Megan and Chris

Lost in the moment

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A House and Job Update with Pictures!

Filed under: Chris,New House — Chris at 11:42 am on Sunday, January 31, 2010

Well, it’s been far too long, but we’ve been pretty busy since we landed back in Canada just over a month ago.

The quick updates. We’re both working. Megan got a great job with a new agency called the Today Family Violence Help Center and I (Chris) am back with Enquiro doing internet marketing.

We bought a great little VW Golf TDI that we’ve named Sven. He’s blue.

And most exciting, we bought ourselves a house. People have been bugging us (when they’re not asking us to update this site) for pictures, so here we go! We’re supposed to get possession at the end of next week. It’ll be nice to have our own space and be able to stretch out a little bit after living out of suitcases and small rooms for the past several months. Enjoy!

The beginning of the end, and a new beginning

Filed under: Uncategorized — Megan at 6:40 pm on Monday, November 23, 2009

When we were planning this Irish adventure, I had a pretty precise plan about what I wanted to do here. I planned to get a semi-flexible (preferably social work) job, travel when we could, meet people, join a youth group, and enjoy Ireland. Seems fairly simple, no?

Man (and woman) proposes, and God disposes. It turns out that we landed in Ireland in the middle of the worst recession in at least a generation. People told us it would be bad, but you really have to live it to get it. I looked high and low for a social work job, and actually interviewed for two, but nothing came of it. Not having had the chance to really talk to very many people in the field, I’m not totally clear on it, but it seems as though Ireland just doesn’t have the number of social agencies that Canada does. That’s a whole other conversation, but between the smaller number of organizations and the very little money available from the government for any of them, jobs in the social work field are few and far between.

So I looked for non-social-work jobs too. Reception, secretary, retail, coffee shops, day cares, and on and on. And got absolutely nothing back. Maybe one or two emails of acknowledgement, but not even an interview. The ads for even these entry-level jobs ask for 2-3 years experience. Chris’ job hunting has been fairly similar. Essentially, there are no jobs in this country.

On the plus side, being unemployed has allowed us a whole lot of time to travel. We’ve done a ton of little day trips around Cork, plus London, France, Dublin, etc. It’s been really cool to be able to say ‘Hey, let’s go somewhere’, and be in London a couple days later.

Meeting people has been a lot more difficult than we anticipated. In the past (in Germany, Edmonton and Kelowna), I’ve made really god friends through church youth groups, and so I was hoping that the same would happen here in (traditionally Catholic) Ireland. Not so much. Again, a whole different conversation could be had but the basic summary is that it seems like nothing happens at a parish level here. No parish council or committees or youth groups. We found a young adults’ prayer meeting that we’ve attended quite a bit, but it’s not home. Add to that not working outside the house, and we haven’t met a lot of people, Irish or otherwise.

When it became fairly clear that we would not be able to find the jobs we wanted here, we started talking about coming home early. At first I was really opposed to the idea. I felt like leaving early meant giving up, and forfeiting this chance that we might not have again (the ability to just pick up and move without many strings attached). Slowly, through a lot of conversations and continued non-response to my job applications, I came to accept that the Irish adventure was not exactly working out according to plan. And as much as it’s fun to travel, it does cost money. And the in-between times of sitting at home in Cork not doing anything were getting to me. Plus, the idea of spending Christmas alone (that is, just the two of us) is a little sad.

So, after a whole lot of pondering and wondering and talking (if absolutely nothing else, the last three months have allowed Chris and I to have some really great conversations), we’ve decided to come back to Canada. In time for Christmas. We actually booked our tickets tonight, and will arrive in Edmonton on December 16th.

I don’t want it to seem as though we hate it here. There are some things that we aren’t enjoying as much as we’d hoped, but I am still so glad that we came. I’m trying to make this concise, because I could go on for a long time about our experience here and everything we’ve done and learned. Let’s have a real, in-person conversation about it sometime. But it really has been a rewarding experience. There are lots of things that I’ll be sad to leave. But just thinking about everything that’s waiting for us when we get back to Edmonton puts a really big smile on my face, which is how I know that we’re doing the right thing.

See you all before Christmas.

Normandy on Remembrance Day

Filed under: Ireland,Megan,Pictures!,Travelling — Megan at 5:05 pm on Wednesday, November 18, 2009

There’s probably never a bad time to go to France, but Normandy on Remembrance Day is something special. Even though we didn’t actually attend a ceremony, hear Last Post or the “We will remember them” poem, or observe an official moment of silence, you can’t help but feel reverent at the places we had the opportunity to see.

We flew from Shannon airport into Paris-Beauvais, which is actually northwest of Paris. It worked nicely for us because we rented a car and didn’t have to drive anywhere near Paris itself. We drove to Caen, where we spent our first three nights. We got in pretty late and by the time we found our hotel it was basically time for bed.

We spent a large part of Day One at Le Mémorial de Caen, a gigantic museum that covers most of the 20th century and focuses especially on the role France had in various wars and military strategies. It was a little too much for me and I got bored after World War 2, so we didn’t actually see all of it. There was a huge amount of information and I felt a little silly staying indoors and reading about it when we could be outside (on one of our few sunny days!) actually seeing the locations we were reading about. I would have liked to see the Berlin Wall exhibit, but it wasn’t actually open to the public until the day after we were there. So after lunch at the Mémorial, we headed over to Juno Beach. By the time we got there it was about an hour and a half before closing time at the Juno Beach Center, which wouldn’t have been enough time to see the museum properly. So we just explored the beach itself and took lots of photos.

One thing that really struck home for me when we visited the beaches was how huge they are. We’d watched The Longest Day right before going, so we’d seen lots of movie footage of the Normandy landings on D-Day. But when I saw the beaches I was amazed at how immensely long, wide and open they were. The Germans were seriously well set-up; they’d been there for a long time already and had bunkers and guns on the high ground in the dunes above the beach. The Allies had basically no cover at all. I’m not sure how well it’s represented in our photos, but I’m amazed that we got through with anyone still alive.

We spent Day Two at Mont St Michel, an abbey that has been built up on a tiny island over about 1200 years. It’s a complete labyrinth for anyone who’s never been there before. When we first walked in through the main gate, we were in a chaotic market street with restaurants and tourist shops everywhere. We wandered aimlessly for a little while, and stopped at one booth where the staff member explained that we could buy one ticket for ‘all four’ museums, and gave us a map. Hurray! So we wandered through the first two ‘museums’. One was a couple of rooms set up with furniture to simulate ‘a day in the life’ for one of the royal families that lived in the castle. The next was a ‘sound and light show’ (entirely in French) which we skipped, and a tour through the dungeon cells and torture area, complete with creepy wax figures and very dark lighting.

We had some trouble navigating, even with the map, and eventually found our way up to the Abbey, which turned out not to be included in the ‘four museums’ ticket, and also turned out to be the part of the whole site that we actually wanted to see! So we shelled out some more money (hey, you only live once) and took the audio-guided tour through the Abbey. It was cool to see how it was set up. Basically the Romans started building on the island in the eighth century, and other groups have just taken it from there. Hence the labyrinth. There are rooms on top of other rooms, some whose purposes aren’t even known anymore. Religious life to took place on the highest levels, with special (i.e., rich and important) guests in the middle and the poor travellers and pilgrims at the bottom.

We did go through the other two ‘museums’ (really, more sound and light shows) that were included in our ticket, but didn’t realize until the end that we could get headsets that would translate the shows into English. In the end, I would recommend to anyone going there to avoid the four-in-one ticket and just go for the Abbey.

Day Three was Remembrance Day, and we headed back to the Juno Beach Center for 11 am in case anything was happening there. They were going to have a ceremony, but not until 3 pm. We had other plans for the afternoon, so we couldn’t do the ceremony but we did take in the museum this time. I highly recommend it for any Canadians going to this area of France. It’s really well done and takes you through Canadian history and politics pre-WW2, into the war (with a special section each for Army, Navy and Air Force) and then finishes with an exhibit on what Canada is like today. There are lots of little audio-visual ad hands-on things as well as the typical reading.

We headed a little further down the coast and saw the remnants of the artificial port that that was built for the British at Gold Beach. Then we continued on to Omaha, which is the beach the Americans took and also had the most casualties. We didn’t go into any of the (many) museums that are available around there, but we did take a walk on the beach and take more pictures.

We had booked a room at a hotel in Arras for that night, so after spending most of the day on the beaches we headed inland again. The town of Lisieux is very close to where we were, so we stopped there on our way towards Arras. Lisieux is the home of Sainte Thérèse of Lisieux, and there are lots of things to see about her in the town. Unfortunately we got there around 5:00 pm and most things were already closed. Thankfully we did get to see the Basilica of Ste Thérèse, which was amazing. It was only finished in the 1950′s, but looks like one of the incredible old churches that took centuries to build. There are mosaics everywhere inside, as well as 18 small altars dedicated to the countries that contributed to the building of the basilica. Pope John Paul II visited there in 1980. There’s also a crypt under the basilica dedicated to the parents of Sainte Thérèse.

Eventually we did get to Arras, although again we hadn’t really bothered to get directions to our hotel so it took us quite a while to find it. By the time we did we were just happy to go to sleep.

Day Four was reserved for Vimy Ridge, which was really the original reason for the trip. And it was so worth it. It’s one of the most amazing paces I’ve ever been, and made me feel so proud to be Canadian. We got a tour of the trenches and tunnels from one of the guides (who are all Canadian students), and we spent a lot of time just walking around the site and being amazed by the memorial. It’s just…huge. And awe-inspiring. We also saw a few of the cemeteries on the site. They’re called Canadian cemeteries but actually include graves of soldiers from many nations. I was surprised to see how few of the tombstones include names. A lot of them at least have a regiment, but most are simply labeled ‘A Soldier of the Great War’.

After Vimy it was time to head back towards the airport and Ireland. One thing we learned about France (at least the part that we were visiting) is that the pace of life, especially when it comes to meals, is much more relaxed than we are used to. You’re supposed to take the time to sit down and really enjoy every meal. We tried to grab coffee and croissants before heading out on the road in the morning – doesn’t happen. You can get croissants from a bakery, but it’s almost impossible to find hot drinks to go. And coffee really only comes in two forms: coffee (single espresso) or large coffee (two espresso). Take-out and fast food are pretty uncommon too. We tried to get Chinese take-out, and it came cold. Apparently you can get the food, but then you’re supposed to go back to your home and heat it up. Doesn’t work so well when you’re in a hotel though. Normally I would prefer to sit down and enjoy a meal like they expected us to there, but often by the end of the day I was so tired of trying to speak French that I just wanted to eat in peace without having to really interact with anyone. Occasionally my French would be accepted without much comment or need to repeat myself, but often I was misunderstood or the person I was trying to talk to would just automatically switch to English. Which was sometimes nice but could be frustrating when I just wanted to practice my French and/or be understood without too much fuss.

Anyway! In a (rather large) nutshell, that was our trip to France. As a reward for making it this far, you get to look at our pictures now! I am rather too lazy to actually post any here, but there is a whole album on Flickr if you just click over here. Enjoy!

Dingle and Dublin

Filed under: Ireland,Megan,Pictures!,Travelling — Megan at 5:12 pm on Tuesday, November 17, 2009

I’m going to try and catch up a bit on our news and travels since we’re about to embark on another trip. The more posts that I have waiting, the more I’ll procrastinate.

Lauren came back to see us at the end of October, and we did a day trip out to Dingle, in the far west of County Kerry. It was about a 2 and a half hour drive, and we stopped in Killarney on the way. Lauren and I sang Christmas in Killarney, since Chris had never heard it.

Anyway. After some very tiny twisty roads, we got to Dingle. There’s an aquarium there, complete with a pirate statue and a tank of Nemo-themed fish. There are some photos on Chris’ Facebook here. We had a pretty fantastic time there although the aquarium was a little smaller than we expected. Then we fought the crazy wind and walked along the harbour wall for a while. There are pictures of that part here.

For Halloween, we headed over to Dublin for a night. We took the bus, which was much less fun than the train. But there was construction on the train line and we would have had to take the bus partway anyway. We went to the Guinness Storehouse (photos here) and spent quite a bit of time wandering through there. I especially liked the 360 degree view of Dublin from the bar at on the seventh floor. It was dark by the time we got up there, and we saw fireworks all over the place. Apparently Halloween is a firework-worthy holiday in Ireland.

We (okay, maybe just I) didn’t feel like actually dressing up for Halloween, so we took an observer’s position on this Halloween. After we got back from Guinness (and dried off from the pouring rain), we went down to a pub just outside our hotel and just watched. It was honestly probably the best Halloween I’ve had in several years. Besides the interesting social commentary that comes from observing Halloween in a bar, we saw five guys dressed as a caterpillar.

Chris went to bed early with a headache, and Lauren and I stayed up much too late drinking wine and talking. She left for Dubai (via London) early the next morning, and Chris and I headed home on the bus.

Next up, France!

London!

Filed under: Ireland,Megan,Travelling — Megan at 5:23 am on Monday, October 12, 2009

This past week we had our first houseguest and we went on our first trip outside of Ireland. Hopefully the first of many on both counts!

Our dear friend Lauren, currently traveling the world, came to hang out with us for a week, and it was awesome to see someone from home, even if she hasn’t been ‘home’ in four months. The three of us went to Blarney Castle and took advantage of fantastic weather to explore the castle and grounds, climb some trees, and of course kiss the Blarney Stone.

Lauren needed to be in London eventually to catch her flight to Egypt, so we decided to accompany her in that direction and the three of us got to experience London together for a few days.

Since we had plenty of time, we chose to take a train/ferry combination on the way there. It all worked out rather well, but was an adventure. We called the ferry place a few days ahead, but were told we could only buy the ferry and train combo ticket (from Dublin to London) at the ferry terminal. We just had to show up an hour before the ferry was scheduled to leave. The actual journey consisted of:

- driving from our house to the train station in Cork
- finding a place we could park our car for four days
- going to pay for the aforementioned four days’ worth of parking and discovering I’d left my wallet at the house
- driving back to the house, in rather a hurry, finding the wallet, and making it back to the train station in time to catch our train to Dublin
- an uneventful three hours on the train from Cork to Dublin, arriving at 1:20 pm
- a taxi from the Dublin train station to the ferry port, slightly worried because the ferry was going to leave at 2:30 and we certainly were not going to be there an hour ahead
- arriving at the ferry terminal, and getting our tickets with no problems at all. Hurray!
- two hours on the ferry, arriving at Holyhead in Wales.
- our schedule said we would have about 45 minutes at the ferry terminal to wait for our train, but when we asked the staff there, we were told the train was leaving in six minutes. So we hopped on that one, which was quite full and we ended up beside a rather boisterous couple and their two small children.
- …except this train wasn’t taking us all the way to London. We had to switch, and then take the second train to the next stop, and then switch again. So three trains later, we finally arrived in London! We actually ended up there half an hour earlier than the train that we had expected to take, and probably with more stories to tell, too!
- found our hostel quite easily, got some dinner, watched The Lion King in the hostel common room, and went to bed!

Unfortunately I have yet to be convinced of the merits of hostels, ‘cause this one wasn’t great. It was rather smelly, and when there are twelve people sleeping in the same room (especially when most of those people are male), it’s a little noisy. Neither Lauren nor I slept much the first night, but the second was better. And Lauren in her wonderfulness booked us a night at the Sheraton by Heathrow airport for night #3, since she had to catch a 9 am flight. Those big comfy beds were sure appreciated!

On our first day in London we took a NewEurope walking tour, which was awesome. Lauren and I did one in Berlin four years ago, and we highly recommend them. We thought about going to a show, but didn’t end up finding the tickets we wanted (that is, really cheap ones). Instead, we met up with one of Lauren’s friends after she finished work. After that, we accidentally found The Maple Leaf pub, a supposedly Canadian bar that we had heard about but not bothered to find out exactly where it was. As a place to hang out, have a drink and some food, and chat, it’s a great place. As a representation of Canada, it was rather disappointing. There was hockey on TV, but it was a Pittsburgh-Philly game. The wine list consisted of wines from Italy, France, South America, South Africa and Australia, but nothing from the Okanagan or Niagara. And our nachos were typical UK nachos, which are Doritos with cheese sauce instead of tortilla chips with real cheese. But we suffered through our disappointment, shared some Italian wine and stayed quite late having deep philosophical discussions.

The next day we got started a bit later, checked out of the hostel and moved our stuff to the hotel at the airport. This took rather longer than we expected, since it’s an hour on the Underground from the center of London out to Heathrow. We’d kind of skipped breakfast, and it was pretty much lunch time by the time we got back into town. Lauren took us to Camden Market, a labyrinth of little stalls and shops and food (hurray!) from all over the world. We had some fantastic Indian food, and wandered through the market for a couple of hours. It started raining as we left, so we took the Tube to Knightsbridge and, like all poor travelers must, explored the riches of Harrods. I expected to feel out of place but the store is really more of a tourist attraction than a place where people actually buy things. I’m sure most of the people who walk through the doors don’t buy anything. Plus, judging by the cars parked outside of the Private Entrance, I’m sure the people who actually do shop there more than make up for those of us who simply wander through.

We were supposed to meet another of Lauren’s friends that night, so we went out to an area called Acton that we wouldn’t have thought about going to otherwise. We didn’t actually manage to meet her friends, since we left before they arrived, but we did discover another neat pub and had some good food and drinks.

Lauren left early the next morning, and Chris and I unfortunately ended up spending the rest of our last day in London trying to find somewhere to print our boarding passes for our flight. RyanAir requires that you check in online, including submitting passport numbers, which are then printed out on your boarding pass. I had done this at the hotel the night before, but I had made a mistake on my passport number. Since I didn’t want to be pulled into the security office for trying to fly with a fake passport or something, I wanted to fix my error. Unfortunately you can’t just fix it online, you have to call their call center, and then re-print your pass. We called when we got back into London the morning of our flight, but we were apparently not in a part of town that had a lot of internet cafes, so it took us a while to find somewhere to re-print. Anyway, there are still lots of things that we want to see and do in London that we didn’t get to on this trip. We’ll just have to go back!

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