Winter & the Festive Season

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The cathedral in the morning winter sun really is something else.

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.

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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!

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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.

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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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.

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.

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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!).

Gloucester: History and Harry Potter

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I will never get over the amazement I feel when I realize that I am living in an area with centuries of history literally staring me in the face. I think it’s the Canadian-ness in me that is constantly wowed. Sure, we have history under our belt, but the evidence of former civilizations didn’t remain as obviously in tact as it does here.

Back in the day, and I’m talking the days of the Romans conquering the heck out of everything, Gloucester was called Glevum. Nowadays, the word Glevum is used by every plumber, contractor or any skill trades worker with his/her own business. I live about 7 minutes away from Ermin Street, an ancient Roman road that linked what are now two modern day towns. A short distance away, you’ll find the remains of what was once a Roman villa.

Living in a quiet suburban neighbourhood, it continually weirds me out that a short distance away you can find thousands of years of history. You’re literally walking on top of it. I guess if you’ve lived here all your life, that stuff doesn’t phase you, which is a shame. It’s kind of neat to stand on a grassy slope amidst some crumbling old brick and wonder just who the heck used to live there and how they even found such a beautiful spot for a home.

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Gloucester city center, on the other hand, can be a little rough around the edges. It’s a former industrial city that’s still trying to find its identity. It’s not the prettiest place in England, but it’s got a sexy cathedral that I just can’t stop taking photos of. It also helps that I’m a Harry Potter nerd and love the fact that some of the Hogwarts scenes were filmed there. Every time I walk through the cloisters, I can hear the theme music in my head (um, and see the message written in blood on the walls–what?!). This is a tourist hotspot and the grounds are well taken care of with their lovely gardens and quiet walking paths. I certainly feel spoiled that I live so close to such a beautiful place.

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Another area that the city has made an effort to spruce up are the Gloucester Docks. Not only is this site used as a college campus (it would be so cool to go to school near a place like this), but the area has transformed into a neighbourhood of sorts with apartments and cool restaurants and cafes. It’s just a great place to walk around and watch the canal boats or marvel over the refurbished brick warehouses (with a glimpse of new builds in the background).

Yep, this is where I live. Sure, I miss my drives down to the beach, Stanley Park and being able to go skiing on an actual mountain (NOT inside some building), but Gloucester and the surrounding area have been fun to explore. Even though I’ve visited many times before actually moving here, I’m still discovering new places and becoming more familiar with everything.

Truthfully, though…I’m actually kind of tempted to try indoor skiing.

Photo credit (top image):
Alex Drennan