Monday, April 14, 2014

Snow Tubing at Sunridge

The final spot of snow in our yard melted away today. Spring has now sprung...or at least a dusty wasteland of brown and grey. It's my least favorite time of year on the prairies.

So...I will take this time to instead call back to one final fun Winter experience that Chrissy and I had this year: Snow Tubing at Sunridge.

On a mid March afternoon with the temperature peaking at a +8 degrees we headed out to the hill to ride Northern Alberta's only dedicated winter tubing park. Before paying ($20 each) we were warned that the runs that day were exceedingly fast from early morning melt on the east facing slope. Of course that only got us more excited as we headed out  to the tube run overlooking the North Saskatchewan River.


Our first couple of runs went well as we got adjusted to the bumps and unstoppable tube rotation. The runs were fast and to keep us from hitting the river they inserted a burlap snow cover and a a couple of crash pad bumpers. 


From the end of the run it was only a short 50 meter walk to the special lift/ride where we hooked up our tubes for a slow ride back up the hill.  I think Chrissy enjoyed the leisurely ride up the hill as much as the quick ride down.


As we arrived early it was only a short queue before it was our turn again. Either way we wouldn't have minded too much as you have your own seat for the wait.


The tubing park had a large cross section of riders on the day we attended. There were of course a lot of kids, but also quite a few 20 somethings and at least 2 other couples on a 'date'. Without sounding too much of a cliche it really is great fun for the whole family.


We'll be back next year!



Tuesday, April 01, 2014

Turning 35 and Turning Back Time

Last week I turned 35. And with my birthday comes the annual taking stock of my life...and it's a fine life by all accounts: Fantastic loving wife, supportive family, some cool friends, and employment that allows me to make a difference in my community. I have been extremely fortunate.

But am I satisfied? Have I lived fully to match the gifts I have received? Not really...

Last year Chrissy and I talked about a shared general desire to "Be Better".  We didn't attach any specifics to our drive to improve instead we installed it as a mantra that we could use to motivate ourselves against. If we were feeling lazy and wanted to sit on the couch, I could ask myself is this contributing to me "Being Better"?

Of course this is a bit of a loaded question. Is the sitcom relieving stress so I can focus better at work the next day, maybe I'm watching a science documentary, or the news. While I still try to follow the mantra "Be Better" I started to realize that I needed some more tangible goals. The more and more I thought about what it should be the more I came back to the question: How do I feel each day?

A long time ago I used to be an athlete. I loved competition and playing sports to near absolute physical exertion was the greatest feeling in the world. Nowadays, I am an armchair athlete getting out for beer league sports about once a week. Where I was once had energy, and felt fit, flexible and strong, today I just feel...old.

I realized my fitness and in turn my self identity as an athlete, or at least as being fit, would be my specific quest this year in "Being Better". What I needed was a fitness goal.

But what should I set that goal as? I consider myself overweight (~213 pounds) but weight and weigh loss isn't a measure of fitness (an outcome maybe)...I consider myself relatively weak compared to my youth but physical mass and strength on it's own strikes me as vanity....So I did what any person my age who is incapable of making a decision does; I asked Facebook.

I received many great suggestion (which can be viewed here) and evaluated each one in the spirit it was suggested. Eventually, though I would had to make a decision. After much consideration and some research I landed on my fitness goal.

Before my 36th Birthday I will run a 400Metre sprint in under 60 seconds.

Considered the longest sprint in track and field, the strength and endurance training required to the meet my desired time translates well into improving my overall general fitness and enhancing my competency in other sports.

Way back in highschool I remember running the 400 with seconds to spare but today I would estimate that I would probably need an extra 40 seconds. I haven't done an official test time yet, just some rough estimate sprint/jogs (as I can't sprint the whole way).

For reference: In the 2012 Olympics the men needed to run under 45 seconds to reach the finals while the women needed to run under 51 seconds to reach the final.

So now that I have publicly stated my goal to the world at large I better get off my ass and starting working to meet it. I will be updating my progress to my goal as I progress.

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Birthday Bonus: With my fitness goal set and Chrissy out of town for work I figured my birthday meal would be a mix of an unhealthy favorite (Drake Sausage) and healthy veggies.


Things I learned from this: phallic food, especially sausage does not photograph well.


Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Honeymoon in Europe: London

Continuing on from ParisSalzburgViennaBratislava and Budapest.

Chrissy and I chose London to be our final stop in our Europe tour for a couple of reasons:
  • Christina has never been there before,
  • It gave Christina the chance to visit family, 
  • As an English speaking city it was a good transition on our journey home, and
  • I view London as the most influential and cosmopolitan city of the modern era 
There was a time not long ago that "the sun never set on the English empire" and London as it's centre certainly enjoyed the splendour of the empire. Quite simply it has everything. 

For a couple of weary travellers we gave it our best go in seeing the highlights.

Walking the Thames

I love walking along the water and for me nothing really beats walking through the heart of London along the Thames. This ancient river that rises with the tides yet remains constant has been the literal and figurative source of so much history. My own musings would invariably fail in attempting to express its significance. Instead I will present a couple of my favorite takes on the river. The first as expressed to English school children by Rudyard Kipling;



And another more cantankerous take from Warren Ellis:

I’ve spent my entire life within ten miles of this river. I navigate through a full quarter of the country by the direction of this river. I will spend half of 2014 thousands of miles from it, for work and for life. It’s a river that forgives us for that, because for millennia it’s done nothing but spit shabby Englishmen out into the world. River salt in our blood.

From our hotel just off off of Blackbriars Bridge we would often walk to the banks and just wander. This post chronicles a late morning walk along the South Bank towards the Tower of London.

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Popping out through a bit of a pedestrian path maze we came out near the Tate Modern to see the great dichotomy of the Millenium Bridge and St. Paul's Cathedral.



Progressing in an Eastern direction we passed by the old ruins of Winchester Palace and into the Borough Market.

 

After buying a samosa, a sausage on a stick, and some artisan truffle honey we evaluated the podium of London Bridge to ensure it would not fall down.


The bridge seemed structurally sound but we still thought it best to register our concern at City Hall


Continuing on past City Hall and the HMS Belfast we paused to look back and admire the glass civic center and the tallest building in Western Europe.  


Finally we came to the coolest bridge of London: The Tower Bridge. Aside from being a real beauty the bridge is an absolute engineering marvel. As a significant gateway along the river the structure is a working drawbridge allowing access for tall masted and larger carrier ships. Almost unbelievably its pressurized water hydraulic lift system installed in 1894 was used until 1974 when the systems were overhauled. 


I have never seen the bridge retract to allow a ship through, which is all the reason that I need to come back to the City....


From the bridge Chrissy and I paused to look out on the Tower of London and the many new skyscrapers transforming the skyline. Seemingly not to long ago, on my only other visit to the city, the Gherkin was the new high point of the City. It's amazing how much things have changed in so short of time.

BTW - I sincerely dislike the two new skyscrapers, they are just ugly!


From the Tower we jumped on a commuter boat to enjoy the city from the river and arrived at Parliament to continue our journey deeper into the city.



Greenwich 

Continuing on down the Thames, another highlight for Chrissy and I was our boat ride and self guided tour of Greenwich.


We came in pretty ignorant to what Greenwich had to offer so with really no expectations we were pleasantly surprised by it's attractions including the Old Naval Royal College and it's gorgeous Painted Hall.


Really all we knew about Greenwich was the Prime Meridian and the designation of  Greenwich Mean Time (GMT). So of course we had to go set our watches, straddle hemispheres, and stand at 0'0'0 Latitude.


Atop a large hill behind the Old Royal Naval College is the Royal Observatory (where I got to touch a meteor) and a great lookout spot of Canary Wharf.


Descending back down the hill we visited the National Maritime Museum before finishing our own naval journey with a boat ride (not in a jar) to Central London.



British Museum

After starting our honeymoon in Paris and the Louvre it seemed quite fitting to bookend our trip with a visit to London and the British Museum. If London was the seat of a world spanning empire then the British Museum is the showroom of that empire.

On top of all the great exhibits, the building itself is a work of art. The transition of exterior to interior just blows me away.


The exterior of the museum

Interior - The Great Court

The layout of the exhibits, the breadth of world history it represents and the scope of the museum is simply outstanding. During our walkthrough, we noticed multiple school elementary school groups actively learning at the museum. As an adult I love the place so much I almost can't fathom how cool and overwhelming it would be to see it as a kid.

Some of my favourites include: My buddy Pericles, The Portland Vase, The Rosetta Stone, and the Currency of Zimbabwe.







Sittingbourne

In the build up to our wedding last year Chrissy would often affectionately tell me the story of her cousin Kalinka's wedding in Poland. I have heard magical stories of horse drawn carriages, beautiful tents, the gracious groom Meho, and of vodka that seemingly flowed for days on end.

Unfortunately we never got the chance to host Kalinka and Meho at our wedding. So sensing a bit of a gap in our celebration we endeavoured to connect with them, now in England, for our honeymoon. Communicating via email we arranged to visit them at their new home in Sittingbourne Kent, which is about an hour South East of London.  We were both excited as we boarded our commuter train to see, or in my case meet, 'the cousins' and to view the England countryside.

Even though it was January the rolling landscape was mostly green. We gawked out the windows passing through small towns and large farms as we snaked our way to the final stop. As the amount of stops to our destination decreased I noticed Chrissy checking her makeup and hair. A sure sign of her nervousness.

At the station we began to look around until an instantaneous moment of recognition occurred and Kalinka and Chrissy found each other. The familiarity of it all seemed to melt all of Christina's nerves away.

Meho met us at the car and we dashed off to their home. This is where my nerves started to act up.  I am not a good car passenger on most days and being in the 'wrong' lane made me grab my seat a bit.

Arriving safely we walked to their main door where we were pleasantly surpised by Chrissy's Uncle Ed.

Our hosts spoiled us with a fantastic breakfast and we casually chatted for a bit before everyone acquiesced on my request to relocate to the pub. Meho led our group down the High Street to the nearby local. Coming from a small town I instantly felt at home on Sittingbourne's High Street. Other than the obvious age of the buildings and streets the feel was similar to many Main Streets of  Canadian prairie towns/cities.

Our pub of choice was The Red Lion which can trace it's lineage to the 15th Century:  The Red Lion, it is said, has been the sign of an inn on one and the same spot for over six hundred years. It is here, that in November, 1415, king Henry V was entertained on his return from the battle of Agincourt by Squire Northwode, of Milton. How can you go wrong with a place like that?

Extended Family at The Red Lion

After drowning a few pints we headed back to the house for a fantastic supper. We were treated to Kalinka's pork tenderloin specialty. Let it be known that I have cooked a similar dish on multiple occasions to an appreciative but generally 'meh' reaction from Chrissy. Now that I have eaten what Chrissy has been comparing mine to I fully understand. Everything was cooked to perfection and her cream sauce was outstanding. I have a lot of room for improvement to match that meal.


Our tour continued to Meho's sisters place where a birthday party was going on. Once again our hosts treated us like royalty. Soon though it was time to say our goodbye and catch our return train. After being the guests of honor and being spoiled so well all day it was almost hard to go back being regular folks.

I look forward to someday hosting Kalinka and Meho in Canada or at the very least spoiling them in our next visit.


The Royal Tour

Over the course of the short week we were in the City we passed by Buckingham Palace multiple times and even managed to watch a Changing of the Guard.






Fearing our inevitable return to frozen Edmonton we often took long walks through the Royal Parks aimlessly wandering around and taking in the sights. 


Cottage in St. James Park

Eventually in our wanderings we came upon Kensington Palace which is apparently where Princess Diana used to live and where her two sons now live in the Apartments. They were not fortunate enough to see us on our journey.


My final Palace Lounging picture of the Honeymoon


London Pubs

What's that Chrissy? You look like you have an idea?


Is it to goto the Pub? OK! How about we try a few? A couple of ground rules though. They must have a cool bar sign that we can take a picture of to commemorate the occasion....







One of the things I was looking forward to on my return to London was visiting the Pubs. I love the old school names, the placards/signs, and of course the large selection of beer. A couple of highlights included:
  • The Mitre Hotel Freehouse - A pub within a World Heritage Site.
  • Tom Cribb - The pub is named after British champion bare-knuckle boxer Tom Cribb and has a bunch of cool old school boxing prints on the wall. 
  • The Three Crowns - Where we met up with a friend of Christina's for way too much fun.
Chrissy being the great wife that she is fully supported (or is it enabled?) all of these daily respites...I think I will keep her.




Other Highlights:


Navigating the Tube

Theatre District Shows

Blue Rooster in Trafalgar Square

English Breakfast

Horsing Around in Camden Market

221B Baker Street - Sherlock Holmes Residence

Canadian Embassy

Attending Mass At Westminster Abbey

Notes:

  • We spent a lot of time in the Picaddily area before and after shows. Each night we would take the Tube back to Waterloo Station and walk down a street referred to as The Cut. This is potentially the coolest name for a street ever.
  • We accidentally found ourselves at The Wolf of Wall Street premier in Liecester Square. I got a good view of Margot Robbie, who is pretty damn impressive, and a far away view of Leonardo DiCaprio. Unfortunately for Chrissy she couldn't see them over the throngs of people.
  • The National Portrait Gallery in Trafalgar Square has has no admission fee and it is fantastic. So many priceless works of art. Highly recommended!
  • I really lucked out. I spent a full month touring through Europe in tight quarters with a wonderful woman who I only wanted to spend more time with when we arrived home.