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.

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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!).

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

Sunny Sunday

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I didn’t feel quite like Grumpy Cat, but I was amused to find her likeness on a walk in Gloucester city center today.

August marks the start of another Geocaching challenge: The 7 Souvenirs of August. Basically, you’re challenged to find 6 different cache types for the month of August. Once you complete a challenge, a little souvenir badge shows up in your Geocaching profile (kind of like achievements/trophies with video games). When you get all 6 cache types, a bonus 7th badge will appear. I’m into it. It’s fun, nerdy and is a great excuse to go outside and enjoy that summer weather.

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Our walk took us along some interesting sights in Gloucester, many of which I’d never seen before. We saw two ruined priories and one particular cache had us looking at plaques to figure out clues as to where the final hide was. Normally, I’d just walk by a plaque without paying much attention. These ones were definitely out of one’s view, so it was cool to have attention drawn to them.

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Apple tree! Don’t worry, I wasn’t NEWTON’D. This was in the courtyard of Blackfriars Priory, which was an interesting spot to briefly visit. There were nice little gardens and buildings amongst the crumbling priory ruins.

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All in all, it was a nice afternoon to be out and about. We snagged two geocaching souvenirs on our walk and took in some brilliant sunshine. After the crazy downpour that happened yesterday, it was great to enjoy the decent weather!

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 :]

McSibs Reunited!

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Well, I kinda fell off the face of the planet, which is what I was afraid of when I started this blog. I was so optimistic when I selected the “I will post once a week!” option on the ol’ goals list. Yeah, no. I will write when I find myself in a quiet moment, which I’m currently experiencing. Woo!

My brother arrived in the UK early Saturday morning. Brit Boy and I stayed in a hotel that was literally IN the airport (that airport being Gatwick). It was a little odd, but cool at the same time. It was called Bloc Hotel. The room consisted of a bed and a wet room. It was very nice, though, clearly a new build. I liked the Samsung tablet built into the wall that controlled the lights and air conditioning. The strange thing was the lack of windows. The room and hallways were dimly lit, save for a window right at the end of the hall that looked over the runway. This made gauging what time it was a little difficult, especially when I woke up suddenly and had to basically guess what time it was. But, yes, my brother arrived safely and we made the long journey back to Gloucester.

We spent the first full day showing him the city, which consisted of the cathedral (as pictured above), the docks and the Quays. We had a nice walk in the warm sun. Then, for Monday and Tuesday, Brit Boy and I went to work and, like the good hosts we are, left him at home to his own devices, haha! Well, he caught up on sleep and got his appetite somewhat back to normal.

For the next three days, the boys will be going on adventures while I get through my last week at my current job. Then the good times will roll! Dublin, possibly Bath, the most AMAZING pub I’ve been to since being in the UK (which is in Cricklade) and London (to see Book of Mormon!..and do the usual touristy stuff). I’m very happy my brother has finally traveled outside of North America. He’s the first of my family to see where I live now, and that alone is very cool!

Oh, and today is my birthday. I’m 31! This upcoming year is going to be awesome and I’m excited for what lies ahead. But, for now, the countdown to Dublin is ON.

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