The Summer So Far

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The Shard being all majestic and…shard-y.

How is it August already? Yes, it still baffles me how quickly time passes. You’d think I’d be over that by now! But, really, it felt like my birthday month was just a short time ago. That’s when I was in London and hanging with the Shard, eating delicious cherries I bought at Borough Market and enjoying some of the first decent weather of the summer.

It’s been a great couple of months. We’ve gone on some enjoyable geocaching walks and we just got back from a little holiday to North Wales (I’ll hopefully blog about that!).

“Hoooooo are you looking at?”

We also visited the International Centre for Birds of Prey. This place is truly amazing. They have a wide variety of birds, a hospital on site and wonderful flying demonstrations. They also have a family of black labs who just saunter around, completely ignoring the birds (some of which are literally out in the open!). These dogs are more interested in seeing how much free food they can get from the human visitors.

This went into my pie-hole. It was very yummy.

Can you believe this was my first time eating poutine?? I have now had poutine and chicken and waffles for the first time in the UK, not exactly the country of origin! We really enjoyed checking out the Gloucester Food Festival yet again.

And then…well, Pokemon Go came out and the world went nuts. More like the app crashed a lot! This was the start of us going out on very random walks in an effort to “catch ’em all”. Um, more like catching all the Drowzees. There are way too many spawning around here! Still, it’s been fun Pokemoning. It certainly makes going on a very familiar walk more interesting!

A typical British Pokestop.

We checked out a restored 19th century bee shelter at the church in Hartpury. It was a beautiful place–I may have caught a Squirtle near here, hehee. There is also a beautiful old mill here, too. There’s a picture on the linked page that is so much better than any photo I could have managed to snap. People actually live on the property and I may be a little jealous.

Beautiful homes in Ashton Under Hill.

So yes, in terms of outings and taking advantage of the longer days and warmer weather, we’ve done very well. We have managed to pack a fair bit into a lot of weekends. In fact, this may be the first weekend where we don’t have anything planned! It’s been nice having a bit of a break.

In my personal life, I managed to land a permanent contract with the department I support at work. Unfortunately, we were given the news this week (the day after I came back from holidays) that we would be going through a restructure. It’s early days yet and I have no idea what’s going to happen, but it sucks and there are going to be a lot of changes. I can only hope that I will continue to keep my current role as I do enjoy the service area I support and all the people I work with.

On a happier note, it won’t be long until I am back in my hometown and attending my friends’ impending nuptials. That’s going to be a good time! Pete and I have also been discussing a possible mini-cation in February. Cold? Yes. But we’re just looking at a few tentative options.

So here’s to letting the good times continue to roll on and not worrying about the uncertainty of the future (easier said than done!). Here we go.

Easter Weekend 2016

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Red cliffs and the English Channel.

I had a few days of annual leave to use up before the end of the financial year, so I decided to extend the Easter weekend a little. The huz and I weren’t planning on doing much, possibly just taking day trips and going geocaching, but then by chance I happened upon The Shepherds Hut Retreat. I thought, ‘Well, don’t that look cute?’ We checked the dates and saw that one hut was free for the Easter weekend, so we booked ‘er!

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An Update

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No, the update does not involve the fact that I appear to have shrunk to the size of most gardening tools. Nor does it involve the current state of my fruffy hat (which, in case you WERE wondering, is gently folded and kept safe in a box full of winter accessories).

Lately, life has been, well, a lot like life can be–busy, stressful at times, but fun. This month started off quite decently: I had taken a few days off from work and those days were mostly spent geocaching and attending a few caching related events.

One event–hosted by Pete’s mum–was meant to take place on a Saturday morning at the cathedral cafe, but there was one tiny problem…they weren’t open! There had been a change in opening times due to low staff numbers (darn flu season!).

Pete’s quick thinking mother relocated the event to one of my new favourite eateries in Gloucester, the Cathedral Deli. It’s run by two very friendly ladies and the looks on their faces when 20+ geocachers walked in was priceless! They happily waited on everyone and ran around making sure everyone had their food and drinks. It was great. Alas, I wasn’t able to try a toasted teacake, but I did scarf down one heckuva delicious cheese scone.

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We managed to cram a lot into that weekend, even managing to visit the Cotswold Wildlife Park for the umpteenth time. I just love going there. The lemur enclosure alone is worth the trip, but this time the red pandas were moving! They normally sleep in the trees and the most movement I had seen up until that point was a slight raising of the head. Well, this time we arrived as they were being fed and they were scurrying around and being silly. I was maybe a little overjoyed.

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The bottom one hella photobombed this pic, hehee.

It’s still quite cold outside. Yeah, I know it’s not as cold as it is in some places back in Canada, but we have entered the awkward “I don’t know what to wear anymore” stage. I’ll have multiple layers on because that wind be chilly–but then the sun comes out and when you stand/walk in direct sunlight those layers will quickly bring about a case of “the sweats”. Come on, Spring, hurry up and get here–the daffodils have been out since January!

And with that plea, I shall sign off here. I am taking in a few interesting things in Gloucester today as it’s resident’s weekend, so there are guided tours and some old buildings open for visits that are closed to the public for most of the year. Looking forward to it.

But first, I shall leave you with the picture of a shark in a roof. Oxford is a silly place.

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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!

Walking in the Cotswolds

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I live just a stone’s throw away from the Cotswolds, which is a surprisingly young constituency having been formed in 1997. To me, when I hear the words “the Cotswolds”, I picture something similar to the photo above: Thatched roof cottages, tiny villages, compact towns and vast amounts of farmland. Well, that really is what it’s like.

Even though I haven’t ventured too far from Southwestern England, I find this area has so much to offer and I’ve only barely begun to scratch the surface! I’ve spent the past couple of weekends in the Cotswold region going on winter walks. While it is very cold, bundling up in a billion layers certainly helps, as does “walking quickly” up those slight inclines! There are some great areas to walk around so long as the ground is frozen. A lot of these walking trails go into farmland which can quickly become Mud City. I have definitely made great use out of my hiking boots!

I think the best part of our walk last weekend were all the animals we randomly came across, like our mint loving horse friends who trotted over once they were promised a snack. I have been on the other side of the fence before, aka: sharing a field with horses, which was a slightly intimidating experience (a farm girl I am not!), so I was perfectly happy with hanging out with these three on THIS side of the fence!

These were the most glorious pigs I have ever seen. Apparently the breed is “Oxford Sandy and Black”. Such big, floppy ears on these piggies! They, too, got a snack of mints which they thoroughly enjoyed despite being dropped in the mud. We soon learned that we were walking on the premises of Scrubditch Care Farm. They had many animals including cattle, sheep, geese and donkeys (one of which was VERY vocal after my poor donkey impression!). It was just so funny to walk by this seemingly empty pen and see four massive pigs emerge from the shrubbery. So cute! Makes me feel bad for loving bacon…

There are so many nooks and crannies in this region to check out and I’ve only just begun to make a dent in my explorations, but the year is early yet and I’m sure there will be more visits to come.

One Year Later

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All right, so the subject of this entry isn’t entirely accurate–I’ve been here for just over a year now, by one month and a few weeks!–but I had a little bit of fun compiling a list of what I’ve learned and adapted to during my time in the UK. There were more than a few things this Canucklehead had to wrap her head around and get used to!

Learning the currency: Even though I had been to the UK four times previously, I never did feel confident when rifling through my change. I’m old school in that I use cash when paying for, well, most things. I’m one of those “exact change” nuts (although I won’t dig around for it if there’s a line/queue behind me! PET PEEVE). From the tuppence to the heaviness of the £1.00 coin, I often found myself with a pouch overflowing with change and would feel my face grow hot as I stood at the check out and fumbled around for the right coin. Once I figured out “which size is which denomination”, it got easier. It makes more sense than Canadian money–where the dime/10 cent coin is smaller than the nickel/5 cent coin. But, seriously, a two pence coin? And it’s just as big as the 50p coin? What is up with you, tuppence?!

Stores closing early: This took a lot of getting used to. Before moving to England, I left a retail job back in Canada; we were open until 9pm every day. This included Sundays. On Sundays in England, and most of Europe for that matter, you will be lucky to find much open. If stores are open on that day, they will most definitely be closing down before 5pm or 6pm. But, yes, even on weekdays there are quite a few places that will shut down at 5:30pm. I actually like it, even though it still throws me off a year later. I always found staying open until 9pm to be kind of pointless. The people who are in the store at that time are most likely just there for the lack of anything else to do. Nine times out of ten they would walk out without buying anything. So, as a former employee in the wonderful world of retail and other customer service-type jobs, I support these early closings! Go on home and enjoy your evening, O Lovely Workers.

Cars actually stopping at pedestrian crossings: I grew up in an area with terrible drivers. I would witness a “close call” on the road every time I took my usual route to work. It was awful. Now, that doesn’t suggest there aren’t bad drivers here (people speeding on curvy, narrow country lanes, for example–yikes!), but if there’s a marked pedestrian crosswalk, people WILL stop for you. What? Courtesy to those walking and/or cycling? I’m not used to that! That said, if someone fails to stop, I’ll give them my best angry glare and mentally shake my fist.

Starbucks employees asking if I want whipped cream on my drink: I thought that just came standard with a frappuccino? And…who would say “no”?! Even if you have an allergy, you probably wouldn’t be ordering one o’ those anyway. This question equally amuses and confuses me every time.

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Being close to ALL THE OLD THINGS: Stonehenge? It’s over there yonder *points in a random direction* Beautiful estates like Hanbury Hall? Yeah, those are close by. I’ve seen cathedrals, castles, monasteries and all those famous sights in London. It’s a little surreal that I live in a place I used to romanticize (thank you Hollywood and British period dramas!). I definitely feel lucky that I live in an area where it’s easy to get to places like Bath, Oxford and, yes, good ol’ London. Not too shabby at all!

Calling dinner “tea”: I don’t understand and it confuses the heck out of me. Of course, there is “tea time”, but there were these commercials on TV and the tagline was “chips for tea” and that really threw me off. When is tea just “tea” and when does it allude to “dinner/supper”–and why? Can anyone clarify this for me??

Tax included in prices: Being from Canada, it has become the norm to turn into a human calculator when figuring out how much tax will be tacked onto the items you plan on purchasing. The key is to overestimate so, when the price ends up being lower, you’re pleasantly surprised! However, in this country I may have done a happy dance upon learning that I no longer have to use the “thinky part” of my brain. If something is priced at £5.99, it will be £5.99! Huzzah! My basic math is going out the window for sure–oh well!

The wildlife: Even though I’m originally from a large urban center, it wouldn’t be all that strange to see wild animals roaming about, from small (raccoons and skunks) to medium (coyotes) to, well, large and dangerous (cougars and bears). I remember approaching a loop trail around a lake and there was a sign that said “Warning. Cougar in area” (keep your jokes to yourself, I’m talking about the animal here…). The types of wildlife in this area? Birds, foxes, mice and rabbits. I’ve seen plenty of those! I like knowing that when I’m out for a walk in the woods and I hear a branch snap that there’s no way it’ll be anything harmful. Not needing a bear bell when out in the middle of nowhere is a plus, too! I’ve traded deadly animals for cute ones like badgers and hedgehogs. Awesome.

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Beauty in the landscape: I live on the edge of the Cotswolds, an area known for its rolling green hills, chocolate box villages and market towns. I used to live near Vancouver, known for its ocean views, mountains and glass buildings. One might say, “There’s no way you can compete with the beauty of the mountains and the ocean”, but I beg to differ. This is a lovely country (the parts I’ve seen of it, anyway) and there are plenty of natural wonders to take in–if you’re into the sort of thing! Being a former student of literature, I can see why so many famous poets and novelists came from this area of the world–it’s pretty easy to get inspired! Now that I’ve experienced all four seasons in England, I have to say that I’ve loved watching the landscape change as I passed by it on the bus. I love being close to farms and walking through fields of sheep. And, even though I hate climbing uphill, I have loved those epic “views from the top”.

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I guess the final thing I could comment on is the amount of times people give me the “Where are you from?” question. A lot of people assume I’m American and quickly apologize when I correct them (aww, c’mon, not all Americans are bad!). I’ve even met someone at a geocaching event who once lived in the city I just left (and not too far away from my neighbourhood at that!).

I get plenty of people saying, “Why would you come HERE if you’re from Canada? Why would you even leave?!” Well, I think I listed a few reasons above as to why I came here and, well, the rest basically detail my reasons for staying. There is plenty this country has to offer and I look forward to seeing more of it and the areas beyond.

Oh, Brit-folk. Sometimes you’re way too hard on yourselves.