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.

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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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.

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.

New Traditions

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I love Christmas. Yes, even after working in retail over the holiday season for five years, I still love Christmas (fun amongst chaos!). I love the smell of Christmas trees, the decorating of said tree, looking at lights on all the houses and going to Bright Nights at Stanley Park or checking out the Festival of Lights at VanDusen Gardens. These were the traditions that I would take part in with friends and family, but now that I’m away from them all, I have struggled with getting into the spirit of things.

For one, that good ol’ smell of pine is practically non-existent. I’m not sure what happens when the trees are imported from Norway, but they lose that fine scent along the way and it makes me sad. Yes, if I see one of these trees, I will run over and huff it, only to be disappointed. Also, I’m not sure if it’s just the area I live in, but there are absolutely no lights on houses. Okay, that’s harsh–there are, but not to the extent that I have seen many times in my life. I would love to go out on a drive to look at some Christmas decor, but there’s literally nothing. Decorations and lights in the town centers don’t really count for me (even though it’s pretty, especially the shop windows, wowzers). I love seeing the creativity of home owners around this time of year. I’m once again coming to grips with the fact that it’s just not a “thing” in these parts.

And so, I am finding myself coping with homesickness over this stuff, but, over the past few weeks, I have begun to come up with a solution: Start some new traditions!

I think the easiest thing to take part in are the Christmas markets and there are many. I went to the one in Bath last year, but it was too crazy busy for me. I have been to the little market in Cheltenham a few times, but nothing has really caught my eye (well, the turkey sandwich with stuffing certainly did–wait, that caught my nose and taste buds more than anything!). Plus, there were little to no vegetarian options for Brit Boy. Sure, they had sweet crêpes and waffles, but what if he wanted something savoury (which he did)?? No good, Cheltenham Christmas market, no good.

As much as we like to make fun of Gloucester for being the type of place that has little going for it, the Festive Fayre (which, sadly, only lasted a weekend) had over 80 stalls, live music and people dressed in fun Christmassy costumes. There were plenty of veggie options, as evidenced above with delicious savoury pies from Pieminister (we bought three), and lots of local vendors selling their wares, be it edible or not.

Since I am a glutton, I tend to fawn over the food (and eat it, of course!). I may have gotten a custard filled doughnut from these fine folks, mostly because everything else was stupidly huge. Do you see how big those slices of bread pudding are?! And Danish pastries the size of your face? Ah well, it makes my eyes happy to look upon them and my tummy happy to chow down on their deliciousness.

While Vancouver has its own Christmas market, and has put it on for a number of years now, it’s heavily influenced by German-style markets, so to see the Brits do it their own way is fun and interesting. Between myself, Brit Boy and his folks, we walked away with a selection of Glastonbury cheeses, six pies and a massive bulb of smoked garlic (which is currently making our pantry smell glorious). We could have bought more, but, well, we were running low on cash, haha. These markets are dangerous!

Also, on Christmas day, I am attending a geoaching event hosted by Brit Boy’s mum. Who knows–this could be the start of another tradition!

I still really miss the abundance of Christmas lights, though, but until I am back in Canada to celebrate, I will continue to sniff each and every Norwegian fir tree.

photo credit: M J M via photopin cc

Munich: Biergartens & Biking

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The title of this entry mostly summarizes what I did on my second full day in Munich. The trip as a whole, though? Pretty darn awesome.

Our main reason for even going to Munich in the first place was to attend Project Munich’s Giga Event, the first geocaching event of its kind in that 5000+ people were expected to attend. On the day we went (the Saturday), over 8000 geocachers from all over the world came out to the Olympic Stadium and the surrounding park. Germany loves geocaching, so it was only fitting that they held the very first Giga Event. It was a lot of fun. Also, the above picture doesn’t accurately depict the amount of people who were actually there. The Olympic Park is pretty big so a lot of folks were spread out in that area.

While we weren’t allowed in the stands, it was pretty cool to be inside the Olympic Stadium’s arena. They even had ziplining high above us (no thanks!). There were a lot of vendors selling geocoins, trackables and gear. There was even a beer garden (please, we’re in Germany). We didn’t hang around for too long as we were after, well, geocaches! We ended up finding a few different cache varieties that day, our goal being 10 different cache types (we ended up achieving that goal!).

After we got our geocaching nerd on, it was time to become tourists. I had been to Munich before (whereas Brit Boy has not), so we decided the best way to get around would be the S-Bahn and U-Bahn systems. I think making use of the local public transportation is one of my favourite things about visiting any city. I used to be nervous about even thinking of doing it, but if you prepare well in advance it’s a piece of cake!

Since we were staying near the Hauptbahnof, we would take the S-Bahn to Marienplatz every day quite easily and wander around the city center. On our second full day, we actually saw the Glockenspiel do it’s thing completely by accident–we just so happened to get there minutes before noon! A German lady ended up talking to Brit Boy (who speaks a bit of German and was basically my interpreter the entire trip–danke!) and telling him about how she used to live in Munich and she’d come to watch the Glockenspiel with her family. She was very sweet–and kept switching between speaking English and German, haha. Impressive!

We ended up climbing the steps of St. Peter’s Church and were awarded this beautiful view. I definitely huffed and puffed my way up those crazy wooden steps! We also picked up a geocache about halfway up which was fun. Unfortunately, we missed out going inside the Frauenkirche, which is stunning inside (and contains the Devil’s Footprint!). One of its towers was covered in scaffolding and looked to be under major construction overall. I guess I’ll have to take Brit Boy back ;]

On our last day in the city, we rented bikes from Mike’s Bike Rentals. I did a tour with them last time and had a blast. Although my bike gave me problems (broken bell, trouble changing gears, chain falling off), I had fun bombing around town and the Englischer Garten. The city is so bike friendly, so if you’re like me and haven’t ridden a bike in awhile, you’ll be comfortable cycling around Munich!

Our bike-ventures brought us here, the world’s second largest beer garden. I longed for wurst and chips and that is what I got (with lots of curried ketchup!). Good grief, it was good and I was happy to have a proper German meal. The Brit is vegetarian, but he enjoyed his fries (they were damn good). I’m glad Bavaria was able to satisfy a non-meat eater!

The trip home was the most challenging part of our holiday as we had several flight delays and were trapped in tiny Memmingen airport with not much to do. However, the one highlight were the tasty bagel-wiches (of which we received a free one for putting up with the delays). We eventually got back to Gloucester at 3:30am (ouch!). We had missed all our trains, but caught the last National Express coach out of London. It was a long journey home, but it was hardly a damper for me. It was great to be back in Munich, a city I didn’t know I’d be visiting so soon (even though six years later isn’t really “soon”, but it is to me!). I’m already looking forward to going back!

Over the Weekend: Thunderstorms & Food Festivals

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Gloucester Docks

The above picture is a stark contrast from the weather yesterday morning and afternoon. It was absolutely coming down in the buckets. We got pretty wet when we went to the recycling depot. After coming home and drying off a bit, I heard thunder rumbling in the distance.

Today, it was warm and sunny. I was so unprepared for this that I wore black jeans and forgot my sunglasses. D’oh! I heavily rely on my BBC weather app, so I was expecting it to be overcast for most of the day. “Nope!” said the Sun. “I’m going to be out in all my full brilliance and splendor!”

That was nice. But, I was sweaty. Totally my fault.

We did head out in the sunshine to check out the Gloucester Quays Food Festival. There were many stalls selling everything from oils, cheeses, meats, kitchen wares and something called “fuffle” (a chocolate bar truffle). We settled on spicy stir fried Thai noodles for lunch and then treated ourselves to some damn good ice cream served out of a pink VW camper van! Brit Boy also ended up buying a 3-pack of Severn Cider which is some darn delicious stuff. I’m not a big drinker, but I like this cider!

It was a good weekend and it’s still going strong. I’m still pretty sick, though, and have been for over a week now. No good. Summer colds are the worst.

My brother ended up flying back home safely last Saturday. It was nice having him around for three weeks. I hope more family and friends will be able to visit in 2015! It’s been fun getting to know the area I live in now and showing people around.

For now, Munich looms in the distance. Okay, “looms” isn’t the right word, but that trip is quickly approaching! I’m pretty excited. This may be the last trip I take this year, unless something spontaneous happens.

I’m totally down with that, too :]