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History, bureaucracy, and chips – Wrap-up

And, all of a sudden, we’re at the end.  I’m typing this as I wait for a load of towels to dry.  It’s my last task. Then one night full of anxiety dreams about missing my flight.  Then tomorrow, we fly home.

Roman baths, in Bath. I drank that water. Very disappointed to find I do not have super powers now.

This post is going to gloss over some stuff – like our fun trip to Bristol/Bath/Cardiff at the end of May.  Or our too-short day trip to Brighton a few weeks ago.  And basically the last two months.  Sorry…

At Cardiff Castle. I just like how it turned out.

The last couple of months have been filled with lasts:  last choir rehearsal and concert, last rent payment, last Oyster top-up, last drama/dance/piano classes, last lunch at Bone Daddies (actually, we’ve had about 3 or 4 lasts there.  We keep going back.  I’m going to miss it.  But I’m told there’s a reasonable substitute at the University Plaza now, so that’s another thing to look forward to).  Last time we went into the city.  Last day of school.  Last time I had to scrub that wretched glass shower door.

Clifton Suspension Bridge, Bristol. It’s the most picturesque bridge I’ve ever seen, if the number of pictures I took is any indication.  All of Bristol looks like this – hilly and green.

Vorlon just realised this  evening that we’d never see the kitties again and wept.  Some friends came over this afternoon to say goodbye.  It’s been a bittersweet day.

You can’t do that in Canada!!

I’m so looking forward to going home, seeing my friends and family again, and reclaiming my house.  But I will miss London, and the UK, terribly.  Big things, like being surrounded by history and iconic buildings everywhere, the amazing transit system, the greenness, and the people we met here.  And little things, like the view of the city along the Thames as the train is pulling into Charing Cross, the greengrocer down the street who would occasionally give me free samples, Tesco’s weird ungrammatical motto, the heft of a £1 coin, the awesome stove in my vast London kitchen, the chips.  And a zillion other things in between.

Millennium Square, Cardiff. Sadly, John Barrowman was nowhere to be found.

There is a lot I won’t miss.  The aforementioned shower door.  The littering.  The bureaucracy.  The fact that I couldn’t buy more than 200g of baking soda at a time (well, unless I bought 3kg from the Asian Cash and Carry).

Our feet, in Brighton

Coming here was an amazing experience.  I think we managed to find a good balance between being tourists and living here and getting involved in the types of activities we’d be doing if we were back home.  Zebula said today that she’d remember this forever.  That’s as good an outcome as I could have hoped.

See you on the other side of the pond!

(Click for all the May, June, and July pictures, if that’s your thing)



View of Granada and the Sierra Nevada from the Alhambra

It’s a crappy day out. Rainy, with a forecast high of 13 degrees.  My friends back home are all talking about melting in the heat.  The weather here is so changeable, even from hour to hour, it’s no wonder the meteorologists have a hard time telling us with any kind of accuracy what tomorrow’s weather will be.  Apparently, we’re going back into the 20s in the next few days, so I can keep the heat off.  But I still think I need to bake something to make the kitchen warm.

Orange tree in the Alhambra. I was sorely tempted to try one, but there were signs everywhere saying not to touch the plants.

Speaking of warm (cheap segue, I know…), we went to Spain early last month!  Dr. Thingo was asked to give a talk at the university in Granada, and since seeing the Alhambra has been a dream of his since he started his work with Islamic Art, he jumped at the chance.  We decided the rest of us should tag along.  So we took the kids out of school for a week, even though this was the middle of shortest half-term in the year.

One of the many stray dogs that roam around the restaurant terraces. They’re awfully cute, and actually not too bothersome.

It was wonderful!  Exactly what I needed to lift me up after a bit of an emotional ride in the last couple of months.  The weather was warm. Hot, even.  One day, it even went up to 36, but I didn’t really notice (the only reason I took note is because I was feeling kind of warm, so I looked at the displayed temperature in one of the squares, and was shocked at the number).  It’s dry and breezy, so it always feels good, and sitting in the shade actually makes a difference.  Due to low humidity, as soon as the sun goes down, the air cools down too, so the nights are pleasant.  Central Spain does hot better than Southern Ontario does, that’s for sure!

Many squares have this kind of stonework around the edges.

My high school Spanish class seemed a distant memory, but we managed ok.  I’m fine to read things, mostly, but not so good with rapid-fire spoken Spanish, especially in the lispy Spanish accent, so we got by with a lot of miming and good intentions.

Spices for sale at a stall outside the Granada Cathedral.

We found ourselves a flat via Air BnB*, and were super-lucky with the results.  We were on the street looking out on the Rio Darro, the river that runs along the base of the hill on which the Alhambra sits.  So this was the view outside our bedroom window:

Bedroom window wide open, listening to the activity happening outside (there was a restaurant terrace and a small square with a fountain just outside our window.  Street performers would wander by and sing a few songs.  Warm, with a breeze coming in through the window.  It was absolutely lovely.  I realise this was a pretty touristy part of the city, but it was nice to be there.

Obligatory cathedral ceiling shot

It took a while to get used to the pace of things.  Stores do not open until 10:00, and then close for lunch (usually from 13:00 to 16:00) and reopen until 20:00.  Supper is usually around 21:00 or 22:00.  Some bakeries, though, open earlier.  The flat also didn’t have any of the usual condiments that are usually available, as in the previous Air BnB places we’ve stayed at (oil, salt, pepper), so I didn’t do a lot of cooking at the flat, though we had a couple of lunches of bread, oil, cheese, fish and cold cuts, which were very pleasant.  Which basically sums up the whole trip: everything felt very pleasant and slow.

Rio Darro, with Zebula looking for wild kitties on the banks.

Granada is in Andalusia, near the Sierra Nevada mountains (there was still snow on the peaks!), and was occupied by Moors until the reconquista in the 16th century.  As a result, the architecture and food are both heavily influenced by Islamic culture.

In the Almaicín.

The Alhambra, especially, was stunning.  It started off as a walled town in the 11th century.  It was occupied and built up by a sequence of Islamic monarchs (the first was  Mohammed I ibn Nasr.  I should have asked for the family discount.), and then the Holy Roman Emperor Charles V.  It fell into disrepair, and sometimes outright destruction in the 18th century during the French Domination (way to go, Napoleon!), and restoration started in the 19th.

Window in the Alhambra

A garden in the Alhambra. Water features are common throughout – they’re fed by pumps now but there are remains of aqueducts in a lot of places.

It’s the most ornate place I’ve ever seen.  I’m not usually a fan of too much busyness in buildings, but, somehow, this works.  Maybe because everything is so huge, it never looks oppressive.


Dr. Thingo, doing research.


One of the gardens. I’d never seen topiary roses before.

Another successful trip. Dr. Thingo’s talk apparently went well, and he was rewarded with a fabulous bottle of Spanish olive oil that we’ve slowly been consuming as a bread dip since we got back.   Granada was our last non-UK trip as a family, though Dr. Thingo is heading to Berlin as I type to deliver another talk.  We plan to go back to Canada on or around July 24th (if I can get decent flights.  Someday, I need to get a non-bullshit answer as to why airlines charge almost as much (or more!) for one-way tickets as they do for return ones.)  We’ll spend a few days visiting grandparents in both Ottawa and Montreal, before heading back to our Waterloo house.  It’s less than two months away!

Cascade coming out of an Alhambra city wall.


A lot more photos from this trip can be found here.  A lot.  Especially of Alhambra details. I went a little crazy.

* If you’ve never used Air BnB for finding travel accommodations before, I highly recommend trying.  The prices are usually good and the facilities have been excellent.




Highlights from the past two and a half months – Day two-months-to-go

Yes, we’re still here.  It’s been a beautiful and moderately busy spring.  I won’t attempt to catch you up to everything, but, instead, offer this photo series of the highlights since the last post. We also went to Granada, Spain a couple of weeks ago, but I think that’ll get its own post. Someday.  Maybe.

My kids, climbing a 3000-year-old wall during a forced march, I mean, country walk, in March. This one surrounded the Roman town of Calleva. I felt bad about them climbing it, but figured if it had managed to survive this long, it wouldn’t be wrecked by my kids…


Entrance to Chislehurst caves. These flint and chalk caves were dug about 4000 years ago, and were used during the Blitz as a bomb shelter for some 15000 people in South London. This is the only photo I have, as, understandably, photography inside the caves was forbidden.


Cows grazing in the commons, near some housing developments. People are still allowed to bring their livestock to graze in any commons throughout England.


A terrible shot of Glamis Adventure Park, in Shadwell (East London). It’s all made from reclaimed material. Kids are encouraged to be dropped off. You can just see a bit of it on the right, but there’s a big, open fire there every day, where the kids are encouraged to roast food. There are a couple of supervisors on duty at all times. It’s free. They let kids wield sledgehammers to smash old pallets for the fire. There are ziplines and climbing things. Apparently, there are very few injuries. I love it.


Globe Theatre, getting ready for Titus Andronicus, which is apparently so gory, people have been passing out in the audience.


ArcelorMittal Orbit, Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park. The park, built for the 2012 Summer Olympics, just opened to the public about a month ago, and includes an amazing playground for the kids, complete with giant sandbox and water supply. The stadium and aquatic centre are available for use as well.


Abbey Wood, in Southeast London. As well as the ruins of Lesnes Abbey, there’s a woods and a fossil bed where people are encouraged to dig. The kids both found teeth and unusual rocks there.


Rapeseed (or Canola, for North-Americans) fields near Salisbury. The picture completely fails to convey just how yellow the flowers were.


A famous circle of giant rocks you may have heard of, near Salisbury.


View out from Old Sarum, the ruins of an old settlement, near Salisbury. Cathedral ruins and rapeseed fields out in the distance.


Inside Salisbury Cathedral. I think it’s my favourite English cathedral so far. I loved the pointy gothicness of it.


My kids climbing an old tree in Blackheath, near where we live. It’s apparently a popular spot for kids to come hang out, as many came and went during the time we were there.


High Tea at Fortnum & Mason with my friend R. Photo taken by Zebula, who also got to come, as well as R’s eldest daughter.


View of London from the top of the hill at Hampstead Heath. This park has a series of ponds, some of which are for bathing. The kids really, really want to come back here and go for a swim when the weather gets hot again.


Conspicuously absent is evidence from Carrie’s visit in early April, which was lovely.

It’s hard to believe we’re coming back in about two months.  I feel like we’ve barely scratched the surface of stuff to see.  And the bloom hasn’t fallen off the rose yet:  I’m still in love with this city.  At the same time, I’m itching to get back to my house, to see all my friends and family, and to be in my own space with my own stuff.  And hopefully with gainful employment!  But I will miss London.  So much.

In case you need to see a zillion pictures of Stonehenge, click the links to my Flickr albums for March, April and May.


Cambridge – Day Seven-and-a-Half-Months

I think they’re forsythias, but double-bloomed. There are regular ones around too.

It’s spring in London.  We’ve had a few days of beautiful weather.  My freckles are back.   I’m not chilly.  The sun is out and the ground might actually dry.  There’s a camellia outside my kitchen door, blooming like mad.

This makes me pretty happy

Sunday was the nicest day, at a sunny 16 degrees, so we decided to go to Hyde Park to soak up some rays.  Half of London obviously got the same idea – it was packed!  There was a lineup to get into one of the playgrounds with a sign “Playground at capacity”  (have I mentioned Britain’s great love of fences?  That’s a whole blog post by itself).  It was a lovely, lazy day, even for Zebula, who was exhausted from the previous night (she was at a birthday sleepover.  “There was a chocolate fountain!”).

Selfie by Dr. Thingo in Hyde Park. I only just now noticed that his eyes are closed.

This one’s for the grandparents

So we went to Cambridge!  Over two weeks ago!  I should tell you about it before I forget!

Church of Our Lady and the English Martyrs, Cambridge. I like church ceilings, apparently.

Cambridge was lovely.  It is very much a university town, and the parts we walked through that weren’t outright university grounds felt like university towns everywhere, but much, much older.  Coffee shops, bookstores, kind of funky, but with an underlying feeling of ‘we’ve been here for hundreds of years’.  It’s a nice place.   The main geographical feature is, of course, the River Cam, which runs through the city.  Cambridge was called Cambridge before the river Cam was called the river Cam (for real! The river was named Granta by the Saxons, and the city became known as Cambridge a little later.  The river was renamed Cam to match the name.  Thanks, Wikipedia!)

The Mathematical Bridge over the Cam, Queen’s College. Said to be designed and built by Isaac Newton without nuts or bolts. Which, it turns out, is a myth. Leibniz invented it the week before. Ok, that’s wrong too. It was designed by neither Newton nor Leibniz and uses plenty of nuts and bolts. It’s called Mathematical because of the design.

Little door inside a big door, Queen’s College

Queen’s College

The University is really a collection of colleges, separate but somehow not.  It’s nearly impossible to follow the river, as a large part of the riverfront in the city belongs to the various colleges, and there are fences and gates everywhere to prevent entry to ‘non-members’.

You shall not pass.

Still, it was nice to walk around.  We managed to miss opening hours for most of the colleges and their chapels (PSA: don’t be a tourist in Cambridge on a Sunday), though we did get to wander around Queen’s College a bit, mostly to get onto the Mathematical Bridge.   We even saw lots of students carrying around sporting equipment like tennis racquets and rugby balls.  It was so wonderfully cliché!

King’s College

Trinity College

I Can’t Remember Which College

Events + bikes

It was hard to get a sense of what the lives of non-student Cambridgians are like – we only really visited the University parts.  We ventured out to a park (Jesus Green!) for the kids to let off steam (their patience for my strong desire to see “old things” and walk around wears pretty thin eventually) and saw lots of families there, and their houses on the other side of the park.  The most striking thing was the lack of ethnic diversity there.  I’ve become so used to all the different cultures mingling in London that it was a shock to see a very stereotypically European-looking community, even at the university.

Just another nice building.

We’ll probably go back – a cousin of mine moved there a few days after we visited, and I’d love to go say hello, and pass on some kitchen stuff I’ve accumulated.  Though time is starting to feel like it’s running out.  Only about four months until we’re back home!

Cool old tree outside King’s College. The lower limbs touched the ground, and inside the radius of those limbs, the ground was covered in crocus.

(Full set of Cambridge photos here)


Various and Sundry – Day Just-Over-Seven-Months

Take heart, Canada! Spring will come for you too!

Last day to Say it with Cross-Stitch!  Comment on this post for a chance to win some bespoke cross-stitchy goodness!

Happy last day of February!  It’s been an especially crappy winter for both Canada and the UK.  March, despite its proverbial coming in like a lion, is the beginning of the end.  Hang in there – summer is coming.  We’ll be complaining about the heat in just a few months.


I put my back out today doing burpees.  My knee hurts from an undignified injury I suffered about four years ago so I’ve stopped running.  I feel like I’m about 80 years old.


We’re back to the usual routine this week.  We had a last week off (half-term break for the kids) and had planned a day trip to Cambridge, as well as another country walk.  However, Vorlon was sick and housebound for most of the week, so the walk was canceled and the trip to Cambridge* was postponed to the last Sunday of the break.

We had some friends over for dinner the first weekend – they’d generously offered to take the kids to see the Lego movie with their kids, so I invited them all over for dinner afterwards.  It was nice to cook for a crowd, and to socialise.  I’m slowly making friends at choir and the museum, and Dr. Thingo has found some squash buddies.  Zebula had a friend the other day who was trying to convince her to stay (“What if all your Canada friends could move here too!”) and was invited to a birthday sleepover next weekend.  Vorlon wants to stay for another year so that he can go up the O2 Centre (apparently, you have to be 10.  I said if he saved his allowance for the next 10 years (both for the flight and for the ridiculous entrance fee), he could come back.).  We’re leaving in less than 5 months, and finally starting to feel like we’re making roots.  That’s how it goes, I guess.


Only 311 steps to go!

We ventured out into the city last Saturday – it was a beautiful, sunny day, and Vorlon was feeling better, and we were all pretty antsy.  We wandered around, with no real plan other than for Dr. Thingo to find the plaque marking the location of London’s first coffee shop, and ended up having a nice afternoon.  Included were the aforementioned coffeehouse plaque, Christopher Wren’s Monument to the Great Fire of London, the park at St. Dunston in the East and a failed attempt to go to this park, which I hadn’t seen before, but which the kids had been to with Dr. Thingo and which they assure me is awesome (unfortunately, it was closed).

The Monument, built by Christopher Wren in the 1670s

View from the top. That’s the Tower Bridge, and you can see the Tower of London too.

Kilroy was here, 18th century style.

St. Dunstan in the East. It was bombed out during the Blitz, and has been converted to a park. It’s a beautiful, quiet, meditative spot, so of course we couldn’t be there with the kids for more than 5 minutes…


Please help me identify the following bird and plants.

Spotted in Cambridge

Also spotted in Cambridge. It has bright yellow feet.

Spotted on my street, looks like it should be from another planet.

Spotted on my street, smells fantastic.


I think I’ve mentioned before that I’ve started helping out a lady in my choir who has been teaching drama for a long time (she ‘retired’ 8 years ago).  Her area of expertise is in what she calls ‘Reminiscence Theatre’, where you speak with elderly people and encourage them to remember their past, and act it out.  She’s had great results and has done many plays over the years, and has toured them all over Europe.  Topics range from people remembering what their mums did to keep their families running during World War II, to talking about how they found out about sex, to talking about what healthcare was like before the NHS existed.  It’s very interesting.  She still works with the elderly, especially groups with dementia, to encourage them to share their memories.  She feels strongly that, while what she does is by no means a miracle cure, it does draw people out of what must be a  great deal of frustration and isolation, and they keep surprising her by willingly and enthusiastically sharing their memories with her, and acting them out.  She invited me to join in a training session she was holding for filmmakers who are working on the same kind of reminiscence project, both to get a sense for what she does, and to experience it for myself.  I admit that I wasn’t that enthusiastic about going, but accepted anyway (this sabbatical is all about new experiences, right?). I’m not that fond of this kind of forced group activity (icebreaker games at so-called ‘team building’ events make me deeply uncomfortable).  The workshop was this morning and I was surprised to find myself having a very good time.  Her approach feels very natural and unforced.  It was revealing and made me appreciate a little bit more what people with dementia must feel.  She’s also invited me to join her for a session with some patients, and I think I will join her.


I still feel very self-conscious every time I open my mouth to speak.  People are never mean-spirited or dismissive of my accent, but it still feels very conspicuous.  And I still have a hard time with people with particularly heavy South London accents and have to listen very closely.  I don’t know how long I’d have to live here for that to stop being the case.


Public bike pump, next to Cycling Superhighway. I would love to see both of these implemented in KW.

All of February’s pictures are here

* Cambridge will get its own post.  Someday.