Winter & the Festive Season

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Gloucester Cathedral in the chilly, morning sun is something else. Incredibly photogenic!

It’s that time of year again when there’s a Christmas tree in every front window, lights on all the houses and the temperatures a balmy 12 degrees Celsius…wait, what?!

After a cold start to December (I’m talking temperatures dipping below zero, which is quite cold in these parts), we are now experiencing another mild lead up to Christmas. In fact, that crazy temp I just mentioned is the forecast for Christmas Day. What the what? I could get away with wearing a light jacket! In fact, I HAVE gone out for a walk in a light jacket recently. Just ridiculous.

I needed a heavier jacket on this walk, though.

Pete and I have enjoyed doing the usual festive things during December. We have been hosting some geocaching events at pubs (continuing a series of these events from last winter), getting our shopping done early (I am DONE…well, I might get a few extra things…heh heh) and generally just chilling out after busy days at work.

I usually get terribly homesick this time of year, but I have been doing better this time around. True, there are things I definitely miss (Stanley Park, gah!), but we are creating our own little traditions in this neck of the woods. Pete finally “gets” why I love driving around in search of insanely decked out houses. We will be attending a Christmas Day geocaching event for the third year running (hosted by my mother-in-law). Oh, and we finally got a new Christmas tree and some nerdy ornaments. Behold!

I think Deadpool needs a Santa beard. Maybe next year.

We also definitely bought a Lego set (the Winter Toy Shop, pictured next to the tree) and we’re hoping to get a few more of these sets in the future. Oh boy, that could get out of control and fast!

Oh 2016, you were definitely rough at times (that’s an understatement!), but overall this year was pretty good to me on a personal level. As always, though, I look forward to ushering in another year in the hope that it will be even better. Optimism ahoy!

Happy Holidays / Merry Christmas / Happy Hanukkah / Joyous Kwanzaa

…and a happy new year, you filthy animals.

Back to BC 2015

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 Sea to Sky gondola

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.

McSibs Reunion

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!

Frenz

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.

Beer Root

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!

Sunset Crescent Beach

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.

Canadian Invasion 2015!

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Not even Canada Gate could hold back an invasion of Canadians in England! And that’s just fine because it was a perfectly welcome invasion and it was great seeing everyone and showing them around this country I now call home.

After the wedding, Brit Boy and I had my mom, dad, sister, nephew and two friends to chaperone around London. I was excited about this trip as it was the longest I’d ever stayed in the city. Each time I go, I see something different, but I always leave wishing I’d seen more! This was a chance to remedy that.

The first day was spent seeing the “big sights”–Buckingham Palace, Houses of Parliament, Westminster Abbey, Big Ben/Elizabeth Tower and Trafalgar Square. It was almost too much for the McFamily, but since we had an extra day to explore we ended up re-visiting areas so they could enjoy them more with less boggling of the minds.

Since we were planning on covering a lot of ground, we opted for Visitor Oyster cards. They were pre-loaded with £15.00 and we only had to top them up two or three times on the last full day (even then, we just added small amounts). I would highly recommend these as day passes are so pricey now. We ended up getting two full days usage out of these bad boys and were able to travel at anytime (not just off-peak) and on the Tube and DLR (they are also valid on the bus and Overground services).

Our first full day was mostly spent in Greenwich. We took the DLR (Docklands Light Railway) to the furthest point I’d ever been, passing through Canary Wharf and far from the busy areas I’m so accustomed to seeing. Since it’s the off-season, the Royal Observatory was largely tourist-free, so we enjoyed this mostly quiet view.

I wasn’t too keen on paying money to straddle an invisible line, so we took our Prime Meridian photo op just outside the gates (we were alerted to this option thanks to a geocache). Despite it being oh-so cold (oh, was it ever cold, and continued to be the entire time we were in London!), we spent a fair bit of time here. There are great walking paths, a nearby Maritime museum if that’s your sort of thing (it wasn’t ours, we used it for the washrooms and to steal a bit of warmth!) and, if you’re hungry, the wonderful Greenwich Market had plenty of food options to get your om nom nom on!

I think one of the coolest things we did in this area was walk through the Greenwich Foot Tunnel. Walking under the Thames? Well, it wasn’t on my list of things to do in my life, but now I can say I did it and it was very cool! We may have spent most of the time making “ghost noises”, which likely irritated the locals who were also using the tunnel. Whoops!

After saying farewell to the McFamily, we took the remaining Canadians to Camden Town, another place I have wanted to visit for quite some time. I’m not a big “shopper”, so the seemingly endless amount of market stalls was a little overwhelming at times. The almost maze-like area took us through Camden Lock and the Stables Market (my favourite area). We also checked out Honest Burgers while we were in the vicinity and, wow, am I ever glad we did! My chicken burger was delicious–way up there with the best I’ve ever had.

Unfortunately, I didn’t take many pictures here as the light was fading and, well, camera phones can only do so much in the dark! It was a fun way to round up our day and soon we dragged our tired selves to Paddington station…only to be delayed as there was a problem with the signals and nothing was moving. D’oh! We got back to Gloucester eventually. Here’s proof!

Yep, we went back to the cathedral two weeks after our wedding. What a swell time that was!

And now I am back to being one of the few Canadians who live in Gloucester. I am becoming more and more convinced that I am the only Canadian in Gloucester, but I highly doubt that. We are just a rarity in these parts. It was great to re-visit places like Bath, Chepstow and Stonehenge with people who have never been there–and who happened to talk like me! All in all, it was a great time and I look forward to being invaded again in the future.

Getting the Marrieds!

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In between chaperoning visiting family to places like Bath, Chepstow and Cheltenham and playing host to friends also visiting from Canada, Brit Boy and I managed to get married! We had a short (we’re talking seven minutes) ceremony with close friends and family at the registry office in Gloucester. I wore a dress that was not at all appropriate for the weather, but my heavy red coat saved my life! I was glad for it as we headed over to the drafty Gloucester Cathedral for a photo session. A good friend of ours was kind enough to take these two shots for us.

I really can’t wait to see the rest! Also, my inner Harry Potter nerd was more than stoked to have a post-wedding photoshoot inside Hogwarts. Afterwards, we had a delicious lunch at a nearby pub, parted ways for an hour and a half and then headed to the reception in a private pavilion at The Royal Oak in Prestbury (which is one of the most beautiful villages I’ve been to). Extended family, co-workers and friends were invited and we all chowed down on nibbles, cupcakes (delicious ones made by my mother-in-law!) and I finally played a round of skittles! It was such a wonderful day and I’m more than happy that things went smoothly. It was also a pretty stress-free planning process which myself and Brit Boy were more than pleased with!

So, now the tough part begins what with filling out a billion forms for passport renewals and work visas. I also had the tough task of saying good-bye to my parents, sister and nephew at Paddington train station yesterday. That sucked a lot, but hey, we will be seeing them in five months. Can’t wait for that!

For now, though, I shall digest the last of the cupcakes (yes, I ate one for breakfast, don’t judge me), enjoy our new toaster (bought with gifted Amazon vouchers) and enjoy being married to one heck of a fella (which I most certainly am!).

So Long, 2014

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My second Christmas and first full year in the UK has come and gone. I could go the really clichéd route and say, “Wow, time flies!” but it wouldn’t be true. In hindsight, this year was long, but not in a bad way. Granted, it was my first full year away from family and friends–and that got tough sometimes, really tough–but, looking back, 2014 was pretty good to me.

Things were a little rough towards the end of the year, but the thought of what is to come in 2015 was enough to get me through. This year promises to be an epic one. My family and friends are visiting in a few weeks (SO EXCITED!) and Brit Boy and I will be making our way to BC come July. Of course, there are things I am worrying about, but there’s no use getting too caught up in that…or so I keep telling myself ;]

I’m looking forward to fun times ahead. All right, 2015, let’s do this!

Coming Home

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After months of talking about it and collaborating with his parents, Brit Boy and I have booked flights back to BC! All right, so the above photo isn’t my actual home, but dang it, I do miss Vancouver and those lovely mountains. That’s an aspect of “home” to me!

As mentioned, Brit Boy’s parents will be going, too (albeit on later flights there and earlier flights back to the UK). They have never been to Canada before, so I’m pretty stoked that they’ll be there the same time we are! Their accommodation (which looks pretty dang amazing) is really close to one of our favourite restaurants, The Naam, a 24-hour vegetarian restaurant that has the best enchiladas ever. Yes, they have many other items on that massive menu, but I just can’t steer myself away from the Mexican section. So. Dang. Good.

In between now and July (when we fly off), there are so many things that I need to do. Two major things are renewing my passport AND extending my Visa (both of which expire almost at the same time–ack!). While the passport renewal is pretty straight forward, the Visa bit is not and the more I look into it, the more my head spins!

However, I am just keeping my eye on the prize–that being this long-awaited visit. My folks, sister and nephew will be in the UK come early 2015 which I’m super excited about (they’ve never been to the UK before and my parents have never traveled overseas). A couple of friends are planning to visit as well, so lots of fun things to come!

As for me right now, I finished my latest temp assignment and am still looking for a new job. I had saved up a lot of holiday pay, which will be paid out to me over the next three weeks, so I have that cushion, but I’m keeping my eye out on more permanent roles. I’d like to be employed over the holiday season, preferably!

Ack, I just re-re-reminded myself that Christmas is seemingly around that ever present corner. I think I may need to slip into my role of “keener” and start prepping for that–and soon!

photo credit: ecstaticist via photopin cc

Dublin (and Bray): Past Meets Present

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After years of lamenting over never having visited Ireland despite my frequent visits to England, we finally planned for a three night stay starting on Canada Day. That was quite a way to celebrate my nation’s birthday! However, upon arriving at the airport in Dublin, we were greeted with a balloon display for Independence Day. Well, all right…

I learned a few things while on this trip, that being you can never do too much research into various modes of transportation. I was intent on giving a few transit options a try while we were in the city, but our first day was focused on going outside Dublin to the seaside town of Bray, about 45 minutes away on the DART. Conveniently, our hotel was a five minute walk from the nearest DART station. It turned out to be a super easy way to get around to the areas beyond the city center and it was only about €7.00 for a return ticket.

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We spent a few hours here, walking along the seaside and partially up the Bray Head (seen in the distance in the photo on the right). We mostly made the trip to find the oldest geocache in Europe. We were rewarded with a great view of the sea and the nerdy joy that comes with the knowledge of finding our oldest active cache.

We ended up eating lunch in Bray at a cafe that I can’t even find with Google. D’oh! I think it was called the Sugarloaf Cafe. We got sandwiches and happily chowed down in mismatched chairs (both wood and wicker). The egg mayonnaise and ploughman’s sandwiches I split with Brit Boy were dang good and my brother enjoyed his ham sandwich (despite not being the hugest fan of ham!).

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And then we went here. Yes, tourism central, but it was one of those “We have to do it…’cuz we’re in Dublin” moments. We ended up taking the LUAS tram system (pronounced “loo-iss”) for about €5.00 for a return ticket.

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We ended up finding our first cache in Dublin nearby and then headed inside to the exhibit. It was €18.00 to get in for the self guided tour and, while I did enjoy how the exhibit was put together and the view at the top of the Gravity Bar, I wouldn’t do it again. In fact, what I would do is the Jameson tour, which was located nearby. It costs €14.00 and, while you don’t get a complimentary pint at the end, you get a shot of whiskey–which I enjoy more than beer! Ah well, it was fun to go to the Storehouse the one time. I had never tried Guinness before, and now I can say I have–and that I didn’t like it.

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What I did like were all these old storehouses. It was a cool place to explore, especially when we were bombing around in there on the Hop On Hop Off bus. Which I must say…was AWESOME.

I’m not one for those types of city bus tours, mostly because I’m happy to walk around or try the local transit options. However, on day two, we were afraid of suffering from burnout, so we decided to give one of those buses a try. For €19.00, we got a two-day pass and one of the main lines hit up all the areas we had taken the tram to the day before. D’oh! Well, it was a “live and learn” moment. I usually don’t look at those buses as an option, but I think I will in the future. TOURISM!

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Kilmainham Gaol (pronounced “jail”) was the highlight of our trip for me. €6.00 got us into the museum and lined up for a one-hour tour of the grounds. We learned a fair amount of the prison’s history, its inmates and the history of Ireland (including the rebellion that took place in Dublin during the early 20th century). It was equal parts interesting and moving, definitely worth doing. The East Wing (pictured above) was incredible.

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We also hit up Trinity College, tried to find the statue of Molly Malone (only to sadly discover that she was being stored due to heavy construction in the area) and walked around the Grand Canal Dock area, a swanky and modern neighbourhood near our hotel. Despite the newer glass buildings and contemporary architecture, there were sprinklings of the “Dubin of yesteryear” in the presence of abandoned mills and other industrial buildings. The bullet holes of the rebellion can still be seen on some statues in the main city center. Dublin’s past is very much in the forefront and from my short time there, I can tell the people appreciate the hardship and the fight to get the republic they now live in.

It was a fun couple of days (we ended up leaving on the 4th of July). I’d love to go back to Ireland and explore the countryside more, but that’s a trip for another day. For now, I shall look ahead to August–and Munich!