My Christmas Tree Tour of Eastern Europe

Hi All,

A little delayed I apologize, but I’d like to share with you the tale of my journey through Eastern Europe over the holidays. Keeping with my tradition of travelling to cold places in the Winter, my 2016 holiday trip took me on a 9-day journey through Poland, Lithuania, and Latvia.

I had originally planned on making this journey by myself but I was fortunate enough to enlist some company for the Poland phase. A couple days before I set off I met someone who was considering taking a holiday journey themselves but hadn’t yet worked out the details. After explaining my trip, I invited her to come along. Given that she didn’t yet know me that well she decided that is was a good idea! If nothing else, she at least learned how to play Crazy 8s on the trip so she can’t complain!

Poland has been on my destination list for awhile. A country with 38 million, I’ve always found Poland interesting because of its history; particularly in the 20th century. Throughout this period, they were in a constant struggle for survival and independence. They fought off a Soviet invasion in the Polish-Soviet War of 1919-1921. They were occupied by the Nazi’s from 1939-1945, a period in which 6 million Polish citizens died. After the Second World War, they were under Soviet rule until 1989. Trying times. And throughout all these occupations, the Poles always fought tooth and nail to regain their independence. Truly admirable folks.

The first 3 days of the trip were spent in Krakow. It is a nice city for walking around in and Emma and I took in a wide variety of establishments: bars, coffee shops, sushi places, jazz clubs. Much more cultured than if I had been on my own!

One of the cooler things I did here was head down into the Wielicazka Salt Mine. The salt mine opened in the 1200s and only closed in 2007. It was stunning down there. Like a city under the Earth. And everything was made out of salt!


I guess the mine has 4 churches. As appropriate place as any for praying!


Pass the salt?


A Polish treasure. Salt of the Earth that guy was.

While we were in Krakow, Emma and I took a day trip to the Auschwitz and Birkenau death camps where 1.3 million Jews were killed during The Holocaust. One of the reasons I wanted to come to Poland was so that I could visit this place. Honestly, I don’t know how to describe my experience. I didn’t take any pictures. And I don’t really have any words either. It was a tough day.

Our next stop was to the Polish capital of Warsaw. It had a unique feel for a European city as it was more like a modern big city than one with an old rustic charm.



Warsaw’s entry into the Christmas Tree Pageant.


After seeing Emma off, I made an 9 hour bus trip to the Lithuanian capital of Vilnius. Lithuania has a population of roughly 3 million and was part of the old Soviet bloc. I’ll admit, this place was a bit of a miss (or should I say mess?). There wasn’t really much to see. Plus after enduring an insanely ruckus New Year’s Party in the hostel I was staying in (it lasted till 4am), I was asked to leave! The plonkers wanted to give my bed to someone else! Good riddance! I was sure to give them an appropriate review.

I did however, enjoy the New Year’s celebrations. I guess the thing to do is to run into the empty square below and set off your own fireworks. The police were heavily discouraging this behaviour. I can report that there were no fatalities (that I know of).


New Years in Vilnius.

After spending two days in Vilnius, I boarded a 5-hour bus (just a short skip) to Riga, the capital of Latvia. Latvia, another former Soviet bloc country, has a population of roughly 2 million. Riga was a really nice city. Not a lot of major things to do and see but it was a great city to just walk around in.


Riga Christmas Tree entry #1


Entry #2

Perhaps the most exciting story occurred on my flight home and I’ll conclude this entry with it. It was a 9am flight or something like that. Not super early but certainly early. It’s a 2 and half hour flight so not super long. The first hour ticked by without incident. Well, some old bitch sat in my aisle seat forcing me to sit in the middle seat. I could have asked her to move I guess, but think about the optics. First World problems anyway. I digress. Anyway, an hour into the flight a man about 7 rows up from me starts making a big fuss. I’ll refer to him from now as IDR (Infinitely Drunk Russian). So IDR starts yelling about something. He’s speaking Russian so who knows. He then gets up and starts punching the guy in front of him. Standard. He calms down a bit and then later on he starts choking the passenger sitting next to him. Typical. After calming down a second time, he tries to smother the passenger next to him with his jacket. He’s getting inventive now. After that he just opted for yelling and screaming until the place landed. Maybe he was tired or something. In any case, he got super arrested. But I mean, who hasn’t had a bad day right. I hope he’s doing okay now.

Till next time!


Year in Review


Well. I’ve burned through a year in the UK. Does it feel like I’ve been here that long? Yes and no. Maybe? Honestly, my ability to perceive the passage of time feels non-existent nowadays.

This is one of those blog posts that I don’t really feel equipped to write. I’d like to explain in striking and moving language how this year has changed my life. How it has led to amazing experiences I thought I would never have. That I am a better man for it and that I’ll never be the same again. All of the above is true and perhaps it’s best to just leave my reflection at that. I may try later to distil some further insight into my year.

I feel that from now on I will consider a year as running from October 22 – October 21. So, welcome to 2017! Here is a photo collage year in review.



Okay, I guess I shouldn’t completely cop out with pictures. I often think about how easy it would have been to not make the jump over here. There is a fair amount of inertia that needs to be overcome with any change. It can be pretty easy to accept comfort as a substitute for confronting challenge. People do it all the time and I’ve done it over a lot of stretches of my life. Sometimes we are unsure of what our next move is. What the right thing is. It is easy for noise to get in the way of the signal when making life decisions. It isn’t easy to cut through it. There was one quote that really resonated with me when I made the choice to head across the Atlantic. Ironically enough, it comes from the British actor High Laurie.

” It’s a terrible thing, I think, in life to wait until you’re ready. I have this feeling now that actually no one is ever ready to do anything. There is almost no such thing as ready. There is only now. And you may as well do it now. Generally speaking, now is as good a time as any.”

I think that one will remain an all time favourite of mine for awhile.

I definitely want to keep the blog going. I’ll admit I have found this surprisingly difficult to write it. Those who know me well know that I typically have no issue with being open and communicating my thoughts. But there is something about writing it down that makes me nervous. It’s inexplicable to me. I haven’t been able to figure it out! But I have at least another year to go in the UK and I already have a fair amount penciled in already  that I would love to share with everyone.

Stay tuned.


Two New Scotians Tour the Retro Version!


It’s time to fill you in on my recent trip to Scotland! Scotland, Edinburgh specifically, was my intended destination when I first moved over here before fate whisked me away to Cheltenham. I had always intended to come back for a proper trip. Scotland is home to roughly 5 million of the UK’s 65 million population. The country is probably most famous for, at least in North America, for providing the historical context for Braveheart. The country is also well known for its infinite beauty as this entry will illustrate.

I had some very special company for this journey in the form of my favourite redhead Jennifer Bishop! Scotland was the last stop of a whirlwind tour for Jen which consisted of stopovers in Iceland and Norway! The primary theme of her trip was hiking up steep things and we managed a few climbs during our week together.

Our adventure kicked off in Edinburgh, Scotland’s charming capital city. This marked my first return since I first landed in the UK last October. Hard to believe its almost been a year now that I moved here! There will probably be a separate entry in a months time where I attempt (and likely fail) to sum up my first year in the UK and what it’s meant to me. Stay tuned.

Our first day in Edinburgh consisted of hugs and giggles as well as a quick tour around Edinburgh to take in some of the obvious sites such of Edinburgh Castle and of course, a walk up to Arthur’s Seat.


Let the Adventure Begin!

Our trip was only 7 days so to keep things efficient we had planned out most of what we wanted to do ahead of time. Basic idea was to rent a car to drive and camp our way around Scotland.

The first stop of the trip was Loch Lomond for a few hikes and a walk around Loch Katrine. Everything we looked at here was stunning and we easily could have spent the entire week here.



Next, we hiked up Ben Nevis which is the largest peak in the UK. As mentioned, Jen is a seasoned climber and this was a relatively small peak for her but it was my largest ascent. I proposed the idea that we run up it to make it a bit of a challenge for her but she politely declined. The trail up to Ben Nevis is well trodden and we saw 100s of fellow hikers making the climb. And a lot of young kids as well. It’s nice to see parents getting their kids out for this sort of thing. May have been less crowded if we were climbing a hill in the US. One of the first things I noticed when I moved to the UK is that mostly everyone is in decent shape. Also, they tend to not eat like complete shitheads (though there is an abundance of biscuit consumption!)

The climb up Ben Nevis stirred up a bit of a desire (it doesn’t take much with me) to climb other peaks. I have a career break planned for sometime in the not too distant future which will likely feature a trip to Africa and possibly a jaunt of Kilimanjaro. Though I have heard that altitude sickness makes it pretty unpleasant…

Our next destination took us to the Isle of Skye which is one of the islands off the coast of the mainland. I am really going to have to just let the pictures do the talking here because the place is absolutely stunning. It has a distinct Middle Earth feeling about it. I kept expecting a fuck tonne of orcs to pour over the mountains. Then I’d look behind me to see Aragorn charging up on horseback, stopping to toss me and Jen a couple of broadswords, give a stirring speech before we were all engulfed in a 4-day long battle killing off legions of orcs. Seriously, my entire time there it felt like this was a real possibility. Fortunately (unfortunately), this did not happen.



Blending in




I’m in this picture as well!




Old Man of Storr / Classic Bishoping

Now for a Travelling with Matt story. While on the Isle of Skye we went to check out a beach. Both being Nova Scotians, we are accustomed to being close to the water and a beach has a natural pull on our souls. When we arrived we drove through the narrow parking area looking for a spot to park. Well, I guess it was a busy day or something because there weren’t many spots available. I got to the end of the parking lot empty-handed and had to turn around. Just a couple point turn and I would be on my way out and on the search for other parking options. So I back up to turn around and in the process come quite close to the ditch in front of me. No problem, I’ll just pop the car in reverse and all will be sorted. Unfortunately, I was driving one of those fuckers where reverse and 1st is the same position (almost all cars are manuals in the UK). There’s a button you have to press to switch between the two. Well, I forgot about the fucking button this one time and found myself unhappily in the ditch. Jen, of course, found all of this hilarious while I was quite flustered. After a few failed attempts of trying to back out, we enlisted the help of 10 or so travellers to help shove us out. The cast included a 70-year-old woman who fell during the effort. Don’t worry. She was alright and also found the whole thing fucking hilarious. The funniest part of the whole thing is that the Isle of Skye is fairly small and has a couple of well combed over tourist spots so we kept running into these folks over and over again. There were the middle-aged German couple and our personal favourite, Infinite Calf Guy and his family. I reckon ICG could have pushed the car out on his own…

Our final destination was Glasglow which is Scotland’s largest city. Nothing too exciting happened here. This was simply the place both of us were departing from. Though Glasglow did have a distinct Halifax feel to it. I may have to get up there for a race sometime.



When is the next adventure, Jen?


Hope you’ve enjoyed!

Take care.


A Journey Through the Low Countries


Sorry for the delay but it is finally time to share my stories from Amsterdam and Belgium. This entry features a lot more pictures than usual so something for the lazy among you to look forward to! Now this trip came directly after the London Marathon so for the first couple of days I wasn’t feeling my most spry! There is actually a fairly humorous story of me almost missing my flight out of London which I will save for a separate entry in my new section “Travelling with Matt” which offers my comedic take on incredibly frustrating events that are borne out of my inability to plan appropriately ahead of time.

My first stop was the Netherlands which is perhaps one the World’s most loved countries. Who can hate these folks? With their progressive social policies it is easy to convince yourself that it is the 21st century when you are among the Dutch. They were the first country to legalize same sex marriage. They are perhaps best known for legal prostitution and their infinitely progressive drug policy. The Dutch are also famous for cheese, bikes, wooden shoes, windmills, orange (the colour), and tulips. Yeah! Tulips! About 500 years ago or so there was a short period of time where there was utter confusion about the intrinsic value of a tulip bulb. Complete nuttiness. Any economic nerds out there should Google it.

My time in the Netherlands was spent entirely in Amsterdam. It is definitely a complete gem with its beautiful canals. A very European city. It also offers the full spectrum of experiences from a calm and measured dose of cultural and history to a complete and utter shit show involving a fistful of ???????? and door to door visits to establishments that offer naked recreational experiences. Perhaps I shouldn’t comment on which end of the spectrum I lie.

There were a couple highlights of my time in Amsterdam. The first was my visit to the house Anne Frank hunkered down in during WWII before eventually being captured. It was both very interesting and very sad to see the place. But the girl’s spirit is something that is truly remarkable. That someone could continue to be so positive in the very worst of situations is inspirational.

Another highlight was that my trip happened to align with Kings Day which is a National Holiday in the Netherlands which celebrates the birthday of  King Willem-Alexander (yes, other places are still doing this King / Queen thing). In any case, everyone gets the day off to walk around the streets wearing orange and drinking Heineken. It was an unique experience for sure!

My next stop was down to Belgium. Now the Belgians are quite famous for their food and drink offerings: waffles, chocolate, fries, and of course beer. The beer in Belgium is considered to be the best in the World. Now there is no debating its good but I have fallen in love with English ales. The Belgian offerings didn’t measure up in my view. Maybe I just didn’t drink enough….

I did some hopping around in Belgium as there were a couple of places I really wanted to see. My first stop was Brugge. A very picturesque historic town.


The Belfry

I spent a couple days here mostly taking it easy. Walking around. Drinking coffee. Reading. My usual travel routine.

The remainder of my trip was a make shift 20th century war tour. Belgium’s geographical position has made it a constant battlefield in Europe’s biggest wars.

My first stop was down in Ypres where some of the larger battles in WWI were fought. Canada became a country in 1867 but it is often said that they became a nation during the battles fought in Belgium and France during the First World War. It was the fierceness and bravery of the 425,000 folks we sent to war (60,000 of which never returned home) that helped distinguish Canada from the British Empire. As a Canadian I am both fiercely proud and infinitely sad of the sacrifice of our soldiers in helping to restore peace to Europe.

My first stop was Hill 62 which is a trench system that has been preserved since the end of the war. The most haunting thing about this place wasn’t the pile of rusted shells, the eerie darkness of the tunnels, the broken down wagon that was likely used to move bodies away from the front, or the uncountable blast craters from German shelling. It was the singing of the birds. I can only imagine they continued to sing during the war or else John McCrae wouldn’t of wrote about it.



I also visited the Tyne Cot Cemetery which is the Commonwealth burial ground for those who fought in the Ypres Salient. About 800 Canadians are buried here. Many of the graves are unmarked presumably because the remains could not be identified. The few graves that were marked showed that the solider was in his early 20s, usually not old enough to have obtained an undergraduate degree, when they died. That’s hard to imagine. I can only contrast with what I was doing with my early 20s. And I thought at the time I had a lot on. That I was struggling. Perspective is a very powerful thing. They call those who came of age during WWI the Lost Generation and there is nothing that underlines that more than a walk through this place..



My next stop was all the way across Belgium to Bastogne. Bastogne is best known for the Battle of the Bulge which was  the last major German offensive during WWII. It was the Americans bloodiest battle of the war and the town has many shrines, museums, and monuments commemorating the Americans who fought and lost their lives there. The gruesomeness of this battle is depicted in the HBO Series Band of Brothers. The entire series is excellent and if you haven’t seen it you should.

I spent a couple of days taking in the history and getting some much needed relaxation. I stayed in a bed & breakfast just outside of Bastogne in a place called Tenneville. It has a population of 80 or so. I was the only guest and the man who ran the place was a gentle giant named Carl. I could of stayed for months.

As I said, my main motivation here was to take in some of the history. I’ll let the pictures do the talking.


Mardasson Memorial


The Ardennes


Foxhole outside the town of Foy

Over the course of this trip I became aware of a level of fatigue that I have been accumulating over the course of 2016. I told myself when I got back that I would start to “simmer down” a bit. That was about 7 weeks ago and I can report that I have failed miserably! Summer is a lousy time for slowing down any way. Maybe some time in the Fall! Though probably not!

Take care.



A Kid from Canada Becomes a London Marathoner

Hey There!

Let me tell you about the highlight of my year. And I don’t mean the highlight of my year up until now. The London Marathon is the highlight of my entire year which includes the 8 months that have not happened yet. Maybe a couple weeks into 2017 as well. No more than 3. But probably just 2016. Certainly no later than March 2017.

To be frank, the prospect of writing about my London Marathon experience is daunting. My vastly limited capacity to express myself in general, but especially with words, means that this entry will inevitably fall short of conveying what being a part of this incredible event truly meant to me.

Many of you probably don’t know this but the London Marathon is the largest single day fundraising event in the World. Since the race started in 1981, it has raised over £700 million! That is an INSANE amount isn’t it? I was honoured to do my small part for this effort by raising money for the Roy Castle Lung Cancer Foundation (there is still time to donate here). To up the ante a lot of folks run the race in a costume (because I guess running the race alone isn’t enough). This really adds to the entertainment of the event. The best costume I saw was a guy dressed up as a storm trooper! I paced myself off a lobster for a couple of kms and was passed in the final stretch by someone dressed in a heart costume! And I am not talking about a gradual over taking, the dude whizzed past me like I was standing still! There was also a guy who ran with a fridge on his back! I’ve been inspired with a lot of costume ideas of my own, most of which involve dressing up like wrestlers from the 90s. My favourite is the Warriorathon. This involves dressing up as the Ultimate Warrior and sprinting the entire marathon. Estimated finish time is around 45 minutes. Maybe add a few minutes for the occasional Gorilla Press during the race.


On to my race experience. I am going to start with the crowds. They were bananas! Wall to wall the entire race. The support was unreal. And I don’t want to treat that as a throw away statement. I genuinely mean that the support was UNREAL . It is an incredible feeling to have an entire city (of 8 million!) rooting for you. Blokes with pints yelling “Come on Matt! You got this!”. Mothers supportively telling you “Good work Matt. Keep going!”. Fathers nodding with approval when you catch their eye as you run by. Kids sticking their hands out desperately seeking a high five (of which countless were delivered!). That really is an unreal thing to experience over the course of a marathon. Normal life unfortunately never offers you that much support and encouragement. Now I am not so delicate that I need constant encouragement but I think it is important to always remember that some positive words can go a long way. Don’t be stingy with them.

I am very happy with the race I ran. Things were running pretty smooth until 28km (roughly two-thirds the way through). Up until then I felt like a million bucks: headphones out, smile plastered on my face, chatting with other runners, high-fiving everything in sight. The whole nine. After 28km the legs started to feel a tad heavy. Runners call this “hitting the wall”. This is when the lactic acid build in your legs starts to diminish their interest in functioning properly. Definitely was a bit early to start struggling but I did manage to keep things relatively on track although with a complete change of attitude: headphones in, pain etched over my face, head down, and numerous hands left untouched. I ended up doing the 2nd half 8 minutes slower than the first and came in at 3:18:31 overall. I was hoping for under 3:15 but I am pretty damn satisfied with 3:18!

After I ran my first marathon six years ago I said that “I will never run another marathon”. It took 6 and a half months to convince myself to run another. After the London Marathon it took about 18 hours. I have a rough blueprint around running the remaining five major marathons: New York, Boston, Chicago, Tokyo, and Berlin!

Perhaps the biggest highlight of the whole weekend was having a little bit of home waiting for me at the finish line.

As you may know, right after the marathon I shipped off to the Netherlands and Belgium for a 10 day run around. So for those of you who have grown weary of me writing about running, stay tuned!

Take care.


Cardiff – Man vs. Machine

Hey There!

I feel like I’ve been letting this slide a bit but 11 entries in 6 months is probably a reasonable amount of production. Perhaps my feeling comes from the fact that I have so much I want to write about! April was a tad bananas in terms of busyness. (I attempted to spell this as business and realized how wrong that looked! But with the English language who the fuck knows right?). In any case, it is doubtful that things are going to slow down anytime soon so I am hoping to get caught up to date with this over the next week!

First up is my epic one on one race against Mo Farah in Cardiff. Well…. I thought it was supposed to be a one on one race. I mean, that was my understanding but a bunch of other assholes showed up for it as well. Word must have gotten out or something. It’s not too often that these folks would have an opportunity to run with me so I guess I can’t blame them. I think Mo was a bit disappointed by it though.

In all seriousness, the race was an incredible experience. The event was a World Championship so it brought out some of the best in the World. It was pretty exciting to be “competing” in that kind of field. So no one is confused about my running ability, any Tom, Dick, or Harry can entry this race! It just so happens that a bunch of folks that really know what they are doing show up as well!

The race went very well despite the weather conditions being completely rubbish. We had a very nice complete down pour at about the half way point that lasted for 3 minutes. I guess it was actually sort of refreshing! I was cruising along until the last 5km when my legs started to get a bit heavy. I need to work on pacing myself better! It takes some serious discipline (which I don’t have) to not get really excited and burn it out of the gate. Regardless, I did manage to knock a bit over a minute off my PB. Mo Farah ended up doing okay as well. He finished 3rd and clocked in at around 28 minutes faster than me. It was actually my goal not to lose to him by more than 30 minutes so I consider the event a complete success! The highlight of the race for me was screaming at and then high-fiving two Canadian flags!


This trip was actually my first trip over to Wales despite it being only an hour away on the train and me living 3 minutes from the train station. To recap for my Canadian friends, the United Kingdom is made up of 4 countries: England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. Wales is of course English speaking but they also have the Welsh language which I reckon came into existence before vowels were created.

It may have been the positive vibes from the race atmosphere but I felt very at home in Cardiff. The Welsh are a top rate group of folks by any measure. Very welcoming and friendly! And they give a fuck about hockey! I saw stores SELLING hockey equipment. Real hockey not field hockey! And I was chatting to a girl in a queue for coffee and her favourite hockey team was the Toronto Maple Leafs! Certainly a shitty choice on her part but I was infinitely tickled by the revelation.

All in all, a perfect 10 of a weekend. Wales, I will certainly be back!

Take care.



Hey There!

I’ve been wanting to tell you guys about my weekend in Northumberland last month but I haven’t been able to find the time. And now I have my weekend in Cardiff I really want to talk about! First things first. Cardiff will have to wait. Spoiler – it was fucking great!

Northumberland was the destination of my first race of the year. It was also my first race with the Coastal Trail Series which I have written about previously ( Northumberland, as the name suggests, is located in Northern England about 100K or so outside of Edinburgh. Getting there was an adventure in and of itself. It marked my first time driving over here and as most of you know the folks here drive on the left! I managed to get there and back unscathed (though not without incident). I did experience a mild case of driving on the wrong side of the road which almost resulted in my death! Don’t worry Mom, I’m just kidding. No, actually that did happen.

What will be amusing to my Canadian friends is the drive essentially took me all the way across England (I live in the south west and my destination was in the north east) and it only took me five and a half hours! That gets me from Halifax to Fredericton back home! So in other words, it gets me fucking nowhere! By way of comparison, according to Google Maps, it takes 57 hours to drive across Canada. Blimey!

Onto the race. I was really impressed with the Coastal Trail Series. Well organized and so much fun! The course was absolutely stunning. About 50% running across fields and 50% running along the beach. I even had the opportunity to run with sheep! I raced fairly well but I was really dehydrated. I managed to slug it out but I was suffering over the last couple of K. With about 3K left I had someone cruise past me like I was a statue. I don’t like being passed over the last couple K of a race but I was in no position to do anything about it.

There was one guy that went out and absolutely crushed it! I always like to try to pick out the winner at the start line. They are typically fairly easy to spot: sleeveless running jersey, sprinting back and forth, dynamic stretching. Oh and they generally look like a doctor’s poster of what the muscles in the human body are. The Brits generally don’t have a high view of such outward behavior so they took several shots at the eventual winners routine.

Racing in Britain really isn’t any different than racing back in Canada. Same inspiring atmosphere though perhaps this exchange only happens in England:

Guy 1: So what are you going to do after the race?

Guy 2: Have a smoke and a pint.

I can’t say he didn’t earn it.

Usually official race pictures have a way of making you look like a melted candle but the good folks at endurancelife seem to be able to catch you in the rare moments when you don’t look like utter shit.

CTS15-16 Northumberland - 27.2.16 -



On my way back from Northumberland I stopped in to check out Hadrians Wall. The wall was built about 2000 years ago by the Roman Emperor Hadrian and effectively served as the northern limit of the Roman Empire. There was still plenty more to be conquered further north (like Scotland) but I figure Hadrian just got tired. “Ahhhh fuck it. This is far enough. Build a big ass wall and name it after me. I am going back to Rome to get drunk and fuck bitches.” I think he was right to stop when he did. At the end of the day, what is the value of endlessly pursuing greatness if we lose touch with what really matters in life.

Enough with the history lesson. Here are a few pictures I took while at Hadrians Wall.




That wraps up most of what I have to say about this weekend. I had so much fun. After a slow start to 2016, Northumberland was a much welcomed jolt of excitement and served as the jumping off point for everything else I have planned for 2016.

Talk soon.