A Travellerspoint blog

July 2009

Timmy's, but no Timbits

Tim Horton's in England? Yes.

overcast 17 °C

Today was my last day of my contract in Birmingham, so to celebrate I brought in a box of doughnuts of the team I had been working with. Always a nice gesture, I think, to thank all those who helped you during your time on your contract.

More importantly, though, it was also a celebration of my birth country, Canada. Because I didn’t just bring in any old doughnuts.

No, I brought in Tim Horton’s.


Now, if you aren’t a Canadian, I will forgive you for not knowing what Tim Horton’s is. If you are a Canadian, though, your primary questions will probably be, “where the heck did you get doughnuts from Tim Horton’s in Birmingham, United Kingdom? Is the coffee as good? And do they sell Timbits?”

Tim Horton was a Canadian ice hockey player who played for the Toronto Maple Leafs in 1950s and 1960s. In addition to playing for a series of Stanley Cup winning hockey teams, he also started up a little doughnut shop in 1964 in Hamilton. The chain quickly grew, and today has more than 3000 stores in Canada and over 500 in the United States.

Tim Horton's is immensely popular in Canada, with line ups out the door in the morning for a cup of coffee and a cruller. They are also well known for their Timbits, small balls of dough deep fried and coated with sugar, like doughnuts without the hole.

Here in the UK, Tim Horton’s made a deal with the SPAR convenience store chain where they sell coffee and doughnuts in small kiosks in the store. I previously ran into one on Haymarket Street in London, but they recently opened a SPAR with a Tim Horton’s kiosk in the Paradise Forum in central Birmingham. The store sells doughnuts, but no Timbits. The coffee is from a self-serve machine, and I am told it is not as good as the fresh brewed stuff back home.

So as I presented the box of doughnuts around to the team, I was proud to say, “you know, these are Canadian doughnuts.”


Of course, by that I mean they are doughnuts made by a Canadian company… Not doughnuts flown in daily from Canada.

I hope.

Posted by GregW 05:39 Archived in England Tagged food Comments (2)

I am not a Traveller, I am a Migrant

Coming to the realisation that I am really the slowest of the slow travellers... so slow, it's not really travel at all. It's actually moving.

overcast 12 °C

I came to a realisation recently that I am not a traveller.

By that I mean that I am not the kind of person that can pack all their stuff in a backpack and head out into the great unknown. I know folks like that, who spend months – even years – on the road without a home base. I admire it, but I’ve recently realized that that type of travel isn’t really for me.

I think I’ve subconsciously known this for a while, but my conscious self has been loath to accept it. In fact, back in 2003 I wrote the following in an email (later reproduced as a blog entry on my final days in South America):

Truthfully, I have been crashing since my last few days in Buenos Aires, and I have little energy left to be the great explorer anymore. One of the most important lessons I learnt on this trip, I am not meant to be the kind of person that spends 6 months backpacking around the world. I still love travel and seeing new places, but the energy required to be constantly planning your next move and the laissez-faire attitude required for the travel is just not in me… Don't get me wrong, I am glad I took this trip. But I don't think I will be taking another like it again. My next trip - shorter, more focused on a single location or task and planned in advance.

Passport stamps from South America

Passport stamps from South America

While I never really took to planning in advance for any trip I take or going to just one place, I have found that I enjoy my travels a lot more if they are focused on a specific topic or event. I don’t do well just drifting without a plan (at least for more than a couple of days).

Despite writing those words back in 2003, I’ve resisted accepting that I am not a long-term traveller until recently. I chalk that reluctance to a simple reason. Since taking that trip in 2003, I have found myself drawn to keep taking trips, both for business and pleasure. Each of those trips has driven a further desire to head further afield. Each trip has increased a feeling that I had that somehow travel was important to my life. Confusingly, though, I wasn’t really sure why or how. I just knew that somehow all this travel was important and was leading someplace.

Eventually where it led, as you are all probably aware, is to a flat in King’s Cross, London, where I now live as an immigrant to the United Kingdom. Despite pretty much nothing going to the plan I had in my head when I first moved over here more than a year ago, somehow it has all felt really comfortable. Even the setbacks have felt like a movement forward.

Immigrant statue, Albert Dock, Liverpool, UK

Immigrant statue, Albert Dock, Liverpool, UK

The reason for this feeling of comfort can be found in something I wrote more than a year ago. Back in early 2008, I was feeling increasingly unsure about my future at the company I was working at. I started to jot down my thoughts on what I wanted to do next. I sometimes do this when I am faced with a big decision, finding that the writing helps me think through the issues I am facing and make a decision I can feel comfortable with. In my musing on my next move back in early 2008, I came up with a number of options, including moving to another division, moving to another company, starting a new career, starting my own business and going back to school. Over the month or so I was musing on my next move, one idea kept coming forward stronger and stronger. About two weeks before I finally made a final decision on what I would do, I wrote the following statement.

“Option: Quit job and move to London.
Analysis: Least sensible option, but for some reason this feels important to do.”

Despite being the least sensible option, I did end up taking it. When people have asked me why I did it, I’ve often dodged the question or responded with a vague reason like “wanted international work experience” or “hoped to miss the recession by moving abroad.” The real reason is that it felt important to me to do it, and there is no rational way to explain it. It was a feeling that I had to follow.

All this recently came into focus when I stumbled across a definition of something called “existential migration.” According to Dr. Greg Madison, the Canadian-born, Brighton, U.K.-based psychotherapist and counselling psychologist who coined the term, existential migration is “conceived as a chosen attempt to express something fundamental about existence by leaving one’s homeland and becoming a foreigner.” It is different from “economic migration, simple wanderlust, exile, or variations of forced migration” in that it is a chosen move, not driven by economic or political needs. In his research, he found those that many who he has spoken with “adamantly insist that they couldn’t have stayed; they had to go.” Even though politics, war or economic need didn’t make them leave, there was something in them that made them pack up and go.

Immigrant family statue, Yonge Street, Toronto, Canada

Immigrant family statue, Yonge Street, Toronto, Canada

There were many things that struck a chord with me in Madison’s research, but a lot of what had been driving me over the past few years made sense. I realized that a lot of what had been drawing me into my career as a consultant was the opportunity to have a mini-migrant experience. I would move temporarily to a place and get to experience life there. It was a more settled and familiar experience than long-term travel, but still placed me in the foreign and unfamiliar. Consulting was a chance to dip my toe in and try out being an immigrant with the safety net of having a home back in Toronto.

In the past few years though, I would find myself getting “itchy” for a change after four to six months on a consulting project. At the time I thought that it was because I wanted to move on, get some place new. Now though, I am starting to think that the reason I got jumpy was because I wanted to take a further, deeper step into migration and knew that ultimately I wasn’t getting that from a temporary contract experience.

It was on reading Madison’s research that I realized that I wasn’t a traveller. All this time, I hadn’t been travelling. I had been slowly working up to what I am doing now, living in another country.

I am not a traveller. I am a migrant. It has just taken me a while to get around to actually migrating.

Posted by GregW 09:57 Archived in England Tagged living_abroad migration_philosophy existential_migration Comments (0)

I’m Henry the Eighth, I am

Hampton Court Palace

sunny 22 °C

This year marks the 500th anniversary of the start of the reign of Henry the Eighth. The king, I mean, not the guy who got married to the widow next door.

Henry the VIII was born in 1491 and ascended to the throne on April 21st, 1509 after the death of his father Henry the VII. He married his first wife, Catherine of Aragon soon after taking the throne, in June of 1509.

After 24 years of marriage, however, Catherine had been unable to give Henry a male child, at least one that could live beyond infancy. Henry requested an annulment from the Roman Catholic church in Rome. The church refused, and eventually Henry split the Church of England from the Catholic church, creating the Anglican church that exists to this day. Henry annulled the marriage, and married Anne Boleyn.

Henry was to marry a few more times, eventually having six wives. He married his last wife, Catherine Parr on the 12th of July, 1543 at Hampton Court Palace.


Hampton Court Palace is in the London borough of Richmond upon Thames, about a 30 minute train ride from Waterloo station. The Palace was originally built for Cardinal Thomas Wolsey, King Henry’s favourite ecclesiastical official, at least until he couldn’t secure the annulment from Rome. After that, he fell out of favour with the king, and the Palace reversed back to King Henry the VIII.

William the III enlarged the Palace in the 1600s, trying to create a rival to the French’s showpiece, Versailles. The work was never finished, and today the palace is part Tudor, part Baroque. It is still pretty.


I headed down on Saturday with some friends to check out the Palace. In addition to being able to tour the Palace and the gardens, recreation of daily life in the Palace take place. In addition, the day also included a recreation of the marriage of Henry to Catherine Parr.

No monarchs today live in the Palace. Queen Victoria opened the palace to the general public in 1838.

The Tudor gatehouse and astrological clock, made for Henry VIII in 1540


The Kitchens that Henry had made to feed his 1,000 strong court.

Main hall for feasting.

Private apartments.

Privy Garden, Christopher Wren designed southern entrance in the background

Main fountain


World's largest grape-vine! Seriously, check with the Guinness folks!

The King and Queen getting married.

They have a topiary maze. I found my way out, no problem. Luckily I am so smart.

Posted by GregW 07:13 Archived in England Tagged tourist_sites Comments (0)

Come On, Gromit!

Topiary of a man and his dog in Birmingham

sunny 20 °C

Walking to work in Birmingham every day in Birmingham, I pass a motorbike with side car that is sitting up on a traffic island on a busy motorway. A man with a large nose is driving the motorcycle, and his dog sits in the side car, looking awfully scared.



It's Wallace and Gromit!

Wallace and Gromit are the main characters in a series of claymation programs and an academy award winning movie. Wallace is the man, an unsuccessful inventor from outside Manchester. His dog, Gromit, is the smarter of the two, and often keeps his master Wallace out of trouble.


Why, though, are they parked up on a traffic island above a tunnel entrance in Birmingham?

According to the BBC, "poised on a motorbike and side carriage on Great Charles Street, Wallace and Gromit are welcoming anyone coming into the city via the Queensway tunnel. Made out of over 10,000 individual plants on two meter high fibreglass frames, the duo are part of the City Centre Floral Trail, Birmingham's entry into the National Britain is Bloom competition."


Given the traffic along Queensway most days, hopefully they give the motorists a little smile and perhaps reduce the road rage level just a touch.


If nothing else, they give me a smile most mornings.

Come on, Gromit!

Posted by GregW 12:00 Archived in England Tagged tourist_sites Comments (0)

How Real Explorers Kit Themselves Out

A shopping trip to Fortnum and Mason's

sunny 16 °C

In 1923, Archaeologist and Egyptologist Howard Carter broke the seal on the tomb of Tutankhamun. Carter and his team boxed up the antiquities that he found in the tomb to ship back to London. Luckily, the expedition had drunk a lot of wine, so they had a lot of empty crates which to use. Those crates had come from the only department store in the world that had an Expeditions department.


Fortnum and Mason's on Piccadilly since 1707.

In the early 1700s, Hugh Mason let a room in his house to William Fortnum. Together the opened a store on Piccadilly that has come to be an icon of Britain. The store has held a number of Royal Warrants, issued by the Royal Family to there preferred suppliers.


In the late 1800s and early 1900s, Britain set its sights abroad, and soon expeditions were spreading out around the world. In addition to Carter's Egypt adventures, Fortnum and Mason's outfitted The 1922 Everest expedition, which didn't make the summit but did set a world record height record and included Sherpa Tensing Norgay. Norgay was one of two men who first reached the summit in 1953. The 1922 Everest expedition included "60 tins of quail in foie gras and four dozen bottles of champagne."


I don't know if the expedition department still exists. My guess is not, as not many people go on expeditions that include the need for "essentials as butter knives and sauce boats." Too bad though. Nothing quite as glamorous as eating caviar off bone china and white linens while boating in the Belgian Congo or looking for lost Mayan lost cities in British Honduras.


Posted by GregW 05:16 Archived in England Tagged luxury_travel Comments (2)

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