BRAD     |     EMILLIE

Sunday, January 30, 2011

A tale of two cities

Well any blog worth it's salt is full of opinions... and I like extended hyperboles...

London and Dublin... are obviously two sisters, in that they clearly have a shared heritage, with Dublin growing up under the influence of it's "bigger" sister. And they are two sisters in that they both revel in the unique aspects of their personalities.

London is the sophisticated, urban, professional (picture a black wool coat, suit and tie, discrete, yet expensive and elegant). London hangs out with the likes of Paris, New York, Tokyo. In London, the clocks are always showing the correct time, and litter is nowhere to be seen even though there is not a bin in sight. Sure, London has its vegan-punks, multicultural marriages and excesses (what modern city wouldn't?)... but everyone is still under the influence of the 9-5 bankers, excessive architecture and a complex, yet efficient transit system.

Now, everyone knows Dublin... the city where you go to drink Guinness and Whisky in one of the many "Irish Pubs" (so infamous that they are a culturally exported phenomenon). Dublin is quick to smile, quick to embrace, and is ever so honest about it's humble beginnings (well, except for that moment in 2003 when they decided to erect The Spire... but even that is a laugh, given the expense of such a clearly phallic symbol). Dublin is always wearing a short skirt and heels... despite the cold. Dublin flaunts its artists and its grittiness in the same breath. We knew we were home because none of the clocks at the airport were working. And the rooks and wind were playing havoc with the litter despite the multitude of bins.

After that bit of fun, a more somber view... as our friend Kieran pointed out... visiting London only serves to highlight how the city's current stature is due to its imperialist past. And there is an inescapable bitterness, when viewing a richness that was only made possible by stealing the wealth and cultural heritage of numerous other countries. The comparatively shabby architecture and monuments riddled with bullet holes only serves to highlight that, it is personality (rather than size, or grandeur) that makes Dublin an international cultural phenomenon.

As for the lack of bins in London... well perhaps a history of imperialism doesn't make one very popular. As we set out for dinner on Sunday night, we were detained by the police, and made to stay in our hotel, while they investigated an abandoned vehicle in Trafalgar Square ...and the lack of bins is just another security measure.

The photo is of Stephenson's Rocket in the National Science Museum.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

London Bridge is Falling Down

Our Sunday in London was just as busy as our Saturday. We spent the morning walking along the River Thames to the famous Tower Bridge (the boring flat bridge next to Tower Bridge is the London Bridge from Roman times (though built up several times since then). First stop on our tour up the Thames was a glance at Big Ben, the Parliament and Westminster Abbey, all lined up in a Gothic row. (Our time in London was spent doing "free sights" so we didn't go in the Abbey for a hefty £16 each!).

Next along, we poked our nose into Somerset House and watched some kids skating in the courtyard. It's an interesting building... because back-in-the-day the Thames was much higher and the house was built with waterways into the main house. We then crossed over the millennium bridge (a footbridge, very much like the millennium bridge in Dublin... wonder who came first?) to the Tait gallery. My eco-revival senses are tickled by the Tait as it is clearly located in a disused power station! Right next door is a Disneyland version of Shakespeare's Globe Theatre (meaning totally mock made, but in the likeness of the original). And right next door to that is the a replica of Sir Francis Drake's Golden Hinde warship (tourist central?)

From there we followed our foodie noses to the Borough Market... which, unfortunately, is closed on Sundays... but it got us in the hood of the Claire new office location (they move in next week). So we went for a look, only to discover that the numbers on Blackfriars jump from 40, to 5, completely skipping over Claire's building, #15. Perhaps it's a Harry Potter building and Claire just needs the secret words to be passed down from Steven Harper?

Back on the Thames we felt a bit of home, viewing the Olympic flag that once graced Vancouver City Hall now out in front of the very modern London City Hall. And at last... Tower Bridge. Like many tourists, Nikolai was convinced that Tower Bridge was the London Bridge of yore and was greatly interested in inspecting the craftsmanship of the "Brick and Stone" verse of the song. Whilst the adults enjoyed the cute neighbourhood, and another attempt at finding Claire's missing office building. No luck... even though we must have walked past it at least twice!

The afternoon was spent at the Museum of London. Highly, highly recommended. Even Nikolai loved it... and we all only made it to the Victorian era before burning out (spent only 15 min in the prehistoric period, but over 2 hours in the Romans to the Victorian era). We'll definitely be going back to finish the second half of the museum. It has a great explanation of the history of the city. I would have liked to have seen more about the plagues and the great fire, but I was the Nikolai wrangler during that section so we spent the time rocking out a harpsichord.

In the evening we went for dinner in Chinatown (smaller than Victoria's) and walked through Piccadilly Circus (sorry no clowns) on our way back to the hotel.

So two days in London, £0 spent on sights, and a toddler in tow; I think we did pretty well! And we certainly have a firm mental map of the city for the next time we visit Claire!

The photos are of the Tower Bridge and the Globe Theatre. We didn't bring a buggy, so we took turns with the carrier. In these photos Claire's wearing my baby-carrying sweater, and I've got her coat on.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

London calling

The short 55 minute flight to London was definitely preferable to our longer journey back to Canada. However, the total door-to-door time was 6.5 hours with a lot of transfers. Train-Bus-Plane-Train-Bus However, Nikolai was delighted and entertained by the variety of transport methods, so we had very little complaints about the journey from him.

Being in London reminded me of how small an island we live on. Compared to the vastness of London (8 million in the urban area), Dublin comes across like a small town (1 million in the urban area). However, Claire is staying at the Trafalgar... located in the geographical centre of modern "London" (technically what we think of as London is in fact a number of small cities, and each still maintains their own services... including police! In fact, Big Ben is technically in the City of Westminster... and the London Bobbies on the famous Tower Bridge cannot step off it on the Southwark side.) So while we invested in Oyster Cards for the transit system, we started both of our days off walking from Trafalgar Square.

On Saturday we strode off towards Buckingham Palace, just catching the end of the changing of the Queen's Life Guard at Horse Guards. Then we strolled up through St. James's Park. Nikolai and Brad greatly enjoyed the variety of waterfowl to be seen there (Claire's not so keen on avian life forms, having been chased by chickens and... even more frightening... Canadian Geese as a child.).

We reached Buckingham Palace about 1/2 hour too early for the Changing of the Guards and decided to skip it. We did however see a procession of guards troop around the roundabout, and decided that would suffice. We then hiked up through Knightsbridge, Brompton... and to the Victoria and Albert museum. We poked around there 'till Nikolai woke from his nap (he partied pretty late in the hotel the night before), then we went for lunch.

Brad enjoyed a traditional British ale, and vegetarian fish and chips (complete with mushy peas, satisfying all his British food needs). Claire went for a steak pie... and I had a rather bland veggie burger... apparently the mock fish was the pub's veggie-speciality.

After lunch we went to the Natural History Museum. The lineup out front was about 30 minutes long... but after taking some advice from a guard standing outside, we went around back and entered without a wait at all. (Not sure why everyone wasn't going around to the back entrance... but it was certainly worth the asking.) We liked it all... and avoided the boxes of taxidermy animals... the Dinosaur bones were pretty neat... but we only saw a few as there was another huge line to get into the main dinosaur exhibit.

From there we went to the National Science Museum and had a slight poke around before letting Nikolai play in the toddler zone. We'll definitely have to go back... as the toddler zone was a big hit with Nikolai. He really, really enjoyed the water play exhibit and got soaked from head to toe. It took 2 days for his shoes to finally dry out... he was that soaked. (Note to self: bring a change of clothes next time we visit).

Phew, after that Brad and I dropped Claire and Nikolai off at the hotel for a nap so that we could go out for a shop around Covent Gardens. Then we had dinner at an absolute, 100%, the most fabulous Mexican restaurant I have ever eaten at... called...(Claire can you help?)... anyways, it's highly recommended. The avocado margarita was fantastic... even more so because it was creamy rather than sweet (and I am not a sweet tooth).

With a Saturday that busy (only one tube ride taken!) I think that Sunday will have to wait until later. The photo is of Claire taking a turn carrying Nikolai around... and a dinosaur!

Friday, January 21, 2011

To finish off the loose ends

We leave for London this afternoon (to keep Claire company in her lonely hotel room! I could not imagine living out of a hotel for a month!!! The lack of stuff to do would drive me mad. Besides it's off season... so Ryan Air flights are just €12 return.) so I'll probably have new and European things to blog about. However, first I wanted to do my first ever reader-based-response blog.

Dear Emillie,

My husband insists on spending every Sunday cycling with his friends; even though it would be nice to sleep in once in a while, or perhaps enjoy a Sunday brunch. (Just kidding)

However, in response to your questions:

1. Coming back to Ireland felt like coming home. Despite the chaos with the heaters, and the sleeplessness, we were back in our routine by Tuesday. The last few days of our trip Nikolai was pretty tired of being away, and he certainly had his share of teary-eyed homesick moments. For now I am not considering our eventual return... as I feel a heap of guilt about uprooting him.

2. Here's the pate recipe, so simple but absolutely, insanely fabulous tasting:

Heat a large frying pan over high heat.
Add two tbsp of olive oil and one chopped onion, then saute until soft.
Then add 8 oz. of sliced mushrooms and saute till done (around 8 minutes).
Add 1 tsp of sea salt, 1/4 tsp of black pepper, 2 tbsp of olive oil and 1 tbsp of balsamic vinegar.
Puree until you reach your desired consistency.

The pate is featured in the tin (in the photo above.)

Monday, January 17, 2011

Wedding Reception

Here's a stab at my first ever photoblog! I've gathered photos from a number of different cameras, sifted through for my favorites, and created a compilation. E-mail me if you want the Dropbox photo link, which is much more thorough.

A general rule in my blog is not to include photos of people, unless I've asked them first. So I've tried to stick to that rule with all our guests... however, you may find yourself in the background of one of the shots. For those of you who weren't able to attend, this photoblog focuses on the details rather than the people (but see the Dropbox link if you want the faces of everyone who attended)!

To start with... the food... Season in the Park did a fantastic spread. We started with a salad of Mixed Seasonal Greens (with candied almonds, fresh berries, goat cheese and maple vinaigrette), then a main course of Wild Mushroom Risotto (with pecorino, truffle oil and wild arugula decorating the top):

The dessert was a Double Belgian Chocolate Truffle Fudge Cake. To die for... seriously...

With such a good dessert included in the set menu, how could I follow it up with my DYI promise of a homemade wedding cake? So we imported cheese wheels from Ireland (in order, top to bottom: Comox Brie, Crozier Blue, Corleggy, Gubbeen and Vegan Wild Mushroom Tapenade). My mother gets credit for fruit display, and my bouquet of herbs (on the table in front).

The bread salt and water featured on the table, are the only symbols that are used for worship in the Doukhobor culture. Since ancient times, Slavic people have greeted each other with bread, salt and water as the staples of life, to indicate that they come in peace and are willing to share the fruits of their labour. These objects profoundly reflect the Doukhobor way of life and the basic tenet of a "Toil and Peaceful Life."

We celebrated our wedding with an abridged Doukhobor ceremony, which included group singing of Precious Moments (actually sung in Russian) from our guests, a reading from each of our parents, and the bow and kiss ritual.

Now the people: first my family, with my sister Claire and my parents. Nikolai and Panda have matching bow ties! Pretty spiffy!

And a photo with Brad's parents. Brad's sister Michale & co. and his brother Peter & co. also attended. But a group photo with that many kids was not possible to organize in our well packed venue (66 guests and only 70 seats! We were packed in there).

However, they are all featured in this photo of our tables. They are all at the far table, from left to right: Michale, Andrea, Peter, Delphine (a cousin) and Rheece (with the camera).

The kids (Trisston, Trae, Penelope, Tyler and Ronin) probably all escaped to the rumpus room located downstairs.

But the best part of the whole reception was the fact that the sun in Vancouver came out in full force (a rare thing... the winter in Vancouver has 3x more rain then Ireland!) So we got to enjoy the view from our restaurant on the hill (the downtown core of Vancouver is featured in those high rises, for perspective... the tallest building in Vancouver is 61 stories tall).

Now if you didn't get a chance to attend, be sure to sign our guest book next time you're visiting!

(I let Brad choose the guest book, and he opted for a book on vintage hand built bicycles... not your typical guest book, but something he's been coveting for a while!)

Thursday, January 13, 2011

A tourist in Vancouver

Well things are much better now... last night we got our first full night's sleep, the heaters were all fixed today, the weather is beautiful and mild (more typical for Ireland), and our buggy (stroller) was returned today (it got lost in Heathrow... more the rule than the exception, apparently).

Stories of visiting with all our friends and family could be entertaining and humorous... but since most of them comprise the main readership for the blog I'd better leave it alone ;-).

However, we did get to spend sometime playing tourist! Our goal in this was not to see the sites, as we'd basically seen them all before, but rather to keep Nikolai entertained. I think if he had to go out for coffee, even one more time, he would have put us up for adoption. Our stories of tourism start with my sister Claire, who, through her employment at the Canadian Tourism Commission has unlimited free access for two, to many Vancouver attractions. And with Nikolai still being young enough to be free... well... we did a lot of sight seeing! As a seasoned tourist, I shall provide my reviews of the "Nikolai-Centred" Attractions:

-False Creek Ferries: Took us for ever to get on the little boat... and it was hardly worth the wait for our short ride across the straight from Stamps Landing to Yaletown. However, it is an ephemeral way to commute, and if we were able to go on ferries from the other company operating on the same route, then our wait would have been negligible. But anyone who knows Nikolai, knows that he LOVES boats... so it was a hit with him... even if we froze our toes off while waiting for the boat to come.

Grouse Mountain SkyRide: We went on the New Years day holiday... so it was very busy. But the gondola ride still features in Nikolai's lexicon. We didn't do any skiing... and wanted to take part in the free sleigh ride, but the line up was too long. However, the view was amazing and the excitement of riding 1 mile up the side of the mountain in a little gondola makes this attraction the most memorable moment of Nikolai's trip to Vancouver. (To be honest, he talks the most about seeing his cousins, specifically Penelope and Trisston who both spent time "playing" with him, but the gondolas are a close second.)

Science World: It's only a 20 minute walk from my parents in False Creek, so he went twice. We skipped the Body Worlds exhibit. This is a kid that couldn't handle the Natural History Museum in Dublin without getting nightmares... so we figured the plasticated people would be a bit much to say the least. However, he loved all the rest of the exhibits, and on his second visit he sat through no less than 3 educational shows (gravity, electricity and bubbles).

Granville Island: A 20 minute walk in the other direction... and free for all. He loved the Kids Only Market Place, and we loved the Food Market. It's more touristy in the summer, but in the winter is Good Holiday Shopping.

Vancouver Aquarium: A bit of a trek into Stanley Park... and if it weren't for the long transit time we would have gone at least twice. As it was, the one trip with Baba and Dede (Brad's parents) was a lot of fun. The aquarium is well laid out, and has lots to see. We caught the beluga show, watched the sea otters play, and probably only made it through half of the exhibitions. Of note, Brad even recognized one of the Gift Shop staff members from his summer of folding Aquarium t-shirts over 13 years ago now!

Above is of the SkyRide, and below is a dolphin.

Monday, January 10, 2011

Home coming fun!

I have so very much to blog about Vancouver... but I'm going to start at the end, with our home coming, as it's most immediate and pertinent in my day-to-day life.

To start off with, Nikolai's journey home was much like his journey out... sleepless. As well, he persists in waking up during the night for "dinner" and then refuses to go back to sleep. I would not recommend overseas travel with a toddler... it's much, much, much better idea to travel with a baby! At 18 months, Nikolai found the airplane peaceful, and adjusted to the time change almost before we did! At age two he's up for hours in the night, and it's a fight to stop him from turning on the lights, playing his harmonica, etc. Needless to say... we are all very tired.

However, greater than a need to whine about our general lack of sleep is my need to whine about the -15 C weather that occurred over the holidays. While we weren't even in the country when the bad weather hit... our house was... and despite heating twice a day, our uninsulated bathroom could not cope. Luckily it was only the faucet on the bathtub that separated, causing water to gush, unabated into the bathtub.

Our fabulous house sitter heard the water, found the leak, called the landlord, and did exactly as he was told. Now... I've been meaning to blog about our landlords ever since we've moved in... but just never got around to it. I guess there's no time like the present! To start off with, they have a rather unfortunate last name (especially given that dealing with tenants seems to be the entire family's primary occupation). To use a PC description, in Canada their last name is a modifier for a particular kind of frost... the kind that produces three-dimensional ice crystals on everything. Anyways, whenever we've had any dealings with our landlords, we generally have to deal with the whole family (mother, father, son and daughter). In the beginning it was confusing because we signed our lease with Jim, but were told to contact James for any of our day-to-day needs. It took us a good week before we realized that Jim and James were actually father and son.

Anyways, on to our intrepid house sitter, so Irish in his irishness that he was aptly named Pat (it seems that Pat and James are both very, very common names around here. At last Brad can revel in a "unique" name) did as he was told and turned off the water. While this certainly did stop the tap in the bathroom from running... it also caused all the water in the house, including the hot water tank to run out into our bath tub. It also resulted in us learning a wee bit more about the radiator system in our house.

See we knew that our radiators were "gas-fired", and required special balancing between the intake and out going pipes. But we would have imagined that they were filled with oil. Apparently not... apparently they are filled with water... and apparently they require the water in the house to be turned on in order to continue functioning. And apparently if the water is not entering the system, then air might build up in the system. Furthermore, we learned that radiators aren't made with a rust proof coating on the inside... so air in a system that is normally full of water... and no rust proof coating... well, at least only 3 of our 9 radiators sprung rusty leaks!

It has been a time... and we're hardly able to complain. The landlords have sent a team of plumbers in, and we now have 2 of the 3 radiators working (so they are decent despite the rather iffy name). Besides the stories of cold pipes freezing abound. Pat (and family) are continuously loosing water, whenever the weather gets below freezing. It seems the main line outside their house is not insulated. We've heard stories of hot water boilers freezing up in the night while people are asleep in their beds. And when I was explaining the situation to our live-in student he regaled us with stories of his own. Some pipes in his home burst causing the ceiling in his mother's bedroom to cave in with the water.

Above is a picture of of Nikolai's first haircut (for the reception) he was brave... but I couldn't get him to smile, and our rusted out radiator... for posterity.