head. This took three tries, but we got there eventually (we even used the very nice bathrooms in the auditorium, shhh!).

I’m glad security didn’t rush out at any point to tackle us despite the fact that we were walking in areas that were very clearly marked “Staff and Students Only”. We just couldn’t get out of the darn place, but NOW I know where the visitor’s entrance is, so that won’t happen again.

So yes, the infiltration was purely accidental, but thank you Magdalen students and staff for not treating us like total idiots and giving us a hand!

Alone Time in Dresden & Prague

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Back in 2008, I went on a Contiki tour to Europe. We visited nine countries in 19 days and I had such a good time. I went by myself and I was the only Canadian in our group of 40+ travelers (most were from Australia, the others were from New Zealand and the US). Up until that point, I never would have imagined going overseas by myself, let alone navigate a foreign city on my own!

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Dresden, Germany was the first place where I ended up splitting from my usual group of tour-mates. I did, at first, join them to check out the Dresden Frauenkirche and the Fürstenzug, but by the time we got to Zwinger Palace, I was itching to explore elsewhere, so I basically ditched everyone to do just that!

This was very much an experiment in wandering around alone. Up until that point, I had little trust in my sense of direction. I didn’t end up going too far, but I ended up finding some interesting nooks and crannies that I probably would have missed had I stuck with my mostly souvenir hunting tour-mates.

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When we got to Prague, well, just look at it. Yes, even in miserable weather it is a beautiful city. I admit to not doing much here except walking around (I may have visited an H&M for some reason, haha!), but I stumbled upon a few interesting sights that made me smile.

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Prague is known for its puppet theater, which, again, I didn’t end up checking out, but I was delighted upon finding some Harry Potter puppets! I’m not one for souvenir purchasing (plus, I didn’t have enough room in my suitcase to carry this delicate piece of awesome), but I have to say that I was a little bit tempted by red-lipped Harry and his puppety self.

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I fell in love with street markets while in Europe (why oh why do we not have such things in Canada? Or at least in the part where I come from), but the green doors provided that pop of colour that brightened an otherwise grey and hazy day.

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While in Prague, I challenged myself to use my map more and navigate to specific areas. This may seem like a no-brainer to anyone visiting a new place, but again, my confidence in my map reading skills was quite poor (this would only improve once I got into geocaching!). I ended up very briefly in the Jewish district, but I was proud of myself for even finding it purely by map reading.

On the journey back to the hotel, however, I had a horrifying moment of not knowing where I was. I was all by myself on public transit, but this would end up being the easy part as I had memorized the route on our way into the city. Upon exiting the station, my brain failed me and I could not recognize a single thing!

I tried to calm myself and then chose to walk in a particular direction for whatever reason (yes, I know the first thing you should do when you’re lost is STAY PUT—or maybe that’s advice I was given when I was 6-years old…). As I approached an unassuming grey building, I rounded the corner and…oh, there’s my hotel! WHEW. As my confidence in lone exploration had heightened by a fair margin that day, it would have been awful to have it shattered oh-so quickly.

From this point on, I ended up hanging out with another tour-mate who had similar interests and wished to see the same things I did. Thus, my time as a lone explorer had ended. Well, almost. I do a fair amount of exploration on my own even now and I’m happy that I’m no longer afraid to hang out with myself. Me, myself and I have had some good times and I hope we can continue to (not!) get lost in the future.

Back to BC 2015

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After nearly two years—the longest I’ve ever been away from my hometown—I was back in BC and, oh man, it was so good.

This time, I had a new husband in tow. His parents even came over for their first ever trip to Canada. We had a week to get over the jetlag (jeepers, I’m usually okay when I travel in that direction!) and then we had our belated Canadian wedding reception at Campbell Valley Regional Park. We rented out the large picnic area and ate a ton of food, played badminton, tossed an Aerobie around (we may have bought one when we got back to Gloucester!) and hung out with friends and family, most of whom the huz had never met! It was such a blast and we had the best time.

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This is the first time the McSibs have all been together in nearly 48 months. Nutty! I’ve seen both of them on separate occasions, so it was really special to all be together again. I hope they manage to make as many trips across the pond as I surely will!

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Oh, this crazy bunch of ladies. They took me out for a belated bachelorette-like dinner (minus all the embarrassment that usually goes along with that sort of thing—a thousand thank yous!) and we also had some one-on-one time. It was so great. I miss this gang a lot a lot a lot.

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I found myself drinking a lot of root beer on this trip because it doesn’t exist in the UK (well, you can buy it, but it’s usually imported and costs way too much). The British contingent agreed that it smelled like “the dentist” or “antiseptic.” I think it smells like root beer.

While Boylan’s was quite nice, I’m still all about Dad’s Root Beer. And, of course, A&W root beer in an chilled glass. Can’t be beat!

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We were gone for a little over two weeks and we manage to cram so much into this trip. One of my favourite days was taking Pete’s folks along the Sea to Sky highway so they could see some mountains and fjords. They may never make this trip again, which saddens me, but I’m glad they got to see where I grew up. The Sea to Sky gondola had to be the highlight. I remember being skeptical when I heard about its construction, but I have to say that I am sold. It was beautiful up there with a great trail system that led to many gorgeous lookout points (see top photo).

I definitely feel lucky to have lived in such a beautiful place with awesome people, but even I’m starting to admit that Gloucester has begun to feel more like home. I managed to luck out and have two amazing places that I can call home! Not too shabby.

So, I think I’ve managed to re-hydrate after all the crying I did when I had to go back to the UK, but Brit Boy and I are already making plans for Canada 2016. I really hope they come into fruition because we have a crazy, epic trip in our minds!

Until then…so long (for now), BC.

30 Months

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The past couple of months have been fun, stressful, educational, confidence building and scary. Getting married was the easy part! It’s what followed that proved to be tough.

It is most definitely a cliché, but sometimes when you so desperately want to move forward in your life, you have to overcome a whole lot of POOP—that’s how the old adage goes, right? Close enough.

Well, for me, the “poop” was the crippling fear that my Visa application would be rejected and I would be forced to leave the country—and my new husband—and spend a whole lot of time and funds to re-apply.

I’m almost tempted to write a blog post about how to apply for a new Visa when you’re a foreigner living INSIDE the UK because there was very little information I could find. Hmm!

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Well, I wasn’t kicked out of the country, despite my application decision taking much longer than I originally anticipated (nearly two months), so now I finally feel like I’m back to my mostly chilled out and relatively anxiety-free self!

Did I mention what I got out of the deal was a small plastic card the size of a driver’s license with a most unflattering photo of yours truly on it? Hot dang! This little card bestows upon me permission to continue remaining and working in the UK for another 30 months. Huzzah!

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Yes, that means there will be even more pictures of Gloucester Cathedral. You can’t escape pictures of this cathedral! Never ever.

I certainly feel lucky that I can continue to live in this beautiful place. I know most Brits I’ve spoken with aren’t too quick to speak highly of where they live, but I have gotta say—you have it pretty good and I’m happy that I get to stay here for another couple of years. Even if that means I constantly have to hear “That’s not a regional accent!” Honestly, I can put up with that. I can put up with a lot more than that.

I know this because I already have.

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So, what’s next?

Well, for starters, I turn 32 in exactly one week. To celebrate, the huz is taking me to IKEA. Now, I know you may think that is a bit silly, but I haven’t been to IKEA in nearly two years. I have fun at IKEA. Waaaay too much fun. I miss the cheap breakfast. I miss causing mischief in the showrooms. I miss feeling bad about walking around without a purchase, so I end up buying napkins. I may have looked at the 2015 catalogue to prepare myself (honestly, though, I am on the lookout for a new shelf!).

Oh yes. It’s gonna be good.

Oh yeah, and I’m going to be visiting my family and friends back in BC soon. And by “soon”, I mean T-minus 19 days. YES!

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So, here’s to another 30 months! I can’t wait to see what else is in store…hopefully a lot less paperwork and a whole lot of awesome. Yes, I would like that. I would like that very much.

Over the (Easter) Weekend: Abandoned Villages & Steep Inclines

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The Easter long weekend proved to be quite eventful. We had planned on taking Brit Boy’s mum out on a cache-venture (mostly to re-visit a few sights we went to with friends back in February), so that’s what we did on Good Friday. Our journey was also an opportunity to visit the abandoned village of Imber, a place that is now solely used for military training. They have open days a few weekends during the year and the Easter long weekend is one of those times, so we decided to take advantage.

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It’s only a little intimidating driving around and seeing this kind of signage! The drive into Imber was, indeed, very odd. We were in the middle of an open field with, essentially, a single track road to drive on. Imber is nestled at the base of a slight hill, so when the church started coming into view it was almost a relief. Civilization! But, oh, it so wasn’t.

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A few original buildings remain, but there are mostly ones like this scattered about the village. The history of Imber’s abandonment is quite sad in that the entire population was forced to leave in 1943, just two weeks before Christmas, in order to make way for a place in which the military could train. They were promised that they would be allowed to return once the war was over, but that never happened. Generations of families up and left to who knows where, leaving behind the eerie remnants of their former life. It was fascinating to walk around, especially in the churchyard where a barbed wire fence now stands around the grounds. It was definitely a unique experience!

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We did a fair amount of geocaching that day and the weather managed to hold off despite it looking quite nasty at some points. We did come across more strange signage, but didn’t see any tanks (no training over the Easter long weekend, sadly). I really did want to see a tank go flying by as that would have been equal parts amusing and terrifying!

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Mohawk and Mop Top, two donkeys we befriended during our geocaching outing. I may have given them those names. They were really cute, but definitely sad that we had no food for them. Sorry, donkeys!

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Saturday was dedicated to walking up and around Chosen Hill, a place that is a mere 15 minute walk from our place, but I hadn’t gone up that hill in 7-years. I guess I couldn’t stop thinking about some previous aborted attempts, as I have nothing but good memories from my first climb up that hill. It was early into my first UK visit (and the first time I met the Brit)–I was hardcore jet-lagged, but for some reason agreed to this walk. At the end of it, I got my first real view of Gloucester and the jarring change in landscape was mind-boggling, but beautiful.

On that first climb, however, we never did make it to the church at the top of the hill, but I have photographic evidence that I have now been there. Finally! I think the scenery from this side was even more spectacular. Gotta appreciate a good view!

We also visited Spring Fest at Gloucester Quays which turned out to be a great afternoon out. There were many market stalls and food vendors. I tried chicken and waffles for the first time ever and it was delicious! I have to say, I was fully expecting to have to travel to the southern United States in order to eat that, but hey, if it’s being offered in a country I wouldn’t normally associate serving up such food, I will take it!

All in all, it was a great long weekend. With the weather getting warmer by the day, I’m sure there will be even more fun times to come in weekend-land.