Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Big changes coming up soon!

Yes big changes in the wind...in mid March I will quit the working world and start the new journey that is called "retirement". To me it is just a new phase in my life.  After thirty years of full time work (that has given me a nice pension thank you very much) and thirteen years of casual/part-time work it is time it's time to pull the plug and be free.  What do I plan to do?  Well travel of course but let's be realistic...I can't travel all the time.  I do plan to do more local pet sitting for extra cash, volunteer when I am around, spend more time at the Y (I'll get back to you on that...), go for more walks around the lake, write more...the list goes on and on...and who knows I may not be saying goodbye to paid work forever...I still have fantasies of working in a book shop someday...That's the wonderful thing about life - we never know what's coming up next.

First however.....you know it had to be travel and I am continuing the grand tradition of heading out the day after I finish work..(9 months and six days since I landed back here after my epic adventure) and of course it involves going back to my favourite place in the world...and I think we know what that is...

Is this a big enough hint?

Or how about this?

Yep, good old London town.  "Not again" I can hear you say.  Well you see that's the beauty of solo travel...I can go where I damn well please.  (blog post on that coming up!)

I head off in the early Spring (or very late winter...I like to think of it that way...) and will be gone just over two months...or if you want to be precise nine and a half weeks.   No I won't be in London the entire time - in fact it could be as short a time period as less than three weeks.  The rest of the time for now is an open book..I am trying...I say trying..to leave the planning until the cold days of January and February...anything to keep me reasonably sane through a cold Saskatchewan winter (I keep hoping this is the last one...).

Greece, Slovenia, Macedonia, Scotland, Northumberland, Cotswolds, Jersey  ,...well all these places and others are rolling around in my head but I can't do them all...who knows where I will end up?  I sure don't!

As if that's not enough it turns into two back to back trips as I will then be headed to the west coast for a walking conference two days after I get back.  I am on the Board of Directors of a walking club and have to be there...however my time is up and I will be retiring from that as well!  Nothing booked yet but I hope to stay out there about ten days unless there is a reason for me to stay longer...

After that?  Who knows?  All I know is 2016 is going to be another awesome one!!!   Oh and if you know anybody in the UK who needs a petsitter over Easter or a petsitter in British Columbia in June let me know!!

Rocktober: the first bit

As most people who read this blog know I am a HUGE Beatles fan and especially a fan of Paul McCartney.  Let's just say I have seen him in concert a few times.  When I found out he was going to be in Toronto and in my friend Pat's home town of Buffalo I knew I had to go.  I then found out that Ringo was going to be playing in Toronto in between those two concerts and then The Who would be there too. Great excitement and I managed to score tickets to all four concerts...though it wasn't easy...sadly The Who postponed their Toronto concert due to Roger Daltrey being ill.  Oh well, at least it wasn't one of my Beatle boys who cancelled although it was disappointing. 

So on the morning of Friday October 16th at the ungodly hour of 6:45 a.m. I boarded a nonstop Air Canada jet bound for Hog town.  It felt SO good to be boarding a plane again as I had been home exactly four months and five days.  (but who's counting?)   They actually had to de-ice the wings of the plane as there had been frost over night so we were late leaving however we did make up the time enroute.

Once I retrieved my luggage I headed over to catch the UP express train to Union station.  This train just started running a couple of days before my arrival from Iceland in June and I took it then.  It is on the pricey side but worth it for the convenience.  My sister was there to meet me.  I suggested we visit the St Lawrence Market for lunch and a snoop around.  Dilemma?  What to do with my luggage.  There is no place to store your luggage in the station (duh...get on that okay Union station?) but they told us the Intercontinental hotel a few blocks away will store it for three dollars.  So that's what I did.  We then walked over to the market and had Peameal bacon in a bun for lunch.  It was good but as my sister said it needed something else with it. 

We then wandered around the market with the vague idea of buying something for supper that evening but all we got were some tarts to share and coffee beans for me to take home.  (I buy locally roasted coffee beans when I travel - then when I am grinding them and drinking the lovely result I think  "I got this from ____"  Okay maybe a bit weird but it keeps me happy okay? )

Yes I am possibly one of the few people in the world who drool over brussel sprouts...

We then headed back to get my luggage and take the subway to my niece's place where I would be staying the next two nights...but first I had to snap this picture quickly.  Love this building!  Reminds me of the Flatiron building in New York.

 Union station

The CN tower peeking around the corner of the tall buildings.  Toronto seems to have new buildings popping up all over the place.

When we changed at St George station we rushed for the train which was sitting in the station.  All of a sudden the door closed on me knocking the suitcase handle out of my hand and getting my arm stuck.  Luckily I was able to pull it out but it was scary.  And very luckily my sister was behind me so could take my suitcase and get on the next train.  If I had been behind her or on my own it doesn't bear thinking about.  Would my suitcase still have been waiting there for me if I had gotten off at the next stop and taken the train back?  Very possibly not..

Once at my niece's apartment I relaxed with a (much needed) glass of wine and we ordered in a pizza for the three of us.

The next day was Paul day!  However I still had things to do before the concert.  Late that morning I headed over to the Bata Shoe Museum which was about a 25 minute walk from my niece's place.

My niece lives in Korea town and right by the Christie subway station they have a tiger.  Backdrop is the beautiful leaves of the Christie Pits. 

 Street art along the way

The Bata Shoe Museum was a place I had wanted to visit for a while so decided it was time.  I thoroughly enjoyed my visit.   Here are some of the highlights for me.

Chestnut Crushing clog - from 19th century France  (just what every home needs) 

Skates from Holland...I have always loved paintings of skaters on the frozen canals of Holland.

I honestly can't remember the history of these shoes but aren't they cool?

First Nations foot wear

John Lennon's Beatle boots!

A pair of Elton John's shoes from the 70's

You wouldn't expect a crinoline in a shoe museum but it was kind of a tribute to women who burnt to death wearing these things.   As their frocks were so wide it wasn't uncommon for their dress to brush against the fire and then the air under the cage of the crinoline would feed the flames.  Approximately three thousand women a year died this way in the United Kingdom. Two of Oscar Wilde's half sisters died in this horrible way.

I then carried on via subway to the Eaton Centre where I then walked over to City Hall, stopping to see the old City Hall and Turkish people protesting against ISIS.

The Toronto sign was put up for the Pan Am games; I think they are going to keep it.  I quite like it. I do quite like Toronto - something that not many "westerners" say but then I've never been typical. (thank goodness!)

I discovered they were having the Toronto Waterfront marathon the next day...sadly the expo was too far away for me to get to in a limited amount of time...but better for my wallet!  Two years ago I would have been in heaven and would have known about the marathon being the day after the concert and registered for the half marathon.  I mean Paul one day and a half marathon the next...it didn't get any better than that!  And the Waterfront was on "the list"....sniff...but we won't go there now....half marathons are in my past life.  For now anyway...

I decided to I had better eat before the concert so went to a nearby cafe for an omelette.  I then headed to the Loose Moose pub for a pre-concert get together but unfortunately the host of it was late and didn't show up....so that kind of fell apart.  However my friends Pat and Debbi showed up so we walked over to the Air Canada centre and were lucky enough to see Paul arrive.  We didn't have to wait long at all.  I haven't seen him arrive at concerts in a while as I find hours of standing just isn't worth it for a couple of seconds - even though it is great fun and you do feel like a teenager again.

We had all eaten so headed back to Debbi's vehicle to warm up (it was darn cold out!) and a chat.

Then it was time to head to the concert.  Pat and Debbi were on the floor and I was on the side so we headed off in different directions and arranged to meet up afterwards.  Of all the crazy coincidences I sat beside a fellow I had met in Ottawa two years before.  My friend Donna and I had gone over to the Air Canada Centre in Ottawa to get some photos of the arena and this fellow jokingly said "you can't stay here".  We got to talking and to be honest I didn't think about it again.   I started chatting to the fellow who said he had seen Paul six times so I knew I was with another hard core which always makes me happy.  He recited where he had been and  I mentioned I had been to Ottawa.  He said he had met someone who had seen him forty plus times and had upgraded her ticket and given her other one to her friend and I realized he was talking about me!  I said "that was moi"!!!  We had such a laugh about it.  So it was fun to have a great fan beside me - it doesn't always work out that way.  If you are serious about an artist and want a good seat you do not go for two seats together - better to have one so that is why I don't usually sit with my Paul friends.  Sometimes you do end up together crazily enough - it has happened but mostly we are in different areas.

The concert was fabulous of course - it's never been anything else.  Almost three hours of nonstop music that takes you through early Beatles to the new stuff and I love it all.  As always when in Canada he sang "Mull of Kintyre".

My pictures were utter crap - the camera that did so well at the Regina concert really let me down.  Oh well - a big difference between the third row centre and being up on the side....  after I realized how crappy they were I just gave up and enjoyed the show.

Members of the Paris Port Dover pipe band - lucky enough to get to play with Sir Paul!

It turns out there was a get together after the concert but I hadn't heard about it so headed back to my niece's place where a party was just winding down.

Here is the Korea town tiger lit up at night.

My niece gave me a glass of wine and I sat quietly and in my happy place until all the guests had left. Then it was time to hit the hay - what a day!!!

The next morning my niece wanted to take her Mac in to the Apple store at the Eaton Centre to have it looked at.  We had looked at taking her car down there or a taxi but with the marathon on it was impossible.  My sister arrived and off the three of us went...sadly nothing could be done for the computer so back we came to the apartment.  Then we set off for brunch only to discover that the first place we had in mind was packed with a long wait and the next place was closed.  So we settled for a coffee shop and had sandwiches.

 From there we headed over to the Royal Ontario Museum to visit the Pompeii exhibit.   I assume everyone knows about Pompeii but I've learned that it's wrong to assume.   In AD 79 Mount Vesuvius erupted totally destroying the city while preserving it as well.  It is one of the most important archaeological sites in the world and gives us a look into the daily life of an ancient yet ordinary Roman city.  The exhibition featured such diverse items as kitchen ware, art work, jewellery, a gladiator helmet and even carbonized bread left in an oven by a baker fleeing for his life.

It was absolutely fabulous.  Since I was a child I've had a fascination with Pompeii and have been lucky enough to see an exhibition of it in Birmingham, Alabama and now in Toronto.  Will I ever make it to Pompeii itself?  Who knows but I sure hope so.  If you are squeamish don't keep scrolling down.  To me this was fascinating.  Yes a bit gruesome but it's history.

The remains of a beautiful tile.

This is a plaster cast of a guard dog was left chained up by its master who fled and left it. The dog likely tried to climb above the growing mound of pumice and rocks before succumbing.  This was the 8th cast done in 1874 and this dog is one of Pompeii's best known casualties.  Heartbreaking isn't it?

This mosaic of a dog was located in the same room the dog above was found.

Very wealthy family (a horde of gold was found nearby) killed looking desperately for shelter.  Their arms are at their faces due to the extreme heat causing their tendons to contract after death.

Plaster casts of victims

Such an interesting exhibit.

Afterwards we headed back to Erin's apartment where I retrieved my luggage and my sister and I set off for her apartment in Hamilton.  However that will have to wait for another blog post.

Friday, November 6, 2015

The Green Lungs of London - Part 1

One of the (many) things I love about London are the abundance of parks.  You may be surprised to learn that 38% of London is green space then add up all the private gardens to bring it to 62%. (yes there are people that actually figure this out...and you thought YOUR job was boring...)   Take that New York! (at 14% of green space)  Okay not as much as Singapore (47% and much loved by me as well..in fact I call it the Asian London) or Sydney (46%).  So indulge me and let me gush on about my favourite parks in the city I love so much.

Instead of saving the best for last I am going to share the best first...St James Park.  I think this is a particular favourite of a lot of tourists including me.  Within a few minutes walk of Trafalgar Square, Buckingham Palace and the Houses of Parliament the park heaves with tourists at times but there always seems to be enough room for everybody.  I fell in love with this beautiful park the first time I visited in 1975 and it is one of the first things I visit on every trip to London...that, Trafalgar Square and Big Ben are part of my "now I know I'm in London" tour that I always do my first day there.  If I could add up the hours I've quietly sat on a bench just people watching - well it would be a staggering amount I am sure. 

St James Park is 57 acres and was named for the area in which it resides - which was named after a leper hospital called St James the Less. In 1532 Henry the VIII purchased the land from Eton College and during King James' reign it was turned into a kind of private zoo which included everything from elephants to crocodiles.  Charles the II, inspired by the parks of France had it redesigned in a more formal style and entertained his mistresses there included Nell Gwynn.  It had many incarnations to what it looks like now.  So here we go...

View of Horseguards Palace in the background - they have a changing of the Guard daily.  St James Park is known for its waterfowl and feeding the birds is a popular touristy thing to do...they expect it!

All sorts of birds from the bossy Canada Geese to Coots and everything in between.

Feeding the pigeons is also a popular pastime.  Pigeons have been banned from Trafalgar Square (I used to love going there in the "old days" to feed them) so now have migrated to St James Park.  Hey, they're not stupid!  Eating a snack on the benches in St James Park is an experience as you always have at least half a dozen sets of beady eyes watching your every move.

 Here are the iconic pelicans of St James Park.  These creatures always cause a stir when they leave the water and lope onto the path.  I haven't felt the same about them since I saw one swallow a live pigeon...in fact the friend I was with at the time mentioned it the last time we saw it each other.  "Remember when we saw the pelican eat the pigeon in St James Park" and we both grimaced!

 And yes of course we must get a selfie with one...

This area is right by Buckingham Palace yet most people never wander this far back and being as it is down from the street it is very quiet.

The flags above are on The Mall which leads to Buckingham Palace...these were up for the Trooping of the Colour ceremony which was to take place the following weekend.

 Babies in the middle of the path waiting for Mama.

St James Park in March....I missed the full glory of the daffodils as I was in Turkey in late March but I was overwhelmed by this display...

Mama and baby in the Spring daffodils

 The guards heading down The Mall for the changing of the guard at the Palace.  Run, run so you can photograph them - you hear the music before you see them.

View of Buckingham Palace from "The Bridge" - Good Luck getting across this bridge without getting in the way of posed photos and selfies...everyone wants a photos of these views.  Buckingham Palace one side....

And Horseguards Palace, the London Eye and  Downing Street area on the other...

Lots of these little characters running around.

Relaxing on a warm day.

Ok as you can see I am a little obsessed with St James Park bur really... who can blame me?

Next we're off to Hyde Park.  Hyde Park (350 acres) was created in 1536 by King Henry VIII for hunting purposes.  It has been the site for mass demonstrations by Suffragettes, the Reform League, and Stop the War coalition to name a few.  It is of course famous for Speakers Corner where people can expound on any topic.  The highlight of Hyde Park for me is the beautiful Lido that flows through it with graceful swans always looking for a hand out.

The Lido on a chilly March day.  On nice days you can take paddle boats out which is something I haven't done...yet. 
 These swans and pigeons are onto a good thing...what would they do without tourists?

I've been known to have a cuppa at this cafe on a decent day...when I can get a table.

Hyde Park is also known for the Princess Diana memorial fountain.

It's hard to get a picture of the whole thing but it is quite impressive. 

Hyde Park is so huge that just from reading its website I realize I have missed some attractions....it is an easy park to get lost in I must say....oh well next time.

One thing I saw this time I hadn't seen before was the statue of Isis...a beautiful bird depicting the Egyptian Goddess.  Sadly this name is now associated with the terrorist organization.

Hyde Park is full of these path ways .

Kensington Gardens (270 acres) is the next park...this was once the western section of Hyde Park but was separated  from the park in 1728 at the request of Queen Caroline. 

Path leading to the Albert Memorial and behind it the Royal Albert Hall.

Kensington Palace - a nice warm day and a place to relax...and love's young dream...get a damn room! :)

 When I visited in 1997 this gate was piled with tributes to Princess Diana....

 Statue of Queen Victoria

  The Round Pond in front of Kensington Gardens - created in 1730.

Feeding the wildlife here is a popular pastime.


The Physical Energy statue - commemorating Cecil Rhodes the founder of Rhodesia. (now Zimbabwe)

And of course there is the famous Peter Pan statue...installed in 1912.  J. M. Barrie, the author of Peter Pan lived close to Kensington Gardens which was an inspiration to him in the creation of the story of the boy who never grew up. The statue is on the exact spot by the Long Water that Peter lands after flying out of his nursery.

The detail on this statue is enchanting.

 Next up...the Italian Gardens...not at their peak in February but alas...I never got back...this is an 150 year old water garden said to have been created as a gift from Prince Albert to his beloved Queen Victoria. 

Three parks down and three to go...or maybe more who knows.  Hope you enjoyed visiting the green lungs of London with me.