Copenhagen

One of the cool perks of living in London: we found some cheap flights to Copenhagen, so we decided to check it out for a weekend!  It was the first time either of us had been to a Scandinavian country and we really enjoyed its mix of old and new architecture, large green spaces, cute canals, and dedicated bike lanes meandering throughout the city.  We could easily walk everywhere and the city felt so clean and peaceful everywhere we wandered.

Here are some interesting facts that we learned about Copenhagen while in the metro: 
 - 1.2 million people live in Copenhagen. 
 - The Danish royal family is the oldest in the world.  Oh! We didn't even know they had a royal family!
 - 55% of people cycle to work.  This was easily believable after witnessing the crazy number of bikes and cyclist in the streets. Even more amazing was noticing that they rarely bother locking the bikes to a rack/pole/fence - they simply lock the back wheel.. in fact, many of the bikes weren't locked in any way at all!
  - It has the longest pedestrian shopping street in Europe.  Interesting fact, but Strøget street turned out to be our least favourite area to wander.

Views from the Rundetaarn

Naps in parks.. is this becoming a habit..? We must be getting old!! :)

We also went to a part of the city called Freetown Christiania, which is apparently a self-proclaimed autonomous neighbourhood. It’s a totally different hippy-like world where the buildings are graffitied, several areas smells like the Paris metro (ie. pee), and marihuana is apparently tolerated... or if it’s not, the guy with the big bag of weed next to us, didn't get the memo. 

Can't forget to mention a few memorable food experiences!
Kanelstaenger from Holms Bager, a bakery near the Christiania metro station.

Smørrebrød and Tapas from the Torvehallerne market.

A delicious Moroccon Flatbread sandwich from the Marrakech stall at http://copenhagenstreetfood.dk/en/.

Cycling Stonehenge

Unless you rent a car or book a pricey tour, there isn't really an easy way to get to Stonehenge.  We recently splurged on a pair of folding bikes, so we elected for the choose-your-own-adventure option - we booked a train ticket to a small town called Salisbury and biked to Stonehenge from there.

When we arrived, we discovered that it's actually quite pricey to get into the visitor area surrounding Stonehenge (£18.20 ($30 CAD) per person).  Even if you pay the entrance fee, the stones themselves are fenced off by a rope, so the closest point is still about 10m away. 

Lucky for us, when we arrived at the entrance, a nice older gentleman approached us and asked if we had tickets.  We said no, so he proceeded to tell us that we can head back to the the visitor's centre to pay £18.20 each and then come back to get into the designated visitor area, or we can continue walking just a few meters further, enter the gate along the farmer's fence, and see the stones from there.. for free.  Seemed like a no-brainer for us, so we graciously thanked him!  He gave us a friendly smile while pointing out the farmer's fence and forewarning us, "just watch out for the sheep droppings, they can be slippery!".  

So, if you don't mind seeing Stonehenge from 20-30m away instead of 10-20m, you can do so for free!  

Bringing our bikes allowed us to also explore the surrounding area, including Stonehenge Cursus and Woodhenge.

We ended up biking around 48 km, mainly along quiet country roads, so we saw some really beautiful countryside.  We stopped to visit the towns of Amesbury and Salisbury along the way and finished off our first folding-bike adventure at a nice traditional pub where we tried fish & chips with mushy peas, a traditional meat pie, and cider.

We were surprised that about 30-40% of the bike commuters that we see daily in London, are riding Brompton folding bikes.  The bikes are built in the UK and really well designed, but they are relatively quite expensive.  We suppose they do make a lot of sense for people living in these huge megalopolises where property value is outrageously high - apparently you can actually find studio flats here, as small as 9 sq.m., for sale at a mere... £295,000 (approx. $530,000 CAD)!!  

So far, we've found the Bromptons really fun to ride and they make it easy to zip around and explore.. plus they fold up so small that we can even keep them under our desks when we commute to work!

Edinburgh

For Jen's birthday, we took a 3-day weekend to celebrate in the land of scotch whiskey and haggis.  It was actually suppose to be a "surprise" birthday, but our credit card statement blew the surprise - Jen could clearly see “Edinburgh” on one of the line items, a couple of weeks early.  Fortunately, it was no big deal since Jen doesn't really like surprises anyhow!  

We arrived by train and our first stop was the “Scotch Whiskey Experience” in the centre of Edinburgh.  We learned about ow scotch whiskey is made and how the flavours differ between the various regions.  The tour allowed us to taste scotches from each of the 5 regions.  Jen discovered her (new) favourite whiskey (Glen Scotia) which, of course, is one of the harder scotches to find since it's from the smallest region, Campbeltown. We also discovered that scotch goes really well with chocolate!  It's our new favourite "treat" :)

The next day we climbed up to a popular viewpoint called Arthur’s seat.  We hoped it was actually where King Arthur ruled from, but no.. turns out it's not :P.  The hike is, however, quite beautiful with its 360 degree view of Edinburgh Castle, the city, and surrounding area.

We were really impressed at how well Edinburgh maintains its historical look. We spent a lot of time wandering the old town since it's such a beautiful city to see.

We also experienced some local foods including delicious roasted-pig sandwiches at "Oink" and some local game-meat pies that warned that they may contain "shot" (ie. bullet) residue.

A 40th wouldn't be a real birthday without a nice dinner out!  A coworker recommended “The witchery by the castle” - a super nice restaurant with an amazing atmosphere and really good food.  Happy Birthday Jen!  :)


Afternoon Tea in Stratford-Upon-Avon and Oxford

We decided to spend a few weekends exploring small towns around London.  Our first trips were to Stratford-Upon-Avon, the small town where Shakespeare was born, and Oxford.  We wandered the cute towns to see the sights and strolled the river paths that pass through the towns.

Our colleague from work recommend trying the typical British "afternoon tea" in Stratford-Upon-Avon, so we chose a cute 1940s-themed tea house, appropriately named The Fourteas (www.thefourteas.co.uk), to experienced our very first British afternoon tea! 

It wasn't anything particularly fancy - white-bread sandwiches with the crust cut off, a few bite-sized deserts, their special blend of 4 teas with milk and sugar, and scones with fresh strawberry jam and clotted cream.  It didn't look like much food at first, but it was surprisingly filling!  Our favourite part was definitely the scones with jam and clotted cream, since we hadn't had before.  The clotted cream tastes something like a cross between unsalted-butter and whipped cream.

Since we enjoyed the afternoon tea experience in Stratford-Upon-Avon, we decided to try "cream tea" in Oxford.  "Cream tea" sounds to us like it's just tea with cream in it!  Turns out that "cream tea" here actually refers to a "lighter" version of "afternoon tea" - just tea, scones, jam, and clotted cream.  We also learned that cream tea is a hot debate topic - what's the "proper" way to eat a cream tea? jam first? or cream first?  

Fortunately the Brits have done extensive research to scientifically prove the optimal way to construct your cream tea:  Revealed-the-scientific-formula-for-the-perfect-cream-tea.   Yay for "science" funding!  :)


We also found a cool shop in Oxford called Demi-John where they brew various homemade liqueurs!  We poison-tested a few and settled on the Morello Cherry Liquor and the Ginger Wine to take home :)  Yum!!

When in England, do as the English do... Pimm's o-clock on the train ride home!

Rollerblading London

We finally returned to London to work for 3.5 months.  This time we decided to bring our rollerblades with us because Jen discovered a free rollerblading event that occurs every Friday and Sunday (year-round) through different parts of London. 

The event is really cool - it'a run by volunteers who select different routes each week and ride ahead, blocking off the roads to ensure the group stays together and is safe from traffic.  They even strap big speakers to their backs so we can all roll along with synchronized dance music blasting away in the background.

Our first week was during the Olympics so they went from Hyde Park all the way to the Olympic Stadium - around 25 km total.  On that route, we saw most of the big attractions in London including Regent Street, Big Ben, the London Eye, and the Tower of London. 

For our second week we did a smaller loop North of Hyde Park (13 km) and saw a less touristy side of London. 

The London Friday Night Skate (http://www.lfns.co.uk) is free, really well organized, and accessible to anyone who is able to skate, turn, and stop.  It's great fun and we highly recommend it!



Yves' Visit to Calgary

While having dinner in Montreal with Dom's dad, Yves, we discovered that his summer vacation was a starting a week early.  In the spur of the moment, we invited him to visit Calgary and he accepted.  We bought tickets, and 10 days later we were all enjoying Alberta steak together in Calgary.

Since Yves needed a break, we took it easy for the most part, but managed to fit in a bit of disc golf, have a nice father-son ping pong competition, make sushi, and go on a nice bike ride from Canmore to Banff with Jen's dad. 

On the second week, we went to Fairmont, BC with Jen's family to chill out. 

We had a great time and hope he'll come back for another visit next year! :)

St Jean Baptiste

Over the summer, we spent a month in Quebec visiting family and friends.  

Some friends from Calgary were also visiting Montreal while we were there, so we met up with them to check out the Saint-Jean Baptiste day celebrations in Montreal.

Jen then joined Rosemary and Jessica on their road trip to check out Quebec City and surrounding area.

Montmorency Falls

Along the way, they tried the “Best” poutine (according to Dom's mom) at LaMaire and attempted eat a huge ice cream sandwich from Île d'Orléans.
The road trip ended at Charlotte's country retreat in St Placide where our friends spent the night before returning to Calgary.

Shortly after the road trip, we finally got word that our London work visa applications had been approved, so we drove to Ottawa to complete the application process.  Since Jen hadn't been to Ottawa before, we spent the afternoon doing a bit of sight-seeing :)  


City Chasers

For the last couple of years, Guy and Cynthia participated in a local "Amazing Race" event called the Calgary City Chase.  They really enjoyed it in past years, so we decided to join, along with Harjit (who filled in for Guy) and a bunch of others.

The city chase had us solving puzzles and racing through the city to complete various events.  You can choose to either complete 10 events as fast as possible, or complete as many events as possible before 16:00 (which is what we chose since we were more interested in doing the actual events!! :)). 

We surprisingly only completed 12 of the 23 possible events since we decided to all stick together and make it more of a social event.  We burned up a bunch of time waiting over an hour in line for the Zorbing event.. not an optimal decision if you're trying to "race".. but we didn't care - we were all just super excited to finally try Zorbing!!  (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Zorbing)

It was definitely the best event we did that day.  We zorbed in pairs up the hill, navigated around the pylon, and the rolled all the way back downhill as fast we could.  We won against the other team in our race and laughed so hard the entire time while bouncing and falling overtop of each other.  So much fun!
The day was a great success - wonderful company, lots of laughs, and we even lucked out with perfect sunny weather!

Himeji

Travelling through Japan is super easy thanks to the amazing railway system.  It can be pricey, but if you plan your trip in advance, you can get really affordable rail passes for various zones.  We decided to take a trip a bit further out to visit Himeji.. because it has a castle.. and as we all know, Dom loves castles!

It was a sunny weekend during the Cherry Blossom festival, so we certainly weren't the only ones there!  When we arrived, there was a huge queue to visit the castle.  It had us worried, but fortunately it didn't take as long as we would have thought.  Unfortunately, the reason the line didn't take that long is because they rush everyone through the castle quite quickly, so we left it feeling somewhat unsatisfied.  

On the plus side, there happened to be a really cool Cherry Blossom festival happening on the grounds, so we watched an assortment of entertainment, listened to traditional Japanese music and, most importantly, sampled some fresh local Sakes :) 

While hanging out in the crowd, enjoying our sake, we were approached by a young Japanese couple who asked us if we like fish (or something like that).  It felt like a rather bizarre encounter and a very random question, so we muddled through trying to figure out if we were actually understanding their question correctly.  Eventually we kinda politely responded "well.. yeah, we eat fish".  

They looked at each other with delight and giggled.  The guy walked off toward the food booths while the girl stayed to chat with us.  When he returned, he was holding a big round meat lollipop that he had purchased, and he promptly handed it over for us to try.. meanwhile they both stared and smiled at us curiously.  

...the strangest things run through your head in these situations - we simply couldn't make sense of what was going on!

We looked at each other in confusion, but politely tried the fishy meat stick as they eagerly observed our reaction and asked us, "Do you like it???".  
"Yes... it's good", we replied.  Again, they looked at each other and simultaneously laughed in delight.  

Ok, the suspense was killing us. "...but.. why?", we asked them in confusion.
"Why?", they responded, almost equally confused.
"Yeah.. why did you want to buy this for us to try?  Was it because you thought we would find it weird? or gross?".  
Again they looked at each other and laughed, and their answer was simply, "Just because... these are a very traditional food in this area.  We really like them... and we thought you might too!".  

And that was.. just that...!  Then they offered to buy us more sake!

Despite the lingering sense of confusion about how this had all come about, we ended up sharing a couple more rounds of sake with them while having a really great conversation about travelling, our visit to Japan, what life and work is like for them in Japan, and answering all their curious questions about what things are like in Canada.  They were a really cute couple.

They were super excited when they discovered that we were from Canada because it's a place that they both really wanted to visit.  We asked them where in Canada they wanted to go, and they shocked us by responding "Yellowknife!".  

Yellowknife??  How do they even know about Yellowknife!?  Out of all the Canadian cities that people usually visit, we never would have guessed that someone would respond with Yellowknife!  .. eventually it all made sense when they explained that they heard about the Aurora Borealis there and really wanted to see it one day!!

About an hour later, they told us they had to head home.  We said goodbye and they were gone as quickly as they had appeared.  

It was such an unusually unique and memorable encounter that it left us recounting it to people long after.  Travelling is so great for stuff like this!


After such a long fun day, few things beat a little nap in the park under warm sun and cherry blossom trees  :)