Thursday, August 30, 2012

Days 7 & 8 - Helsingborg and Oslo

Helsingborg, Sweden – August 29, 2012

We left Copenhagen at 4 AM for a quick trip across the straight to Helsingborg, Sweden. Helsingborg is very close to Denmark, and ferries run between the two countries every 20 minutes. Among other things, Helsingborg is the home of IKEA headquarters (which are not, for the record, blue and yellow).
Fishing village, Sweden
We weren't able to dock, so we had to tender ashore. We'd chosen a tour again, so we got on the coach and started out on our journey. Our guide told us about the town as we made our way to our first stop, the fishing village of Raa. After about 20 minutes there, we boarded the bus again and went to Sofiero Castle, the summer residence of the late Swedish King Gustav. For the first time this trip, it was a beautiful, sunny day, and we spent an hour there, admiring the gardens and the castle. From one point in the grounds, you can clearly see Denmark, including the castle that Shakespeare used as his setting for Hamlet.
Sofiero castle

Gardens at Sofiero Castle
Gardens at Sofiero Castle
Gardens at Sofiero Castle

After the castle, we went to the keep, the only remaining portion of Helsingborg Castle, which was built in the 1300s. We took some pictures and then went back to the dock – but instead of immediately getting a tender, we walked down the pier and through some pedestrian shopping areas before traveling back to the ship.
The Keep
We were back on board by 1, and spent a relaxing afternoon on board.

Oslo, Norway – August 30, 2012

Our day started with a city tour of Oslo. We went by the opera house (which was designed to look like a glacier), the old fortress, the palace, and city hall. Our guide told us the history of the places we were seeing. Interestingly, when we were in Denmark, our guide told us they used to own Norway. In Norway, our guide said they used to be partners with Denmark.

After that, we stopped at Vigeland Sculpture Garden. This garden is the work of one man, who designed dozens of sculptures. We walked through the garden – as it rained on and off – and admired his work. After that, it was off to the ski jump that overlooks the town. The ski jump was impressive, but I was hoping to have a view of the city from there, and that wasn't possible.

Our next stop was the open air museum. This museum contains old buildings from around Norway – including an old stave church and houses with sod roofs. Apparently, to create a sod roof, you put down a layer of birch bark, then a layer of sod (grass side down), then another layer of sod (grass side up).

We were only there for an hour, but I could have easily stayed longer.

Stave church

Sod roofs

 We came back to the ship and had lunch, then spent some time in the conservatory (which I just discovered today). When it was time for the ship to leave, we went up on deck to watch as we sailed through Oslofjord.

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Days 5 & 6 - At Sea and Copenhagen

After Belgium, we had a day at sea. We started the day with a late breakfast, then went to a lecture on our next two stops – Denmark and Sweden. We had lunch, then discovered a pool (the terrace pool) at the end of our floor. The day was cool, but it was quite pleasant in the sun, so we found some lounge chairs and read in the sun for a while.

After that, we went to a second lecture – on Norway – then went to trivia. We were terrible (6 out of 20).

It was formal night, so we got dressed up and went for dinner, then went to the night's show – Siobhan Phillips. She was fantastic – far and away the best performance I've seen on a cruise ship.

Copenhagen – August 28, 2012

We were supposed to dock by 9, so at 8 I went up on deck. I watched us approach the port and dock and looked around for the Little Mermaid. She was nowhere to be seen, so I went back to the cabin and we went for breakfast.

After breakfast, we went out to look at the shops along the dock. After that, we got back on the ship and spent a few hours lounging around and eating a small snack before our tour at 12:20.

We choose the city tour. Unfortunately, it was raining, but we still got to see the Little Mermaid, the Gefion statue, and the royal palace. Next, we went to Tivoli Gardens, where we had 90 minutes on our own.

Little Mermaid
Gefion Fountain

At the palace
At the palace (with bonus umbrella)
Tivoli Gardens is a permanent amusement park. It has rides, gardens, shops, and cafes. We didn't do any rides (although some of them looked fun), but walked around and took lots of pictures.

Tivoli Gardens
Wanda at Tivoli Gardens
Tivoli Gardens
Tivoli Gardens
Tivoli Gardens
Tivoli Gardens
Tivoli Gardens
The rain cleared up, so we decided to walk back to the hotel. It was a long walk – it took about 2 hours – and it started to rain again en route.
The other issue was that I didn't have any local currency, and the toilets along the way were pay toilets.

It was a sad, sad day, but eventually we ended up by the palace again, and so I stopped at the toilets I knew were there. That made the rest of the walk a little better. We passed the fountain again, and the Little Mermaid.

By the time we got back to the ship, my legs were extremely tired. We got changed and immediately went for dinner, since I knew that if I sat down, I wasn't going to want to get up again. After dinner, we went to trivia (Tri-Bond trivia, specifically). This time, we got 20 out of 20 and won a bottle of champagne.

Monday, August 27, 2012

Day 3 & 4 - Southhampton, UK; Bruges, BE

I mentioned that we took the tube to our hotel. The station we ended at was Victoria station, and it was about 2 blocks to the hotel. Behind Victoria underground station is Victoria train station. I assumed Victoria Coach Station wouldn't be far.

It wasn't – about blocks further – but when you're pulling a suitcase and carting a carry-on, it's farther than it seems.

This morning, we got up and made our way to the coach station for our transfer to Southampton. (Yes, we decided to take a ship out of Southampton. What could possibly go wrong?)

We got on the ship around 2:30. By the time we got ourselves organized, it was almost time for the life boat drill. That seemed to take forever. (I get that it's important, but I would have been less antsy if I had had time for lunch first.)

We registered for our excursions, then it was finally time for a snack – it was too late for lunch by that point.

After that, we explored the ship, then had a relaxing dinner two other groups of travelers, all from the UK. It was a nice meal (with vegetables!). Next stop: Belgium.


We took an all-day tour of Bruges, Belgium. Bruges has an inner city surrounded by canals, surrounded by an outer city, also surrounded by canals.

There are a lot of canals, in other words.

I started the day by leaving my camera on the boat. Camera-less, we took the 30 minute drive from Zeebrugge to Bruges. (Why does one have two g's and the other one? It is a mystery.)

Our tour guide gave us a little background on the area, then we did a walking tour of Bruges in the rain. We walked on the city wall, crossed bridges over the canals, and learned that the step-gabled houses are newer than the houses with the straight gables. After about an hour and a half, we stopped our tour at the belfry – a landmark in the center of town. At that point, the group split up for time on our own.
Step-gabled houses
We went for lunch – including French fries, which our guide explained were traditionally Belgian. (We did not have mussels and fries, which is a local dish.) Lunch was good, but after lunch, I managed to miss a step leaving the restaurant and landed on my bad ankle.

We walked through the market area, looking at (and eventually purchasing) lace and chocolates. At 2:30, we met up with our group again for a canal cruise. By this time, the rain had stopped. The canal cruise gave us an alternate look at the city – I was very glad the weather had improved.

Bruges has a traditional parade and ceremony (held every 5 years) celebrating the marriage of Catherine of York to Charles (?). Today was the day. I would have liked to see the parade, but our guide was concerned we'd get caught up in the traffic, so he led us through streets lined with people to a different part of the city, where we had more time on our own.

Since I couldn't watch the parade, I went with the next best option – a Belgain waffle. We have chip trucks, they have a similar type of way of serving waffles.

My ankle was pretty sore by that point, so I was glad to get back on the coach for the 30 minute drive to the boat. When we got to the boat, I got up – and spectacularly realized I was still belted in.

Friday, August 24, 2012

Days 1 & 2 - London, UK

Our flight left at 11:25 at night. (Apparently, there's an 11:25 at night now). We got to the airport super early – not long after 9 – and had a nice long wait there.

The flight was uneventful – you don't get much time to sleep on the direct flight between Ottawa and London. It's a 7 hour flight, and it takes them about 2 hours to serve dinner and 2 hours to serve breakfast. Since Air Canada thinks a bland carrot muffin is “breakfast”, I'm not really sure how it can take so long, but such is life.

We took the tube from Heathrow to the station closest to our hotel. It was pretty easy – one transfer, which was the easiest subway transfer ever – and walked 5 minutes to the hotel. Naturally, our room wasn't ready, so we stored our bags and walked down the road. Our first stop was lunch – awesome fish and chips for me – and then we kept walking. We passed the headquarters for the British Girl Guide Association, then continued on to Buckingham Palace, which was just down the road. (Actually, the front of the palace is down the road - the back of the grounds is across the street).

By that time, it was late enough that we could check in, so we went back to the hotel, where I gratefully washed my face and changed my shirt. (Sorry, London, the shower had to wait.) It was about 3 by then, so we started a hop-on, hop-off tour, which is good until the end of the next day. We thought it would be 2 hours.

It took 3 and a half. We were tired and cold, so we went back to the hotel, dropped off our cameras, and went for supper. (Italian-style pizza, for anyone who was wondering.)

By then, it was almost 8, and we'd been up for … a long time, so we called it a day.

Day 2 started with a shower. (Yay for running water!)

We ate, then got back on the hop-on, hop-off tour and went to Hyde Park. We walked through the park to the Serpentine, saw Rotten Row, then walked back to the bus stop.  I was surprised how many paths in the park are still gravel/sand for horses.
The Serpentine, Hyde Park

We got back on the bus and went to Picadilly Circus. We walked around there for a while - it's very touristy, kind of like Times Square in New York - then, that's right, got back on the bus.

This time, we went all the way to the Tower of London. We grabbed some lunch, then went inside. We were lucky enough to get there just as a tour was starting, so we joined the tour. Our guide was really good, and pointed out Traitor's gate, the White Tour, the Bloody tour, the ... spot on the lawn where they executed the people lucky (?) enough to have been executed in the tower, and the chapel, telling us stories all the while. I'd share some of the stories, but I don't remember many of them well enough to share them. (I remember generalities when it comes to history, but for things like that, you need details.)
The White Tower

After the tour, we went through White Tower, an exhibit on prisoners in the tower, and an exhibit on instruments of torture. We walked on the inner wall, then decided that was enough.

We took a boat cruise (included in our hop-on, hop-off tour) back to the Parliament buildings, then walked over to Westminster Abbey. By that time, we were tired, so we took the bus back home, grabbed some food, and called it a night.

London by the numbers:

Number of slots in a post-office box - 2 (for stamped mail and franked mail - not all mailboxes, but some)
Number of times I've needed an umbrella - 1 (to run across the street for supper tonight)
Number of times I've inadvertently eaten peppers - 2 (I need to be more careful)
Number of bags of McCoys crisps I've purchased - 3
Number of bags of McCoys crisps I've eaten -1
Number of vegetable dishes I've eaten - 0 
Number of times I've been to the Tower of London (lifetime) - 3
Number of times I've been to the Tower of London (this trip) -1
Number of pictures I can upload using this dreadfully slow internet access - 0
Cost of dreadfully slow internet access - 6 pounds for 90 minutes

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

I just got a call from an unknown number.  Usually, I let those go to voicemail, but today I actually answered.

I was just about to hang up when an automated voice told me that a credit card company wanted me to answer a 3 minute survey about my recent call to them.

The thing is, I didn't call them.  I don't even have a credit card with them.  They were calling about Wanda's recent call.

Since it was automated, my choices were:
- yell at Wanda and hope she picked up before it asked me a question, or
- hang up.

I chose the second option.

I guess most people have cell phones these days, so they're the only one who answers the phone?

Either that, or they don't actually want feedback.

And now, since someone asked, here are pictures of my new hair cut / colour. It was crazier in person - it has calmed down a bit. But it still looks purple in the work bathroom.

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

I'll be the one limping

My foot hurts.

It started hurting yesterday on the way to the gym for this month's class of torture (30 seconds squats with shoulder presses, 30 seconds alternating row, 30 seconds alternating chest press in the bridge position, 30 seconds lunges, 30 seconds lunges on the other foot, 30 seconds renegade row, 30 seconds pullover in the bridge position with alternating crunch-like things with your knees - then repeat the whole sequence another 5 times).

Naturally, I went to the gym anyway - it didn't hurt that badly, and I hadn't really done anything, so I figured it would be fine.  It didn't hurt at all during class.  (Um, that may have been because everything else hurt - see above).

This morning, it started hurting again. Naturally, I went to the gym for cardio class.

Yes, I am a slow learner.

(As an aside, I've never done the cardio class before.  It was basically low-impact aerobics, and it was ... fine.  Not my favourite thing, but fine.)

Now? My foot hurts.

I'm starting to think signing up for the work Olympics (which seems to involve bouncy-castle-like-things for adults) might not have been the best idea.

But I'm going to be there tomorrow anyway.

Like I said, I'm a slow learner.

Sunday, August 19, 2012

More about vegetables

Well, it's been quite a few weeks and I'm still getting my CSA box.

I have to say I love it. I've even found a way to cook swiss chard that I don't hate (fry onions, garlic and mushrooms; add cut-up swiss chard when the other vegetables are mostly cooked). I've tried several vegetables I've never tried before, and I'm eating a lot more vegetables overall.

The only downside? The lettuce. I simply can't eat that much lettuce (nor do I want to, because I'm not a huge fan of lettuce). I've taken to pawning lettuce off on people - if you invite me to your house, I will show up with a bag of lettuce. If you don't invite me, I might show up with a bag of lettuce anyway. Soon I'll be putting a bag of lettuce on a stranger's front step, ringing the doorbell, and running away.

This week's box included:
  • mushrooms
  • potatoes
  • tomatoes
  • lettuce
  • more lettuce
  • an onion
  • beans
  • patty pan squash
  • beets
  • corn on the cob 
  • cucumbers
  • zucchini
  • swiss chard
  • carrots
Some of the lettuce and the swiss chard immediately went to a neighbour, who thought I was being nice. Some of the tomatoes got cooked with some onion, garlic, zucchini, and beet tops and frozen as spaghetti sauce. We've eaten more of the tomatoes, the carrots, one of the cucumbers, and the the corn on the cob.
I guess that means that for supper, we'll have squash, beets,beans, mushrooms, potatoes, and a salad with the remaining cucumber and lettuce.

Well, maybe that should be more than one meal.

Sunday, August 12, 2012

Yes, I'm still alive

Well, after the initial misstep, I've remembered to do the exercises every day. (I've even done the exercises every day, which is a whole different thing).

I worked the stat holiday last Monday.  I didn't have to work it, but since I was covering for one of my coworkers, I wanted to work it so the rest of the week wouldn't be too busy.

(That coworker returns tomorrow.  I'm thinking of throwing her a "Never Leave Again" party.)

I also have a new manager at work - I'm still doing the same job, just in a different group - so that has taken up some time.

It's been rainy in Ottawa lately - not all the time, but enough that I wore a jacket to work one day last week.  (Not Tuesday, when I got soaked going home from boxing. Some other day when the farthest I had to walk outside was from the car to the house.)

In other sad news, summer is almost over.  That means Sparks will start up soon.  I'm not sure I want to continue with Sparks, so I probably should get on that and figure it out.

Oh, and I got my hair cut & coloured yesterday - dark, with a slightly crazy red that I love.

In other words, not much is new.

Friday, August 3, 2012


Guess what I totally forgot to do yesterday?

If you guessed the exercises I resolved to do 24 hours earlier, you're right.

(I did them this morning, then again tonight.)

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

In which I take ages to get to the point

Back in June, my right knee started to hurt.

I had injured it years ago (back when I still was working at the big telecom company and doing Irish dance once a week), had physio, and, although it has never fully recovered, it pretty much didn't hurt unless I tried to keep it bent. (I am fun to sit beside on airplanes and at movies.)

But in June, it started to hurt again - mostly manifesting itself as stiffness after I'd been sitting for a while - and I thought "oh well, haven't been to physio in months", ... and then did nothing about it.

In July, my Monday class at the gym started doing a really painful workout. Six rounds, with one round being:
  • 30 seconds shoulder presses
  • 30 seconds front squats
  • 30 seconds dead lifts
  • 30 seconds bent over rows
  • 30 seconds split squats (leg #1)
  • 30 seconds split squats (leg #2)
  • 30 seconds push up/mountain climbers (so as you lower yourself into the push up, you also bring one leg up towards your elbow.)
Everybody (including me) was sore the day after we did this the first time. And the day after that. And a little the day after that.

The thing is, while I was doing the dead lifts, I noticed that my right hamstring hurt, but the left one didn't. My whole  knee issue wasn't my knee at all - it was actually the hamstring.

And after I started doing this workout (3 times in July so far), my knee stopped hurting.

So, after the longest intro ever, I'll get to the point.

In order to hopefully fix this more permanently, I'm going to do hamstring exercises every day in August.

I'm also going to do some shoulder/flexibility exercises, because ... well, it just seems like a good idea.  I have no natural flexibility.

Day 1 is done. 30 days to go.