Wednesday, October 16, 2013

A Year on Sabbatical - Final Analysis

I set out a number of goals at the beginning of the year. I didn't do everything I hoped, but I did accomplish other things that I hadn't planned. Here's the final analysis:

Improve my French before we travel to France! (I'm pretty rusty - it's been almost 2 decades since my highschool French classes).  Most of the improvement happened after getting to France, but I'm happy to report that I improved more than I thought I would.

Resurrect my bicycle riding skills (also rusty - I've hardly been on a bike since I got my driver's license at 16) and get comfortable riding in the city (I've only ever ridden on empty country roads with no traffic) - Grenoble is supposed to be a great city for cycling. Did not get on a bike once. Mark rode everywhere in Grenoble, and they did have great infrastructure for it. But the rental bikes were pretty clunky and everywhere we wanted to go had great bus or train connections. This goal gets deferred.

Cook more food from scratch (particularly from 'Mastering the Art of French Cooking', which I received as a Christmas gift from my mother). Did quite a bit of cooking, and was especially pleased with some creative solutions while cooking with minimal kitchen facilities in France. It was also a real pleasure to shop at the French markets daily.

Learn to preserve food (so that I can justify planting an even bigger garden once we're settled again for the growing season). Didn't do much on this front, as we weren't home for a full growing season in our garden, so we ate everything as it ripened. But there will be bigger garden plans for the future.

Learn to eat well with chopsticks (I have to finally commit to eating everything with them long enough to get enough practice). I felt so sheepish about putting this one off for the whole sabbatical that I finally cracked down and tackled it after the year ended.

Paint in watercolour regularly (I enjoy it so much, but it's easy to lose my finesse when I don't do it for a while). Didn't paint while in Washington, as the air was so humid I don't think the paint would have dried. Took a watercolour class with my friend Anne while in Toronto, which helped keep up the motivation. Did a bit of painting while in France, but there was so much to see and do that I didn't find it easy to take the time to stop and paint.

Catch up on reading books that I own but haven't read yet (which won't be easy when we're away from home), and books that I don't own, but want to read (I've got a long list built up from past years). Some books read, but the list continues to grow. Although this is the kind of goal you don't ever really want to cross off... Was pleasantly surprised to get a library card in Washington, where I made extensive use of the library system, and was also happy to start using the digital collection of the Toronto library system to read books on my laptop while traveling in France. And while in Toronto I discovered the MAP program which provides free passes to cultural attractions, which I made good use of.

Learn about green roofs (I've been seized with this desire ever since seeing green roofs everywhere in Norway, which covered even bus shelters and sheds). Done! The green roof conference in Vancouver was really inspiring and informative. If we ever have the resources to put a green roof on our home, shed or other structure, I will have lots of resources at hand to tackle it.

Learn to install tile (I think I'd be good at this, and I'd love to be able to put in a kitchen backsplash). Nope, didn't do this. And then we decided to move, whereupon the professionals took over during our renovation.

Volunteer (there should be many options for this, and I'm hoping to find something to do in each city we'll be staying in; off the top of my head I'm thinking of teaching, visiting people in hospitals, and getting involved in efforts to promote sustainable energy and agriculture). Didn't do anything on this front apart from helping to tutor a friend's daughter in English while we were in France - when you're only in one place for a few weeks at a time, you can't commit to an ongoing volunteer position.

Illustrate Mark's research (if I'm spending a year traveling around with a chemist who's doing research at various labs, I should learn more about what it involves, and put my scientific illustration skills to good use!). I had good intentions, but Mark kept telling me to do something more fun with my time off. Hard to argue with that.

Exercise regularly by hiking (something I wish I did more of currently), while always taking the time to stop and photograph/sketch/paint when I encounter a beautiful view. Done! The hiking in France was really fantastic, and we were lucky to make friends who took us along on many enjoyable trips.

Finally print and frame favourite photos from past trips (I've got a backlog of about 4 years). Printed some, but accumulated many more photos to work on in the future.

Devote lots of time to reading and editing my friend Jenn's stories (who deserves to be published! and if she was a full-time author, I'd have so much more great stuff to read) which she posts at: Done. And an excellent use of my time.

Learn to type with the Dvorak keyboard because it is super cool and way more efficient (I've always wanted to try it, but I know it's going to take so much practice to mentally re-map - and I'm scared I'll then forget my Qwerty typing - best to do it during a year off when it won't matter how fast I type). Didn't tackle this one, and I'd guess that if it didn't happen now, it's never going to. Why mess with what works?

What else did I do that I hadn't planned on?

I made many good friends while in France, which I hadn't anticipated. The French-English exchange groups were a great place to meet people who were interested in sight-seeing and trying new things. I hope I'll get the chance to visit my new friends again by returning to France for another extended stay.

Although it wasn't officially during the sabbatical year, I did delay my return to work so that we could get a puppy and invest lots of time in his early training. Thurmon kept me very busy for the first couple of months, with toilet training, walk training, and helping him overcome his fears of traffic, stairs, riding the subway and swimming. And he rewarded me with far more laughter and snuggles than I had imagined.

During my post-sabbatical work break I also sold my house (using a discount real estate service that kept me busy scheduling viewings) and found us a new one. And that segued into a year-long renovation during which I was an armchair interior designer/architect - good thing I'd only gone back to work part time! I read design books, cooked up ideas, revised endless plans and drawings, and shopped seemingly every weekend. I'd had a long-time interest in interior design and architecture, and it was very satisfying to live out that dream. In the end we have a beautiful, comfortable house that truly suits our way of life.

Sunday, July 3, 2011

July 3, 2011: Manchester/Toronto - Flight, Home!

No photos to post for this last day of our trip - we simply flew home! Our sabbatical year has been a fantastic experience, but it's great to be back.

Saturday, July 2, 2011

July 2, 2011: Manchester - Library, Art Gallery, Industry, Steak

Today Mark's cousin, Simon, showed us around Manchester. It may not have the glamour of London, but I found the industrial history of Manchester really interesting. And the prevalent red brick construction of the buildings, contrasted with some very dramatic modern architecture, reminded me of Toronto.

We enjoyed the sunny weather, eating outside at a street festival, and having a pint outdoors at an English pub.

After touring the city we went for a delicious steak dinner with the extended family - a lovely way to finish off our European adventure!

Old Manchester and new

Cousins walking down the stairs: Simon and Mark

A detail of the old architecture

A very striking new building

The Museum of Science and Industry, housed in several old factory buildings

We saw a detailed demonstration of the textile machinery that drove the Industrial Revolution in Manchester

 We also saw a variety engines (many of which were invented in Manchester) in operation

Friday, July 1, 2011

July 1, 2011: Berlin/Manchester - Botanical, Flight, Indian

After checking out at the hotel, Mark and I walked to the nearby Berlin Botanical Garden for a last outing. I cleverly tried to pay with all of our Euro change, but miscalculated, and had to break a bill - drats. It was a short visit, as we wanted to get to the airport in time. So we only saw a portion of the garden, but it was quite lovely.

Since we were already in Europe, it seemed like a good opportunity to stop over in England along the way, to visit Mark's mother's relatives in the Manchester area. Our flight went well, and we landed to beautiful weather - warm and sunny. Mark's relatives kept remarking on how lucky we were. Oddly enough the last time I visited England (11 years earlier) I came during a summer heat wave.

For dinner we had take-out Indian - delicious. The closer we get to home the spicier the food is! It was also really nice to relax in a home, with family, after so many months of being away.

One of the garden's lush greenhouses

At first glance I thought we had missed seeing a zoo-esque garden, filled with moose. After double checking with Google Translate, I realize it was a garden filled with moss. Which I may well have enjoyed just as much...

Thursday, June 30, 2011

June 30, 2011: Berlin - Jewish Museum, Aquarium

In the morning I went to the Jewish Museum Berlin. As with yesterday's tour, there were dire historical objects and stark spaces and art evoking the Nazi Holocaust. But there was also other fascinating and fun history about the Jewish people throughout history, with a focus on their place in Germany - it was nice to balance out the sad with some good.

I was also particularly interested to visit the museum because the architect was Daniel Libeskind, who designed the Crystal addition for the Royal Ontario Museum in Toronto. I am not a fan of his addition to the ROM - it strikes me as architecture that hates people. There were many similar elements in his design for the Jewish Museum, but here they made sense - a discordant, disorienting, alienating experience is appropriate for a troubled history of discrimination and repression. Transplanting the same design elements to the ROM simply clashes with a museum of natural and general cultural history. It doesn't make me like the Crystal any more, but it isn't as baffling now how it originated.

In the afternoon Mark had some time off, so we visited the Berlin Aquarium. It wasn't the best aquarium we've visited, but it did have a very lively octopus, which we greatly enjoyed. After that we walked about a bit more. I had been hoping we could visit an exhibition by Canadian artists Janet Cardiff and George Bures Miller, but our timing was unsuccessful. Too bad - their work is always fascinating.

For dinner we went for Chinese at a restaurant in the neighbourhood of our hotel. Not as good as we'd get in Toronto, but better than in France - not as much fear of a little heat and kick to the flavours!

An art installation at the Jewish Museum - metal disk faces cover the floor, like fallen leaves

A lonely space for contemplation

A memorial garden, with olive trees growing from the top of tall stellae

Like the ROM Crystal, it's the little details that drive me crazy - like this staircase of industrial metal (nice enough) next to drywall (big problem) - so unsuited to the wear and tear of multiple visitors - a public building like this needs more durable finishes!

I think the fish is more excited to meet Mark than vice versa

Playful octopus

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

June 29, 2011: Berlin - Insider's Tour, Topography of Terror, Spree, Holocaust Memorial

In the morning I went on an "Insider's" tour of Berlin. It was led by a woman originally from Sweden, but she'd lived in Berlin for a number of years, so I guess that qualifies her as an insider. The focus was on the history of the Berlin wall and the division of the city into East and West. From today's vantage point it seems utterly improbable that a city could have been divided up so suddenly and thoroughly. That being said, I've visited the divided capital city of Cyprus, Nicosia, in 2000, so maybe it's not so improbable after all.

At the end of the tour I visited the Topography of Terror museum, which exhibitions about the division and the Nazi regime. It's built on the site of former Gestapo headquarters, with a large segment of the Berlin wall preserved.

In the evening Mark and I took a boat tour along the Spree river through the city. It was a beautiful evening, with warm weather and sunshine. Many people were hanging out along the river banks at the beach bars (imported sand, palm tree and beach chair lending a resort-like air). Berlin is a pretty diverse mix of old and modern architecture side by side - with all the warfare, there have been plenty of holes to fill with new buildings, unlike other cities we've visited in Europe.

Mark and I also went to visit the Holocaust Memorial, designed by architect Peter Eisenman (also the designer of the City of Culture in Santiago, Spain), which I'd seen earlier that day on the tour. It's such a striking design - as the height of the walkway changes, the stelae transform from horizontal grave-like slabs to tall, forbidding structures, and you feel lost in a city emptied of people. It was a very powerful and affecting experience.

Checkpoint Charlie - a somewhat Disneyesque re-creation of the crossing point from East to West Germany

A very moving combination of lonely sculpture, with exposure to sun and rain

The wall at the Topography of Terror

Classic East German Trabi cars for rent by tourists driving about Berlin

A plaque memorializing the location of the wall that divided the city

An overhead view of the Holocaust Memorial

And the oppressiveness from within the Memorial's depths

Beach bar along the Spree

A classic brick bridge over the Spree

Berlin's modern architecture

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

June 28, 2011: Berlin - Potsdam, Olive Wood, Caspar David Friedrich, Biergarten

Today I took the train out to the town of Potsdam, which had been recommended to me as a must-see while in Berlin. It has many preserved historic buildings, both palaces and townhouses.

I opted for a guided bus tour of the town, since the major sites were fairly widespread. We had a chance to get out at all the stops and walk around, which was nice, although I didn't really get to see any of the downtown. The train station, unfortunately, is on the outskirts.

Happily, however, I did accomplish a shopping goal while in the train station - I purchased a lovely olive wood salad bowl set. I'd been looking for one for ages, convinced I would find one for sale in France, but never did - any olive wood bowl I found was very small. Somehow Mark and I had gotten fixated on the idea that this would be the perfect wedding gift for friends of ours, but I'd given up hope we would find it. But there, in the station, was exactly what I'd been looking for. Turns out all the big olive trees (or at least the ones being cut down, rather than harvested for olives) are in Africa (Tunisia, if I remember right).

After returning to Berlin I stopped in at the Alte Nationalgalerie, because it has paintings by a favourite artist of mine, Caspar David Friedrich. It was smaller than the museums I'd visited in the days prior, which is probably just as well, as I was starting to get a bit museumed out.

In the evening I met Mark and his colleagues from the university at one of the local Biergartens. There's certainly something a lot less formal about eating out in Germany, compared to France, that reminds me of being home in Toronto. It's just about time to return to Canada...

Sisters (but not, I think, twins) on our tour, dressed identically

Edible chard in the ornamental flower border

A roof with "eye" dormers

One of several palaces that we visited

Potatoes left at the grave of King Frederick II, who persuaded his subjects to eat them by setting up "guards" around his potato patch (making a formerly suspicious new plant suddenly desirable)

 Caspar David Friedrich "The Lone Tree" 1822

A detail of the painting - such a diverse array of colours in the green meadow