Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Bonkers for Conkers

Growing up in North America, the months of September and October were always characterized by going back to school and dressing up for Halloween. Here in the UK, I've learned that kids look forward to these months for a different reason entirely: Conkers. If you're anything like I was a week ago, you're probably wondering what the heck a conker even is. Allow me to enlighten you...

A 'conker' in all of its glory

Conkers is a traditional British game played with seeds of Horse Chesnut trees (the seeds are also called conkers). Dating as far back as 1848, the game of Conkers is played by two people at a time, each with a seed/conker threaded onto a piece of string (you have to drill to get the string though it). Taking turns, the players strike each other's conkers until one breaks. If you are so inclined, you can increase your chances of winning/breaking your opponent's hand by hardening your conkers by baking them in the oven or soaking them in vinegar (apparently this does not classify as cheating). Whoever's conker remains intact, wins!

Ben's family was beyond horrified when I admitted my ignorance to a game that had been such a big part of their childhood and that they all have such fond memories of. To find out just what exactly I had been missing out on, I decided I had to have a go at Conkers.

Ben drilling holes in the conkers

Conker hunting

Finding all the best conkers

And then the game began!

Ben's conker on some string and ready to go

Ben winding up...

And he strikes!

I can't say I'm quite as 'bonkers for conkers' as Ben and his family but it's a lot harder than it looks, I will say that! (I may or may not have gotten a little impatient at one point and thrown my conker across the yard). Unfortunately, much like Disney movies or Tamagotchis, Conkers will probably never be as awesome for people like me who didn't experience it growing up. Still, I can't say I'm not getting a cultural immersion - and that's really what being in a foreign country is all about, right?

Sunday, September 21, 2014

A Welsh Quarter Century

As I mentioned a few blogs ago, I applied for a British Working Holiday Visa so I could try out British life with my British boyfriend. After nearly five (pretty stressful) weeks of waiting for it to be processed, the darn thing finally got delivered to my front door a mere three days before I was due to fly out (in my utter elation I nearly hugged the delivery man, who was clearly terrified). I'm now back in Ben's hometown of Shrewsbury, diligently applying for jobs all over the country and ready for anything that comes my way. What better way to start this new chapter in my life than by celebrating my 25th year of life? Yep, as of a few days ago I am officially a quarter century old (yikes) and the celebrations were fantastically Welsh!

After bringing me breakfast in bed (this guy was so worth moving overseas for) Ben surprised me with tickets to two attractions at an old slate mine in the town of Blaenau Ffestiniog (yes, that is actually a place and no, I can't pronounce it) in  Wales: Bounce Below & Zip World

For Bounce Below, somebody had the genius idea of setting up three levels of large nets (with chutes you can slide down that connect them) in the depths of an old slate cavern, turning it into a sort of bouncy adult playground. Bouncing around in a dark, damp cave was definitely one of the most unique things I've ever done! I didn't bother taking my camera as it was quite dark but you can visit their website if you want to see what I'm talking about.

After spending a good hour underground, we resurfaced - and then some! Zip World was a series of zip lines built over the slate quarries. I had never been zip lining before but had always wanted to, and I absolutely loved it. Click here to see a video of Ben and I zipping through the air!

After a day of bouncing and zipping, Ben drove us to his family's holiday house in Aberdovey, located right on the Welsh coast. As it was the middle of the week and since kids are all back at school, we practically had the place to ourselves. We went for a lovely evening stroll on the beach, popped some champagne and had a delicious seafood dinner. It was perfect.

Popping champagne on the beach 

Ringing in my 25th year in style

Beautiful Aberdovey, Wales

After one of my most memorable birthdays to date, Ben and I are both continuing to look for jobs and trying to establish less nomadic lifestyles for ourselves. It's scary, stressful and exciting all at once but if my birthday was any indication of how this next year of my life is going to be - it should be pretty dang good.

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

In My Own Backyard

It took some time away to make me fully aware of it but I've come to the realization that the place I call home is incredibly awesome. For world-class skiing, killer mountain biking and stunning scenery, I don't have to stray much further than my own backyard. Whistler, made famous for all of these things and more, is just a mere two and a half hour drive away (along a stretch of very scenic coastline I might add!) from my hometown.

In addition to the activities I just mentioned, there are countless walks and hikes to do in and around Whistler, a good 99% of which I have never taken the opportunity to explore - even though I've been to Whistler loads of times! While I was at home this summer, unemployed and waiting around for my British Work Visa to be processed, I decided it was high time to do something about that.

My dad, my sister and I decided our destination would be Garibaldi Lake, located roughly 20 km south of Whistler. The hike itself is 18 km round-trip and while it's definitely no walk in the park, it's not ridiculously strenuous either. It was one of those hikes where you're not rewarded with any kind of view until you get to the very end, which is always frustrating at the time but especially satisfying when you finish. It was a cloudy day which was a bit of a shame but I enjoyed it nonetheless: mountain views, placid water that at some angles looked electric blue and a day spent with two of my favourite people.

That's another thing I love about traveling: Not only can it give you a greater appreciation of where you're from, but it makes you want to take advantage of what's right in your own backyard.

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Photo Blog: Lighthouse Park in West Vancouver

West is Best

The West Coast of Canada is commonly referred to as the Best Coast and (in my biased opinion anyway!) it's not hard to see why. Intricate inlets, vast fjords, lush temperate rain forests, gigantic whales leaping out of the water, bald eagles perched in trees watching bears eating salmon on the shore... these are just a few of the things you'll find in this magical little corner of the world. Scattered up and down this gorgeous coastline are 40,000 (mostly uninhabited) islands, over 200 of which comprise a group known as the Gulf Islands. 

Each Gulf Island is unique, and they vary greatly in both size and population. To give you an idea, the most developed and populous island (Salt Spring Island) has 10,234 inhabitants, eight schools and even their own currency, the Salt Spring dollar! The most sparsely inhabited and least developed is Saturna Island with a mere 350 residents, a small shop or two and one elementary school. 

While some people call these islands home year-round, for many they serve as a great getaway on weekends and during the summer months. If you're looking for adventure, you'll find it here: The islands offer a wide variety of activities including camping, hiking, kayaking, biking and even scuba diving but if you're wanting to just relax and enjoy some peace and quiet, they are perfect for that too.

As the crow flies, most of these islands really aren't that far away from major cities like Vancouver and Victoria. However, because they're not so easily accessible (some can be reached by ferry but many are only accessible by water taxi, private boat or floatplane) it can feel like you're a million miles away. I always feel instantly calm when I arrive and incredibly refreshed when I leave. I think the Gulf Islands are a big part of what makes West the best!

Some photos I took while staying on Mayne Island with my Mom and Grandma a couple of weeks ago

Love that sky

Cheeky deer in someone's front garden

Georgina Point Lighthouse

Three generations enjoying some island time

Best seat in the house


Japanese-style garden