Archive for the ‘Places’ Category

chances to travel with those we love

All my life, my Gram and I had talked about a trip we’d take to England when I was 16. Grammie was born and raised there and she wanted to show me where she grew up. We daydreamed about taking tea in castles and visiting great manors in the country. Gram was blind, so we couldn’t go until I was old enough to lead her around, and we decided that I’d be ready when I was 16 – that summer we’d have our trip.

My Gram died the summer I was 16. Even before she died, we knew that she wasn’t well enough to travel overseas. Had I been a few years older, we’d have been able to go, and I’ve always had a sense of being cheated out of something precious, however unreasonable that is. I had a hard time with her death, the person I told all my secrets to, and I find I still think about her very often.

I think that’s why when Auntie Vera was looking for someone to travel with five years ago, I jumped at the offer. It wasn’t a replacement for the trip to England, but another chance to travel with someone I love to somewhere they loved. Losing Auntie Vera has left me sad, but not bitter, because this time I got my special trip with her and I took every opportunity to spend time with her when I could. In some ways this makes this so much harder, because I’m far closer to her than I would have otherwise been, but it’s also far easier, because I have no regrets.

(At the funerals, Eric (her grandson) and I traded travel-with-Vera stories, he’s got some funny ones from their vacation in March. I’m glad he has these special memories too – and I know he took every chance to be with her – she was that kind of person.)

Everywhere we went in Ireland people kept saying that she was so lucky to have a niece to travel with, but they all had it wrong, I was the lucky one. How many of us get a chance to see the world with a grandparent (or an almost grandparent)? Auntie Vera gave me the chance to travel through the Ireland she knew, she gave me the chance to have these memories now that mean so much, and she taught me that we should look forward to what we can, and enjoy where we are.
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NI 99: Bushmills, 2 girls, & a very high step

One of my favourite memories of Auntie Vera is from the Bushmills Distillery in Co. Antrim in August of 1999. We were on a bus tour populated with predominantly dull and dour folk, mainly from a church in Eastern Ontario. This did have it’s drawbacks, but at the distillery, it became a great advantage.

Now at the end of the tour, every visitor gets one free sample of whiskey, but a few lucky people get to sample about 6 different types of whiskey and get a neat little certificate proclaiming them to be a qualified irish whiskey taster (currently hanging on the bulletin board behind me). I’d heard that getting to be a taster was a very coveted position, that people would jockey to be at the front of the group after the tour. Not on our tour, only four of us in total put our hands up and I found myself sitting at a table with eight shot glasses in front of me. It was about eleven in the morning. I have notoriously low tolerance and I wasn’t a whiskey drinker at that time. I did what any good girl would do, and shared the whiskey with Auntie Vera so that we both could get tipsy.

Of course, after the tastings, we still enjoyed our free sample of whiskey, which we chose to imbibe as a lovely hot toddy. (This year for Christmas I gave Auntie Vera a bottle of Black Bush and all the fixings for a hot toddy, which she swore drove off a cold around February. When I saw her two weeks ago she mentioned that the bottle was gone, we both developed a taste for Black Bush on our trip.)

So after the whiskey tasting and the hot toddies, both of us were a little tiddly (to use her word) and had to get back on the bus to go to the Giant’s Causeway. Now big tour buses have big steps, and Auntie Vera wasn’t a tall person (5’3″?) so every time she had to get on and off it was a bit of work. This time though, with warm whiskey bellies, it seemed a bit tougher than normal and as the bus driver learned down to give her a hand up, she turned her head around to me and said: “push my bum”. Right. I dissolved into laughter, which made her giggle, and all of a sudden we were both laughing too hard to even attempt to get on the bus. We finally made it on and giggled quietly for the next 20 minutes as many of our dour tripmates looked down at us – which of course fueled the fires and made us laugh more.

That’s what travelling with Auntie Vera was like, we giggled our way around the north coast of Ireland and experienced everything we could.

Bushmills Hot Toddy

generous ounce of bushmills,
6 cloves
heaping tsp of brown sugar
a cinnamon stick
tsp lemon juice
and about 2/3 cup of boiling water.

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Rockies 2004: after the fire

When we drove to Panorama back in August we were forced to travel through Golden to avoid the forest fires in Kootenay National Park. Cory drove back to Panorama on Monday, and took a few pictures of the mountains.

The mountains here by the road are lower than their neighbours, and normally tree covered. This year they sit naked, with endless rows of burnt tree trunks waiting for their roots to decay before they can topple down. Some of the smaller trees have survived, those closest to the road are often still green and growing without competition. In other parts, large swathes of the trees appear now to be a deep red like decidious trees in autumn. I don’t know why this is so, but it’s strangely beautiful.

There will probably be more large forest fires this summer, more swaths of trees reduced to poles, and more hype in the media. Fires are a natural thing, and these pictures Cory took of the aftermath are breathtaking.


I’m off to work now, a late start this morning because of my cold. I’m not getting better very quickly and I think I need to take more care of myself. I’m quite excited about what I’m working on these days, it’s a analytical model that uses lots of fun and new-to-me equations with a big dash of common sense and as it all comes together I’m getting more and more intrigued by the whole problem. After working on a much more computer simulation and observation based problem for the first part of my thesis, it feels good to branch out into a new area and learn new skills.

That being said, I’m getting more and more stressed about finding a job after I finish up. Almost all of the jobs I’d be interested in are situated in America, and we’re not interested in moving there. Finding a job in Canada or the UK is looking like a non-trivial task, and all the uncertainty about what will happen next year is unsettling. I do like risks, new adventures, and trying something new, but I also like having options, having plans, and knowing where I can go. Right now everything’s a blank and it’s left a little knot of worry off to the side of my tummy.
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Scotland 2002: Cardhu

Almost a year ago we were staying in the Speyside at the start of our honeymoon and enjoying the crisp winter weather and a few too many drams. Even though we’d said we didn’t want this holiday to be a whiskey trip, or an any-one-thing trip for that matter, I knew Cory really wanted to see at least one distillery. We’d struck out at The Macallan, they were already cleaning the distillery for it’s Christmas shut-down, and we were placated by whiskey cake and free drinks. But Stewart, our B&B host arranged for us to have a tour of the Cardhu distillery the next day.

Upon arrival we chatted pleasantly with the women in the visitor centre who told us that a group of young military trainees up from England on holiday would be joining us. They were young, and desparately hungover, and followed round the tour with glazed eyes. Rather than feeling old in comparison, I felt quite sensible, as I’d hadn’t drunk so much the night before to have to refuse the tasting at the end of the tour. We got drams of 16yr Mortlach, a local distillery also owned by the Johnnie Walker Group that owns Cardhu, and I enjoyed the constituents of Johnnie Walker far more than the final product, although I’ve never tasted the top of the line.

As we left the distillery, the staff pressed a poster upon us, as a wedding present. Thinking it was just a promotional poster for a pub, we accepted without too much enthusiasm. It wasn’t until we unrolled it in the car that we realized it was a signed print of the distillery itself, now framed and gracing our living room. We’ve developed a loyalty to Cardhu because of this, buying a bottle for our anniversary and often enjoying the whisky for sentimental reasons.

However, recent news in the whiskey world has reported that Cardhu is to be re-marketed as a blend, to be callued Cardhu Pure Malt, a term close enough to it’s current name of Cardhu Single Malt to have people up in arms. After much debate it seems that the result will be new packaging of Cardhu to make the distinction clear, but may herald the end of the single malt that has so much sentimental value to us.
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Banff 2003: Forest Fires

We had some excitement on the drive to Panorama, a ski resort 3.5 hours to the west of Calgary where Cory was doing a site visit for a construction project.

Normally the drive to Panorama is superb, the route takes you through Banff and Kootenay National Parks where blue skies and white capped-peaks make for perfect postcards almost every day of the year. We expected this trip to be different, as the haze from forest fires burning throughout the mountains was visible even in Calgary. Even so, we weren?t prepared for how thick the smoke became as we approached the parks and by the time we passed Banff we were enveloped in a smoky fog that hurt our eyes and drowned out any view of the mountains entirely.

Now, we knew that smoke from the forest fires burning all through Alberta and British Columbia was a likely accompaniment to portions of our trip, this year is the worst in decades for fires, with dry conditions and frequent lightning sparking hundreds of blazes on a daily basis. The McClure fire, currently 16,614 hectares in size dominated the news, where 6500 residents had been evacuated from the area north of Kamloops. While we were driving we heard the first indications of the devastation, the community of Lewis Creek destroyed by fire with around 35 homes completely burnt.

A large fire near Crowsnest Pass, just south of the parks had recently run its course and our first thought was that the smoke had drifted north from there. As we travelled further into the park, the smoke became heavier though, and past Cascade Mountain, the skies peeping over the mountain began to take on an orange glow. Further up the road, Castle Mountain was barely visible, with the smoke growing ever denser like an oceanic fog but sharp, biting at the eyes and tasting foul. Just before our junction, we spotted a sign that highway 93S was closed, the road to Panorama. Reaching the turnoff, now with a heavy scent of fire in the air, we spoke with park staff and found out that a fire within Kootenay Park was burning on both sides of the highway producing ash that was falling on Banff town site.

As the Kootenay fire did not endanger communities, and fires being needed natural events, the fire had not been as newsworthy as the many other fires displacing residents so we hadn?t even heard mention of it until reaching the park. We detoured up through Golden (see map) battling camper vans and increased traffic, finally reaching Panorama six hours after setting out from Calgary on the 3.5 hour drive. West winds blew the smoke east, so the skies here were clear, no evidence of the fires visible from our hotel room window where we watched children play in the resort pool and marvelled at the difference a mountain range could make.


Skye 2002: a friendly face, part II

nealthevet.JPG
Noel wasn’t the only friendly face we met on our honeymoon, we also had the delight of spending an evening in the pub with Neal. We were staying in a small inn on the Isle of Skye in a hamlet called Stein, and we wandered down to the pub for supper and a few drams. It turned out to be the most lively night of our trip (and one I paid for the next morning). We talked to just about everyone in the pub, tried a few new whiskys, and enjoyed a bottle of wine and a plate of prawns courtesy of Neal.

Neal’s one of three veterinarians on Skye, and this makes him so well known that he told me to write him a postcard from Canada at “Neal the Vet, Isle of Skye”. Thinking he was pulling my leg, I asked the bartender if that really was all the address I needed. Quite seriously, he replied that it might help to add “Scotland” to the end of the address if I was to mail it from Canada, but it would arrive quite fine.

Nights like this made our honeymoon the wonderful experience it was.


Inverness 2002: a friendly face

When we were travelling in Scotland and first arrived at Inverness, I was a little down. The wiper fluid wasn’t working in the car, forcing us to go and get a replacement rental car and the first B&B we looked at staying in turned out to be an overly-Christian place complete with pamphlets behind the door of the room we were shown to. I was worried that we’d made a mistake in leaving the wonderful hospitality we’d found in Craigellachie.

We walked up to one last B&B to look for a room before calling it quits and heading to a hotel. It turned out that we were lucky enough to have found Noel’s B&B, and he made us feel very welcome. He took extra special care of us (including buying us a bottle of wine to celebrate our honeymoon and refusing to let a couple guys stay in his other rooms because they looked noisy and he didn’t want us disturbed) and turned my first negative impression of Inverness into one of my best memories of the trip.

Not only that, but five months later, tired and slightly cranky, flipping through pictures of our trip and coming across this one really made me smile.
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Northern Ireland

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Scotland :: the Highlands 2002

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Scotland :: Speyside

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