A Little Holiday in North Wales

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The view while riding on the Snowdon Mountain Railway.

North Wales was hosting a summer time Geocaching Mega Event, so of course we had to go along and check it out. I was excited as this was a region I had wanted to visit for quite some time. Pete said the landscape would remind me of BC, and while he was right about that (the mountains, the forested areas), it was very distinctly Welsh. I loved it.

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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!

Alone Time in Dresden & Prague

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Back in 2008, I went on a Contiki tour to Europe. We visited nine countries in 19 days and I had such a good time. I went by myself and I was the only Canadian in our group of 40+ travelers (most were from Australia, the others were from New Zealand and the US). Up until that point, I never would have imagined going overseas by myself, let alone navigate a foreign city on my own!

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Dresden, Germany was the first place where I ended up splitting from my usual group of tour-mates. I did, at first, join them to check out the Dresden Frauenkirche and the Fürstenzug, but by the time we got to Zwinger Palace, I was itching to explore elsewhere, so I basically ditched everyone to do just that!

This was very much an experiment in wandering around alone. Up until that point, I had little trust in my sense of direction. I didn’t end up going too far, but I ended up finding some interesting nooks and crannies that I probably would have missed had I stuck with my mostly souvenir hunting tour-mates.

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When we got to Prague, well, just look at it. Yes, even in miserable weather it is a beautiful city. I admit to not doing much here except walking around (I may have visited an H&M for some reason, haha!), but I stumbled upon a few interesting sights that made me smile.

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Prague is known for its puppet theater, which, again, I didn’t end up checking out, but I was delighted upon finding some Harry Potter puppets! I’m not one for souvenir purchasing (plus, I didn’t have enough room in my suitcase to carry this delicate piece of awesome), but I have to say that I was a little bit tempted by red-lipped Harry and his puppety self.

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I fell in love with street markets while in Europe (why oh why do we not have such things in Canada? Or at least in the part where I come from), but the green doors provided that pop of colour that brightened an otherwise grey and hazy day.

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While in Prague, I challenged myself to use my map more and navigate to specific areas. This may seem like a no-brainer to anyone visiting a new place, but again, my confidence in my map reading skills was quite poor (this would only improve once I got into geocaching!). I ended up very briefly in the Jewish district, but I was proud of myself for even finding it purely by map reading.

On the journey back to the hotel, however, I had a horrifying moment of not knowing where I was. I was all by myself on public transit, but this would end up being the easy part as I had memorized the route on our way into the city. Upon exiting the station, my brain failed me and I could not recognize a single thing!

I tried to calm myself and then chose to walk in a particular direction for whatever reason (yes, I know the first thing you should do when you’re lost is STAY PUT—or maybe that’s advice I was given when I was 6-years old…). As I approached an unassuming grey building, I rounded the corner and…oh, there’s my hotel! WHEW. As my confidence in lone exploration had heightened by a fair margin that day, it would have been awful to have it shattered oh-so quickly.

From this point on, I ended up hanging out with another tour-mate who had similar interests and wished to see the same things I did. Thus, my time as a lone explorer had ended. Well, almost. I do a fair amount of exploration on my own even now and I’m happy that I’m no longer afraid to hang out with myself. Me, myself and I have had some good times and I hope we can continue to (not!) get lost in the future.

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!

Random Happiness

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It doesn’t take a heck of a lot to make me happy. I cherish these moments of “random happiness” even more because, well, homesickness can happen. It’s easy to start thinking about “all the things I miss” about home, but, right now, this is my home.

No, there aren’t any mountain views when I look out the kitchen window, but if I can get the front seat at the top of the double decker bus (pictured above) so I can take in the sights that have now become the norm (perfectly pruned gardens, green hills, funky looking clouds), then I’m game! That’s something I’m not able to do back home in Canada with our boring single decker buses (and the drivers that can be a little too fond of the brakes when it’s standing room only!).

Also, for a food lover like myself, it’s all too easy to long for certain delicious items I enjoyed stuffing into my face, but are no longer readily available in this country. Among these items, Japanese food hit the top of the list–and quite recently, too!

Trust me, I’ve done my research, but the only place I could find that exclusively sold Japanese fare was Yo! Sushi. It was good, but not the best I’ve had. I’m well aware that I’m spoiled in BC with such a bombardment of choices when it comes to sushi joints!

There have been surprises, though. Sometimes, when it comes to OM NOM NOMS you’ll find something you weren’t looking for. Where I live in England, street food is basically non-existent. It’s not quite at the level as it is in North America. However, I did come across some damn good falafel this past weekend and my happiness levels elevated drastically!

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The falafel pita was lovingly made by this man and one bite made me smile awkwardly as I struggled to keep the warm, fried deliciousness in my pie-hole. He used three different sauces (tahini, a creamy dill sauce and harissa), some gherkins and stuffed the seemingly small pita with six falafel balls. Oh, and that article highlighted another dude serving food from a cart–I may have to stalk him next!

For my “Japanese food fix”, I bought some nori sheets at the grocery store (they had them, I grabbed ’em!), cheap rice noodles, beansprouts, spinach, mushrooms and zucchini (sorry, courgette…ah, Brits). I just briefly cooked the veggies in a boiling pot of vegetable broth, topped with chopped nori (for a sushi-like flavour), sprinkled some chili flakes and drizzled Sriracha sauce. Satisfaction!

Don’t worry, this isn’t turning into a food blog, but a full stomach is enough to make me forget about all those things that I long for. A front row seat to observe the world flying by from a huge window helps, too. I always see something new despite taking the same bus line many times since my arrival.

This may or may not turn into a posting series–only time will tell. But, documenting randomness is something I overly enjoy, so I won’t be surprised if that just ends up happening!