Category Archives: Bangor

This Adventure Made Possible By…

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Anna Maria Esposita for finding us on the side of the road in Salerno, putting up with our feeble attempts at Italian, and magically making our luggage appear out of nowhere.  Maya, for introducing us to AirBnB in the first place…our travels will never be the same.  Our barista in Vietri Sul Mare (thank you for the doughnuts, we hope you made it to Australia!), and our wildly flirtatious maitre d’ (that wine was impressively strong!).  Fernando, for the ride to the Tiber (we’re sorry if we gave the impression that we wanted to boat back to Rome).  Pope Francis for instilling humanity into our visit to the Vatican.  University of Manitoba College of Medicine for changing the direction of our lives while sitting in a Roman burlap tent!  Jamie Pierce, for pointing us in the direction of Cinque Terre in the first place.  Kaya and Aeden for being the best roommates we could have asked for, and Sarah, Alicia, and Stacey for getting lost with us in one of the most beautiful places on earth.  And for the calamari cones.  Genius.  The Lemon Man, for delicious homemade wine with a side of really disgusting jokes, and the Pizza Man for abusing/believing in your employees (either way, you made a pizza in record time, well done!).  Pak Kashmir Doner Kebab for starting a 3-month-long love affair with kebab…and for not judging us when we came back twice in one day.  The Sprachcaffe receptionist for helping two confused travelers find a place to sleep in a language school.  Pietro for being a (very charming) walking encyclopedia of Florentine espionage.  All’antico Vinaio for your legendary sandwiches and free wine refills (no, seriously, it’s for real!).  The lovely couple who shared coffee with us on the train to Venice.  Archie & sons…your front hall will forever evoke in us a sense of oriental mystery.  The kiosco girl (and all of Vienna, for that matter) for your patience as we realized we knew literally NO Deutsch (“Card!…48?”).  The Musikverien Usher for engaging us in a Viennese musical intrigue and, therefore, much better seats!  Our Bulgarian/Brazillian (Bulgrillian?) cellist hostel roommate.  We tried to find you on iTunes but alas we were…so far…but…so close.  The Heinrich and Kress families for welcoming us so generously into your homes (and travel snacks that nearly broke the bus tables!).  Artur & Irina, we feel like we have a real home in Germany thanks to you.  Robert, Christian, and Erwin, we hope we can jam and play Dutch Blitz again one day!  Johannes for an unexpected evening of German tango (we’ll bring our dancing shoes next time).  Julia & your roommate for making us feel so at home in Köln.  Viel Glück to both of you in your new jobs!  Oma for always talking about your home country and inspiring us to retrace your Sunday walks down the Rhine.  Maybe one day we can go back with you!  Linda, dankjewel for your bikes, your lovely attic, and taking a chance on us as your first AirBnBers!  Edwin and Farah, for taking the time to hang out with us even with your wedding being a week away.  Once a WOOFer, always a WOOFer (ps come to Manitoba, we’ll take you to the snake pits!)  The stars, for aligning so perfectly as to allow us to have a lovely lunch with Dorien.  The Alma Dixons for getting us to and from Europe in the first place (Mom, your axiom of ‘would you rather have stuff or memories?’ has successfully stuck with me into adulthood) and for showing us all the places you always talk about.  The Farnham Dixons for a lovely afternoon and some authentically British fish’n’chips (sans mushy peas, thank-you!).  Wendy for taking this whole motley crew into your home and showing us around Glastonbury. Elly for introducing us to your family (I cannot imagine a more adorable kid to blow bubbles with than your granddaughter) and an evening of reminiscing about icebergs and penguins.  Pete & Patricia for the most incredible Welsh hospitality, and for driving us all over the country at all hours of the night.  Mark Hanford for keeping us simultaneously amused and not dead as we threw ourselves off cliffs into the sea (still waiting for those carpets!).  The disembodied Welsh couple whose voices helped us find our way out of the mist and back to the path somewhere on Mount Snowdon.  Jack Johnson, for being you, and for entirely coincidentally being in Paris at the same time as us.  Andréanne, for showing us around your beautiful new Swiss home.  Irene and Martin for sharing so many things with us: your inspiring work and outlook on life and faith, the truly breathtaking landscapes, and yes, the little bears :P.  Andreas and Simone, also for sharing so many things with us (like mother like son, eh?): your friends, your family, your food, your car, your bike…. That night with the giant map (and the many road trips that ensued) is still a memory that we talk about regularly!  Aric and Gabriel, for being as excited about the high-ropes garden as we were and never judging us on our (lack of) Swiss German. Joël for sharing your beautiful pays et famille. Yannick for the best duck I’ve ever tasted, and Hélène for showing us the work you’re doing to help new immigrants become self-sufficient in Toulouse.  Ron, Nicole, Aimée, Sean (and yes, Cougar) for making us recognize the name Carcassonne, even if we’ll never pronounce it properly.  Les Cabys des Taillades (et oui, de Paris aussi!) for sharing your passion for history, many hours of games (we now have our own Möllky set!), French puns, and more wine and cheese than any North American could comprehend.  Mami Caby, for a beautiful afternoon in St. Jean du Gard, and the silk scarf that’s currently on display in our living room.  Isaac and Sylvia of JUCUM Barcelona for the generous hospitality, the 2AM tour of your majestic city, and showing us what we truly believe is the best beach in Europe.  Hind, Nour, and Adam for helping us finish off the bag of snails and confirming everything we’d heard about the welcoming nature of Moroccans.  Nour, of Sahara Desert Crew, for an unforgettable few days of sights and culture unlike anything else we’ve ever seen (also, your mad photography skills. ‘Nuff said.).  Cafe Restaurant Nora, for providing a literal oasis in the desert (Nothing tastes as good as Berber pizza and Berber whiskey at +50C!) The Samnoun family for taking us in when our hostel was suddenly infested with bedbugs, and Bousha for introducing us to the madness of the Medina (and many, many friends ;)…)

And of course, contributions from VIEWERS LIKE YOU!

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…to the Highest Heights

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Continued from the previous post

Our taste of Wales’ natural beauty left us wanting more, so the next morning, we were again awake early and were again blessed by the incredible generosity of Pete, who drove us this time to the foot of Mount Snowdon in Snowdonia National Park. Although we ended up on the “advanced” trail (we were only following Pete’s instructions!), the first half of the climb was relaxing, offering sweeping views of the surrounding mountains and the lakes below.

Lake

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Sheep mtn

Then, we climbed into clouds. Suddenly, the world disappeared, covering us with mist and obscuring all but the next few feet in front of us. The path that had seemed luxuriously wide and almost painfully gentle suddenly shot straight upwards, with no markers in sight.

Josh path

Mist sheep

We climbed on for a few more meters until we realised that we were completely turned around and making up our own path in the middle of suffocating cloud cover, which did not seem like a good idea. Thankfully, voices came our way: although we couldn’t see them, we managed to talk to two other hikers, who assured us that the path was just below us.

Back on track, we continued on up, finally reaching the summit of Mount Snowdon… or at least what we could vaguely see of it! The winds at the peak were ferocious and the mist was so thick that objects even a few steps ahead of us on the trail disappeared into vague shadows. The temperature had dropped 15°C as we climbed, and every exposed hair on our body was covered with droplets of mist and ice. This is apparently not unusual for Mt. Snowdon: a local who arrived at the summit moments after us took one look at the white void and sighed. “Oh well,” she muttered to herself, “perhaps one of these days I’ll actually see the view.”

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Summit

However, just a few meters down the mountain, a whole new world reappeared!

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Thinking back to the original three elements that had brought us to Wales, all three proved true. The uniqueness of Welsh culture is evident not only in the raw, magnificent beauty that composes the landscape, but also in the earthy language that garnishes every interaction, from the post office to a scenic drive with a local. There is something magical about Wales, where myth and reality live side by side, where mountains disappear into the mist and ancient castles sit cooly beside play structures.

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Airbnb

Cat

Field

Sheepies

And finally, the Welsh really do scramble off cliffs. And now, so have we.

Snow. Adv.

From the Deepest Depths…

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Coasteering?

It was a word I had never heard before March, and my first introduction to it occurred when Josh and I were looking at where in the UK outside of England we wanted to travel.

This was the introduction:
“Hey Sara, I found a website that said they do this thing called coasteering in Wales. It looks really cool.”
“Really? What is it?”
“I don’t really know. Something about scrambling off cliffs. But it looks really cool.”

This may seem like a less than thrilling recommendation to most. Bear in mind, however, that we moved to Argentina for eight months based on a website Josh had found after typing “learn about organic farming and stay for free” into Google, which ended up turning out very well (which if you’re already reading this blog, you already know! 🙂 )

So, it kept us intrigued, this cliff-scrambling thing, and when June rolled around and we still hadn’t made a decision between Scotland and Wales, we bought train tickets to Wales based on three factors:
1. They have a crazy language (see more about that here!)
2. Merlin was from there
3. Josh had read on a website that they scramble off cliffs

It was only when we were already on the train that we realised that although we had been talking and dreaming about cliff scrambles for months, we had never shared those dreams with, you know, anyone who could actually make them a reality. Thankfully, Mark from Snowdonia Adventures responded to our frantic last-minute emails, and early one morning, our amazingly gracious Airbnb host Pete drove us to Holyhead to meet up with Mark. Fitted into wetsuits, helmets, and hiking shoes, we proceeded to walk with Mark along the breezy top of cliffs that swept down to the Irish Sea. It quickly became apparent that we were about to spend the day with a Welsh version of my brother-in-law Borden.

After throwing ourselves into the sea, a shocking 14°C after the 26°C of the air, we received some brief technical pointers from Mark, things such as “Always swim feet first when approaching shore” and “If it looks green and slippery, it is.” He then showed us some different swimming techniques, such as how to swim in strong currents, how to rapidly swim backwards, and how to spin yourself in circles really fast.

“Spin! Faster! Faster!!! Really fast! Keep going!” yelled this bizarre Welsh apparition of Borden. “Isn’t that awesome?”

Josh

“I’ll add it to your tab,” he added as he floated away. “£5 for the non-pharmaceutical psychedelic experience. £10 for the very flattering pictures I’ll take. Then, we’ll go into Beaumaris and I’ll take you to my cousin’s store to buy some carpets…”

Needless to say, the cliff scrambles were not the only entertainment of the day!

“I’m not usually this surreal,” he mused as he clutched the rock face and snapped a series of ridiculous pictures.

Silly

Coasteering, in short, is mountain-climbing, but horizontally along the coast. You scramble along coastal cliffs until you reach a point where scrambling is impossible, at which point you hurl yourself (safely – don’t worry, Moms!) off the cliff and into the frothing sea below.

I could continue to type, but these will do more justice:

Scramble

Easing into it: our first little jump!
First jump

Mark

Moving on up… Many meters above sea level!!
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Observing

Underwater

There’s only one way down from here!
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With numb feet and hearts still pounding, we made our last scramble up a sheer cliff face, anchored only to a rope tied around Mark’s waist at the top, then walked back to his car. Although the expedition was technically over, he offered to drive us along the coast for some magnificent views, regaling us with tidbits of ancient and local Welsh history. After an hour, we arrived in Beaumaris, a lovely little fishing town. After instructing us on where to find the best mussels, we finally said goodbye to Mark and dashed through the pouring rain to a well-earned lunch.

Mussels

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To be continued…

Ps. You can watch Mark’s video of us coasteering here!

Iaith fyw

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Getting to Wales is no easy task. Despite being neatly nestled in England’s bosom, it took us no less than four trains to get there. Mists became heavier, and place names wildly more exotic, as we approached the legendary birthplace of Merlin. Upon boarding the last train we were greeted by this:

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Now, many an Englishperson had told us that Welsh was basically a dead language. But as we passed signs bidding us ‘Croeso’ to places such as Lladundon and Gwynydd, it became clear that we were in a very bilingual country…more bilingual, even, than Canada!

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This comparison between Welsh and Canadian bilingualism got me thinking. It’s not a fair comparison, because Canada’s two languages are both colonial, whereas Welsh is a native (in the most general meaning of the word) language that survives despite the presence of English. A more appropriate comparison would be between English (or French, in Quebec) and the multitude of First Nations languages that have been present for thousands of years.

What has allowed Welsh to survive while less than 1% of Canadians still claim a First Nations language as their mother tongue? And what can Canada learn from the Welsh success? As Canada tries to recover from centuries of colonization, these are definitely things worth addressing (though this applies to the nation as a whole, I will speak only to my own experience, which is in Manitoba).

The obvious answer to this question is financial support. The UK government pours significant amounts of money every year into keeping Welsh alive. All official signage and documentation are in both Welsh and English, with Welsh usually being more prominent. The majority of schools in Wales are taught in Welsh, and basic Welsh is mandatory throughout all grades even in English-language schools.

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Meanwhile in Manitoba, public text does not include First Nations languages until the 58th parallel (which is basically Churchhill and that’s it), and schools must design their own curricula and materials if they want to teach a First Nations language.

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The most common objection to the use of First Nations languages in public institutions (including schools) is that there are simply too many of them. In some respects this is valid: it would be impossible to choose a single language to represent the diversity of a land this massive. But considering that 30 Waleses could fit into Manitoba alone, it is not unreasonable to propose that the Wales-sized plot of land around Winnipeg could include Anishinabe in its public texts while the Wales-sized plot of land stretching from The Pas to Gillam could include Cree, etc.

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The next anticipated objection is that a country cannot function when divided into so many linguistic groups. To counter this, we jump ahead in our voyage to Switzerland. Quite possibly the most stable country in all of history, it is split into four distinct language districts. Street signs, schools, and even food labels switch languages entirely within the same country. In fact, while visiting the Italian-speaking canton, our Swiss German cousin had to speak to the gas attendant in English to be understood. Yet the Swiss are undoubtedly Swiss, and have been for 800 years.

It’s sometimes tempting to believe that language extinction is just a Darwinian fact of life, and that any attempt to fight natural selection is just prolonging the inevitable. In the case of Latin, for example, this is very true. In the case of First Nations languages, however, their pending extinction is entirely unnatural. The systematic destruction of these languages was never inevitable, but rather was artificially imposed in the relatively recent past. This suggests that it is entirely possible to reverse the disappearance of these languages if we support their use in public institutions. Obviously this would not entirely resolve the centuries of distrust between Canada and First Nations communities, but it would be a significant step, and would ensure that the unique perspectives offered by those languages are not lost.

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