Sunday, January 17, 2016

Ramblings and rants on a cold January morning

I realize I haven't posted since Christmas Day...what can I say....laziness I guess..  And a case of writer's block.  I have lots to write about but the words aren't coming out.

Life has been fairly busy.  I had a wonderful few days at the end of December with my family in Lethbridge, Alberta  celebrating my cousin's 40th wedding anniversary.  From Calgary I flew to Lethbridge in a tiny in about twenty people max.   I was seated in the front row both ways with no window and I got to be in charge of opening the main door in the case of an emergency. (I made sure the person opposite knew the score as I'd be useless in an emergency.  I have no illusions on this.) This was the view from my seat...

I haven't been on such a small plane since I was a kid I don't think (and then it was a very small one as in the pilot, my dad and me...)...not even to go up north.  I am not afraid of flying in the slightest so it was rather fun although I did miss having a window. Also the vibration of the airplane was something else - luckily it was just take off and landing as my butt did not like that one little bit.

I now have a brand spanking new cousin who arrived two days after I got home..I will get to meet HER (yay, a girl) later this year hopefully when I do a road trip to Alberta.  I come from a very small family - in fact the last baby to be born in my family was the baby's mom 28 years ago!

Besides binge watching episodes of Luther on Netflix, watching all the James Bond films in order (I'm up to "The Spy Who Loved Me" in case anyone is interested), and a one week very hairy (in more ways than one) dog sitting gig I have been sitting with my nose in a book most of the time.  My social life has been rather dead lately which it tends to be in January. Ah well.

In other exciting news...and this is exciting...I had my DNA tested and...I am 22% Norwegian which means I am 22% Viking.    This is from my Scottish side that comes from the east coast of Scotland which was heavily invaded by Vikings.  I have always had a huge fascination for Vikings and as a child I wanted to be a Norwegian...I mean what kid wants to be a Norwegian of all things?

In less than nine weeks now  I leave on my next big adventure.  It just occurred to me "shit, I had better start losing weight".  9 weeks equals ten pounds right?  At least..... Every time I fly and make my usual trek to the bathroom and my hips hit the seats I pass I think "damn I should have lost weight".   It doesn't help that I received nearly my own weight in chocolate as Christmas gifts.  Best get on that then - like it's SO easy....

I've been starting to plan my adventure too of course....after six days at my favourite B and B in North London I will fly off to Slovenia for Easter weekend.  I will spend five nights in Ljubljana which looks to be such a beautiful city - I can't wait to explore it and also visit nearby Lake Bled.  Of course will be back in London for the half price Easter chocolate worries on that.  I do have my priorities!!!

Then in April I am off for ten days on the island of Malta - a place I have been wanting to visit for quite a while now.  Four nights on the nearby tiny island of Gozo then back to the mainland for the remaining six nights - booked through Airbnb of course.  These places are more like bed and breakfasts however...I am so looking forward to getting to know these two islands.  Malta has a rich history and many things to explore.

For May I have booked six nights in a bed and breakfast up in Sutherland, a county in the North East of Scotland which is where my great great grandfather came from.  (Vikings!) I haven't been there since 1994 so I am anxious to revisit.  I have NO family there that I am aware of as they immigrated to Canada during the Highland Clearances in the early 1800's.  However I felt such an affinity with the place and it is calling me "home". The rest of the time in the UK..who knows...lots of time in London of course as I never grow tired of that place and in fact love it more each time I visit it.

I am planning to walk more of the Thames Path....I left off at Hampton Court last May so I hope to make it to at least Windsor if not further.  The dilemma....  do I take my hiking boots?  They are bulky and I get tired of wearing them on every plane, trip and automobile to save space in my suitcase.  What to do...what to do.....Speaking of my suitcase I am planning on taking a smaller one this time...the same one I took for a month in Cambodia and Singapore three years ago. Not carry on but just a bit bigger; it is a duffel bag style which means you can cram lots in  I find as I get older I just don't want to haul and it is especially difficult with my arthritic knees.  I can't do the carry on thing; I just can't.  Please don't get me started on people who haul their crap into the overhead bin pushing my things to the back  and force me to climb up on the seat to retrieve my day pack and jacket.  (unless I look helpless enough or pissed off enough that someone gets it for me)

A new camera will be accompanying me on this adventure as well...a Nikon P530.  Due to the dire weather here (after all I don't want to break the poor thing before I click the shutter for the first time) I haven't been able to test it outside yet but I look forward to getting outside and playing with it very soon.   For the first time in nearly 40 years an SLR won't be my main travel camera.  I say main camera because any serious photographer has at least two (and they don't use a smart phone as their main camera but don't get me started on that) ...please don't ask me how many I have....but what the heck do you do with old non digital SLR's?  Of course it doesn't help that I am sentimentally attached to each and every's Mr. Nikon 1 - he went with me to Africa and oh here's Mr. Pentax Spotmatic...he accompanied me on my five week trip around Australia and the Orient (as it was called then) back in 1977.

Work will be taking more of my time in the next two months as I am putting in extra hours to cover someone who has been seconded elsewhere for a while.  Part of me is saying  "bummer, there goes my free time" but the greedy guts in me thinks "yay, more money for my travels"!!!  In eight and a half weeks I will be FREE as in retired. It's still hard to believe.  When I retired from the telephone company over thirteen years ago I knew I would work elsewhere as I was much too young to simply give up work.  I fell into my current job and it has evolved over the years.  I have been so lucky to have it and it's provided me with the financial resources to pay for all of my adventures since then. However it's time to move on...

There is lots to look forward to!   Stay tuned!!

Friday, December 25, 2015

Why I love Christmas in London

Yes, another post about London!  Here are some of my favourite things about Christmas in my favourite place on earth in no particular order.

The Lights....

Fun fair in Leicester Square

The Culture...

In the winter London's theatre scene comes to life and at Christmas the variety of live performances is staggering.  You can see everything from a pantomime to performances of the Nutcracker to weeks of beautiful concerts at the Royal Albert Hall.

The Royal Opera House in Covent Garden

I've been here to see the Nutcracker, Swan Lake and this darling Beatrix Potter ballet.  Meant for children but I adored every minute!  I mean, look at them!

The Messiah at the Royal Albert Hall

Christmas Spectacular at the Royal Albert Hall - absolutely wonderful!  The Royal Albert Hall has concerts nearly every evening in December.

The decorations...

Covent Garden

Santa and his reindeer  - made from Lego!  At Covent Garden

Reindeer, Covent Garden 2014

The Reindeer at Covent Garden in 2012

The Christmas tree at Liverpool St station.

The markets...

Whether it's the German market on South Bank, Borough Market all tarted up for the Holidays or just a local neighbourhood market, visiting London's markets at Christmas is a must.

The German market on Southbank...

Winter wonderland in Hyde Park...good if you've got kiddies...

And my fave rave....

The tree in Trafalgar Square....

This tree is presented to the people of Britain from the city of Oslo in Norway as a continuing token of  thanks for Britain's assistance during World War II.   It is simply decorated with lights.

Local choirs sing beside the tree most nights in December.

Store windows....

The above photos were taken in the John Lewis window...surprise surprise being as that was the year of the Monty the Penguin ad...if you haven't seen it you must google it and see it.

Okay I cheated and this was inside the store...but how cute...

Hamley's toy store...I have a confession to make.  Of all the times I have been to London I don't think I've ever been beyond the ground floor of Hamleys.  It is huge but it always seems to be busy and well, it's not like I need to buy toys... but their Christmas windows are pretty cool.  I never did make it to see Harrods' windows this time - I heard there were mice. I love mice!  However when I finally got there they had the windows papered up for the next display. (sob!)

And those are my SOME of my  favourite things about seeing the Christmas season in London.....hope you enjoyed!

Thursday, December 24, 2015

How to do Christmas in Germany

For years my German friend Claudia had invited me to come and stay for Christmas.  And for years I would politely decline because 1) I had other plans and 2) couldn't get the time off work.  Finally in 2011 I phoned (Claudia isn't on the internet..) and said "does that invitation for Christmas still stand as if so I'd like to come this year".  And that's how I found myself in Heiligenstadt in Northern Bavaria over the Christmas holidays.

I've spent Christmas in other countries...Costa Rica, Nepal and England spring quickly to mind but this is the first time I had actually experienced a traditional Christmas in a family home.

Due to respect for Claudia and her mum's privacy there won't be any pictures of them on here.

So if you were in Germany over the Christmas holidays what would you do first?  Have some glühwein (mulled wine) you say? Thought so!  So off we went to the Nuremberg Christmas market. Claudia used to live in Nuremberg so I am quite familiar with it and I had been to the market way back in 1999 when I visited on a pre-Christmas trip.  Nuremberg is the second largest city in Bavaria (after Munich) with a population of over 500,000 and has wonderful medieval architecture.  Before we tackled the market we walked around to visit my favourite sights....

My favourite view!!!  The city has its modern parts with lots of wonderful shops but I love the gorgeous old buildings.

As you can see it was a drizzly dank kind of day but we still made the most of it.

Then because you are in Germany it's time for coffee and cake ...the German cakes....oh my...we met one of Claudia's friends at a cafe in the shopping district and had a nice chat.

Now well fortified we headed off towards the market as darkness started to fall...

Traditional smoking insert a piece of incense in a slot within the ornament.  I bought one my first time in Nuremberg in 1983 but just use it as part of my Christmas decorations.  It doesn't smoke!  I wish I would have bought another one...oh well, next time!

Grilling the bratwurst...

Drinking the glühwein...I still have the mug and use it for my tea during the holiday season. (not big enough for the amount of coffee I need in the morning!)  The deposit for the mug is included in the price of your drink and if you want the money back you return the mug, if not it's yours!  I restrained myself to keeping one in Germany and one from the advent market in St Gilgen.

Church of our Lady in the background - built between 1352 and 1362.

So many little time...

I even did a double take here - but the London Underground sign is actually a shop.

Christmas Eve was spent relaxing and going for a walk along the nearby bike paths.  These paths connect the towns in Upper Franconia.  Rather a dreary wet day but I enjoyed the walk and with the amount of food, chocolate and wine I was shoving in my gob I needed to walk every step!  I did this walk on my own as I need to get out in the fresh air...little did I know this would be my last long walk for a while....

Came back to a lovely meal of grilled sausages, warm potato salad, rolls and salad.  Claudia's mum is a wonderful cook!

Time to open pressies!!!!  In Germany you open your presents on Christmas Eve.

Here is a beautiful wooden hand made nativity scene (complete with candles) that Claudia gave me..I also got wonderful hand knitted socks from her mum (which I still wear to this day) and loads and loads of chocolate (I had to laugh Claudia just watched me buy up Milka chocolate like a mad woman knowing full well I would even get more on Christmas!!!) fact my suitcase was so heavy from all my "loot" that when it fell on my right big toe (the sensitive arthritic one...) while getting off the train at my next stop (Paris) it ended any serious walking for the rest of the trip....which did not please me at all.  Not quite death by chocolate (now wouldn't that be a great way to go?) - just temporary disablement by chocolate!

Later that evening we attended the Christmas Eve service in Claudia's church (Lutheran) was absolutely beautiful.  Didn't understand a word as my German is pretty basic (to put it kindly).  I will never forget the very end...the lights were turned off with just candles burning and the congregation sang "Silent Night" in German of course...I sang English.  It was just one of those moments in life that I will always remember...Afterwards we slowly walked home through the town square and it was such a wonderfully delicious feeling.  Back home we had more wine and more home made sweets and chocolate....and enjoyed these beautiful candles...

Below is a picture of the church and the interior taken the next day.

The next morning Claudia and her mum went to church while I relaxed and did some repacking...I had a lot of chocolate to pack!

Then it was time for Christmas lunch!  Roast duck, dumplings and red cabbage.  It was all good!

We then wandered around the town to try to burn off some of those calories...the duck was good and I did take more...just wanted to be cautious!!!

We walked through this square the night before after the church service...

View of the local castle that overlooks Heiligenstadt - Schloss (castle) Greifenstein...the current owner lives there and tours are available.

Another Santa trying to get into the window...I think they've got some pervy Santas in Europe!

And here's Santa walking his dog...

This was a lovely part of the walk.  It was a dull dank day but hey this is life and not every day is a pretty day or a perfect day...

Then back to Claudia's for home made pizza for supper and more wine and chocolate....all in all a fabulous Christmas in Germany thanks to Claudia and her wonderful mum!

The next day we visited Bamberg...stay tuned for a post on that!