Cambridge Conference

18 05 2012

Over the two week Easter vacation I was lucky enough to be visited by my father. It was great to see him and to catch up on all the goings on back home, as well as showing him my new life in London.  It will come as no surprise to anyone who knows my dadthat we spent the majority of our time in the academic havens of Cambridge and Oxford. The next few entries (I promise they won`t be 2 months apart) will focus on Dad`s trip and what we managed to do during that time.

As is very typical with Dad this was not a true vacation but rather a bit of a working holiday. This was hugely beneficial for me as it allowed me to join him at the British Association of Canadian Studies (BACS) conference at Cambridge University. I had been with Dad to conferences before but had never actually attended the lectures and been a full participant so was very eager to have this experience.

This conference in particular had a bit of a peculiar dynamic as it focussed around Canadian studies and I found myself learning a lot about Vancouver while sitting in a classroom at Cambridge University. I think this was a fortunate break however as I was a bit more familiar with the topic than the atmosphere and environment that surrounds an academic conference.  It was certainly a bit of an adjustment listening to highly regarded professors presenting a paper after spending  7 months teaching lessons to kids in Hackney and Brixton!

Despite the initial `culture shock` of the first day in Cambridge I thoroughly enjoyed the conference. The keynote speaker on the second night was none other than Gordon Campbell, former Premier of BC and current Canadian High Commissioner to the UK. He gave an interesting, albeit rather politically motivated, talk and then was bombarded with questions about the current state of British Columbia. I was fortunate enough to discuss a few issues with him personally as he stayed for a dinner put on by the High Commission.

Following the Conference Dad and I made a quick visit to Emmanuel College where Dad introduced me to a professor he knows there Dr. Alan Baker. It was a very surreal experience sharing a bottle of wine with a Cambridge professor in his office, overlooking the gorgeous gardens of the University. An opportunity not many supply teachers in London get to have! It was then onto the bus, back to London and on to the next part of our journey.

Attached below are some pictures I took while in Cambridge,

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Slovakia

11 03 2012

For February half term I finally decided to make my first European excursion since arriving in the UK. I was fortunate enough to be invited on a ski trip to Slovakia with Ron, and three of his friends, Lydia, Sarah and Karel.

I have to say I had never envisioned my first side trip being to Slovakia but it was a wonderful experience and I thoroughly enjoyed being back on skis!

The trip got off to a bit of a rocky start as our Ryan Air flight from Stansted was at 6:25am Saturday morning.  Having done my research and finding out I could take the 45 minute Stansted Express leaving at 4 in the morning, I trudged out of my flat around 3am and headed for Liverpool Street. I boarded the train with time to spare and was well on my way to an easy connection. Then disaster struck! An announcement was made that the Stansted tunnel was malfunctioning and we would have to stop at Bishops Stortford, approximately 15 miles short of my required destination.

As time ticked away and the queue of 200 people waited agonisingly for taxis to arrive I began to think of alternate plans for my week off. Finally, after a 25 minute wait, a coach arrived for us and I was able to get to the airport, talk my way ahead of the ever growing line up, and rush through security. I made the plane, but only just. Crisis averted.

After an uneventful flight we arrived in chilly Bratislava ( -17 as we landed),  where we were able to pick up a rental car and make our way to Devin Castle just on the Slovakian border.  This was only a very quick stop but well worth it as the hilltop provided a stunning view of the Danube and the Austrian countryside.  We then hopped back into the car and set off on the 3 hour drive to Liptovsky Mikulas, one of the ski resorts on the Low Tatras.

Upon arriving in Liptov, exhausted and starving, we were greeted by Josef, a 70 something Slovakian man with very limited English. Josef was an interesting fellow to say the least, walking with a noticeable limp, an old war injury, he showed us to our bungalovy and we settled in.

The next day we headed up to the mountain, sorted out our rental equipment and hit the slopes on just a gorgeous day. I had not been on skis for 15 years and had been a bit hesitant on going on this trip at all for the fear of spending all my time on the bunny hill, but I managed to think back to my Grade 7 Whistler ski trip with Mr. Brown`s class and made my way down that first hill. As the week progressed my skiing improved dramatically and I was able to get down every hill, albeit not quite as fast as the Olympians.

The first 2 days of skiing were beautiful, but extremely cold. While it was a great time to take pictures by the end of the second day the mountains were very icy and we were in desperate need of snow. Our prayers were answered in a big way as on Tuesday morning the skies opened up and didn`t stop until after we left on Saturday! The drastic change from day 2 to day 3 on the slopes allowed me to gain a bit more confidence as falling in the powder didn`t hurt nearly as much!

Being that I was on a holiday with 2 other Canadians one night we decided to take advantage of the fact we were in a country where ice hockey is a popular sport once again. We spent about an hour driving from Liptov to the city of Martin, where we watched a Slovakian Hockey League game between Martin and Dulka Trencin.  While the level of hockey reminded me a lot of the UBC Thunderbirds it was the atmosphere of the crowd that I particularly enjoyed. Singing all game and whistling instead of booing, it was much more akin to a European football crowd than an Ice Hockey crowd. It, like everything else in Slovakia, was very affordable and well worth seeing.

Another cultural experience was dining out in Slovakia. There was no kitchen in our bungalovy so eating out became a must. This experience was made much easier by the fact Karel is from Slovenian background and was able to speak enough Slovakian for us to get by. It certainly made ordering much easier.  One of the popular choices  for lunch was Klobasa (sausage) and hronolky (French fries). When I first ordered this I wasn`t sure if I was getting French fries or a French rugby player but eventually I learned to not rely on Karel too much and try to order for myself.

It was certainly a very memorable week in Slovakia and I am really looking forward to February half term next year when I will hopefully get another opportunity to hit the slopes! Attached are a few pictures from the trip, I hope you enjoy them!





The Holidays

4 02 2012

Christmas in the United Kingdom this year was unlike any I had ever experienced.  The lead up alone was so different and had its own unique feel to it that it will truly make it a holiday season to remember for a long time.

The build up to Christmas in a world class city such as London is truly something special. The hustle and bustle at that time of year is just a little more bearable as one hears the sound of a busker playing Rockin’ Around the Christmas Tree on the way to boarding the tube. Everyone in the rat race that is London seems to have just a little extra bounce in their step and maybe even a little smile on their face as they endure the morning commute.

Throughout the holiday season I had the opportunity to experience many of the Christmas festivities taking place throughout the city. Whether I was seeing the beautiful lights on Oxford Street or listening to carollers in Piccadilly Circus there was always something taking place as I wandered around the city. Near the end of December I had an unscheduled day off (no supply work) and took the opportunity to visit a few of the London markets. While these markets operate year round, the chance to purchase a mulled wine and browse the Christmas sales was something very special.

The true highlight of the Christmas season in London was ice skating at Somerset House. Located just North of the River Thames, the ice rink is just a picturesque outdoor setting to spend a cold winter’s night.  What truly made this night special however, was that I was accompanied by Ben (my cousin), his wife Louise and their two kids. Back in Vancouver I had a long tradition of going ice skating with the Hermansen family on Grouse Mountain and, while I was not home to keep that tradition alive this year, it was nice to be able to go for an outdoor skate during the Christmas season and seeing both Nathan and Hollie improve dramatically as our hour long session progressed.

While the build up to Christmas in London was a fantastic experience, the holidays got even better as I made my second trip out of London since arriving in September. The journey began somewhat slowly, as I missed my coach from London to Manchester, but eventually I endured the five hour journey up north and was met by another cousin, Ed.  Catching up with Ed, his wife Elaine, and their two girls, Megan and Nyah was very special as I had met both girls in 2006 and it was amazing to see how much they had grown, and how the family had settled in to their new home in Wooldale, a small town not far from Wakefield.

Christmas with the Wooldale Wynn’s was one I will remember for a very long time. Being the youngest in my immediate family, seeing kids around Christmas is something I have very little experience with, and seeing the excitement build around the house in the two or three days prior to Father Christmas coming was enough to make me very excited for the big day myself.

The day lived up to expectations and more as the girls did extremely well on the day and Christmas dinner was very delicious. A side theme to Christmas this year in Wooldale became teaching the Canadian cousin a bit about England, so many of the presents I received and the games we played as a family centered around educating me on the UK and in particular the North.  This became particularly useful the next day as I got set to see the rest of my family.

About 2pm on Boxing day we left for my Uncle Ian’s house in the small town of Wentbridge (population of 100 people) where he was hosting his annual Boxing Day family gathering. This was the first chance I had to see all of my Uncle’s side of the family together and what a great day it was! With my upgraded knowledge of the north and my brand new Yorkshire to English translator by my side I spent the afternoon getting to know my family and playing with all my little cousins.

Following my time up north I headed back down to London where I was quickly snapped back into the reality of the big city by arriving at the very busy Victoria coach station and making my way through the masses of people back to Islington. It was during this frantic journey that I concluded that there is London and the UK. They are two very different places and London is a city like no other. While I do love living in London, it is very nice to have the opportunity to leave the big city once in a while and to experience what I like to call “true England”. I hope to do this a few more times in the coming months and to finally get over to Europe.





Bath

12 12 2011

When I arrived in London in September I did so with the ambitious intention of traveling widely and visiting all corners of the United Kingdom and Europe.  I`ve come to realize this was perhaps a fantasy as factors such as work and finances do interfere with such visions, but I have not completely abandoned this notion and the traveling finally began with a trip to the wonderful city of Bath.

An hour and a half away from London on the train, Bath is a city known for its Georgian Architecture. It was left intact following the Second World War and is perhaps the most stunning place I have seen. The buildings have a unique design and it is hard to believe that such incredible buildings could have been designed so long ago.

The main reason I chose Bath as my maiden adventure was to visit a friend from my University days, Ron, who is living and teaching at the prestigious Kingswood School in the city. He was waiting for me at the train station as I arrived about 930PM on Friday night and we began the quest to find a late meal as we were both hungry.  This proved to be exceedingly strenuous as, while Bath is a beautiful place, it does seem to shut down rather early. Eventually we settled for kebabs from the street vendor and made our way up Lansdown Hill to Ron’s flat.

It wasn’t until Saturday afternoon that I really got the chance to see Bath in its true magnificence, but was it ever worth the wait! I was lucky in the fact that I had my own tour guide in Ron to take me around the different hotspots the city has to offer. We set off down Lansdown hill, passing notable attractions along the way, such as the home of Charles Dickens and St Stephens Cathedral.  As we meandered down the 2 km road into town Ron pointed out Solsbury Hill, the one made famous by Peter Gabriel.  Eventually, we stopped at the Royal Crescent and the Royal Circus for photo opportunities as the brilliant design of the structures is simply incredible.  The tour, as is customary in Britain, included a pub lunch and a quick pint before we embarked on the long road back to Kingswood School.

While we were at the pub on Saturday afternoon I discovered that Bath Rugby were playing a Heineken Cup match on Sunday afternoon. Ron unfortunately had to work Sunday and was unable to join, but what better way to fill in a Sunday afternoon then to watch a match at the famous Recreational Ground.

As Ron reluctantly headed off to work Sunday morning I sauntered into town and made sure that I secured my ticket for the match. With a few hours to spare and no plan I decided to spend some time getting acquainted with the many Christmas markets around the city and eventually made my way to the Roman Baths.  These remarkable hot pools were built with astonishing care and knowledge right in the centre of town, and are surrounded by immaculate buildings. I spent the remainder of my morning and much of my early afternoon browsing the baths then slowly made my way over the `the Rec` for the match.

Ordinarily when attending a sporting event I am quite engaged in the action and rarely take time to look at the setting in which the event is being played. This was an exception, as the rugby grounds are perhaps the best place to get a view of Bath. As I sat in my seat, well before the game began, I was awestruck by the view of the Georgian Architecture surrounded by beautiful English countryside. As the game progressed the sun began to set and this only made the setting all the more picturesque as the sky adopted an orange glow and the lights of the city became more prevalent.

The atmosphere for the rugby match was perhaps the best I have seen. I found myself sitting in between two longstanding members of Bath Rugby and was able to learn a lot from them about the club and the history of Bath. In return they engaged me in conversation about Canadian rugby, and eventually New Zealand rugby as they got more information about my travels. The match itself turned out to be one of the better live games I have seen, going down to the final seconds with a failed drop goal attempt preserving the win for the home side.  As is usually the case with rugby the atmosphere was friendly and relaxed, and the French visitors from Montpellier were welcomed with applause as French wine and bread was served at the concession stands; a far cry from the culture of English football to be sure.

The weekend in Bath was a much needed break from the fast paced life of London and I am very thankful to Ron for inviting me up. It is always a pleasure to see a different side of England and I look forward to this again in the coming weeks as I am heading up to Yorkshire for the holidays.








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