Home sweet home

UK flag

After over 12 months in Canada, we’ve just been back to the UK for a fleeting visit to see family and friends.  The most I’ve ever spent outside the UK at any one time is probably 2 weeks – so I was interested to see what I’d notice the most after such a long period of time away.

The humidity in Alberta is very low, such that your skin dries out quickly, lips crack and a good smothering in all types of lotions and potions just to retain and regain moisture is a must.  So immediately upon arrival, the humidity hit me and my hair quickly adopted its natural ability to frizz at the hint of any moisture, and my skin breathed a welcome sigh of relief.  The humidity was also quickly followed by the UK’s signature offering – rain.  In abundance.  That said, we hadn’t really experienced such rainfall for 12 months so it was a familiar sight and treated as somewhat of a novelty.  At least we knew we’d come home 🙂

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A cockney bus driver ferried us to pick up our hire car where his ability to talk and recount tales was clearly in his job description.  The funniest observation being made by my kids who remarked at how he seemed to understand every word I uttered and didn’t need to ask me to repeat anything.  We may be living in Canada where the common language of choice is English, but let’s just say there are dialect challenges when it comes to deciphering the terms used by someone from Northern England which never fails to amuse my kids, who are usually called upon to translate requirements.  Oh the delight of being back on familiar turf and linguistic terminology.  We chatted for ages ….

I have a new-found sympathy for any American or Canadian traveller arriving into London and picking up a hire car.  My goodness.  Not only do they have to fathom the whole ‘driving on the left’ scenario, but the delights of a manual gearbox.  In fact, even making it out of the maze of roads surrounding Heathrow deserves applause.  Roads are small, lanes are narrow, volumes of traffic huge, and with endless congestion – welcome to England.  The pace of life is much quicker, the prices of petrol absurdly high, and traffic signals seem to move back to red as soon as they touch green.  Being natives of the UK, we quickly adapted but it’s baptism of fire for foreigners and goodness knows how they cope.

Lake district

All the scenery (albeit wet and rainy), is much greener.  In fact, the famous lines of ‘Jerusalem’ – a national anthem for any Brit – certainly sprang to mind as ‘England’s green and pleasant land’.  It certainly is.  It was awe-inspiring to see rolling countryside and hills.  And sheep.  Lots of them.  I’ve spotted the occasional flock in Alberta, but just not in the same volumes and varieties you see in the fields back in the UK.  It’s interesting how much you take for granted when you live there all your life.

I loved driving on the country lanes and winding roads.  Knowing some of the areas we visited like the back of my hand, my knowledge of the back streets, cut-throughs and scenic routes quickly kicked in and had me smiling with delight at familiar sights and places.  Whilst the grid system in Edmonton is brilliant to navigate and decipher with many opportunities to vary your route and avoid any queues, the logical and structured development of unbelievably straight roads doesn’t provide as much stimulation and interest to the casual driver.  That said, I quickly lost patience with the traffic chaos, time spent waiting in queues, and  sheer volume of traffic on the UK roads.  Some things I don’t miss in the slightest.

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The history, just the ‘age’ of anything and everything, the buildings and architecture is stunning to see.  Western Canada is fairly modern in every shape and form by comparison, so I had a renewed appreciation and noticed more readily, quaint villages, old bridges, picturesque canals, historical buildings and monumental statues which would in previous years have passed me by.

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Food wise, we made a bee-line for a local chippy.  Several times.  What a brilliant British institution.  And pubs.  Love them.   I had great meals out with various concoctions of family and friends.  I think I managed to cram my usual 6 month social calendar into the space of 10 days, so I’m now back in Canada for a rest and diet.  That’ll just about do me for another 12 months.  I loved going back home, being in the UK, the sights and smells – and enjoyed my refill of friends and family.  It was wonderful and had much more of a regenerative impact than my friends probably realised. A huge thank you to all.

Our new home is in Canada.  But did I miss my UK home enough to want to return?

No, not yet …  🙂

Best places to live in Canada? Big isn’t always best …

 

Official logo of St. Albert

Official logo of St. Albert

Given the size and epic scale of Canada, you’d think there would be a natural gravitation towards larger cities as being the better places to live.  Whilst Calgary certainly factors up there in number 2 spot for 2014 (Moneysense 2014 survey of best places to live), a much smaller town appears in the number 1 position – St Albert.

Luckily for me, it’s a small ‘town’ to the north-west of Edmonton in the state of Alberta.  It’s a small community with a population of 64,000, unemployment is low, incomes are amongst the highest in Canada, crime rates are low, and whilst the winter is extremely cold and long, it’s sunny all year round.  20 minutes drive from Edmonton (who, incidentally, was placed 8th overall, 3rd best largest city to live in after Calgary and Ottawa), St Albert has an abundance of open spaces, active areas for sports of all types, and for those with ‘kids’ it seems to tick all the boxes, and is a parents’ dream.

St Albert Clocktower Downtown. Originally post...

St Albert Clocktower Downtown (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

St Albert has been mentioned to me by many people as ‘the’ place to live when we relocate.  My husband visited it for the first time last week and (as instructed), came home at the weekend weighed down with maps, leaflets, newspapers and general ‘bumf’ about things to do, places to stay, where to eat, schools to attend.  In fact, the most noticeable feature when you look at the street map, is the amount of play areas, parks, woodlands and sporting facilities there are available.  He described walking around almost every corner to be greeted by another ‘park’ with climbing frames to die for – in fact, based on my middle ‘kids’ recent exploits and ability to fracture her wrist from some monkey bars (see previous blog), she’d be able to break almost every bone in her body each week for a year from what he saw in the play areas and the range of stuff to climb and generally have fun on.  (Better make sure the medical cover is up to date 🙂 )

 

As in the UK, the weather was hot last week in St Albert, with paddling pools in abundance and fountains spraying water over pre-school children who were clearly in their element.  These turn to ice rinks during the winter months when the snow arrives.  There are basketball courts, rugby fields, soccer fields, tennis courts, athletic tracks, cross-country skiing facilities, BMX parks, canoeing, water parks and of course, swimming pools.  Ice hockey pitches, fishing, golfing and nature trails also appear.  And all this, in an area with a population size of 64,000.

St Albert Playground

64,000 people doesn’t sound a lot, and when I look at places I’m familiar with in the North-West of England, it’s equivalent to the population of Bury, a town just north of Manchester (yes, the one with the 2 football teams), and the place I was born and brought up in.  I can probably recollect a few of the facilities in the list above being available, but certainly nothing the size and scale of leisure and active sports Canada seems to offer.

On the accommodation front, I hear it’s a busy market with properties not appearing and staying long on the open market before being snapped up.  Not surprisingly, if the range of facilities is anything to go by, the sheer number of schools built to educate the youngsters, and the promotional material advertising it’s place in the top spot, it sounds like a prime location and let’s just hope we manage to secure even a tiny spot for the 5 of us.

I’m sure there’s a little space …