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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Easter Weekend 2016

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Red cliffs and the English Channel.

I had a few days of annual leave to use up before the end of the financial year, so I decided to extend the Easter weekend a little. The huz and I weren’t planning on doing much, possibly just taking day trips and going geocaching, but then by chance I happened upon The Shepherds Hut Retreat. I thought, ‘Well, don’t that look cute?’ We checked the dates and saw that one hut was free for the Easter weekend, so we booked ‘er!

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How to Infiltrate an Oxford College Without Really Trying

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Bodleian College

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.

Gate Work

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.

Closed Gate and Bridge

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!

Magdalen Grounds

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.

Magdalen Gardens

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!

Yes Deer

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!

Still Stuck in Magdalen

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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Dresden - Trees

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!

Dresden - Green Bike

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.

Prague - Misty View

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.

Prague - Puppets

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.

Prague - Market
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.

Prague - Jewish District

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.

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.

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.

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!

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!