Teaching in England – a Canadian perspective

I received my teaching degree from Lakehead University in Canada. That was in 2011. For 5 years after that I did not step into a classroom. My degree was going to waste in my eyes, as it was very difficult getting a job in Ontario. The market is flooded with desperate teachers. Colleges continue to pump out teachers yearly. And our union, The Ontario College of Teachers, come and make presentations at these colleges, saying that they are here to protect us and the one thing that they were working very hard on, was creating a designation that we can then put behind our names – us teachers would be as highly respectable as Doctors when people see O.C.T. behind our names. This was the whole presentation that they gave when I was attending Teachers College. Highly informative (please note the sarcasm).

When deciding to move to London, I was not sure what I would do for work. The idea was exciting. I had looked into a bit about managing flats, as I had received my designation as a Property Manager of Condominium’s in Canada, and thought that might be an option. But since we were so busy getting everything in order for us to move, I did not have time to really think or look into it. We had money saved up so that I could take a month to get settled and start looking around. That definitely is not what happened.

My brother and I landed on Friday the 15th of January. On Monday the 18th my husband called me to say that his work mate’s wife was a deputy head at a school that needed a replacement teacher asap and that I was to call her and arrange for me to come see the school that week. Scary. I went to visit the school on the Wednesday for a tour and was told that if I wanted the job I should plan a half hour lesson for the next morning and an interview will take place after. I had that night to figure out what to teach and somewhat prepare myself for an interview in which I could not remember anything of what I was taught in teachers college. I was offered the job (I think they were desperate?!). That Monday, I would start at the school. After teaching 6 months, I noticed there were quite a few differences in teaching in England as opposed to Canada.

1. Team Teaching

The greatest thing about teaching in England, is that you have a team teacher. This pretty well saved my butt. In London it seems there are always two classes of the same year group. My Year 4 teaching buddy had been teaching there for 5 years and this was his first year teaching Year 4. Every Friday afternoon, we had off to prepare lessons for the following week together. I have heard this is not always the case with other schools. We were fortunate to have our whole planning time chunked together and not sporadically throughout the week. He helped a lot with the planning. At the beginning, he pretty much took the reins until I started to get on my feet. There was a room dedicated for planning and we would get onto our computers and try to nail out the weeks worth of planning done by 5:30 pm. The only downfall is that our slot was on Friday afternoon and you are knackered (for my Canadian friends – this means exhausted). It also doesn’t help that all the other teachers in the school, who are all roughly the same age, want to head to the nearest pub for a pint (or two, or three, or four!). To be honest, we would sit at our computers starring at the screen not having any motivation and look at each other and say “There is always Monday“. Cheers Jason!

2. Teaching Assistants

There are still assigned TA’s to each Year group. It used to be that you would have a TA for each classroom, but that has changed.In the school I taught at, you have a TA that is shared between your Year group for the mornings only. That is when you were teaching your maths and English and you would need more assistance. As well, the TA would switch reading books, handling all the administration junk – permission slips, change the bulletin boards, do any photocopying that you needed and help out any students that needed a little extra assistance or push. Of course this is all changing and they are looking to have TA’s only to take out students that need extra help (as is done in Canada). I am sure it won’t be long that TA’s will be out of the classroom altogether. Not too sure how the teachers will react.

3. Moving up the Ranks

I have not quite figured this part out yet. It seems you move up in salary for how long you have been a teacher. I know one teacher who is from Canada and has been teaching here for 9 years has reached her maximum salary. The only other way to increase your salary at that point is to become a Phase Leader. Phase Leaders are those in charge of their Key stage group. There is Key Stage 1 which is Years 1-3 and Key Stage 2 which is Years 4-6. You would then hold monthly meetings with your teachers to relay information from the Head Teachers or to get an update on what teachers have been finding difficult or anything we need to improve on. They also would check in on your teaching and if you had any problems, you were to go to your Phase Leader. I am not too sure what the point would be as this would only provide you with 2000 pounds more onto your salary a year. At the school I was at, I could see that at times a lot more responsibility would be pushed onto these Phase Leaders. Another way of earning more, is to move your way to the top by becoming a Deputy Headteacher or a Headteacher. I do not think there are actual qualifications to be a Headteacher. At one point I heard that you needed to at least teach in each of the Key Stages before you could become one. I am sure the more experience, the better your chances, but I do not think it is like Canada, where you need to have a certain about of Additional Qualifications (continual learning courses where you can become an expert at either maths, literacy, etc).

Unions

In Ontario, there is one union, The Ontario College of Teachers (OCT) – see rant above. They apparently are working for the teachers and are there to protect you. I am sure they are doing their fair share of work and the only reason I am saying that now, is because here in England, there are a bunch of unions that you can join. If one union decides to strike and make a demand that either wages are not fair or workload is becoming too great, well there would maybe be a few teachers this would affect per school. Does not make quite an impact when for example in Ontario, all teachers must strike and they will be penalized if they do not.

Supplying

I have changed gears and have been supply teaching for 5 months now. I highly enjoy it, but it is definitely not everyone’s cup of tea. Here in England, there are several different agencies that provide supply teachers to schools. TimePlan and Protocol are a couple that you can choose from. I am with TimePlan and have had no problems with them. Your daily rate is dependent on your experience and can increase depending on whether you receive a lot of call backs. I would be interested to know what Agencies are charging schools per day for one of their teachers.

All in all, teaching is teaching. Kids are kids. Teachers are tired and overworked, but the push to make a difference is what keeps us ticking.

If you’re thinking about teaching in England and have questions, let me know!

Advertisements

Living in Kingston

Kingston Upon Thames is a very busy place. This is because there is a lot of shopping to be done here. They say it is the next best place to shop besides Oxford Street in the heart of London. There is a large mall and the high street is lined with shops and is closed off to traffic. There is also a neat market that runs throughout the week, with most of the vendors open on the weekends. They have special weekend events, where new, visiting vendors will show up and sometimes a stage is set up for live entertainment. The fruit and veg is not local by any means, but is definitely cheaper than in the grocery stores. You will also see kids in their bathing suits running around as there is one little area where water shoots up from the ground. A little beach oasis for them.

Along the Thames, there are a lot of restaurants to have delicious food and drinks. It is a bit expensive, as it is catered towards the tourists and I guess people who actually have money. But for us poor folk, you can bring your own booze and just sit down on a bench or on the edge of the Thames and take in the scenery. There are a lot of people that will bring little stereo’s as well to listen to music. It gets quite busy when the sun comes out. As well, you can hook up with the Thames Path and go for a morning run or afternoon stroll. There are also ferry’s that can take you to Hampton Court Palace or to Richmond. We are quite fortunate to live so close to the Thames. It’s neat to see all the boats, both big and large, traveling along the Thames, or little row boats. There is an annual dragon boat race that happens in Kingston in July. Quite the event, as it is mostly people who do not row very often, or maybe ever, and they all dress up. A lot of booze is flowing at this event. But, that’s normal for any event in England. 🙂

The best part about living in Kingston, is that you are between two large parks: Richmond Park and Bushy Park. Both are amazing parks, full of flowers, trees and especially deer. You can not go for a walk at either of these parks, without seeing herds of deer. And they are not scared of you at all, as I am sure they know they are protected by the Queen. However, there are signs posted to warn visitors to keep their dogs on a leach during the months of September and October as it is mating season. Not too sure how dangerous it could get!

Bushy Park is where Hampton Court Palace is. It is truly amazing to be close to such history and to just sit and have a picnic with the Palace as your backdrop. There are a lot of ponds with swans and ducks. You need to be a bit careful as again just like the deer, the swans know they are protected by the Queen and if they want that bread you are eating, they will come and get it. On my last walk through Bushy Park, to my surprise I ran into a totem pole and when looking at a map, it said that it was a Canada totem pole. It kind of looks half done I would say. But cool nonetheless.

Richmond Park is huge and is a place where Mike and I can take a rip with our mountain bikes around the whole park. You can also rent bikes there as well, but have not looked too far into it. It might be something mom and dad might be into?? It is a fast way to see the whole park, as I said, it’s big. At the highest point of Richmond Park, there are amazing views of the city of London. There is even a place called ‘Henry’s mound’ where it is said that Henry VIII had stood to look for the sign that his second wife, Anne Boleyn, had been beheaded. To this day, no one is allowed to build in the line of path from the mound to St. Paul’s Cathedral. There is a telescope there so that you can get a closer look at St. Paul’s. It is very neat to see. Another great place to see within the park, is Isabella’s Plantation. Apparently, this blocked off area will have blooming flowers throughout the whole year. It is very beautiful and a good place to hike around and have a little picnic.

We also lucked out, as a pub in Kingston held Canada Day celebrations. In previous  years, Trafalgar Square held a large Canada Day event with big named bands, however, due to lack of funding, they would not be holding the event this year. Quite unfortunate, however, Facebook made me aware that the Boaters Inn was having a Canada Day celebration. Apparently the cook is from Canada. They had Sleeman and Molson Canadian available. After ordering a ‘Canadian’, you wondered how you ever drank that stuff when you were younger . . . We ordered a round of poutine’s that was a meal in itself. Mike and Kent had arrived late in the afternoon and purchased a Timmies. They had to instruct the British bar tender how to create the cup of coffee, as he thought that the grounds were instant and was just going to pour hot water over them. 🙂 There was no filter, so he made the Timmie’s as an espresso. Close enough.

We will then be moving on from Kingston, to head out even further from London, to Zone 6 in Surbiton. Mike and I will be living together in a small one bedroom flat and Kent will be living in a shared house, roughly 10 min away by walking. Surbiton is a bit expensive as there is an express train that will get you straight into London in 20 minutes and there seems to be a train every 10 minutes. It is going to be very handy! More to come on our next new adventure. I am tired of moving.

Life In Twickenham

Us Canadians had our first awakening that we were not in Canada any more when we were taken as fools from the rental real estate agents here in London. It is a long story, but in the end we thought we were entering into a one year lease, when apparently we were only to be house sitting for 6 months while the landlords were away. The landlords had no idea that we did not know this. All we knew is that we needed to start looking for a place for May 1st. If you are new coming to live in London, just a word of advice, do not believe one word that comes out of a real estates mouth. It seems they can lie and have the worst customer service and get away with it because there is such a demand for housing, that either way, they will not run out of customers. Here are some pictures of the house that we did stay in for 6 months. It was fully furnished, had a nice sunroom, that got very hot when the sun came out, and for three bedrooms it cost 1800 pounds a month. Not too sure how anyone affords living here.

However, our time in Twickenham was very enjoyable. It is quite peaceful. The Thames river runs along it. You can walk, jog, cycle along a path to Richmond. It is a scenic walk. Marble Hill mansion is along the way with a spanse of green space to relax or play a game of footie. The mansion was created for one of the King’s mistress’. You can only cross the river to the other side in Richmond and the next place would be Teddington. If you need to cross at Twickenham, you need to grab the ferry. The ferry consists of a little boat that will take you across for one pound. Ask Mom, Jane G or Deb M what they expected from this ferry. 🙂 On the other side there is a trail that goes from Richmond all the way to Kingston. It makes you feel that you are not in the city any more as you walk past dense forests. You can walk this Thames path from one end of London to the other. I believe it is 36 miles. We would like to try that one weekend for sure.

As Twickenham is a small, peaceful subburb of London. It is not the case during large rugby events. There are two rugby stadiums in Twickenham. One is the stoop which holds the Harlequin team games. The larger stadium which was just down the street from our house, holds the World Cup games, that take place every 2 years and the Six Nation games that take place every year. However, there are usually only 2 or 3 games that are held in the Twickenham stadium during the Six Nations tournament as it is only home games for England that are held there. When they first started setting up which seemed to be a month or more in advanced, we all thought that the whole tournament would be held there. Not the case. The set up was immense for only two games. Several large tents were set up, food vendors, beer tents. Twickenham came alive for game days. The stadium holds 80,000 and there would be people coming to Twickenham that would be watching at the stadium grounds or at the pubs. We did not get tickets at it seemed the cheapest price was 300 or 400 pounds. They shut down the road from the train station to the stadium as mounds of people head to the stadium. Food vendors rented out the front yards of residents houses. Mike was in heaven with all the food he could eat. We had placed a bet on the game, as that is the thing that you do here. Instead of a Tim Horton’s on every corner in Canada (which I hear they are coming to the UK!), there is a betting shop here in London. England ended up winning the whole championship. Lot of excitement during that time and we are slowly starting to understand the game.

That was our short time in Twickenham. We would be off to Kingston Upon Thames to share another 3 bedroom close to the high street for a small price of 1,900 pounds a month. 🙂

Quick Trip to Ireland

When I told my University girlfriends that Mike and I were moving to London, England, they were quite excited, but sad to see us go. Except for one friend, who messaged me maybe a week later, asking if certain dates worked for me on when she could come visit. 🙂 At that point I did not know what I would be doing for work and she randomly picked dates in May. As it turned out, while she would be visiting, it would be during my one week half term break.

It was decided that we would head to Ireland from the Tuesday with me leaving early Sunday morning. It is lucky that I had the time off, except that meant that a lot of other families were taking a brief holiday and this drives hotel and flight prices up. Barb found out that the hard way, as the most expensive part of her trip, was the time she was with me!

Barb, the money saving hacker, found a cheap flight to Shannon, Ireland from London for 20 quid each and an amazing deal on renting a car. We arrived quite late to Shannon and hopped into our car to head to our hotel. Barb was at the wheel as I had forgotten that I had gave Mike my drivers license on the weekend for a festival that we went to . . . Barb handled driving on the wrong side of the road, at night, like a pro. Our first night stay was at Auburn Lodge, which is a short distance away from the airport. As we arrived quite late, the place was locked up. The receptionist had to call security over to open the very old, heavy doors as she was having difficulty with the key. After we entered with our belongings, the door was locked behind us. It felt like a scene out of ‘American Horror Story’. Not too sure if locking the door was following Fire Safety regulations! Anything seems to go in Europe.

After a much needed sleep, and no fires, we were off to check out the Cliffs of MOOOHHEEEERRRR. It felt like we were heading to a place out of the Lord of Rings. Quite a beautiful site. Each picture we took was better than the last. I would suggest you bring binocular’s as puffins are found here, but they are quite a distance away that you could not really see them. Oh! And this is where we heard our first very thick Irish accent. It was brilliant or ‘brill’ as the British say. There is a museum here that you can check out. They have created the museum to be made inside the hillside as to not deter the look of the environment. Clever and making it more look like a scene out of Lord of the Rings.DSCN0887

We continued driving on the narrow, windy roads, with speed limit signs posting 100 km/hr. Not too sure how any one could drive that fast without smashing into the stone walls on either side. I guess this means that you could never get pulled over for speeding. We headed to Galway and checked into our hostel, Galway City Hostel and Bar. It was recently just opened in 2014 and was very modern and clean. The staff were very friendly and each room was provided with underneath storage that was lockable. We stayed in a mixed four bedroom and had no problems. Breakfast was included, which consisted of cereals, juice, homemade bread, scones. The typical continental breakfast.

Galway is known as a more hippie, relaxed place, as it is full of students. Ireland was having really great weather while we were there, so the harbour was full of university students drinking. And it seemed Molson Canadian was the preference!

We had roughly a day and a bit in Galway, so spent the time wandering around, checking out the shops and restaurants in the downtown core, had a picnic by the sea and took a small boat tour to a nearby lake. A relaxing part of the trip.

Next was our drive to Dublin on the Friday. I would be flying out of Dublin back to London early Sunday morning. We checked into our room at Leeson Inn, which was a 15 minute walk from the high street, dropped off our car and headed to Guiness Brewery for a tour. Our first stop was at one of the restaurants to have a quick bite and was surprised to see prices were quite reasonable. It’s a good self guided tour, with the best part being able to pour your own perfect Guiness. All staff were great and as it was Barb’s birthday, they even went out of their way for us to have our own personal picture together.

To get a quick view of Dublin on Saturday, we jumped on the Hop-on Hop-off Bus. It was hit and miss with the tour guides, but was an easy way to see the whole city. We did check out the Temple Bar, but it was quite busy as it was also Ireland’s bank holiday weekend. We checked out a quieter bar and then called it a night.

A good snap shot of Ireland, but more exploring is needed!

Solo in Bruges

On Easter Monday Michael had to catch the train back to London in the afternoon. We decided to take the train to Bruges in the morning to allow Michael to see a bit of Bruges.

The train is roughly an hour and train tickets are pretty cheap. Especially on the weekend if you are getting a return ticket that same day. We headed to my hostel. I had booked three nights at the Lybeer Hostel in a private room. For the room during the week it cost 29 Euro’s per night. It did have a sink but then you had to share the toilet and showers with others. Towels and bed sheets were provided. They have a small pub in the hostel. During happy hour you can try out different Belgian beers for 2 euros. They also have free walking tours each day and schedule two beer tastings during the week. Even if you are not staying at the hostel, I would check out the pub on beer tasting nights as it is a cheap night out and you can meet a lot of travelers.

Michael and I wandered to the center square and decided to take a tour at the Beer Museum. It is definitely a tourist trap but a good place to go if it’s a rainy day and if you wish to learn a bit about the history of Belgian beers. For extra, you can try three different beers at the end of the tour in the pub they have. We were being cheap and did not go.

We did stumble upon a pub called Cambrinus. They have a great selection of beer. 400 I believe! When you enter they place a large book in front of you and this is the food and beer menu. It might take you 10-15 minutes to decide on a beer! The menu looked good and the place was packed for lunch.

I had to go drop Michael off at the train station and then try to get my bearings back to the hostel as I did not buy a data plan for my phone. I do not how anyone survived without Google. I had picked up a ‘Use It’ map at the hostel. Check out their website and if you visit a European city, I definitely recommend you find one of these handy maps. This was my tour guide for my whole three day trip. The first day I spent the evening pouring over the map and planning my next couple of days. It has some very neat ideas. You can go check out a house boat that someone lives in that is decorated, have a beer at a 500 year old pub, walk the 8 km loop around the city, check out the wind mills, shop at a vintage store, eat the best Belgian waffles and it goes on. I believe there were roughly 60 different places that they recommended.

The first day was tough but enjoyable. The only reason I say tough as it was my first time traveling solo for an extended period of time. I did not quite know what to do with myself. The thought of eating at restaurant by myself was a bit strange. And I sat there uneasily thinking that I needed to keep myself occupied by either reading or going on my phone using their free wifi. But I’m not sure if the feeling came because we are so used to being on our phones 24/7 that if we are not on our phones then we feel we are not being productive . . . By the second day I was fine. It was nice to just sit and people watch all day long. Eating at pubs and not worrying that everyone is looking at you; just enjoying the day, reading a book and having a pint. Or I guess less than a pint, as a pint of Belgian beer usually knocks me off my feet.

The first day I walked half of the loop around Bruges. This was mostly to walk off the enormous amount of meat that I consumed. As stupidly I decided to order myself a beer and a meat and cheese platter at Cambrinus. It had started raining so I thought I would spend an hour or so relaxing and reading a book. I had seen the platter the day before and I thought it was small enough for me to enjoy. I ordered the platter and a beer and started reading my book. This is what arrived . . .

DSCN0615

I believe it was raw beef, bacon, sausage and cheese. The mustard that you dipped the meat in was delicious. I obviously could not finish it all. I do not think I have felt so full before. I kept eating as I did not want to be wasteful. So off I went for such a long walk to try and digest all that meat. It was a nice walk. I saw several windmills and boats traveling along one of the many rivers that travel throughout the city. It is quite the scene. The architecture is beautiful. There are such old houses with backyards that run along the river. However, no one is permitted to boat through the city any more as the city felt that it was getting too dangerous. Only private tour boats are permitted.

For 8 euro’s you can take a half hour boat ride. This is a good way to get a quick snap shot of Bruges and learn a bit of the history. The tour guides will speak in English, Dutch and French. The guide knew I spoke English as soon as he saw me. Not sure if it was because of my rain coat. Sporty rain coats are not a fashion item in Europe. Even if it is raining, no one wears them. Or at least more fashionable ones. We found out that in Brussels they predominately speak French. But in Bruges they speak Dutch, but apparently it’s a weird dialect. Not too sure as I do not know one word of Dutch! On the tour, the guide told us that previously the city imposed a tax on all windows. You can then see that some windows had been boarded up to save themselves from paying too much taxes. As well, if you look at the top of the building on the picture below, you can see a small hole. This was for the messenger pigeons during the time of the war. Quite interesting.

DSCN0713

One morning I walked up the 366 stairs to get to the top of the Belfort bell tower. It was a bit claustrophobic as you can see through the pictures. There was a moment where I thought of turning around as I was not quite sure I would be able to get back down. There are a few areas to stop and read some of the history and check out the bells. Even if you are not in great shape, you would be able to climb to the top no problem. It is worth the money to climb the tower, as on a good clear day, the views at the top are impressive. When I went it was not busy and there was no problem staying at the top for awhile to wait for the bells to ring. You can watch the bells ring at the top or down at the controls. They change the tune every two years. They had just changed it that Easter weekend. Check it out. It’s worth it.

 

Oh and also check out Li O Lait. Great place for breakfast. And I found out that it is customary to receive a little chocolate as well with your coffee. Check out the menu. If you get the ‘slow’ breakfast, it ends off with some sort of glass of alcohol. I am assuming champagne. Go and get the slow breakfast and let me know! I had to go for the ‘quick’ breakfast. Tight schedule.

DSCN0752

All in all it was a great trip; very beautiful and peaceful. I arrived back home on Thursday and still had another week off to catch up on school work and tour around Twickenham. Go travel by yourself. It’s worth it. You can do whatever you wish on your own schedule. Done.

 

Brussels

In February, Mike and I decided that we would take a small trip for the Easter long weekend. This would be the beginning of my two week break to mark the end of our Spring Term. We looked on Skyscanner (great website where you can select your dates and your departure location and it will show you the prices of various places to travel) to find the cheapest trip and Brussels was the winner! It was roughly 200 pounds per person for our train there and back and our hotel for 3 nights. We booked this roughly a month ahead of time and used lastminute.com to book our whole stay. We still need to figure out if it would have been better to book our trip at the last minute or not. It was too much of a gamble as Easter long weekend would be a popular time to travel since all schools were out on holidays. If anyone knows, let me know!

And as the whole world found out, the Tuesday before the Easter long weekend we heard the unfortunate news that two bombings took place in Brussels. I do not think that either one of us had any thought that we would be canceling our trip. We agreed that if we did not go…they would win. Also, our thinking was that Brussels would be the most safest place to be that weekend. In London, they were posting military at the entrance of all train and tube stations to comfort everyone. The trip was still on and we both were excited to be heading to another European country. It would only take two hours by train from London! I love the public transit system in Europe!

We packed our bags. I would be using the MEI backpack that can be transformed into a luggage-like bag, is carry on size and is 40 liters. Not the most comfortable bag, but works for short term trips. You can hide the straps when not using it as a book bag. It only has one large compartment and I believe by using travel cubes it would make organising your clothes a lot better. It is on my list to purchase! Not much needed to be packed as Mike would be gone for four days and I seven. I still had quite a bit more space if needed.

We almost missed our train on Friday morning that was leaving at 8.30 am. Stupidly, we did not factor in that all of London would be leaving the city for the holidays at the same time. Piccadilly Circus train station was packed and the lines were large. We had two minutes to spare once we found our seats on the train . . .  We were planning to be able to sit, relax, have a quick bite to eat and talk excitedly about our trip before we had to get on the train, but that definitely changed! Security onto the train was fine. The usual checking of passports, luggage and through the body scanner. After we were off, we headed to the food and drink cart as we had not ate yet. The cart was quite full of people and there seemed to be a Bachelor party happening, as there were a lot of guys drinking in the cart and one dressed as a banana. As I have found since our trip. When it is your Bachelor party, those who attend get to decide your outfits for the whole trip. Hence the banana man. Again this was only 8.30 in the morning. It seemed everyone was starting their holidays off with a drink. An older couple were double fisting it back to their seats and groups of people sharing bottles of champagne. I thought people in Huron County, Ontario were bad! 🙂

When we left the train station in Brussels, I first was hit with a wall of cigarette smoke and and the abundance of military outside the station. It made what happened earlier in the week a reality. It was only then that we both started thinking that potentially another incident could occur . . . It quickly passes after a few hours and especially by the next day as all the military that are walking around become part of the scenery. For the cigarette smoke. It is odd as a Canadian to understand why smoking is still so popular. Canada has been really cutting down on where people can smoke and in my opinion has accomplished to diminish the amount of smokers in Canada. It was almost weird to see anyone smoking in Kitchener. In Europe, as soon as you walk a step outside you can light up a cigarette. Us non-smokers can look forward to our first breath of fresh cigarette smoke as you walk outdoors here.

Mike and I found our hotel, which was was 10 minutes away from the downtown core. We booked it through lastminute.com for two people as previously stated. The receptionist was trying to tell us that the room is only for one person. Not sure if they were trying to scheme more money from us or not. I am sure there were a lot of cancellations to Brussels for that weekend. The room was small. But good enough for sleeping, which is all we needed it for. For an extra cost you could include breakfast each morning. We did check out the breakfast one morning and it was quite good. Actual wholewheat bread, yogurt, cereals, eggs, sausages, coffee, juice, etc. There was a bit of a water leak occurring the one morning. It seemed to be under renovations though, which it was in need of a face lift!DSCN0544

We headed to the main square. Very beautiful! Of course the pictures below do not do it any justice. You need to check it out for yourself. Apparently it was destroyed by the French and had to then be rebuilt. They decided that each building in the core had to match with each other. The building below on the bottom row, center, is the one building that did not get destroyed by the French. This building had a more Gothic look to it. There were scheduled free walking tours where you could get a quick history and layout of the main area of Brussels. Did not do but heard it is a good tour from a couple French Canadians that we met.

It was a bit chilly the days we were there. Which meant that we had to warm ourselves up in a lot of pubs . . . And remember . . . the alcohol percentage is high in Belgian beers. Safe to assume that it will be anywhere between 8-11%. When you ask a bartender if they have a more darker beer, they will compare beers by their alcohol content instead. It may be that they really want to warn tourists that the beer they are serving is strong. Two beers will knock your socks off. We planned to have one late night out (we are usually in bed by 9.oo pm). A crazy night for us was drinking two and a half beers each and we lasted till 11.30 pm. We had had enough to drink after that. It is disappointing though as the beer is so good that you want to keep trying as many beers as possible. Our late night was spent at the Delirium Cafe which is famous for having 2000 beers available (many beers to try there – dangerous!). Good atmosphere. To get to the pub, you must walk through these small alleyways that are lined with restaurants with servers smooth talking you to come into their restaurant. Us being a couple, were told that we could have a romantic dinner, eating the best mussels in all of a Belgium. I only assume that each restuarant are owned by the same owner as all their advertisements were all the same and it seemed their menu’s were too. Tourist trap. Walk quick and keep eyes lowered! Delirium Cafe is worth it!

We found a cute outdoor market one day as we were on the hop on hop off tourist bus. We bought some olives, cheese, bread, wine and beer to treat ourselves to a nice afternoon snack outdoors as the sun was shining. It seemed that this market was the local hang out as there were groups of people sitting and drinking bottles of wines together.

Our favourite place that we stumbled upon was a fish market (Noordzee) where you could buy fish soup, escargot, shrimp corquettes, etc. We tried the fish soup and escargot soup. These were large ocean escargot! Very good, but salty soup. The fish soup was delicious. It was a tomato base soup. I wish I took a picture of the soup. It came with a piece of bread with melted cheese on top. Amazing. There were tables close by that you could stand at and eat your food (picture – me enjoying the food and wine at Noordzee – above, bottom row, center). Of course wine and beer was also available to drink. If you are in Brussels I definitely recommend checking the place out.

We did treat ourselves to several different kinds of truffles. We try not to eat too much sweets, but it was tough to stay away as every other shop was selling chocolates or Belgian waffles. The scent of chocolate and waffles caused you to go into a trance and head straight into their shop. We did try a waffle (below) with strawberries, chocolate and whip cream and thought we were eating authentic Belgian waffles. I found out later in Bruges that this was not the case! If you are eating a true Belgian waffles, you will not need any toppings at all! I am craving a waffle now just remembering eating that waffle in Bruges. Warmed. Fluffy. A sugary delight. Do not be fooled into thinking that you are ordering an authentic waffle as shown on the left. No need for toppings on the real deal!

We did head to the square where the memorial for those that lost their lives in the bombings were being held. It was a solemn place. The first time we went there was a group of teenagers that were singing “Imagine” by John Lennon. It definitely set the mood. Media from all over the world were set up. They were there the whole weekend. I did see CBC one of the days. A lot of candles and flowers were being left behind and hundreds of messages had been written with chalk. It was moving to see so many people coming together and taking a stand. A peace walk was to be scheduled to take place on Easter Sunday; however, the police urged the public to re-schedule the event as their resources were spread so thin at that time. The public agreed. The police and military still decided to block off the square to any vehicles and bags were being checked if you did enter. Good planning as we found out later that a bunch of ‘football hooligans’, media terminology, did end up going to the square and start stomping on all the candles and flowers and arguing at all individuals that were there standing peacefully. The military had to bring in the water trucks to send them running.

All in all the trip was good. Lots of drinking good beer and eating good food with small breaks of sight seeing. We had our priorities. Michael would then be heading home and I would be continuing my journey to Bruges. This would be my first real test at traveling alone.

Flying across the Lily Pond

January 14, 2016

We’re on our way! Kent (brother) and I have vacuum packed all our belongs (thanks Aunt Ruth Anne and Barbara for the bags!) and our life and possessions have been condensed into two checked in bags and a carry on each. Of course we have left a lot of belongs at our parents house (thanks!) and in our small storage space in the basement of our rental in Kitchener.

Kent and I have upgraded our seats to save a bit of money to allow two checked in bags instead of one. This means that we had priority boarding and received a blanket, eye mask, headphones and . . . champagne!

We arrived at Gatwick airport around 8 am to be greeted by Michael and Jimmy. After checking out our new home (Twickenham) for the next 6 months (we wanted a year . . . however we received a rude awakening that we are not in friendly Canada any more . . .  will explain in another post) first thing was first we had to experience our first English Breakfast. This was crucial in the mind of Michael. As those who know him, food is number one priority in his life. Yes, I come second. After stuffing ourselves with bacon, sausages, beans, fried tomatoes, white toast and coffee we were off to the second most important thing to be completed on the list . . . DSCN0377

Drink some good English beers! This is at our local pub. However, it does take roughly 20 minutes to walk there. Not necessarily close, but is so good! The Sussex Arms is it’s name and if you ever come to visit be sure to know that you will be brought to this friendly, cozy pub. The beer choices change weekly and their milk stouts never disappoint. You can follow them on twitter (@TheSussexArms ) and they tweet what their new beers will be for the week. Their tweets come in the middle of the week in the middle of the day while you are struggling to get through the day at work. They have a pub cat named Alice, a fireplace to warm yourselves on those cold rainy days, and an outdoor patio that will call our names once warmer weather arrives.

Michael had scheduled a packed, whirlwind tour of London that Saturday. The train from Twickenham to Waterloo Station roughly takes 20-45 minutes depending on which train you take and if there are any delays. It was a sunny, but chilly day and hardly any tourists around. Thanks for the Hudson Bay gear to keep us warm Lizzy!

We started walking along the Southbank of the Thames and headed towards the Tower of London. There were a lot of quizzes throughout the day. At all times Kent and I had to know what side of the Thames we were walking on and which direction. Michael was desperately trying to make sure we knew where we were at all times in the event that we wandered on our own in London without him. Parents, Michael is doing a very good job at taking care of us Nicholson’s. It’s a tough undertaking!

We saw the London Bridge, Tower of London, St. Paul’s Cathedral, Trafalgar Square, Piccadilly Circus, Buckingham Palace, Big Ben and the Eye. All in one day and walking at a very quick pace. Michael allowed us to ‘share’ an extra large Starbucks (sharing is caring) since he receives a free one each week with his gym membership and a buffet lunch in China Town. We were on a strict schedule and budget that day. Our funds were a little low as we were still on Canadian currency. 🙂

Our test for the end of our express tour of London – get us home safely. Kent and I passed with fly colours.

We have become Londoners in one weekend!

Cheers!