How Quaint…

4 Jun

2 months, how neglectful.
I’ll tell you, the peonies have bloomed, and it’s rose season. I am going foraging for Elderflowers to make cordial tomorrow. My sister came; we drank Roman Bath water. I chased a cat out my bathroom window. We went to Brighton; it was windy, we camped and froze; but we saw Buck 65, a shoeless Finish folk singer who hated Bruges, and a seagull stole our cheese dip.

Never mind all that. This one, this is for Chels.

Remember when I decided to move to England and we procrastinated looking up quaint English cottages? Roses, stonework, thatched roofs, sheep, homemade jam and the like – I found them!


The Cotswolds are the epitome of our searches. Located west-central, they are sometimes called the “Heart of England”. My parents rented a cottage in Chipping Campden, a town where the buildings are required to maintain heritage architecture. As soon as we arrived, the supermarket burned down, so everyone was that much more reliant on the local Butcher, Baker, and Grocer (Mrs. Peterson made a rabbit stew on Thursday, by the way). You could order a pint from a window. The cottage itself was covered in massive roses, tasteful modern-traditional styling (brickwork and a snazzy induction stove top included), it was only missing a clawfoot tub for a perfect little home.

We took numerous walks through the English countryside, stopping whenever a pint or a scone and clotted cream beckoned. Every town was bursting with locals who would point you in the right direction for the best ice cream or cider and with instructions on how to properly lock me up in shackles.

There are even an Olympicks. The Cotswolds Olympicks (“k” is in the official title) were on, complete with mushy peas on chicken and chips, Morris dancers, a marching band, bonfire, torch procession into the city centre, and the main event: Shin Kicking. Where two large men with straw down their pants, grasp shoulders, and kick til one goes down. Best of 3.

Cotswolds Olympicks

So I reckon, we gather up our stylish Wellies, buy a few sheep (and a sheep dog), get ourselves a cottage with some room for an orchard, teach part-time at the village schools, and set up shop: jams, quilts, jewelery, etc. via Etsy and local markets.

Punting on the Thames

We stopped by a few cities around the way. We journeyed into Oxford so I could see the lovely architecture and pointy buildings of Christ Church; and we punted! I always wanted to go punting on the Thames, so away we went. It was easy to steer, hard to push. And the Thames kept dripping on me, so surely I need some sort of disinfecting shot.

We also made a stop by Gloucester to see the historic dockyards and the above. If anyone can guess what movie these halls are featured in, you will receive a baked good of your choice (upon my return, of course)!

Another page in the book: My very first riot

22 Apr

I certainly had an eventful evening, last night. I witnessed my first British riot (technically my first riot, Saskatoon isn’t big on that sort of thing) and my first sighting of an inner city badger!

The reports are pretty mixed on the riot, but here is what I’ve picked up:
The area is similar to Broadway with lots of local shops, artisans, etc. and the locals do their best to preserve this. Mixed in are a few supermarkets, certainly enough to fill the communities needs for items not available in the smaller shops. Tesco (similar to something like Walmart, but with smaller “express” outlets) has been trying to move into the area for the past 2 years and the locals have done their best to halt Tescos’ efforts – “Say NO to Tesco” street art is everywhere; they rallied, protested, went to the council; the building of the Tesco was not advertised, hidden behind a large screen and a security guard sat on the building 24/7.  Unfortunately, the Tesco was built. The community protested the opening from the very beginning, but peacefully. They had signs, set up tables with bread, rhubarb, baking, etc. and offered it to people instead of going into Tesco.

Across the street from said Tesco, is a council-0wned decrepit building being lived in by approximately 18 squatters. They put in carpets, fixed the plumbing, and the only disturbance I have seen while walking past is they don’t have great taste in music.

There was a court order for the squatters to be evicted last night; through the day people in the community reported that people were going in and out of the house with petrol-bombs, causing more police to arrive on the scene. People began to gather, barricading the streets with furniture, garbage bins, tipped trailers, bikes, etc. and anger was taken out on the Tesco. Bottles were thrown, fires started, windows smashed, and the Tesco was looted.

We had heard about the riot and didn’t like where the helicopter light was pointing, but figured we could get home no problem. Around 1:00am, we got to a point where we had to lift the bike over broken glass, and found about 25 police vans blocking the streets, chanting, and people wearing masks. It was impenetrable, so we took a detour home… where we saw a badger! If you’re not already on edge from seeing a riot, you are when there is a fricken badger running beside you. They are scary and they do not wear waistcoats.

On a better note, my sister should be in London by now and is coming to see me on Sunday! Happy Easter everyone!!

(If you would like to see photos of the Bristol riot, click here - he has some good photos!)

Twidderpated

6 Apr

Remember in Bambi when he is just a young buck, hanging out with Thumper and Flower (who came across as gender-confused to me, even as a 5 year old) and the owl warns them that twidderpation will all happen to them?

Well it has happened – I have fallen in love with spring, when spring is supposed to happen.

I spent most of February and March working, so little to report in the extra-curricular activity side of things. But everything else in Bristol has sprung to life. Remember when I said that we were getting flowers in February? Those have all come and gone, flower beds look like Easter threw up (tulips as big as my hand), the lambs have been lambed, the piglets are pigging, the monstrous bumblebees are spreading their love, the clocks turned back – it is light out until 8:30?, and I got a sun burn today.

It is almost British asparagus season, too.

lambs

All this springing happening, the travel itch was a must and I went back to London. It was marvelous to get out of Bristol (had I had my passport on my body, I may have flee-d for mainland Europe) and I was able to get done some of the “touristy” bits of London.
We went to the Tower, saw the ravens (huge, but comparable to the beastly seagulls of Bristol) and the crown jewels (incredibly British queuing system in place, complete with conveyor belt past the crowns).

Afterward, we met up with Mike and Lauren, two fellow Saskatoonians and went over to the Tate Modern – both excellent and bizarre exhibits (one involving an artist doing the unspeakable under a floor panel as people walked overhead), followed by a BBQ at an Aussies, where we were joined by a fellow from Moose Jaw. Quite the Saskatchewan ambush!

The next day, we headed over to Camden market for some browsing, people watching, and so Mike could have a pork sandwich, followed by the Hummingbird bakery so I could get a brownie, with cheesecake AND raspberry whipped cream.
James and I spent the rest of the day wandering, entering into places as we saw fit. It was a nice day and the crazies were out in Trafalgar Square protesting, we hung around trying to figure out what it was they were protesting, unsure we gave up and went into the National Gallery.  We also finally found the Princess Di Memorial Fountain and Kensington Palace – two large structures we could not find last time.


In other news, my sister comes in near 2 weeks time! And we’ve purchased our tickets to Portugal and Spain for the summer. From Edinburgh (who buys a ticket departing from a city they’ve never been to?). So it is looking like I will be heading up to live in the land of the Lochs for a few months come fall! Visitors welcome.

April Showers bring May Flowers: Another Year, Another Lie

24 Feb

I just don’t know what to think anymore. Flowers. February. I’ve only just talked myself out of wearing longjohns, but I still leave my house every morning with mitts, a scarf, and a toque and end up BOILING within 5 minutes. And now flowers and leaf buds?

In full bloom

In Bristol, it started a little over two weeks ago, first just those hearty shrubs that never lost their leaves had fresh berries and some flowers. Then there were crocuses and spring flower shoots popping up. We took a trip out to the English Riviera (resembling a tacky French Riviera – with tracksuits, arcades, light-up staircases, and trailer parks

Crocus Flowers

and New Brunswick, and FULL of old people) where the Floral Coup was in full effect: tulips, daffodils, iris, crocuses, something that looked like a mix of a hibiscus and rose were all blooming; cherry blossoms were budding and even hydrangea bushes were budding.

They claim spring comes in March, but we never believed them. Ya, ya, we may have some warm days, but you knew a fresh dump of snow was going to fall freezing and covering up the slush to form slippery, jagged pits on the road. But spring in February? The month that damn groundhog comes out and tells the world if we are getting 6 more weeks of winter; but in

From a distance: Could be Southern France

Saskatchewan, we know it is inevitable. I can’t say I’m complaining with the early arrival; I haven’t shoveled, the hill I live on only turned into an icy mountain of death three times (and I never experienced that fall with the sickening crunch at the end), and my fingers only turned white and lost all feeling once (in Amsterdam). But my concept of time is all screwy; there are days where I wonder really how long I slept for. We’ve skipped from early November to late April, and I never once stepped on what looks like a frozen puddle, only to end up ankle deep in slush.

Up close, not so picturesque

My brain is having troubles coping; I am not ready for weeds and the cherry blossoms blooming in my garden. I will keep carrying mittens and scarves with me until at least mid-March, just in case.

(And for those of you, spiteful in Saskatchewan, fear not, I’ve lost count how many times a rogue shoot from shrub has got me in the eye so far.)

Clogs and Cheese

25 Jan

First international European trip (of this round) completed! 6 days in Holland, covering Utrecht, Gouda, Delft, Den Haag, Leiden, Haarlem, and Amsterdam. More locations than days, but how?

Leiden Windmill by the former home of Rembrandt

Simple – the towns are less than a 30 minute train ride from the next (we were able to see most of these areas from the tower of the Nieu Kerk in Delft), it’s winter and few things (especially in the smaller centres) are open, and it was really freaking windy.
We spent some time in the gorgeous (and heavily touristy) Amsterdam and Rotterdam (which if you know nothing of the city, except the descriptions from Orson Scott Card books, is quite a surprise. Actually, it is quite a surprise anyway with modern slanty skyscrapers with light up windmills on them or the Transporters statues..)the last time I was in Europe, but after 3 weeks of fairly intensive travel, most of our time was spent lounging in parks, despite the weather (I wore the same amount of layers in January as I did in June last time!) It was nice to return and branch into the smaller centres, and with tourism down, see more of the “Dutch” life-style.

For some reason, our trips continuously have us leaving the house before 5:30 am. Thankfully we did not have another repeat of Birmingham with snow, and the nice Airport coach man let us on only 20p short of the fare (for some reason, there is no bank machine between my home and the bus depot – 20 minutes away down a commercial street).

We flew into Amsterdam but took a quick train to Utrecht, where we were welcomed with beautiful weather. Rather hungry, we found a lovely cafe called Keek for some tomato soup and toast (which they dressed with cracked pepper, a rather excellent addition!). Once lunch was finished, Utrecht weather decided to become miserable! We decided to walk through the Central Museum and the Dick Bruna Huis (the graphic artist responsible for Miffy, the rabbit – who is a girl because Dick doesn’t like to draw trousers, apparently).

Rietveld Schroder House

The nice thing about England is that many museums are free, however the ones that have admission are costly and concession rates are either not worth it or they demand student cards from the area; in Europe, museums are rarely free, but student rates cut admission usually in half, and you can present any old U of S student card, with details and picture rubbed out and still be let in. Whether this applies for all schools or if they just panic when they see “Saskatchewan”, I do not know. These museums were quite good and very informative about the artists and the works themselves, handy as it has been many years since my Dutch art studies.
We attempted to visit the Rietveld Shroder House, the best example of De Stijl architecture. A man in satin gloves told us we needed a reservation for the tour; we may have not gotten to see the moveable walls inside, but the exterior is still pretty amazing, as was the man in satin gloves.

Part of "Trajectum Lumen" in Utrecht

Most of our time in Utrecht was spent just wandering; we did experience the madness of grocery stores on a Sunday (closed until 4pm, about 50 people were lining up outside of the grocer waiting for the doors to open), and met the lovely Jesse for lunch, in which I had a Pineapple and Cheese Toastie – I was leery of dipping it in the provided ketchup, but in the end it was similar to lazy-man pizza, and most of Trajectum Lumen (light displays on buildings, streets, and canals – quite fun following a light up path in the road, unfortunately, not all light displays were turned out).

We stopped in Gouda and Delft on our way to Den Haag. Unfortunately, the Waag (cheese weighing house) and Cheese Market in Gouda were closed for the winter, but they have a lovely Church with massive stained glass windows depicting the story of John the Baptist and the most ornate organ I have seen (for shame, Westminster). The Oude and Nieu Kerk’s in Delft were very impressive, particularly tower in the Nieu Kerk. Not quite the climb of the tower in Cologne, it had such a great view (ignoring the Ikea monstrosity) of surrounding areas.

Den Haag, oh, Den Haag: A city with a crisis of character.  Not the capital, but the site of Parliament and residence of the Royal family. A mix of old architecture mirror the beauty of Amsterdam and other areas, and new financial institutions without the charms of those in Rotterdam. Museums, however, plentiful and excellent, and a hub for travel to Scheveningen (by the sea).

Peace Palace in Den Haag - built just before outbreak of WWI (guess it didn't work)

Due to very poor weather, we did not make it to the sea. We did visit the Escher museum, which was informative about the artist and his works. Explaining his fascination and the incorporation of infinity and eternity in his work. It was also housed in the Lange Voorhout Palace, beautifully decorated and with obscure (skull, bomb, fish) shaped chandeliers in each room. We couch surfed with a lovely woman from Germany; I had a bad head cold and it was nice to get out of hostels and have a few decent nights sleep!

On our way to Amsterdam, we stopped in Leiden and Haarlem, I presume to be lovely places to wander when the sun is out. With beautiful architecture and canals, markets, cafes, art, and windmills, had it been the summer – I would have liked to take my time in both towns. The rain decided to pelt down on us making it virtually impossible to see, making our journey into Amsterdam come slightly quicker.

We were relieved of rain in Amsterdam and were able to take in walks through the Jordaan and Jewish Quarters, some archictectual walks – we found the widest house in Amsterdam and the second smallest, we may have found the smallest but while the addresses corresponded, the actual look of the house and of the picture in the book looked nothing alike. We walked through the flower markets (I can’t believe how cheap flowers are!!), a flea market, and the Albert Cuyp Market, saw a show we previously missed and visited some of the cats, and visited the Jewish Historical Museum, housed in the Old Synagogue, which focused largely on Jewish traditions and the lives of the Dutch Jewish people – from their arrival, success, when they went into hiding, and reintigration. It left the story of the Holocaust and the horrors largely to the Anne Frank House and focused on the lives and impact of the Dutch Jewish families.

View from Nieu Kerk Tower, Delft

While the weather did not allow for skating, the trip was enjoyable and we came across several things that our first trip into Holland has us miss. Mainly, the windmills. We had to actively seek out a windmill last time, finally finding one thanks to a statue pointing across a canal at it in Rotterdam. We stumbled upon many a windmill this round.
Also noted: Old Dutch men are hilarious and very friendly; stroopwaffles are delicious, but one of those strange foods where pre-packaged triumphs over fresh; Flowers are cheap, I almost bought some to take over the smell of weed in the hostel; Some workers still wear cloggs; and the closer to Gouda you are, the cheaper cheese is (I am not sure if the same goes for Edam).

Finally, I leave you with a note on the type of hostel behaviour that will get you bludgeoned in your sleep if you are in certain parts of the world:

Amsterdam "Flasher" Building

While there are some amounts of leeway in acceptable behaviour in Amsterdam hostels, purely due to the certain activities most tourists partake in, there are some general rules:
– Unless everyone else in your room agrees, do not smoke in your room. If you intend of lounging with the lights off at 1am, getting up occasionally to smoke, know where it is, have it ready to go, and don’t forget your key.
– Do not wake up the whole room at 6am, searching under beds and behind bags, looking for your bong.
– If you are in a room with people you do not know (and even if you do), don’t spread your toiletries through the bathroom like you would at home, or at the very least, put the lid on your toothpaste and hair gel, don’t flood the sink, and for whatever reason they are there, please pick up your soggy cigarettes from the shower.

Army Men on the Tracks

2 Jan

First off: Happy New Years! I trust everyone had an enjoyable few days of family, food, and tinsel/sparkly things sticking to you.

Christmas in Bristol was a balmy -2 and we had just enough snow to classify it as a “white Christmas” (although it promptly warmed up to +9 and it had all melted away). Our Christmas Eve meal was a hit and a miss; perogies were amazing – thank you Alexa for the dough recipe, our rendition of cabbage rolls led something to be desired, but we blame the passata – it was so sour it was almost like we had poured lemon juice all over them. The beverage for the evening was that of a Black Velvet, a Guinness-Champagne concoction that looks like Guinness, smells like cider, and tastes somewhere in between.

New Bristol Discovery Spot on December 26th

We were able to go on a nice jaunt Christmas day, and it was quiet. Eerily quiet. But it seems that the British really do have Christmas lunch instead of Christmas supper – wandering the streets and peering through windows (everyone has a bay window, I wasn’t creeping up)  families were all seated having Christmas lunch.

We opted for the more prominent tradition in Canada of the Christmas supper dining on a cajun-style roast chicken (which I dropped on the floor!!! The oven tilts and it just slid out of the oven when I went to baste it, and onto the floor, sending chicken juices cascading onto my slippers), and the very British items of goose fat roasted potatoes, sauteed brussel sprouts with bacon, and to finish it off – Sticky Toffee Pudding!
My god, do the British ever consume too much fat. Between the goose fat, bacon, cream, sugar, I opted not to make gravy. The redeeming factor of the meal was that somewhere underneath the lard were remnants of potatoes, brussel sprouts, and there were figs and dates hidden in the pud. But it was all delicious!

Pudgy Pigeon

Jigsaws, CBC Radio 2, Muppet movies, and Chocolate continued to reigned this Christmas and with the beauty of Skype, we were able to have some famamily chats, not quite the usual Festivus, but at least I didn’t have to wrestle Gramma.

My birthday was another nice and relaxing day full of waffles, beet and apple salad, and baked macaroni! Yummm. We went for a walk to go see the piglets, but they had been moved. But instead we finally found a way up into the hills overlooking the area! We went sledding on makeshift crazy carpets I fashioned out of cardboard and a door we found on the road, but as you can see, there wasn’t much snow. We ended up getting really dirty and just sat on a hill drinking and watching a fox roam the park and paper lanterns float through the sky.

A fantastic illness left me incapable of much but sleep for a few days and I was lucky to stay up late enough for New Years. It was one of the more enjoyable New Years Eve’s; usually there is so much hype about the night, yet no one really knows what they’re doing until late, and you end up with 3 places you have to get to before midnight. James was working so I set about the evening with no expectations; just myself, movies, and a box of Advil Cold & Sinus.

Fireworks above Flat

About 5 minutes before midnight, James showed up after work and Bristol exploded! Fireworks, music, yelling, car horns, people hanging out of their windows, and paper lanterns everywhere!  Living on a hill, we were able to see fireworks all across the city – and not just little pitsy ones, big fireworks, the ones that light up peoples faces enough to tell the colour of their eyes.

Paper Lanterns

The people in the flat above us were setting them off behind the flat and we had a drink with the neighbours as they set off fireworks on the garden wall. They had to be positioned just so, so that they didn’t hit the power lines or the flats across the street.
Successfully, nothing was hit. But the fireworks that drop army men arched so very close to the flats! Luckily, the train tracks are behind them, so several little army men will be littering the tracks. Hopefully the British transport system will be able to handle army men!
It turned into a wonderful New Years – no expectations, no build up, no juggling various parties through snow and ice – and something incredibly enjoyable happened!
Hopefully this week will have a few hours of employment for me as students go back on the 4th (who sends students back to school on a Tuesday?) and then on the 8th – Amsterdam! From the 8th to 14th I’ll be taking my late-Christmas holiday all around the Netherlands! Haven’t had much traveling in as of late so it comes none to soon!!
Cheers!

Christmas is Coming the Goose is Getting Fat!

24 Dec

Would just like to wish you all a Happy Christmas!

Just a small little Christmas here, mixing together family traditions with

My Christmas Tree!

British traditions and some Ukrainian food delights. There isn’t much snow, but enough to at least not feel like Christmas is in September.

Found a small Christmas tree to decorate (there was one left here, but it was actually worse then a Charlie Brown tree) and I am excited because it is the first REAL tree I have ever had! The charity shops had cheap ornaments to decorate with, and I even found a few decorations that I have at home!

So with a few ornaments, two strings of lights, a couple hours making snowflakes, and several making stockings – its beginning to look like

Too Many Snowflakes

Christmas. We went to see Carols in the Park on Monday; hundreds of people with torches singing, mulled wine, and mine pies – it was very festive.

I have already tackled the perogies, but tonight, we try cabbage rolls – hopefully they turn out! In true British form, we are also having mulled wine (homemade), black velvet cocktails, duck fat potatoes (I’m worried), brussel sprouts with bacon, and sticky toffee pudding!

Stockings

Breaking from tradition is hard to do, especially at Christmas time. Missing our friends, families, and all the comforts of home; with a bit of extra effort, we’ll have a very Merry Christmas.

Happy Christmas to you all!

 

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