Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Canadian in Cardiff blog is now on Wordpress

Hello everyone,

I've moved my blog to Wordpress due to repeated browser problems at the Cardiff Library. Now, for some reason blogger is working again after two weeks of failing to do so -- and I think the library may have updated as things are looking new and acting differently (read -- actually working).

However, I can't keep going back and forth and I made the leap, so please see:
www.canadianincardiff.wordpress.com for present and future postings. The new site will just be considered Volume 2 of this site.

Day 3 of my May trip to Europe with my brother and sister-in-law is now posted, with the last day, Day 4 coming withing the next two weeks.

Enjoy! or not ... but hope you enjoy!

Monday, July 22, 2013

blogging issue reprieve

After more than a week of frustration with trying to set up a blog on Wordpress, which I find non-user friendly with limited options, I tried Blogger again at the library and -- it worked!

I have no explanation for this, as even Wordpress was telling me that Cardiff Library's version of Internet Explorer is outdated, but I don't really care. I like Blogger, it feels like home, and for the moment it appears I can continue to blog with it.

Colour me a happy blogger!

Friday, July 12, 2013

major blogging issues

It may be time for me to say farewell to Blogger, which saddens me and is also going to be a new learning curve as I will have to set up a blog on another site, probably Wordpress.

The posting function on Blogger is not working at the Cardiff Library as of last week.  After doing some online sleuthing, my understanding of it is that Blogger will only work now on the newest Internet Explorer and it appears the library is running on an older version and, I've been told, won't be changed for 10 months or so.

I will try and speak to someone else at the library before I change. I don't think I'll be able to import my old blogs with me when I change to the new site. It can be done; I believe the content is done in a straightforward manner but to import the photos or media you have to download an app -- and again, working out of the public library doesn't allow me to download anything foreign onto their machines. And importing my content without the photos doesn't make any sense.

As a consumer and a user, and not a technogeek, you assume these postings will go on forever in cyberspace, but apparently not. I don't want to drop the blog -- it is a creative outlet for me -- but it is also nice having everything in storage and with retrospective. I'm not sure how long Blogger will keep my blogs around once I switch and stop inputting into my present site -- another thing I will have to find out.

I'm doing this on the computer at work which runs on Chrome, which Blogger is OK with now, but I can only be on this computer for a few minutes and there is not much privacy, so it is not a real option.

Monday, July 8, 2013

Day two: the Alps -- switchbacks and cowbells

As Kelly went for his early run through the streets of Venice, I went out with my camera to wander the canals and calli of our sestieri, and was caught up in the fascination of garbage collection, Venetian-style. Metal carts filled with garbage were lifted mechanically and emptied into the deeps of a boat. I sat on a canal edge watching until one of the collectors disappeared into a neighbourhead cafe and did not return. Other labourers took in the morning heat and calm, chugging along the canals in small barges and boats.

We said 'ciao' to Venice with a last vaporetto ride to the Santa Lucia train station. The station was an impressive arrival, or in this case, departure from Venezia and more organized for tourists than the Piazzale Roma coach station. Kelly and Wendy had arrived by train from a nearby town where they parked their rented car.

Having reclaimed the car, we began our long day's journey through the Alps ...

An expected five-hour trip through the Alps, with time for scenic lunch breaks and photo ops, became a marathon of missed road signs and growing incredulity with Italian road marking. We were turned around again and again, destinations appeared at roundabouts one time and one time only. The scenery was breathtaking and luscious. The further north into the Italian Alps we went, the more the view outside the car window looked like pictures taken from the Swiss story of Heidi -- lovely villages, each one with its own church, laid out in valleys, spotted alongside mountain ridges, surrounded by pasture lands smooth and green.

We were looking for Bassano. Kelly had been driving for at least five hours and we were still in Italy, still had to go through Austria and a bit of Germany. We had pulled off the main road and Wendy and I went into a store to pick up bread, lunch meats, fruit and crackers for a lunch. We ended up eating those crackers and apples in the car for the rest of the day, staving off hunger and road-sign frustration.

We found Bassano, we were unexpectedly in Bassano, we couldn't get out of Bassano -- Bassano finally spit us out and we were on our way when Kelly said he thought that we had missed the main highway and were climbing the mountain. Indeed we were. The switchbacks took us into high skiing country. We must have been near the Austrian border as the buildings looked more and more Alpine and the languages on the signs were now in German as well as Italian. The views of the valleys below were stunning. On the descent, as we faced occasional, intrepid cyclists on blind curves as they clambered up the mountain, the ride was also a little terrifying.

As evening approached we called the inn in Brannenburg, outside Munich, where we were staying that night to let them know we were expecting to be a little late. After the switchback Kelly was able to get on a major highway and we made it through Austria and into Germany smoothly, very thankful for road signage that was familiar.

After the long day on the road we pulled into Brannenburg, a delightfully Bavarian village, that couldn't have been more perfect. I had been expecting a desolate suburb of Munich, something one might have found in North America on a tacky strip into town. But they don't do it that way in Europe. The homes were real, spotted along the valley floor on the edge of foothills and large, based on the model when barns were part of the houses. The air was sweet with the smell of hay and blossoms and green grass. The residence/inn where we stayed, Pension Berghof, had several guest rooms and a spa and our specific room, with a kitchenette and bunk beds, was large enough for a family.

Not more than twenty feet from our outdoor entrance was a flowering orchard in which about four cows grazed in the evening sun; yet the air didn't smell of manure but of sweet hay and the cows all wore bells that made the most singular sound. Every time one moved its head a light tinkle floated through the air. It was more lovely than windchimes, which can repeat on themselves. Another week later and we would have missed them as our inn's proprietor told us that the cows would then make the journey up to the summer pastures. I became enamoured of cowbells.

Evening was fading into night and we had to get food into our stomachs. We were fortunate that the village had what turned out to be an excellent restaurant. Unfortunately we didn't know what we were ordering as the menu was in German. Kelly did know about spargel, the white asparagus, which he explained was the star of German menus in the spring. With a little sign language I was able to order the fish, which was probably the best fish I have ever had in a restaurant. It was better than anything I've had in any Italian or French restaurant and melted in buttery sweetness.

Beer, of course, and a walk back to our room where we kept the windows open to the drifting sound of cowbells. The bright notes hung in the air and moved here, then there late into the night, welcoming us again early in the morning.

The village church in Brannenburg, Bavaria

Sundial on the side of the church -- not sure if it was 'working'
-- it was about 9 a.m. and sunny, but no shadow that I could see
The restaurant in which we had a wonderfully cooked German meal, complete with spargel
Brannenburg Schloss, now a private school, with a sadly modern story

Monday, June 17, 2013

Day one: Venezia -- sunshine and gelato

Ca San Trovaso in Dorsoduro -- our room ground level behind green door

In mid-May I met my brother Kelly and sister-in-law Wendy for three days in Europe, catching up with them after they had spent a week on a business trip in Germany. The German firm Lowa will be holding its meeting in the U.S. next year, and this was Kelly and Wendy's last planned European trip for awhile. It has been very fortunate for me to have met up with them three times since my arrival in Cardiff: year one in Ireland, year two here in Wales and this recent jaunt to Venice, the Alps, and Munich.

I had not been beyond Paris and most likely wouldn't have ventured to these places on my own: it was a wonderful trip, full of sunshine, warmth and pleasant surprises.

I arrived in Venice on the bus shuttle from Treviso Airport at 10:30 on the morning of May 13 after catching an early Ryanair flight from London's Stansted Airport. It was my first time on the economy airline and the experience checking in was stressful and agonizingly slow. The flight itself was fine -- though they were trying to sell something every five minutes -- but it will be awhile before I venture with Ryanair again. Fortunately sunny Italy and reuniting with family erased the rough start to the day. 

The bus terminal in Venice, at the Piazzale Roma, was smaller and less tourist-friendly than I had anticipated. The hoped-for signs in English were not there (my Italian is non-existent except for Latin studies in high school) and immediately I was confronted with the frenetic confusion that is Venice. I was to catch a specific vaporetto, or water bus, to Zattere to meet up with Kelly and Wendy at our hotel.  Even after being assured of the stop by a patient woman in an unusually hidden and unusually useless transportation office (no maps), it took some investigating to realize where and how I was supposed to board the vaporetto. Finally, with a deep breath, I was able to text Kelly and let them know of my imminent arrival.

Venice is not as large as one would suspect, and despite, and because of, the need to travel by water, travel times are not long. Some vaporetti stop at every station, some are more direct -- my trip to Zattere on the south only took about 15 minutes. Just standing on the boat among the tourists and locals, with the sun shining and the breeze fresh off the water made the frustration of the morning's travels fade away. As we approached my stop I saw a woman on land folding a map against her husband's backpack and realized it was Kelly and Wendy arrived to meet my boat. It was good to see them. They had met me because they had had trouble finding our hotel the night before and thought I might need a guide.

As it turned out, my brother Kelly had an excellent sense of where he was in Venice at most times and Wendy and I gave up all concerns to lithely follow where he lead.
Wendy and Kelly on the dock in front of Ca San Trovaso
Canadian/American feeling the Venetian vibe
San Barnaba Church with the white pillars -- a landmark for us
Basilica di Santa Maria della Salute

The Grand Canal
Crossing the Grand Canal with view of the Salute

The Chiesa di San Giorgio Maggiore

                                                                                                                               Photo: Kelly O'Brien
Fellow passenger on the vaporetto

Palazzo Ducale, or Doge's Palace

Venice ... what to say about Venezia? You can get a good sense of it in a day, but you could also spend your whole life there and never know it all. I think of it as being a little schizophrenic -- it is light and dark, calm and frenetic, religious and hedonistic, very ancient yet very 'now', crumbling and reaching for the heavens simultaneously. There is a sense of 'anything goes' and madness.

I think of it now as an elaborate 10-tiered wedding cake. You gaze at it and marvel at its beauty and that it stands. You may taste a delicately wrought rosette, but it is only a surface sweetness with unknown depths of rum and fruitiness hidden in the structure beneath. Above all, it is a symbol of all that life can hold and promise.

Memorial to Victor Emmanuel II
Tourists at Piazza San Marco

The clock-tower at Piazza San Marco

Workers atop the Basilica di San Marco

The Rialto Bridge across the Grand Canal

The Grand Canal

A boat selling produce

Kelly and Wendy in front of the Chiesa di San Rocco

A home, or hotel, at the far eastern end of the Castello sestieri, or neighbourhood

The Hilton Molino-Stucky as seen from the Dorsoduro sestieri

Friday, May 24, 2013

sweet six(tee)

Photo: Diane Urbanski O'Brien

Beautiful birthday cake made by my sister-in-law Diane

I turned 60 years of age at the end of April and it feels amazing. Somehow, it feels like a proper coming-of-age. And it comes with benefits. Not only am I now eligible for discounts (or 'concessions' as they call them here) on everything from cinema tickets to theatre productions, I can also -- drumroll, please -- ride the buses for FREE.

Not only can I hop on a city bus for nothing, I can hop on any government-sponsored local buses between towns and counties -- at any time, with no restrictions. Some people have travelled all around Wales. Mind you, this would take awhile, as most of these buses are not direct nor high-speed, but most of them travel through beautiful Welsh countryside, so what's the hurry on a day or two off.

My birthday fell on a Sunday and city offices weren't open, but on the Monday I was in first thing. The woman took my picture, took my proof of age and residency, and issued me my card. As the offices were conveniently located across from the main bus terminal I went straight to the bus heading for Porthcawl. Whereas a day pass for Porthcawl and area costs £5.50, I paid nothing. This is a rather glorious feeling. I intend to repeat it often.

I've done much of my international and continental travel already this year (posts on my recent trip to Italy and Germany to come!) and for the summer plan day trips galore through the lovely, Welsh country and seaside.

The Welsh government has had this plan in place for a little more than 10 years now and is committed to it through 2014; it is very popular, as you can imagine, so I can't see them getting rid of it, or at any rate, I hope they keep it, despite its probably substantial cost. The pass is not good for travel in England or Scotland, only within Wales, but can be used for some trips to England, as long as they begin or end in Wales (I'm thinking this will come in handy for visits to Bristol!).

Scotland, England and N. Ireland have similar programs, with that of England coming with more restrictions and cutbacks: for example, in England the pass is only good during non-peak hours (though this apparently only means no early morning rides) and the age is gradually being raised to 65.

Well done, Wales! Well done, UK!