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January 2006 Archives

January 31, 2006

Things I Really Wish People in The UK Would Explain To Me

Things I Really Wish People In (from?) The UK Would Explain To Me, a list, by jo

1. If I say "I'm in the United Kingdom", what am I saying? If I say "I'm in Britain", what am I saying? Are they two different things?

2. Are the traffic laws the same in England, Scotland, and Wales, and if so, can someone tell me when I'm allowed to cross the street? Other than when the little flashing man is green, I mean.

3. Speaking of which, why does Scotland have its own Parilment, and Wales doesn't?

4. I'm not touching the whole issue of Ireland/Northern Ireland, because I sincerely have no understanding of it at all... but if someone would point me to a nice explanatory website, that would be cool.

5. I don't really understand how doctors work here. There are no walk-in clinics, you have to register at doctors? I'm confused, what do you do in something that isn't quite an emergency? They sent me to the hospital because I was some weird foreign chick without a doctor, and I wanted to scream because "Hey, emergency wards are for emergencies!" (Before anyone frets, this was back in July.)

6. Can you tell me why you celebrate Guy Fawkes day? Is it yay, he failed at killing the King, or yay, he tried to kill the King, and you can to?

7. Why can I not buy a bag of flour bigger than 2 kilos in any regular store?

8. Are Scotland and Wales their own countries, or not? I'm confused by this, as Scotland is the "best little country in the world", but I thought it was part of the UK.

9. Would you say Mary was the last direct ruler of Scotland, or James? For that matter, who was the last ruler of Wales?

10. So... how come there is only either really really cheap ice cream, or really really expensive ice cream?

In unrelated news:

There's snow! It's so cute!

Also, I'm baking some cupcakes for a bakesale on Saturday (don't ask, it's easier that way), and was searching online, and am I alone in thinking that if the recipe calls for 'buying cake mix and making it entirely following the package directions, except in cupcake tins instead of a cake pan', it's not really much of a recipe?

January 29, 2006

Snickleways and Ghosts

I love doing walking tours of cities.

You get to see lots of fun things you might not of otherwise, and you get lots of fun facts and can claim you got exercise. They're fun, or at least they're supposed to be. I've only been on one walking tour (back in Bath) that bored me to tears. It was free, and I felt like asking for my hour and a half back. It was a walking history lecture of the worst type - dull, uninspiring, lots of repetition. Guh.

But York was different, this is for certain. I went on two tours: The Original Ghost Walk of York, and the Snickleways Tour offered by York Walks.

Ghost Story The Original Ghost Walk is, allegedly, the oldest Ghost Walk in the world. Your friendly guide takes you around places in York, and tells you nifty little stories about them. Fun for the whole family... allegedly.

Really, not so much in practice.

It's not that it was dull, because it wasn't, but it was really quite weak as a ghost tour. The opening story is that old one of 'person meets an old family friend when returning home, is asked to convey love to rest of family, does so, finds out person died a week ago'. I'm sure you've all heard variations of it. None of the tales got any more interesting than that. I guess I'd say it's child-friendly, but I think teenagers would be bored. I just spent a lot of time trying not to actually roll my eyes. ("Oh, you think the stones have a reddish tinge to them? Do you think that's because of the fire that destroyed the inside?")

But the man was very friendly, I must give him that.

Snickleways The other tour had a bit more meat to it, and lots of fun things, but was delivered by someone so bored of his subject matter that it was hard to find it fun. But I can't fault the content for a moment. "Snickleways" is a York-specific word that refers to the little alleys and nooks and crannies and stuff that make up the historic parts of the city. Basically, he would take us to some oddly named little street, alley, or courtyard, tell us why it has that name (maybe), a little story about it.

Lots of fun bits, like legends about scandalous priests (are there any other kind of legends about priests?), red light districts, women killing their husbands, a place where husbands would take their wives for public floggings, and places where churches were once built, but are now empty except for a few leftover graves.

He told us that, in medieval times, there were 365 pubs, 52 churches, and 7 abbeys, so there was always some way of distracting yourself. He also told us that "In York, the streets are called gates and the gates are called bars and the bars are called pubs." I suspect the last bit has been added for the tourist trade. *smile* He also talked a lot about how the city was originally divided, with those lovely images of the slaughterhouse runoff running into the River Ouse, and the refuse being tossed out windows.

The stories are all interesting, but it's hard to determine how many of them are true. Is Mad Alice Lane named after a woman who claimed she'd been driven insane by her husband after she murdered him? Or is it named after a notorious madame? Who knows, really. Places build up legends and stories so easily, especially in a city as old as York.

Little DevilThere are just these lovely little touches everywhere, though. York has obviously embraced the tourist trade (as a lot of cities in the UK have), and ares like the Shambles have been carefully redone to achieve what I'd call "that medeival look" - lots of cunning little shops, lots of interesting images to see, but not necessarily a lot of historic fact to them. Not that I would expect their to be, really. There is a lot more trade in incredibly good fudge than in printers and inkmakers at this point, I'm sure. They've added little touches, though, like this Little Imp in along the street where the printers used to be. He's supposed to represent the printers apprentices that would go around and spill ink or change the letters in the printing press or just generally cause mischief. It's cute. And I probably never would have noticed him (or the Minerva at the end of the street, or the cats in various poses on some of the houses) without the tour. If you have the chance, I really recommend it.

(Interesting side note: the man doing the tour had a couple of people along that he was teaching. One of them offered to help me find my way back to Micklegate Bar, since he was going that way anyway. Along the way, he was brimming full of interesting tidbits about York - about where the oldest settlements were, about why certain buildings were built the way they were, about the pub that floods so often they keep their casks in the attic instead of the cellar. It was fascinating and fun, because he was really into what he was saying. Lots of fun, can't wait till he's his own guide.)

{Other photos from the tour}

...be forgot?

Well, New Year's Eve did not go entirely according to plan.

Most of it did, though, and the majority of the food was yummy, and I'm good with that. It was the cake, though. You know, the thing I'm fairly certain I can do without thinking too hard: baking.

I love to bake. How I managed to make a cake-thingy that not only weight a ton (or is that tonne), it had a tasty crust and was rubbery on the inside.

I felt it still tasted good, but it was so heavy. And strange.

Ah well, life goes on, right?

I've also come to the conclusion that my day to day life has become rather dull. Now, don't get me wrong - Scotland still rocks, and when I'm doing stuff (York, museums, tours, ghost hunts, going out with friends, seeing movies and remember that Tilda Swinton is my master now), I'm really enjoying them. It's just that when I'm done doing something... I'm bored. Nothing's really engaging my mind.

I need a hobby.

Other than buying more books. (How did I go from coming across with three paperbacks to having an overflowing bookshelf? I have *no idea*.)

So, yeah, there's some clubs meeting up this week that I might go out to, or maybe I'll take up some sort of class, or hell, maybe I'll start *knitting*. Just something that engages me when I'm not going out of my way to be engaged, if that makes sense.

January 28, 2006

Gong xi fa cai!

Tomorrow is Chinese New Year, and thus, I'm throwing a bit of a party here today. (Sundays are notoriously bad for me.) I'm all excited! It's been a long time since I've bothered making the one chinese recipe I learned how to make (dumpling), and I've added a bunch of relatively easy things to throw together for tonight's party.

Let's see, I'm making Scallion pancakes, not-so-spicy bean sprouts, and picking up some tofu gan for starters, and making dumplings (lots!), egg drop soup, and steamed buns for main, and nian gao for a sweet treat.

I'm so excited... I do love to cook, and it's so rarely I get to do it for any number of people. And the advantage of doing Chinese is that most things cook notoriously fast, so I don't have time to get distracted!

January 25, 2006


What can I tell you about York Minster that will really convey the beauty of the place?

Bring Me To Light The place is full of light. Sound echoes away, but light seems to flood from every window and corner. Walking inside, I was overwhelmed by the light that I could see. The walls are bright white, reflecting more of the light coming in from the amazing stained glass windows. I kept thinking there must be a skylight or something to bring in all the light I could see, but there isn't.

Unlike every other church and cathedral I've been in, I managed to get on a tour of the Minster, and I really recommend them if you get the chance. They're offered for free and are about an hour. The one I went on was hosted by this lovely lady (also a Yorkist, like me - we talked a bit about Richard, of course), and there were several others ongoing. The sense I had is that each person has their own way of running the tour, and each one really loves what they're doing. They describe different things, but in that way that carries you along with their enthusiasm. She pointed out all sorts of things, like the carving near one of the windows of Aristotle being (a-hem) 'ridden' by his favorite harlot (she's holding a whip and smacking him as they go along) and that the Victorians, when they did their own restoration of parts of the ceiling, replaced an image of Christ being suckled by the Virgin with one of him being bottle-fed. Which is very surreal. (She also advised that we'd have to take her word for it - it's a very high ceiling, after all.)

Look up... The result of this is that I'm full of details on the Minster. I'm quite fascinated by the wooden roof, for example. That's why it's so wide, and the ceilings so high. It's not as heavy as other churches I've been in. This lead to problems fairly early on, and those problems have continued to this day. The first bells they set in the ceiling fell, which is why the're now in the towers instead. There have been multiple fires that have lead to extensive restoration and rebuilding, most recently in 1984. Only through an amazing coincidence were they able to spare the stained glass in that fire. The whole window on that side had been repaired a few years earlier, and the fire was put out about 10 minutes before the lead would have given way, shattering the glass.

Light of God

As I did with Westminster, I went to Evensong again. It's interesting to compare the two. I don't know if I can put my finger on just why, but Westminster felt much more welcoming in their Evensong than York did. Maybe it's just the way they layout the service for the non-initiated, though. I'm not familiar with Anglican rituals (my friend calls it "High Anglican"), so I'm often lost at these things. The music wasn't as nice either, but that may be because instead of an entirely adult and mixed choir, like at Westminster, it was mixed boys and men... and the boys seemed very bored. There's also that the psalm they sang was very, very, very long.

In thinking about it, I specifically remember that Westminster said prayers for other people - for those persecuted for their Christian faith in China (yes, this still happens, don't let anyone tell you differently), for those fighting in wars and those suffering and dying in poverty, and for the Queen. I don't recall that at York. I know they prayed for the Queen, but not for anyone else. I wonder if that's why I felt it less welcoming.

But there's something about listening to prayers being sung that is very moving and beautiful. The organ music was amazing, and the voices seemed to echo out into all that space and up to the ceiling. Everything was much darker and more somber than when I had been in earlier, and it was very beautiful. I do recommend making it out to an Evensong if you get out to either of these places. It's amazing, and moving.

Heart of York The real beauty here is in the stained glass. I can't tell you enough about it. It seems that they still have medeival style stained glass workers in York, and they carefully remove, clean, and restore all the glass in the Minster every so often. Right now they're working on the East windows, and the west window (The Heart of York) has recently been cleaned and repaired. The entire Cathedral seems to be under constant restoration work, which means I got to the see facades when they're still bright white. (This makes up for the fact that the east facade is entirely under scaffolding at the moment.)

It just find it outstanding to think of some of this. There are people who learn how to make stained glass... and they make entire careers out of the churches and cathdrals in Europe. There are families who pass down the skills required to ring the bells in proper time for the services, volunteers who do this for their lives. There are people who put their lives into caring and maintaining and playing the amazing organs at these churches. On some level I think I should be pondering the waste of time, money, effort, support that goes into these old cathedrals. A lot of money has been spent on the restoration work, millions of pounds in donations was given when it seemed it might come tumbling down, and shouldn't that money be spent on more 'worthier' projects?

On the other hand... these buildings are works of art, are works of history, and are important in their own right, not just as churches and cathedrals, but as important parts of our past. We learn so much from examining them, and they do awe and inspire so many.

Myself included.

{All Photos of Yorkminster, including the Five Sister Window}

January 24, 2006

A York, A York, my Kingdom for a York!

That might, in fact, be the worst title for anything on this site.

If you're ever wanting a fun place to get away for a few days, if you're thinking that a visit to a town that's interesting, fun, and laid back is what you want, York is the place to go. If you have a medeival-type town in England in mind, you're thinking of York. If you ever decide you want a great place to go on an interesting tour, York is the place. You want a moving Cathedral? York. You want historic city walls? York. You want a park that's full of ruins and history, and a museum that manages to talk about both the Vikings and the Romans with interesting tidbits of information? York, my friend, is the place to go.

Of course, when you're thinking of York, you might think to yourself: Self? If I'm in York anyway, I should totally go to the Richard III museum they have there. This is the city he made his home, after all. This is the place where he had his son declared Prince of Wales. This city, upon hearing of his death, that wrote in their city records "It was showed... that King Richard, late mercifully reigning upon us, was through great treason piteously slain and murdered, to the great heaviness of the City." Why, a good Richard III museum would talk about his relationship with his brothers, how he was raised by the Kingmaker who put his brother Edward on the throne, and then joined in rebellion against him. It would talk about his relationship with Anne Neville, and how he married her after she'd become the widow of Edward of Lancaster, the heir of the other half of the War of the Roses. It would talk about his death, and genuinely look at the question: Did he kill his nephews? And thus, you would think to yourself, you should visit this museum, perhaps to find out how much of what has been said about Richard is true.

I just wrote more interesting facts in this paragraph then you would get out of that museum.

If, on the other hand, you were looking for a tabloid saying "TEDDY DEAD! Queen in Shock!" when referring to Richard's brother, and having a rather frightening looking doll made up to look like Richard, with a farce of a 'trial' going on with rather lousy voice actors, then I can totally tell you where to go. The bit where you 'confess your sins' in a book, and a recording tells you to make peace with God as Richard has had six people slain and will kill you too was... par for the course, really. It's sad and ridiculous. I was so angry and annoyed, I wanted to go back downstairs and demand my two pounds and fifty pence back. Sadly, it didn't seem worth the trouble.

I have to tell you, the visit was amazing, for the most part. It was wonderific, it was fantabulous, it was splediferous. Heck, I may just go anywhere Anne tells me to from now on, since her suggestion was so great. Exploring snickleways, touring York Minster, and the amazing Museum Park were the amazing highlights of my weekend.

I have photos. Something close to 400 of them. I'm certain you're not surprised.

Dear Canada,

We've spent a lot of time together over the last 29 years, and for the most part, it's been good. We've had fun with health care after that whole getting-hit-by-a-car thing, and I still appreciate our time together after that whole picked-up-for-uttering-death-threats thing. I love that I've had insightful and intelligent debates with people over government issues and the future of our country, I really do. I mean, it's nice, to live in a country where that sort of thing can happen.

Which is why I hate to tell you this. But this is just a bit too much for me to take. I understand that we all have the right to our opinions, but some opinions, I just don't understand, and I think we need a cooling off period. A time to readjust to the new realities of our relationship.

I mean, we'll always be friends, right? Even if I do choose to spend the rest of my life in some other country where I don't need to feel responsible for the idiocy that's going on, right?

I'll always love you. Just... love changes, you know?

Be safe and be well,


PS: Call me sometime, k?

January 23, 2006

Monday Morning Blues

Ah, York. The city so nice you want to stay an extra day to enjoy it.

So I did.

Totally worth the extra evening, the extra morning... all of it. It's a lovely city, don't let anyone tell you differently.

But I am *so* needing a nice long shower.

Remember, if you're Canadian, it's Election Day. Go vote!

January 19, 2006

Yorkshire Pudding

To say it's been a wretched week would be, in no small way, an understatement. I won't get into the details here, as they're really boring and can be summed up as : Work Was Wretched. Hopefully, that issue has been dealt with, and I have the excitement of tomorrow to look forward to.

See, I'm following Anne's advice and heading off to York for the weekend. It's a relatively quick train journey, and then I get to see old city walls, museums, castles, likely an abbey (or two), definately a cathedral, and all sorts of things. I'm really quite excited. I'm a closet Yorkist, you see.

That is, I have a firm opinion about the War of the Roses, and who was right, and who should have been dead. I would be a card carrying member of the Richard III Society if they issued cards. (They don't... but it's a very nice newletter.) The idea that I get to be in York, that I can see what's left of Micklegate Bar, that I can... I don't know, do something all exciting and Yorkish, is making my week *so much better*. I highly recommend it.

Maybe I should just focus on city walls. I'm told they're fun to walk.

January 18, 2006

Brussel Sprouts

So, I'm still attempting to make up my mind regarding where I want to travel in the next few weeks, which has led to me checking out various package deals and debating the merits of each based entirely on whether it is cheap, goes some place I've heard of, and I can get to the appropriate airport. Since I'm looking at getaways that cost less than £100 for a weekend, I'm narrowing my choices quite a lot, which is nice. Cornacopias of Choice confuddle me like no one's business.

This leads to the following debate:

Me: I could go to Brussels!

Him: Why would you want to go to Brussels?

Me: Nah, the proper question is, why would I *not* want to go to Brussels?

Him: What's in Brussels? It's just a big city in Europe, you need to want something more out of it.

So, I pondered this, and what I came up with:
Chocolate! Belgium chocolate!

Oh, and my theory (yet to be tested) that you can call children in Brussels Brussel Sprouts.

{The student I asked today said 'Nah, in Scotland, you'd come up with much ruder things to say than that.'}

Really, I just want to go to Brussels because it looks cheap.

But chances are, that would be in March. I'm thinking seriously about a weekend in London... although I'm kinda torn. I mean, I've been to London, right? It doesn't sound nearly as exciting now. "Oh, yes, London. Been there, done that. Ho hum. I have many postcards." (Because, yes, having seen a fraction of the area around Trafalgar Square, I've *done* London, right? *rolls eyes*)

I'm just bored right now. I know I did things these past months - I saw The Nutcracker, I saw Handel's Messiah, I did the trip out to London and a quickie poke around Melrose Abbey, but it doesn't feel like enough, somehow. Part of that is the whole aspect of "I'm here to see the United Kingdom, that's kinda the point of my visa", but it's also too that work is dull and life is kinda dull, and I feel like I have nothing exciting to say.

January 16, 2006


I think one of the hardest things about living overseas from close friends and family is the sense of disconnect you get from them. Yeah, I can (and do) read blogs, send postcards, and emails, but when I don't hear from someone for a while, I begin to get paranoid.

Are they mad at me? Is that why they haven't emailed me back? Have they stopped updating their blog because something has happened to them and no one's thought to tell me? That big party they're talking about... another thing I can't go to? Damn it, life sucks.

I try to combat this by sending people quickie emails - "Hey, haven't heard from you in a while, you're in my thoughts, how are you?" I'll send funky postcards, since I like getting them and figure everyone else does, too. Occasionally I will give up on that and just get someone who does return my emails to ask them what's up. When all else fails, I'll call, but I hate going that way. Not only because it costs money, but because hey -- what if Joe really does hate me and doesn't want to talk to me anymore? Wouldn't that be uncomfortable?

(No, Joe, and no, other Joe, I don't think you hate me - although dude, return an email now and then, would ya?)

Ah well. It's just a bit surreal, because if I were in Edmonton, I'd be seeing these people often enough that I wouldn't be doubting. They'd either be indicating through their presence that they liked me, or through their actions that they hate me and want me to die.

I'm mostly writing this to remind myself that I'm not the only person I know living far from home. I must remember to drop a few of them postcards, because I don't want them to think I hate them. They're in my thoughts often enough.

I just wonder how many times we put it off until tomorrow, telling ourselves they know how we feel, while the person we'd eventually get around to emailing is fretting themselves about it, whenever the thought crosses their mind.

{Why yes, today was a very long and dull day at work randomly googling people from my past - why do you ask?}

January 14, 2006

The Cheesemonger Smells Funny, and Other Things Edinburgh Taught Me Today

After seven months of "meaning to" stop by the cheesemongers, I finally made it there today. And I have to tell you, it really does smell funny in there. To the point where they handy-dandy sign outside offers you "Friendy service with a smell". I love Edinburgh.

Seriously, how could I not love a city that has a cheesemonger? There were approximately a million zillion types of cheese there. I brought home something Scottish. Please don't ask me what, I have no idea, there was a nice person behind the counter selling it. I'm sure there exists a universe where I don't just buy things randomly from nice people, but it's certainly not this one.

I also managed to buy some apple-brandy-something sauce. Haven't figured out what I'll do with it, but it'll have to be something yummy, I'm sure.

Edinburgh also taught me that spring can sprung in January (because my, the weather has been beautiful the past two days), and that travel sections in bookstores can become huge, epic-type explorations when you want them to be. I poked around today in one, and I think there may have been a guidebook to Edmonton (or even Vegreville, for all I know), because it seemed to have everything else. I was so frozen by the cornacopia of choices that I didn't know what to pick up, and just left it at that.

Edinburgh also taught me that waiters in Italian restaurants (especially good Italian restaurants, with Italian radio stations playing English pop music) are a lot of fun. He was a dear, a bit intense, and kept calling me ... senora? no, that's Spanish. Oh well. Something nice-sounding, as since I am a sucker I think all languages I don't understand sound lovely. (Except German. German always sounds like someone's very very angry. Or maybe I've only met very angry Germans.) But when my pasta came he gestured imperiously for the waitress to bring me pepper and parmasan, and she smiled in that way that people do when they're amused and said "Ah, Italians." Best part - she's got the lovely Italian accent thing going to.

I love this country.

I still haven't decided where my next journey is going to. I think I may just pull up the website that sells the really cheap last-minute deals (not last minute dot com, since they are not a good website, from what I understand), and just pick something at random. It strikes me as sufficiently laid back enough to satisfy my desire to be random, and a good enough deal to satisfy my desire to, you know, actually have money.

However, the best thing that Edinburgh taught me today was this: Nothing's quite so pleasant as walking into your favourite store and having the owner look up say "Anna! I missed you, how was your Christmas?"

It's nice being home, you know?

January 13, 2006

A Comment on Canadian Politics

Dear Alberta,

Stop frickin' embarrassing me.

Hugs and Kisses,


I want to tell you a story.

Once, about five years ago, my mom send my brother a care package at Christmas. It was full of CDs and presents and (I think) a video game, and just stuff that my brother would like, most of it loving wrapped by my mom. At the very top of the box, packed tightly in a tupperware container, was a big batch of my mom's absolutely world famous amazing super cookies.

My mom rocks. *grin*

But, see... when the package arrived (in Calgary, I think... maybe Quebec? My brother moved around a lot when he was in college), there were no cookies in it. Everything else was there, but my mom's famous amazing super cookies (that give you extra energy and pep!) were not there.

My mom called the post office, but there wasn't really much that could be done. After that, my mom started sending Christmas packages by courier.

I mention this story because a friend of mine came back from a trip to NorthAm yesterday, and brought me back a copy of the Director's Cut (now with more cheesecake!) of Sin City. I have been eagerily awaiting it, because I am a Sin City fangirl (and yes, I know, it's all full of violence and sex and blah blah, I don't care, Miho's in it), and was very disappointed to find out that the director's cut wasn't released here yet.

So, my friend is unpacking his suitcase, and... there's no Sin City.


1) Sin City is sitting on the living room floor back home, lonely and wishing to be sitting with all my other North American DVDs. He just forgot to pack it.

2) Sin City, having not been released in Zone 2, is not allowed in the UK, and so Customs seized it. (Does Customs do this? Would they leave a note? "Don't bring DVDs into Scotland, unless it's Return of the King, which we will just leave in the suitcase.")

3) Someone nabbed it from his suitcase when it was going through the airports, someplace between here and Toronto.

So, yes, I am sad. There is no Sin City to make my weekend full of exciting car chases and babes with guns, and I will just have to entertain myself instead.

But I am kind of curious as to what to do now to get it back.

In unrelated news:
Do you think it's a sign I'm spending too much time reading blogs when I've started to dream about people updating?

PS: Mom... can you send me your recipe for sugar cookies? I'm craving them now.

January 11, 2006

Just wait ten minutes...

Is it a truism said of a lot of places that if you don't like the weather, just wait ten minutes? I'm curious, as I've heard it said about Alberta (and probably Vancouver, if I think about it), but it really lives and breathes in Edinburgh.

It's not cold by any stretch of the imagination, but the wind cuts through you like a knife. I keep forgetting that the lovely port I can see from here is the freakin' North Sea, and one would expect nasty winds coming off it. Every morning I wait for the bus just a few meters away from the windiest spot in Edinburgh, and I really felt that today.

But the rest of the day just was insane for it. It started out sunny enough that I had to close the blinds so I could read the computer screen, then it was sudden pouring rain by the buckets. Then it got super-sunny again, and we figured, yay! the rain is gone!

I suppose it was, as it started to hail a bit after that.

I just find it so strange... I mean, all weather is strange unless you're in Saskatchewan and can see it coming for miles off, but I just want... I don't know, something that feels normal for this time of year. Some snow or something. A nasty and sudden cold snap. Anything to make me feel like having my winter coat from home makes some degree of sense.

Ah well. I'm probably just out of sorts still. It's been a really wretched week, and one of the main reasons has been having the most atrocious and awful song *ever* stuck in my head for the past three days. It would be enough to turn anyone off of being happy, I think.

So, in an attempt to cheer myself up (as it hasn't only been the song, it never is, the song is just making it harder to cope with the rest), I'm planning another weekend get away.

I haven't really decided yet: London for a bit longer? Tempting... I'm pretty sure I could go to entirely different parts of London and pretend that I had never seen the place before and not feel cheated. There's a weekend package to Dublin that's tempting me. Heck, it's been such a bad week I've been considering cashing in my pennies and taking my weekend to Italy (planned for this summer) a lot earlier.

For tonight, though, I'm just getting a secret thrill out of the idea that I'm boarding the last train to Glasgow. I will never, ever get tired of taking trains anywhere.

January 9, 2006

Media Glut

I think it's the little things that always throw me in a new place. I can deal with the idea of being in a country where sheep outnumber people. I can deal with the idea of living in a place where everything (and I mean everything) is built on a hill. I can cope with being a foreigner.

What I cannot cope well with is popcorn.

See, I love popcorn. Hot, buttery popcorn from movie theaters is my not-so-secret vice. I have an ex-boyfriend I miss (more than one, now that I think about it) who would make me popcorn, either on the stove, in the microwave, or (eventually) in our shared popcorn maker. And man, do I miss that popcorn maker. One notable ex even bought me a specific-for-popcorn big glass bowl.

They don't... do popcorn properly in Scotland.

I found myself hooking up with a friend yesterday to finally get around to seeing the Narnia movie. (One comment only: Tilda Swinton is my master now.) Having not been to a movie despite living in a country where they host the International Festival for movies, I was quite excited. Popcorn! And moving pictures! And popcorn!

(I don't own a t.v., you see, so moving pictures are occasionally very distracting... they talk! I don't have to read to be entertained! Yay!)

So, like an excited four-year-old, I rushed off to the snack bar to buy myself some hot, buttery, gonna-kill-me-young popcorn.

"Okay," said the man behind the counter. "Salty or sweet?"

To which I responded with a graceful "Huh?"

It seems in Scotland they don't make hot, buttery, gonna-kill-you-young popcorn. Their popcorn in movie theaters is cold. And either comes salty, or sweet, like cold candied popcorn.

I was terribly heartbroken, and went with the sweet stuff.

My date for the afternoon was very understanding, and did put up with a lot of me randomly saying "But... but... the popcorn is wrong!" Occasionally I'd just stare into it, hoping that it would suddenly turn into buttery, salty, hot goodness.

Then the movie started, and I didn't care nearly so much. Because movies in Scotland start with incredibly and surreally bad advertisments.

Remember, I don't have a t.v. For all I know, these wretchedly awful advertisements are the norm here. From the really bad, stereotypically-gay PR agents in an advertisement for cell phones to the laughably horrible ads for cars, I spent most of the first 15 minutes in the darkened theater with my jaw dropped open. (Simon kindly kept lifting it up for me. He's such a nice boy.)

I don't know what it is, maybe my mind just doesn't accept advertising anymore. Unless there's a huge buzz on the 'net, I don't see ads at all outside of print media, and even then my eyes mostly just go over them. Have they always been this awful? Is it a cultural-awfulness? I have no idea.

(There were some very good ads for good causes. The one where they show a Tim Burton-esque scene while describing what childhood abuse does to someone was excellent, and the one reminding people to turn off their cells and pay attention to the road was stark and to the point. But that was about a minute out of 15. Yes, 15 minutes of ads. Then the trailers for new movies.)

This all ignores the most important part of the movie going experience: There were nice, comfortable seats, with lots and lots of legroom, and a place to put my disturbingly cold popcorn and my oversize cola product.

But really: Tilda Swintin is totally my master now.

January 6, 2006

Year In Review

This is a meme about my year. I'm at work, I'm *really* bored.... there's nothing to do, and I'm alone. So, I will do this instead.

But I'll put *most* of it behind the extended entry.

1) Was 2005 a good year for you?

Oh yes. 2005 was the best year ever. Even the parts that sucked.

Continue reading "Year In Review" »

January 5, 2006



I'm not sure how much, if any, interest will be brought to my blog from the CBC radio interview that (will be or has been) aired at 7:40 a.m. Mountain Time. But I thought I'd write something up here as a quick intro, incase you've come here because of it.

First, Anna Overseas is what I'd call a 'niche' blog. I don't talk about politics here, I talk about being a Canadian who lives overseas. I gush a lot about ruined abbeys and nifty castles. I also complain about people complaining about the weather.

If you're looking for some interesting political blogs, I'll recommend a few. I'll warn you, though, that I read them. This does not mean that I agree with them.

Blogs Canada E-group is a multi-party political discussion. Basically, someone posts up their opinion (usually bolstered with links to other sites) about an issue in Canadian politics, and then everyone comments and responds. A lot of interesting things are brought up there, and I do recommend it highly as the discussion is level headed and doesn't degenerate into name calling. They also link there to several other very good blogs.

I also get a lot of quick link news from Mark Cappis' blog Midnight Ramblings (also known as Chaos in a Blog), which is part of Chaos in a Box. Mark also talks a lot about DVD releases and popculture, so if you're looking for specific political posts by him, I'd read this, this, and this. Frankly, I hear most of my political news first through Mark, then I go chase other information down.

There are others, but I think those are a good starting pointing. I may be biased, though.

If you're just looking for fun Canadian blogs about being an expat, I'll direct you to the Canadian Expats Blog, which also has a handy list of links to other Canadian Expats.

Another fun list of blogs is the Scottish Blogs List.

If you want to tell me anything, my email address is the very simple anna@annaoverseas.com. If you comment on my blog, I do respond to most comments via email, so be sure to include your email address.

Other than that... really... um... is it snowing in Edmonton? I miss snow. (Also, very nervous. Really really nervous.)

Mind the Gap


Oh, I would do it again in a heartbeat. It was amazing, even the bits where I ran into the legendary London rudeness. I loved the Tube, I loved Trafalgar Square, and I loved Westminster Abbey. Special thanks to everyone who strongly recommended I take a London Walk.

ObligatoryBut, I'll start at the beginning. Heathrow Airport is fascinating, but not as insane as everyone says it is. (Then again, I *wasn't* getting on or off an international flight, so who am I to talk?) It has this very busy and hectic feeling to it, though, and I could tell it's one of the busiest airports in the world. Lots of people, all sorts of different cultures and languages being spoken, and I was so glad that there's a Tube station right in the airport. It was very easy to get there, and I ended up grabbing a Super Saver Day Pass and heading into London with a minimum of fuss. My only disappointment was that no pidgeons turned up on the tube, as they apparently do on a regular basis.

It was trying to get from Picadilly Circus station to Trafalgar Square that I ended up having problems. (Which is sad, really, as it's not that far.) I couldn't find a sign telling me which direction to go, and I just eventually shrugged and picked one. I picked almost exactly right (always nice), and ended up staring in awe at everything. It seems London is just... bigger than everywhere else I've been. More flashy lights, more people, more traffic. There's just so much... more to it. It's hard to explain, really, but that's just the way it is. I got that sense here a lot more than I did when I was in Shanghai, although that may be because of the areas of Shanghai I was in, rather than any difference between the two.

TrafalgarTrafalgar Square is also larger than life. (How can it not be?) The place was full of people milling around, tourists taking lots of photos of themselves, and just a sense of business. They were in the process of setting up for the big New Years Eve thing, I assume, since fast fences were going up, and things were being covered. Everything there is much bigger than I thought it would be... huge lions at the foot of Nelson's monument, huge amounts of pidgeons, a huge fountain with huge mermaids, and huge steps up to the National Gallery.

Sadly, you can no longer feed the pidgeons at Trafalgar Square, as they "are a nuisance and cause damage to the square", which I'd heard elsewhere but can't deny being a bit disappointed by. Oh well... I wouldn't want to be the one picking up after them.

DolphinsThe National Gallery itself was a delight, and I'm so glad I went. Like most museums in the UK, it's free. The theory is that the works of art belong to the people, and so everyone should be able to see them. I think this works out much better than the system back in Canada, where everything seems so expensive to enjoy.

The Gallery also offers a free tour (which I highly recommend) that goes through the various rooms, showing off specific paintings and works, explaining why they're signifigant and what's important and interesting about them. It's about an hour, and will show you five painting from various areas, as well as explaining a bit about the layout of the museum. It's like taking a very good art history class, really, with the attention to detail.

I think my favorite part, though, was that they had the painting Virgin of the Rocks. I love that painting... I remember seeing it when I was 17 and in Paris, and so now I've seen it twice and I still love the detail in it.

After that, I started heading towards Westminster. I had a plan of seeing the abbey, then doing one of the tours of the area, and then coming up with something else to do afterwards. It wasn't a very solid plan, which is good because it didn't work out that way. I had misread the times on my tour, and thought I'd be able to get it about an hour later than I could. Once I realized, I abandoned the lineup (right near the front!) to Westminster Abbey and headed towards the meeting point.

Big BenThis was an excellent choice, and I cannot recommend London Walks enough. The two-hour walk was funny, fast paced, full of great historical tidbits, and just a lot of fun. My guide ended up doing these hilarious Winston Churchill impersonations. I'm sure you've all heard lots of Winston Churhill-isms. ("Winston, you're drunk!" "Yes, and you're ugly, but I'll be sober in the morning!"), and they're absolutely hilarious when done with an accent. The man doing the tour was tall and slim, and he'd puff himself right up, and hold his jacket just so, whenever he did one.

The tour talked about everything from the rule of Richard the Lion Heart being the 'break point' of British Law (everything before that is said to have been done since Time Immemorial) right up to Post World War II London. He talked about the Suffragette movement in the UK, London during the Blitz, and about the Parliment when it's opened by the Queen. He also talked about why Westminster managed to survive when so many other Abbeys were destroyed by Henry VIII. This man has an obvious love for the history of Westminster, and I understand that all the tours are like that. It was so much fun, and so interesting, leaving me wishing it hadn't ended!

Time Immemorial

So, I technically didn't get a good look inside Westminster Abbey. I say technically because after the tour was over, I decided to go to the Evensong Service held there. I'm not part of the Church of England (I'm not Christian), so I wasn't really sure what to expect.

The service was beautiful. Everyone sits in the nave at the center of the Abbey, and the choir filters in. All of the prayers are sung, and the music would ring out through the whole abbey. I can't even describe it for you. It was beautiful, and moving, and so incredibly welcoming. They write out how the service is performed, and explain what's happening and why things are done. It's so easy for a visitor to participate in it, and if you do get to London, you should take the time to go.

After that, it was rush rush rush, back to the Tube (I almost managed to get lost on the way back because I took a different station and had to change trains), back to Heathrow, and back on the plane.

All together I think I was gone about 16 hours or so. It feels on paper like I didn't do much, but I had such an amazingly time, and I never stopped moving until I got back to my flat. I bought a million postcards, and refrained from buying a Tom a t-shirt that said "My Friend went to London and All I Got Was This Lousy T-Shirt". I got a look at the famous Horseguards from a distance (they don't move, either, and I'm sure that the job must be the worst job in the security forces), and of course I popped into the Embassy, as I've said before.

But when I got home... I went to sleep. Sleep is always good.

{The entire Flickr Photoset}

January 4, 2006

Votes for Expats

So, I've been planning since the election in Canada was called to write up some lovely post about how I can vote, and so should you. I think I was going to go on about my personal belief that if you don't vote in an election, you've got no right to complain about the government. You had your chance for your voice, you gave it up, go ponder what you've done wrong for the next however many years.

Then I got an email from someone at CBC radio asking to interview me about being an expat Edmontonian who is voting this election, and how blogs have influenced my political opinions.

So, apparently tomorrow morning Edmonton time (tomorrow afternoon Scottish time), I'll be live on CBC radio, discussing blogging and politics. Sadly, I don't think the bit where I can get on my soapbox about how foolish politicians are being about the net is going to come up. Which is probably for the best, as I tend to start foaming at the mouth when I get on my soapbox.

The interview will be live at 7:40 a.m. Edmonton time (that's 2:40 p.m. Scotland time), and you can listen to it from this lovely website.

I'm really quite anxious about it. I suspect I'll end up talking about Scarecrow at least somewhat. Luckily I've warned him. Kinda.

Anyway, I will go back to my original point here briefly, though.

I'm in Scotland. I can vote.
I voted from China, for crying out loud.

You can vote, too. I don't care *what* you vote. You can vote D) none of the above. You can write "Cthulu, because I won't pick the lesser of three evils". Just vote. It's not that hard.

And wish me luck for tomorrow. I'm afraid my voice is going to crack, or I'm going to forget my name, or suddenly start spouting off about ice cream or something.

January 3, 2006

Because I'm the kinda person who finds this stuff interesting, I thought you might be the kinda person who does, too.

It's a video, and it's totally work and family friendly.

Guy Dancing Around the World.

Wish I had thought of it...

Should Auld...

And so, it was Hogmany.

I think I've made it clear that I had a marvelous time. It was great... from the company to the food to the fireworks to the party in the street, everything was exactly what I wanted it to be. If I were to do anything different, it would be to ignore everyone who insisted we get there super-uber early, as there's really only so much entertainment a street full of people without anything to can provide for a couple of hours.

But there were amusement park rides, and we did enter the Maze of Terror. My lovely companion for the evening (that would be Myles) discovered my horrible phobia of just about anything that comes out of the dark, and I was suitably terrified. And it killed a bit of time. *grin*

HaggisThe evening started with something approaching a traditional Scottish meal. There were tatties and neeps, carefully boiled so there was next to no flavour in them. Then there was haggis, also boiled, but it did have some flavour to it. Luckily, there was also copious amounts of alcohol to mask the flavour. You can never really go wrong with that, can you?

I'll skip the story where we had the clever idea of trying to move the rather large kitchen table into my not-as-large bedroom, and just mention that it a) seemed like a good idea at the time and b) was discussed while we were still sober, so I have no idea what we were thinking. I do know at one point it came down to "Well, let's have some of that good Edinburgh beer... then maybe we'll come up with a plan on how to get the table into the bedroom!" At that point, the table was stuck in the hallway, and blocking access both to the bedroom and to the bathroom, but no one ever said I was clever.

After all that (we moved the table eventually, and now it is in the other room), we decided that 7:30ish was a perfectly logical time to head out to a party that didn't start till 10, donned our sexy Scotland Is The Place hats and our Street Party wristbands and headed out into the night.

Streeters 3How do you describe a Street Party that had a million-zillion people at it? I've been to things like this before (I guess, kinda, not really - people huddling for warmth at the First Night in Edmonton isn't really the same thing, is it?), and it was insanely different in Edinburgh. People were laughing and carrying on, there was much singing and being silly, and some people showed up in costume. There was a Harry Potter (of course), an entire court of medieval Princesses and Knights, a trio that consisted of Batman and Robin (from the t.v. show in the 70s) and Cruella DeVille, and a rather disgruntled looking Santa, trudging along with an empty sack and a frown. There were many, many boys in kilts, some of whom may actually have been Scottish. (At least one decided to show off what he was wearing underneath the kilt. Myles wouldn't let me snap a picture.) Oh, and there was a bunny. A really big bunny. No idea what posessed anyone to do that, as he was covered in sweat by the time I ran into him, and it wasn't even 11 o'clock yet.

Streeters 2I guess what I can't get over was how friendly people were. I don't know what I was expecting - violence and chaos, maybe? But there was a distinct lack of it. No one was terribly stupid, at least not where I could see. People danced, they carried on, there were a million photos taken of everyone being silly, and it was just grand. Even after the actual 'entertainment' started (there were free stages set up in Princes Street, and a few things that you could buy tickets for in the actual Park itself), most of the fun was in just watching people. Myles and I hit the two big stages down on one end, then entertained ourselves for the next 45 minutes just trying to press our way through the crowds and not get seperated. Lots of gawking and people watching.

Of course, the whole point is the fireworks, at least for me. I adore them, and they really do know how to do them in Edinburgh. I had, of course, heard of the whole thing... they set off fireworks on most of the hills, and I guess you can see them from everwhere on New Years Eve. (I had friends who were at a party at their place instead, and they rushed out right before midnight to watch from the Meadows.) But seeing them bursting into life above the castle, huge displays of colour and noise, surrounded by people singing and laughing and clapping... it was so amazing. It was like being at the best party ever, and everyone was having a good time.

Boom 4

As the fireworks began to subside, all around me, people were singing. Some were singing the unofficial Scottish national anthem (or so Myles told me), and some were singing Auld Lang Syne, and it all just sounded wonderful together. People were shaking hands, kissing each other, laughing and hugging. Walking through the crowds afterwards, I must have kissed a dozen boys at least, and a couple of girls, too. It was just that sort of thing to do. Lots of smiles, lots of "Happy New Year!" It just felt like the best place to be, right at that moment.

{See all the photos}

January 2, 2006

Looking Back

Right about now, with the time change being what it is, people back in Edmonton should be sitting in Raven's basement, each saying a few words about what the previous year has meant to them.

I know what I would say.

2005 was the best year of my life. If I had to count my blessings, I'd run out of numbers.

I'd have more to say, but for some reason morning has totally thrown me for a loop. I think I may go back to bed.

January 1, 2006

Firth of Forth on the First

Well, I ended up bailing on the jumping into the Firth.

It's kinda complicated, but it mostly involves two things:

My guide for the evening ended up ditching me and not showing back up again until 7 a.m. (No, dear, that's not a dig at you, I'm glad you had a good time, but gah! you woke me up in a tizzy!)

It would have involved walking an hour up to Princes Street from here in order to catch the bus to Queensferry, and I was so freaking knackered after all the walking I've been doing that I just couldn't psych myself up for it. So when I went to wake Myles at 8:30 and he was so obviously out of it still, I decided to screw it and went back to bed.

There's always next year, after all. It's not like Edinburgh's going anywhere.

Dictionary.com Word of the Day - Hogmanay: the name, in Scotland, for the last day of the year.

Had a wonderful time, wish you were here.

Now, I sleep. Gotta jump in a firth tomorrow morning....

About January 2006

This page contains all entries posted to Anna Overseas in January 2006. They are listed from oldest to newest.

December 2005 is the previous archive.

February 2006 is the next archive.

Many more can be found on the main index page or by looking through the archives.