Eating my way through Europe: Calgary Layover

I’m heading to a week long meeting in Zurich, and it’s totally for work!! Really!

But with all of the work comes a bit of free time, and with that free time I will be eating my way through the best the Netherlands and Switzerland have to offer. What better way to see a city than with my stomach? 😉

My first stop wasn’t in Europe though. I have a short layover in Calgary where I’m enjoying exotic Canadian food.


That’s right. A teen burger, poutine and A&W Root Beer with sugar. None of which is available south of the border.

So good! But also, two days worth of calories in under ten minutes. Let the food coma commence in 3…2…zzzz….

Lambykins

A side effect of living in the burbs is that there’s very little to go and do writhing walking distance. In fact, the only things within a mile of my front door are a convenience store, a forest and a butcher. 

I’ve been making friends over meat. 

For the first year or so we were here the local butcher was a stereotypically friendly Turkish fella, who always threw in a little extra something when you chatted him up. He did the butchering and his wife cooked halal friendly side dishes… Typical dips and salads. 

Something changed recently and my Turkish buddy was traded in for three bearded hipsters. I’m sad my buddy is gone. But the hipsters spit roast lamb once a week. Yummy, yummy lamb. 

They stick a sign up on lamb day letting you know when to come and collect the carvings. If you’re smart, you call ahead. Our first night trying it out we waited an extra forty minutes for our cut, but it was worth it. When we told Xavier we were eating lamb, he asked if it was dead. 

“Yes Xavier. The lamb is dead before it was cooked.”

“Aww… poor lamb.” He said while chewing on some shoulder. 

The next week we took the above photo. Again to the tune of “aww, poor lamb” followed by “can we eat it for dinner?”

The Top End

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For my birthday this year I did something a little different. I flew to Darwin in Australia’s Northern Territory to teach school kids how to build Lego robots. A small group from my office was heading up and they were a person short. I’d had some related experience at an earlier job, and Darwin was on my shortlist of places to see, so I jumped at the opportunity (and then asked my wife, who kindly said yes).

The entire flight up I had my nose glued to the window. We didn’t quite go over the red centre, but we went awfully close. I finally got to see some red dirt! (#1 on my Aussie bucket list) The dessert is beautiful. Way more colourful than I’d thought it would be. Most of the colour seems to follow what must be seasonal waterways. There were also some stunning views where you could see a roadway down the middle of the landscape with dessert on one side, and grasslands on the other. I guess just having a concrete barrier was enough to break up the encroaching sand and let the new growth get started.

After landing in the city I had a chance to take a short trip around downtown. Its a sizable community by my standards, but feels very small. Most buildings are one or two stories tall, and the CBD is made up of small shop windows along quiet streets. It reminded me a lot of PG in terms of the feel of the city.

One other thing that stood out was the large indigenous population in the area. In particular in the city parks. I don’t know the community well enough to fairly describe them, but I can safely say that there were a lot of people hanging out in small circles or sleeping in the shade. While I definitely got the feeling that poverty and substance abuse was in play, I can’t say for sure if that was the case, or just my own bias from back home where that’s very definitely the case. On a few occasions I tried comparing what I was seeing with what I’ve seen before and was rebuked. This was something different.

One thing that I did think was weird was that I couldn’t make my way down to the water. I tried finding the beach but didn’t have any luck. When I got back to the hotel someone told me that there’s a very good reason for that: the beach is home to giant salt water crocodiles. They live in the ocean along the top of Australia, and Darwin was built in the middle of one of their natural habitats. One of the ladies I met told me that it felt like a cruel joke to be so close to beautiful beach, in a city that is 32-34° 360 days a year, and not be able to swim. To help out a bit,the city maintains several inland outdoor swimming pools that are freely available to locals looking to beat the heat.

That night we visited the Middle Markets, a good and stuff market that takes place along a safer stretch of beach. You still didn’t see anyone in the water but people did get a lot closer to the edge. The markets are the place to be on Thursday nights and thousands of people showed up in style (big caravans and deck chairs) to grab a bite and watch the sun set.

On our second day in the city we went to a nearby school to help Grade 5&6s learn about robots and programming. I won’t go into much detail other than to say that it was a very fun, and very rewarding day.

That evening my colleagues surprised me with a mini birthday celebration. I had this lovely pin, silly hats, dinner, wine and churros for dessert.

The third day was a bit of a strange one. I couldn’t do too much, as most of the tours ran at odds with my flight home. But there was one thing I could do that seemed really unique I ended up tagging along with my colleagues again as they drove an hour towards nowhere to visit a school in Bachelor, NT. This is a city of about 480 people, half of which come from the local indigenous community. They had a small group up there building much larger robots for a competition later in June. I. The short time that I was there I met with about a dozen different folk from northern Queensland and the northern territory. I also go to take explore the school grounds for a bit which were lovely. Tropical climates are totally foreign to me and just about square metre contains something cool to look at. Pics below. I joked with one of the guys at the school that even the toilets were amazing – after stopping in for a pit stop I spent the next five minutes admiring large butterflies, teeny lizards, exotic spiders and a bunch of other interesting critters.

We ended up very very close to Lichfield National Park, which is the home of those giant magnetic termite mounds. I didn’t see any of the giant mounds, but there were plenty smaller mounds on the local school grounds. It looks like they crop up at the base of a tree or thick shrub and then grow as the little guys feast. There were a few places on campus where the mound had got a few feet high and the associated tree had been cut short.

I think that by any Australians standards it was a pretty dismal trip. But I still get a big thrill every time I see something that’s not North American. Termite mounds, stubby palm trees, crocodile infested waters – it’s all amazing. Meeting some of the folk from the local indigenous community and sharing some stories was equally incredible. On top of that, working with the kids is always me sly rewarding. Nearly three classrooms joined us, and nearly every kid there (and a few of their teachers) had a blast.

Brisbane

We recently took a trip north to sunny Brisbane to visit our friends Jesse and Aaron.

They were kind enough to host us, and also show us around Queensland’s capital city.

Brisbane is a river city, and it’s highlights seem to lie along the banks of the Brisbane river. Our hosts live in the CBD, but a short walk got us to a free ferry that took us about a kilometre south to the parklands of the South Bank. We were visiting during the annual Brisbane Budha festival, the worlds largest celebration of Buddha’s birthday. Following our trip along the south bank, we walked back to our hosts apartment in the CBD. That evening, we went out for Mexican food with a few other people. The portions were small, but the food, and the company, was fabulous.

Everyone slept well that night, which was good, because the next day we were off to the Sunshine Coast.

Found this fellow sunning himself by the ferry terminal.
Found this fellow sunning himself by the ferry terminal.
Along the river bank there's a rocky outcropping that many people were climbing.
Along the river bank there’s a rocky outcropping that many people were climbing.
We stopped here for afternoon tea. In the background you can see some of the pretty purple flowers that appear all along the south bank.
We stopped here for afternoon tea. In the background you can see some of the pretty purple flowers that appear all along the south bank.
We visited during the annual Budha fair. Hundreds of red paper lanterns were string up along the water front.
We visited during the annual Budha fair. Hundreds of red paper lanterns were string up along the water front.

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Art?
Art?
Definitely art.
Definitely art.
Hanging out in the sun with Dad and Jesse.
Hanging out in the sun with Dad and Jesse.

Easter

The Easter long weekend was wonderful this year. In Australia, or at least in New South Wales, you get both Good Friday and Easter Monday off. This year, the weekend following is Anzac Day (think: memorial day) so I get a four day weekend followed by a three day weekend.

On Friday, we took Xavier and his friend Leland out to the park. The circus is in town, and I was able to catch a $5 side show while the boys played in the water. That evening we went over to Leland’s house for a lovely Easter dinner with our friends. The food was amazing: rocket and pear salad, mashed potatoes, mixed veggies with candied orange, apple sauce and a fabulous pork roast. Just after dinner, we took the boys for a short walk to see if we could find the Easter Bunny. As luck would have it, he came to the apartment just as we were out, and left behind a collection of plastic eggs filled with lego and other prizes. The boys loved the hunt, and opening their new toys, while the Dad’s got to have fun actually building the lego.

Saturday Xavier went back to his friends again while Mom and Dad caught a flick downtown. We’d been wanting to see the Lego movie for a while and it was just new in Sydney theatres. It was rather silly, but definitely a good time. Someone was cutting onions towards the end though… Oddly enough when we finished the movie we found ourselves magically whisked away to the toy department at Myers. And, conveniently they were having a 30% off and buy-one-get-one half off sale.

We spent most of the afternoon (and really the rest of the weekend) building Lego villages, car parks, pirate getaways, trains, zoos, spaceships, robots and so on.

Sunday morning, when Xavier woke up, he found a trail of eggs leading from his room to some Easter goodies. He had cars and candy and stickers and books from various Mummy Bunny’s. His favourite though was a GIANT chocolate egg.

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We discovered that weekend that Xavier is able to reach the top shelf in the kitchen. At one point on Sunday afternoon I noticed Xavier smiling at me from outside a shut bedroom door. Then a little while later it was awfully quiet. I found him barricaded in his room completely covered in milk chocolate. I think I would have done the same. 😀

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Annual Photo Shoot

This year we did our Annual photo shoot at a YouStudios in Sydney. This is our third set of family portraits. I never thought I’d have an annual family picture, but it’s turned out to be a really fun tradition.

Early on a Saturday morning we got gussied up and filled a giant duffle bag with props before heading over to their studio. Unlike previous places we’ve gone, YouStudios likes to do the photos in three sessions: shoot, review, pick up. For our first shoot, we worked with a super awesome photog who had us get up, down, and in some cases up in the air. Xavier is normally super camera shy, but she did a great job of bringing him out of his shell and getting him to smile for the shots.

We ran through a few different sets of photos, including some sports photos of him in his soccer outfit. Back home, team photos are a pretty stock part of a kids sport. Down here I guess it’s not a thing.

About a week later we showed up again for the review session. We arrived back at the studio and spent 40 minutes or so going through the choice shots of the previous session, and discussing layout options. Unfortunately, we then had a talk about price — this is when we found out that we were not at the same sort of place we were used to. The first option our photographer showed us was comparable in cost to a new laptop. Yikes!!!

Considering we generally keep our walls bare, this was just so far out of the realm of reasonable we had to laugh.

After some negotiating, Sarah found a plan that worked for her and was within a reasonable price point for what we were looking for. As an upside, our package also included digital copies that we can email around to friends.

Wild Life Sydney

We spent this morning at the Wild Life Sydney Zoo. This is the third zoo we’ve been to in Sydney, and definitely number 3 on the awesome zoo experience list (after Featherdale and Taronga), but it has some major advantages. It’s super convenient to get to, it’s much cheaper than the others, it’s indoors – making it nice for rainy days – and it does have it’s share of Australian wildlife. Anything that you’d really like to see as far as local fauna goes can be found here.

The other huge up side is that their crocodile, Rex, (or as Xavier calls him: snap snap) is by far the most active one that we’ve seen.

Birthday Party!

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Last weekend we hosted Xavier’s second birthday party in the park near our house. It was an awesome day outside, even for the dead of winter, and we got super lucky with both weather and location.

For his second Birthday, Mom baked up a storm – there were owl cupcakes and special cookies shaped like buttons (both for the Giggle and Hoot theme), fairy bread, sandwiches, a sausage sizzle, and drinks galore. Unfortunately, most of his guests don’t have teeth yet, so a lot of the bits ended up being extra towards the end. On the up side, Sarah was heading out to meet up with some friends from the local uni afterwards, and as everyone knows, grad students will eat anything, so nothing went to waste.

In addition to spoiling him with food, he was also spoiled rotten in terms of gifts. But I think that’s ok – we don’t buy him too many things on account of having only a little bit of place to put stuff, and so he was about due for a ‘things’ and toy refresh. My favourite new addition was a great new duvet and duvet cover from our friends Tom and Alex. He’s been sleeping so much better now that he doesn’t get cold at night.

All in all he had a blast – he spent the afternoon playing in the sunshine with all of his friends, and running back for ‘cake breaks’ (or maybe just icing breaks) whenever he felt a bit peckish.