Sunday, April 27, 2014

A Million Miles Away

Sometimes as an expat you just feel like a million miles away from where you need to be.  Truth is, sometimes a couple thousand miles might as well be a million miles.  Today is one of those days.  I want nothing more than to hug my nephew and nieces, but I can't.

There is a video that is beautiful but unfortunately used too often these past 5 years.  I have watched it many times this year thinking of many different people.  Today though I watch it and think of this weekend's terrible tragedy at home.  For Kevin (2014), Brandon (2013), Jaycena, Laramie, and Brooke (2009).  I had  never thought of dancing in heaven...but I hope there is, and I hope you are together.

My heart goes out to the Printz family and the community of Gravelbourg, SK again today.

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

A Friend In Need

Yesterday the Boston Marathon went off without a hitch, and I am sure Boston was proud of the event and the strength of the city after last year's bombing.  With a nod to Boston, I will do one more Boston blog about my 5th and final trip to Boston from Bermuda.

Back in February when I needed to go to the US for surgery, I was faced with a bit of a hard choice on how to go through a relatively stressful procedure far away from home.  With some urging from a few friends who sign off with and M and a D after their names, I reluctantly agreed that my instinct to just check into and out of a foreign hospital on my own was not great planning, and I would have to ask someone to come with me.  My family is quite far away, and was prepared to come if needed, but I realized what I probably needed was someone with a bit of medical knowledge who could sit around for a day or two.  Someone with a flexible work schedule, and who I could say "Hey, I am stressed out and apparently chopping out bits of the endocrine system may make me very very grumpy and hard to deal with."  The best person turned out to be my friend Margaret from Edmonton, who jumped at the chance to see a new city, as was quick to reply "I'm a maternity nurse, I deal with angry hormonal women every day."  She really is one of those people who exist with a perpetually low heart rate and calm demeanor.  I have never heard her raise her voice.  One of those people who gets a dislocated shoulder on a skydive, continues through freefall with an arm flapping behind her, cannot deploy her main parachute due to the useless arm, calmly uses her reserve parachute and figures out how to fly and land it with one arm...and doesn't raise a fuss, shed a tear of pain in public, or act like it's a big deal.  This is Margaret.
Margaret in Boston's North End
Turns out my surgeon was really good and I never got all that cranky, and so we actually had a little bit of chance to roam around and see a bit of stuff, and enjoy a few restaurants.  The first meal, dubbed the last supper as it was the night before my surgery, was at Fogo de Chau.  This restaurant is both delicious and fun!  A restaurant chain in the US, it is a Brazilian Steakhouse.  There is a huge salad bar that comes with the meal, and there is no option on the menu.  Everyone gets the salad bar, and, nonstop meat.  Instead of ordering a dish, the waiters rush about the room carrying hot, fresh skewers of about 14 types of meat.  A floor manager is on site making sure that you are never hungry or waiting for food.  Basically, you each get what looks like a coaster.  If you flip it to green, people will rush at your with food, and you choose what you want.  You have to quickly flip to to red to stop a lineup of waiters from forming at your plate.  Apparently we didn't eat enough, because the bill was tough to get.  We had to play a trick on the waiter, flipping the card to green, but then refusing the food offering and asking for the bill.  The floor manager quickly rushed over to see what the problem was.  I felt a little bad at that point.  I can't comment on desert, I have never had enough room left over, but it is a tasty and fun experience that I recommend for anyone should you see one of their restaurants.

The next day I was captive in Mass General, but a couple of days later we were able to do some exploring.  We went to Max Brenner's for dinner -- a must try Chocolatier's restaraunt that I first discovered in Vegas.  Had a delicious milkshake and non-chocolate salmon, and picked up some chocolate treats to take home.  We of course made our way to a Crumbs Cupcake outlet, where not only do they make some of the best, most high calorie cupcakes ever to grace the earth (also found in New York and a few other East coast destinations), the woman behind the counter recognized me from previous cupcake gathering missions.  I cannot imagine it is flattering that the cupcake vendor of a foreign country recognizes me when I approach.

We also hopped on board one of the tour buses.  The ever brave Margaret did not stop me from buying us tickets even though she had mentioned a day or two earlier that she gets motion sick if she isn't the one driving.
The tour bus
Fortunately, my thoughtlessness did not end badly and we had a comfortable tour around the city.

Margaret with a Starbucks...we sampled a new one each day.  I think Caramel Machiatto became her top pick
Our tour bus driver, charged with keeping us constantly entertained, did a really good job.  Some driver's talk about the history of the city.  Our guy, however, had a fascination with Dunkin' Donuts.  There are over 300 in the city and he pointed them out whenever we passed one.  I think it's because he isn't allowed off the bus.  In retrospect, he was probably hinting we should get him some donuts.
Pat, the tour bus driver
We didn't learn a lot of history on the tour, but he did teach us a lot about unsuccessful business models like when the Weight Watchers opened up above a Dunkin Donuts, and a lot about Matt Damon and the Wahlberg brothers.  Good Will Hunting was Shot in Boston, Marky Mark and Donny grew up there, and...he seemed to know a great deal about the production with Sandra Bullock and some scene with a neighbour and a cat.  I was a little lost in the story, as I was peering out the window at all the Revolutionary sites and wondering about those.  It was a hop on and off bus, and so we did get off at a few of the stops.  Here are some shots along the way.
Margaret was fascinated by the expensive billboard on top of a derelict building

The Oriental Tea Company Teapot.  Now owned by Starbucks, this item used to be a tourist attraction in Boston, and it was the Oriental Company's Tea that ended up in the water after the Boston Tea Party

Margaret almost rented ice skates....almost
One of the iconic buildings near Fanueil Hall

This ritzy hotel has it's own skating rink...and wharf

Didn't go in, but this was one of several Irish bars in the area

Our bus stopped briefly here so I could get a picture.  I don't know what the building is though.  It wasn't movie related.

Margaret fed the seagulls some yummy pastries while I tried to get photos

Crossing the Charles River (I think) to MIT and Harvard

Microsoft has their office right by the MIT campus.  Bill Gates is a lecturer there as well.

And of course we stopped in to see the Cheers Bar (this is one of two)

We did learn a few things, aside from facts on Dunkin Donuts.  We learned that a lot of Boston as it is seen today was not there back in revolutionary times.  And not the urban sprawl inland -- the harbour actually used to be further inland, right up to the Fanueil Hall area.  Over the years they have filled in swamps and marshes and extended the city out over the water.  And so where the Boston Tea Party memorial site sits is nowhere near where the event actually took place.

Our ever witty driver Pat also pointed out a little place across from the Granary burial grounds (below)

where we could have a bite to eat and with respect to Samuel Adams...have a cold one (a Sam Adams of course) across from The Cold One (Sam Adams himself).  And that ended the tour for the day.  Thanks for the help Margaret!

The final resting place of Samuel Adams

Monday, April 21, 2014

St. Patrick's Day!

I have really fallen behind with the blog, but I guess I will just keep plugging away at it until I get caught up.  There are a few events I did want to share, so I guess I will go ahead and do that even if they are now long past.

The first one I missed was St. Patrick's Day in March.  A few people said they really enjoyed reading about Flanagan's, the local watering hole.  Flanagan's, as the resident Irish pub in an expat community, celebrates St. Patrick's Day all weekend.  I laughed and said the only people I knew who were more excited about heading to the pub than my Irish friend, were my Scottish friends!  Pub culture is very well developed across the pond I have learned.

Flanagan's was laid out in green -- Robbie the bartender even died his mohawk green.  Gaelic signs were hung, celebrating "Erin," which means Ireland in Gaelic.  Green hats, green tiara's were handed out at the door.  It seems as though Green Beer, which s popular in Canada on St. Patrick's Day, was not as well known.  Flanagan's was serving it, but many had never seen it.

Green Beer and Green hats
The crew was out ready to celebrate Ireland!  George had his beer goggles on.

Siobhan was wearing the colors of her country.

Lizzie hails from England, and somehow even in a St. Paddy's Hat reminds me of the queen.

And MacGregor got a little more than he bargained for when he ordered a Guinness.

The band played Irish songs, the crowd was jumping, and Shibby and Joy managed to find space to dance a few reels and jigs in the corner (I am prohibited from releasing the video).

Albert and Joy representing for the Philippines
In the end, in just our little corner, we had Ireland, Scotland, England, South Africa, Canada, Bermuda, and the Philippines.  Quite a range of accents and expressions.  Quite sure I had added "Oi" to my vocabulary by the end of the night.

Last St. Paddy's in Bermuda.  Memorable indeed!

Sunday, April 20, 2014

What's Up in Bermuda for Easter?

Happy Easter everyone!  It's a great time to be in Bermuda, with lots of activities available for the long weekend.  Unfortunately, I worked most of it, and was too tired to go out and play after work.  So will just tell of what I know about rather than what I actually saw.

One of Bermuda's Easter traditions is kite flying on Good Friday.  Silly me, I wasn't sure where the tradition originated, and someone looked at me like I was a not-so-bright light bulb and said "Uh, the cross."  Ahhh, OK, I get it.  The cross shape in the infrastructure of the kite ties into the religious theme.  Anyway, flying kites on the Beach is a Good Friday tradition in Bermuda. Many people build their own kites, the colors and patterns being an important part of the construction.  It's a great celebration on the island.
Photo from The Royal Gazette, taken by Akil Simmons 
Earlier this morning, many gathered on the beaches at sunrise for open air Easter Sunday services.  Many Churches hold this special service outdoor each year.

This is also prime time for Whale Watching Tours, as the Humpback Whales and their newborn calves spend a little time in Bermuda every spring.
Photo taken from Bermuda Underwater Exploration Institute's events page
Also around the island, crews are filming a new series called "Ocean Vet."  One of the veterinarians at the Endsmeet Veterinary Hospital is a big shark fact they just released an shark back into the wild this weekend.  Dr. Neil Burnie is the star of the show and it should air soon...I believe 12 episodes have already been filmed.  Coincidentally, when my little Lexi cat work up from surgery a few years ago, I heard her wake up from a room away with a few growls, followed by his booming voice saying "That is an unusually aggressive animal."   My friend Lisa said..."You know he deals with sharks, right."  Apparently my little fluffball is pretty fearsome.

Anyway, that's what is up around the island this weekend.  Have a Happy Easter everyone!

My favorite candy and its figurehead...the cadbury easter creme egg and its bunny.

Thursday, April 10, 2014

The Simplicity of a Butterfly

I think, at least I hope, we can all remember a time in childhood when a butterfly fluttered by and you stopped your play to watch and follow it.  Their slow, uneven pattern of flight, not seeming in a hurry nor directed, and the way they pause of a petal or a rock and flap their delicate wings up and down.  Impossibly small and delicate, unusually cute for a bug, and often ornately decorated, who can not love a butterfly?
A Monarch Butterfly was also enjoying the Forts at Ferry Reach
They still catch my eye, although it is not often I have my camera on me and an unobstructed view.  This little beauty stopped to pose for a few pictures for me in Ferry Reach and I wanted to share them.
My model posing
The Monarch Butterfly is well known for it's long migration.  We have them in Canada, and the delicate little creatures fly all the way to Mexico to winter.  That's 2500-3500 miles on those tiny little wings in a short period of time...through mountains, valleys, and dodging traffic.  As if it isn't amazing enough that they make it, one has to consider their short life span.  You see, in a single 6 month period, there will be 4 generations of the Monarch butterfly.  The first lay eggs in February and March.  These children will only live 2-6 weeks before laying their own eggs and dying.  Their children, the third generation, share a similar fate, living only 15-50 days as a butterfly before dying.  The fourth generation does something rather remarkable...they live 6 to 8 months, allowing them the time to fly south and preserve the species.  They return in the spring to lay their eggs, but the toll of this journey is their lives.  It is only this 4th generation that makes the journey.  The Bermuda Monarch butterfly is a variant that does not migrate, and breeds all year long.  I hope this little one still gets the 8 month life span.
I think this is a female...isn't she beautiful
Another cool fact about the Monarch butterfly is that they are poisonous to other predatory bugs.  This is because of some cardiotoxins in the milkweed they eat when they are growing up as caterpillars.  The bad news is that farmers hate milkweed, and chemicals that kill milkweed, the subsequent lack of milkweed, deforestation in Mexico, and other factors have led to a serious decline in the Monarch butterfly population.  There are certainly fewer than when I was a child, which is why this was such a treat.  And a reminder to keep the environmental consciousness on high green, buy green.
Happy Trails little flyer!
I felt child like when she flew away, this tiny creature still being able to strike awe in these eyes as an adult.  This simple but elegant little bug made my giant human day.

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Scenic Ferry Reach

I guess I took a few more pictures than I thought while out at Ferry Reach, and I have to say I liked a higher percentage than usual.  A clear day and the colours and textures of Bermuda scenery are what inspires me.  Add into that the excursion gets me some sunshine, a walk, and a distraction to unwind from work and step away from the overflowing to-do-list, and taking scenic pictures of this beautiful island is a good hobby for me indeed.
The path to the forts under a canopy of green
There was a lot of gorgeous scenery at Ferry Reach, so will just share a few more with everyone today.
Reflections in a pool of standing water
From the forts one can see the remains of the Bermuda Railway line.  For many years, the only access between St. David's and St. George's was by boat, and eventually rail.  From Ferry Reach where I stand, the point across the ocean is called Coney Island, and one of Bermuda's many train stations was there.  Visitors to Bermuda can hike the railway trail, which follows the old rail line wherever possible.  A warning that in the places where it joins the road that there are no sidewalks, and traffic is tight.  You may find those portions hair raising...but there are plenty of miles in the pedestrian parts of the trail.
The old Railway remains going to Coney Island (yes Bermuda has one, but no amusement park there)
As we walked away from the Martello tower towards Burnt fort I looked back on the tower, and fell in love with this scene because of the old fort and the wild beauty.  To be fair, one of my coworkers yesterday also told me that my eyes light up when I talk about fungus and that I am kind of a sick freak, so my tastes may be questionable to some...but I maintain that Mycology is a dying art, but an art all the same...and that this picture is really cool.
Bermuda's Martello Tower and the remains of the rail at Ferry Reach
From the third and final fort I was lucky enough to catch a lone sailboat out for a joyride.
Carefree on still waters
The sailboat was kind enough to make a little turn and head over to the Martello tower to make my day complete.
The finale shot!
I was pretty satisfied with the day's adventure already, but there was still more to offer.  A little monarch butterfly fluttered nearby and posed for me for a moment, giving me some nice pictures to share tomorrow.  Siobhan and I ended the day by heading out to Rosewood Tucker's Point Hotel for lunch, aka Tucker's Point.  Tucker's Point is the most expensive hotel in town, so it was interesting just to see who the guests were.  At $700 a night, you have to make a lot of money to bring a couple of teenagers with you...but there were a few laying in loungers by the pool absorbed in their wifi connected tablets.  I wanted to 'unplug' them and give them a map and some tour tips...but...not my place.  We ordered a delicious burger and was good and I got a whole pot of coffee with that while we had a nice leisurely catch up on the girl chat (most expensive burger and coffee yet on the island, but the extra was worth it to check out the ambiance of this hotel for the afternoon).  We got lost looking for the spa, but also took a tour there when someone guided us beyond the croquet field, and the staff were most enthused about their very special computerized multi head massage shower, of which only 7 exist in the world.  I think they said it was by Tag....possibly the watch manufacturers?  I will have to get back to you on that one when I do make it to the spa for a treatment.  It is on the list!

I am out of time today, so that's it for now.  Hoping for good weather tomorrow as I have the day off  and still much to do before I go.

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

The Forts at Ferry Reach

Siobhan and I were due a successful adventure.  After all, the last 2 times out we almost hit a chicken with a scooter, and went wandering through swamps.  The plan wasn't any better laid out this time...but we had beautiful weather, a map, and a whole day to explore.
Stopped on the causeway looking back at Grotto Bay (for any potential travellers, there it is!)
We hopped on the scooter with the ultimate destination being a fort that I didn't know the name of but had seen from the causeway on the way to the airport.  The causeway, for the record, is a man made road that connects St. George and St. David's to the rest of the island.  In hurricanes, the causeway has to be closed, and in 2009 Hurricane Fabian damaged the causeway, resulting in 4 fatalities and part of the population being temporarily cut off to the main island and its services (like the hospital).  So this is the causeway, and visitors to the island always see calm blue waters as one of their final views of the island.
The causeway.  Linking most of Bermuda to the Airport, and St George's and St David's to the rest of the country
One of the last scenes you will see leaving Bermuda by air
If you do a double take on the picture above, you will see a little hill in the center with a little round stone building.  That is the fort I spotted while driving to the airport one day, and that was the goal of the day.  We headed on further down the road with the intent to find the fort at Ferry Reach.  Conveniently, the road that goes to Ferry Reach is called Ferry Road, so it was a no brainer getting out there.  What did boggle my mind was why, on such a beautiful day, was there absolutely no one else around?  It's quite a big area, and we had it all to ourselves.
The edge of Ferry Reach Park
I might note, that having not damaged any chickens or waded through any swamps, that Siobhan was very happy to see our adventure destination of the day.  She was almost skipping along the trail.
Finally a successful adventure!
Bermy may not be as hot as I like it yet....but it certainly is lush
And then we were at the fort.  Well, part of it.  I believe this was a munitions holding area.  The park itself looks like it goes a long way back, so that is another adventure for another day...we weren't ready to wander into a park so quickly after our last parks excursion.  But the munitions building is a short walk from the parking area, and the famous Maretello towers is just a short way from that.
The munitions holding building
Pretty nice view the artillery would have had
And a few paces away from that fort is the tower I could see from the Causeway
The Martello towers are two story round buildings that held 15-25 men.  The had thick walls that could resist cannon fire, and hold up some heavy artillery on the roof to fire back with.  The tower in Bermuda is surrounded by a 20 -30 foot drop, with what was a retractable bridge crossing the gap.  Bermuda has a lot of defensive forts, which it never has had to use.  I am beginning to suspect they created the need to just give the officer's a better view to enjoy their drinks with.  This particular tower with a view was built in about 1823.  The second pic shows that it can withstand cannon fodder...but vandals are a relentless scourge.  Actually, I kinda liked the look of it hence the 2nd picture.
The Martello tower
Villain...what kind of graffiti is that?
From the Martello tower we saw yet another building.  We walked over, and found what was called Burnt Fort, and yes, that is the official name to date.  It turns out that the site on Ferry Reach really is 3 separate forts from separate times.  The Martello tower is kind of special, as it is the only one on the island, and a pretty cool one when you look at the few others that are standing in the world.  There are a handful, but they are a less common fortification to see nowadays.

From Burnt Fort remains of the wall, which sports a great view of the island, we saw the third fort which is actually on another little island that now has a nice little foot bridge.
Little island?  Was a fortress once.
As many of the forts in Bermuda do...this one has walls that line up with cannon spots that can take out any attackers on its neighbouring fort, the Martello tower.  The Alexandra battery in St. David's is aligned to take out any ships that might try to head for the larger Fort St. Catherine.
A sunny spring day, view hasn't changed in 200 years
I have run out of time for today, so we shall stop the lesson on Forts...for now.  Have saved my favorite pictures of the day for tomorrow!