Sunday, October 19, 2014

The World's Cheapest Toll Bridge?

If you've spent any amount of time driving a car, particularly in North America or Europe, then chances are you've paid to cross a bridge. Toll bridges have existed for hundreds of years and can be found all over the world. 

Although the data doesn't exist for me to be able to officially prove this, I think I may have found the world's most inexpensive toll bridge: Kingsland Bridge in the town of Shrewsbury, England.

The bridge is thatta way!

The Kingsland Bridge

Spanning the River Severn, this bridge's toll was a whopping 10 pence (roughly 18 Canadian cents) until 2011, when it doubled. Yes, that's right; after remaining unchanged for 25 years, the toll rose overnight to 20p (much to the outrage of a certain 'mark rickards' who felt this was a 'rip off' - if you feel inclined, you can find his comments here. Oh, the trials and tribulations of small town life). To cross the bridge by foot, you face a (non-obligatory of course, as there is no one there to enforce it) charge of 1p.

No, they don't accept credit cards.

The bridge's 'honesty box' for pedestrians


I just can't help but find this bridge endearing. I wouldn't say it's overly pretty to look at, nor does it represent any great feat in civil engineering; I guess I just find it kind of comforting that there's still something left in the western world that costs less than a dollar (or, in this case, a pound). Plus, the views from the bridge are gorgeous!

What do you think? Is this the world's cheapest toll bridge, or do you know of an even cheaper one?

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Thanksgiving Lists

I've been pretty lucky this far in my life in that the Thanksgiving dinners I've eaten the second Monday of every October have always been prepared by other people. Sure I've helped out, stirring the cranberries here and basting the turkey a bit there, but on the whole I haven't contributed much. It's always looked like a lot of work, but I never realized just how much until this past weekend. 

As the whole giving-of-thanks thing doesn't really exist on this side of the Atlantic, I thought I would take things into my own hands by preparing Thanksgiving dinner for the first time ever. Minus the turkey, that is, because a) British shops don't sell turkeys this time of year due to the aforementioned nonexistence of the holiday in question and b) As I don't eat meat, the idea of touching/stuffing a huge dead bird really grosses me out. Ben roasted a chicken though!

Now this was a lot of pressure for several reasons: 
- Ben's family had never eaten Thanksgiving dinner (and I had been going on about how amazing pumpkin pie is, despite an article I read claiming that this vegetable-based dessert freaked many Brits out and was therefore terrified everyone wouldn't like it)
- It was proving rather difficult to find pumpkin pie filling; the only shop that seemed to sell pumpkin pie filling was out (which means there must be other Canadians somewhere in this town...) but luckily more got delivered at the last minute
- We were going to be seven altogether and I had never cooked anything for seven people at once, let alone a Thanksgiving dinner

But I was determined for this British Thanksgiving to be a success.

I started cooking around noon and apart from the chicken (which Ben made), the gravy (Ben) and the pie crust (Ben's sister Sophie) I made it all: 
- The pumpkin pie filling
- Spanakopitas (more Greek than Thanksgiving I know, but they're a good vegetarian substitute!)
- Vegetarian stuffing
- Beans and carrots
- Mashed potatoes
- Cauliflower cheese 
- Bread rolls

The preparation looked something like this:

Tracked down some canned pumpkin in the American section at Tesco!

This freaked me out a bit - had no idea the pie filling would be this runny!

Peeling potatoes

Ben's chicken!

Classic Ben, sneaking a bite of something


It was a lot (and I mean a lot) of work - I now have considerably more appreciation for all the amazing Thanksgiving meals I've eaten over the years - but the end result was soooo worth it. To my relief, the food and even the pie were well received by the Brits (although they all saw how much work I put into it so I doubt they would have told me otherwise) and Ben's family even said they want to make Thanksgiving an annual event!

A very proud moment for me

Their first Thanksgiving dinner (from left to right): Sophie, Ellie, James (Ellie's boyfriend), Julie, Dave, Ben

PP, how I'd missed you


I'll end with just one more list, of what I'm most thankful for this Thanksgiving:
- My wonderful boyfriend, who was absolutely worth moving across the world for
- My family, for supporting my nomadic lifestyle these last couple of years
- Ben's family, for letting Ben and I live with them while we look for jobs and making me feel like part of the family
- The friends who have made an effort to keep in touch since I've been traveling
- My health
- That I've had the incredible opportunity to spend a lot of the last two years exploring this wonderful world

Happy Thanksgiving from the UK!

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

What Do U.K.all It Again?

I spent the majority of this past summer in Ben's hometown of Shrewsbury, which is in a county called Shropshire, in a 'country' called England, in yet another country called the United Kingdom (phew). 

When I returned home to Canada in order to apply for a British Work Visa, friends and family enquired about the time I'd spent in England. While it's extremely flattering that people are curious about what I've been up to, I found that they often phrased the question in a funny way: I was often asked if I liked London or how I found life in London

Thing is, Shrewsbury (where I spent the majority of my time) is approximately three hours northwest of London. 

I don't mean to sound like I'm nit-picking or focusing on technicalities. I just think it's interesting that a lot of people tend to assume that the United Kingdom = England = London. While I think this is a pretty common misconception, I thought I would straighten a few things out.

The United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland (more commonly referred to as the UK) is the world's 22nd most populous country with over 60 million inhabitants. It is made up of four smaller 'countries' or nations: England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. Each has their own capital (London, Edinburgh, Cardiff and Belfast, respectively) but London is the capital of the whole of the UK. 

Unlike federal states like Canada or the United States, which are divided into provinces/states that have subordinate legislatures with their own areas of jurisdiction, the UK is a unitary state; that is, a state governed as one unit by the central government (in this case, Westminster Parliament). Although Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland each maintain some degree of autonomous power through their own parliaments/assemblies, they are ultimately controlled by and under the power of the central government in London (a system which, as the recent referendum in Scotland demonstrated, many people are not happy with as they do not feel well-represented).

All that to say this: While London is without a doubt an incredible city steeped in culture and history, there is more to England (and a LOT more to the UK) than its capital city. Oh, and I've never lived there!

Just a taste of what the UK has to offer outside of London in...




(but don't get me wrong, London is amazing and has tons to see and do!)

(There are no photos of Northern Ireland because I haven't been there yet, I hope to go at some point in the near future!)

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.