2013 Year in Review

Time sure flies when you’re busy and having fun! For the first time since moving to Ireland, Diane and I went home to Canada for Christmas. So by the time I got back, it was already partway through January. This caused this post to be delayed quite a bit, since I had all the catching up to do when I got back. But! Even though this blog only manages a blog post a year, I still like doing my year in review! So it might be February already, but hey ... it's never too late right?

January

 Beach Towers

Beach Towers

To kick off the new year in style, I was rewarded for my efforts at work with a trip to the Bahamas for the 10th annual Pokerstars Caribbean Adventure. The event is a signature event on the Pokerstars calendar, and one of the cool perks that the company offers is to send some of their employees on a "working holiday". They require three or four days of helping out with various tasks and then the rest of the ten days are a fun holiday spent at the ridiculous place called "Paradise Island". It was an incredible 10 days - Diane and I really enjoyed it. The sun, the beach, the ridiculous waterslides, and the huge aquariums. Now, how to get another invite ...

After returning to Dublin, Diane headed back to Canada for an extended visit leaving me to my own device for the better part of two months. I made sure that I kept relatively busy though. Our hockey team had a final hurrah at a little tournament held in Kilkenny. Amazingly, six different teams showed up for the tournament. Our team being pretty newbie-heavy didn't do very well, but did win one game at least!

February

 Newgrange with Kepi

Newgrange with Kepi

In early February, our department had our delayed Christmas party (yeah, so what if it was more than a month late?). Part of the reason was the company had already thrown a relaunch party so throwing another open-bar shindig for the whole company was deemed slightly excessive. So instead, each department got a budget to have their own small party. For this occasion, the IT department went to a venue in town, and we had a nice dinner and drinks.

The company also threw a freeroll poker tournament in February with a bunch of cool prizes. Unfortunately, I didn’t walk away with the 3D home entertainment system. Oh well, maybe in 2014.

Finally, my friend Kepi from Canada flew over to Europe to join me and a colleague from work to go skiing at Cervinia in Italy. A week long of skiing with pretty darn good weather, snow conditions, and delicious Italian food was definitely a good time! Cervinia physically borders Switzerland and is on the opposite side of Zermatt, which is a famous ski resort known for the Matterhorn mountain. We had a comfy stay near the ski lifts in a hotel that served us delicious (plentiful) dinners every night.

 On the slopes in Cervinia

On the slopes in Cervinia

March

Diane returned to Dublin briefly before the two of us headed over to London to visit our friends there and see Louis CK perform. You can watch a recording of a (different) performance of that show by grabbing a copy of "Oh My God" - you can get it direct from his website.

April

The big event in April was my decision to finally do something I'd talked about doing for years: go get my vision corrected with laser eye surgery. The experience itself was pretty trippy, and both easier and harder than I thought it would be. I'm happy to say that the surgery went very well, and a few months after surgery my vision was better than 20/20 (I haven't had it measured since). The surgery has improved my life - certainly making playing hockey or swimming much better experiences. I kind of wish I had managed to get around to it before the Bahamas trip!

May

 Skelligs with Megan

Skelligs with Megan

We had been trying to get my sister over to visit us in Dublin for awhile, and we were finally able to make the schedule work out. Her plan was to return to school in the fall, so the spring was a good time of year to steal her over for a couple weeks. While she was here, we managed a fair amount of touristy things including a trip down to the Ring of Kerry. For the second time, Diane and I got really lucky with the weather and managed to see the Skelligs with incredibly nice sunny weather. We took my sister to a couple of our favourite restaurants from the last time we were down that way, and otherwise just enjoyed a rare chance to hang out.

June

 Steaks on the fire

Steaks on the fire

It was a busy June. Our apartment we had lived in for nearly our whole time here was going to be sold so we needed to find a new apartment. We got a fairly lengthy notice period, and managed to find a suitable place to move into for early June. We hired some movers to help move our accumulated stuff the hop skip and a jump to our new place which went pleasantly smoothly.

Later on in the month, one of Diane's choir friends invited us to see her lock house. These old houses line the canals in Ireland, and would be where the guy lived who was able to operate the part of the canal that could raise or lower the water for the boats that went up and down the canal. These days, boats that use the canals have their own key to operate the lock so it isn't required to have anyone live there anymore. So these old houses are either falling into disrepair or used as the equivalent of summer lake homes in Alberta. So Diane's friend kindly hosted us there after a little bit of hiking around the area and a quick stop to pick up some delicious steaks at a small-town butcher shop. It was a lovely sunny day for a hike and then a fire-grilled steak dinner in rural Ireland!

The company social committee planned a fun event in the late part of the month. We went up to Phoenix park for an afternoon of driving Segways. I'd only been on one briefly at the University, and this was a much longer session which involved a nerf gun and water fun fight, and learning to play segway polo.

July

Although Diane and I celebrated our 5th anniversary in June, we didn't get to our own celebration for it until early July - we booked a dinner at Sabor Brazil. This is Dublin's top ranked restaurant on tripadvisor, and we managed to score two-for-one groupon-style vouchers for dinner there. It was a memorable dinner, and we enjoyed it immensely.

Later on in July, the company held a family summer party. The party was largely indistinguishable from previous summer parties the old company threw except that the venue wasn't quite as ritzy. But otherwise, there was plenty of outside ridiculous activities to participate in including an archery range, segway course, bouncy castles, and human foosball. Plus of course the BBQ lunch and open bar that stayed open until late into the night. The summer continued to bestow wonderful weather on us and this was one of several absolutely gorgeous weather days of the summer.

August

 Rouge Restaurant, Galway

Rouge Restaurant, Galway

In August, Full Tilt sponsored the UKIPT stop in Galway. The company spent a lot of money building a "poker village" that had a fantastic players lounge. So a couple of my colleagues and I went down to Galway for a fun weekend of playing a bit of poker and enjoying Galway. We discovered a fantastic little restaurant called Rouge which had an incredibly good menu for astonishingly cheap. Definitely on the list to return to!

September

The big event of September was the wedding of my good friend and colleague. He had a destination wedding on the island of Vis in Croatia. It was quite a trek to get there: a flight from Dublin to Birmingham, an overnight stay at the airport hotel, an early morning flight to Split, and then a ferry to Vis. But it was a pretty magical weekend -- the weather was fantastic, and the happy couple had a full weekend of events for us. The wedding ceremony itself involved hopping in a speedboat to take us to the neighbouring tiny island. After the ceremony, we enjoyed a lovely sunset while sipping on a glass or two (or more) of champagne before returning to Vis for the reception. The reception was held in an open-air restaurant that served up an incredible many-course menu. The restaurant had a magical atmosphere: almost more of a garden than a restaurant. Tables nestled on patios linked together with steps, lots of greenery, and a lit fountain all added to the ambience.

 Split, Croatia

Split, Croatia

The next day, we hopped aboard a boat that the couple had hired for the day and got a tour partway around the island. The boat operators sang for us, served us food, and gave us opportunities to hop into the Croatian ocean for some swimming! Diane and I were sad we hadn't booked a couple extra days off to enjoy more of the island. I guess we'll just have to go back!

October

After returning from the wedding, and all through October, work ramped up to crazy busy. It really didn’t leave much time for much else other than work and trying to relax from work in the evenings and weekends. So we didn’t get up to much, although there was a company social outing to do some ice skating at one of the holiday rinks that open up around Christmas time which was fun.

November

Just at the tail end of the busy work push was UKIPT Isle of Man. This was a special poker tournament because staff was allowed to play the main event, which was kind of nice. After Full Tilt was purchased, we weren’t able to play in the UKIPTs anymore. But an exception was made for the event on the Isle of Man. So we had a small office satellite to the main event and I was fortunate to win it. My prize was not just the main event fee (£1100), but also hotel and flights, so that was pretty nice.

I didn’t do well at the poker all weekend, but the trip was still pretty cool. I got to meet a fair number of the Pokerstars staff and met some poker players who were cool to hang out with and chat with. So it was a pretty fun trip overall.

December

 Dinamo Riga

Dinamo Riga

It was a pretty busy December for me. Diane returned to Canada to help out with her mom’s knee replacement surgery that happened at the beginning of the month. While she headed off to that, work was busy as we tried to get some aggressive projects done before the Christmas break happened. In the middle of that, a couple colleagues and I went off to Latvia for a fun lads weekend away to watch some KHL hockey games, and enjoy some Latvian food and beer. We actually did a trip like this a couple years ago, and this was also quite a blast.

The company also threw a Christmas party which was pretty fun. It was held at the O2 VIP lounge, which was almost too small for the large number of employees that now work for Full Tilt and Pokerstars in Dublin. There was a live band, a magician, and as much as you liked to drink, which made for a fun evening.

Finally, I joined Diane in Canada for a few weeks over Christmas and New Years. This was the first Christmas we’d been back since we moved to Ireland, and man was it COLD! Yeesh, Edmonton sure wasn’t making a case for us returning in a future winter. But anyway, it was good to see friends and family for a good long visit. I did manage to see quite a few people, but not everyone. So I apologize if I missed you on this trip - I'll try and catch you on the next one!

2013 was a pretty fun year overall. We had quite a few fun trips, including more sun holiday trips than I've done in a year (Bahamas and Croatia). Let's hope 2014 is fun too!

As usual, here's a selection of some photos from this year:

Morgan

2012 in Review

Wow, 2012 is coming to an end and I'm a little surprised. It was an eventful year for us - one which had us wondering a bit about what was around the corner, but still a reasonably enjoyable one all in all. Since we once again failed to post very much (okay, at all) this year this will once again be a fairly long post catching you up on what happened this year for us. Overhanging most of 2012 was the uncertainty around work. My employer was running out of money quickly since it had no income from about late June 2011. It made it difficult to make any really long term plans as we had no idea if we would continue to stay in Ireland or if the company would somehow find its way out of the hole it had dug.

January

In January, Diane returned to Canada for 6 weeks to help out her mother after she had knee surgery. 6 weeks is a long time to fill on your own … but I managed to fill in some of the time with a few trips. The first of these was yet another trip up to Belfast to take in an (ice) hockey game. A few colleagues and I took the train up and then had a nice dinner after the game before hopping on an after-midnight bus back to Dubiln.

  Madonna di Campiglio

Madonna di Campiglio

A week later, pretty close to the same set of colleagues went on a lads weekend away to Riga, Latvia. The main purpose of the trip was to catch a KHL hockey match between Dinamo Riga and CSKA Moscow. One of the guys going on the trip is of Latvian descent and knew the language and the city pretty well. So for the rest of the weekend he showed us around. It made for a nice relaxing weekend away.

February

Things didn't slow down for exciting things for me at all in February. A group of four guys from work went on a week-long ski trip to a resort called Madonna di Campiglio in Italy. The same guy who showed us around Riga goes to this resort nearly every year and was happy to bring us to his 'home resort'. The weather was excellent, the food was fantastic, and the skiing was gorgeous.

 Flying Lesson

Flying Lesson

A couple weeks later, it was time for UKIPT Galway. Our group of friends has done really well at this series of poker tournaments over the last couple years, and this particular event would be a fantastic one for our group. Not only would a couple of guys go deep in the main event including Nick who made his third UKIPT final table, but three of us including me would go deep in the €300 side event, which I eventually came 2nd in for a €11,800 score. To top it all off, Max won the high roller event. Our group took in over €50,000 in winnings that weekend!

March

Diane found a groupon-style deal for flying lessons awhile back, and on March 18, we finally got out to use them. One at a time, an instructor took us up in a Cessna plane and we were even given control of the plane in the air for a little while. It was a pretty fun experience that we're both glad we got a chance to try.

 Torc Waterfall

Torc Waterfall

The other big event in March was the discovery of ice hockey in Dublin! A small ice rink had opened in Castleknock in Dublin, and a surprising number of people were attending weekly hockey training sessions. So a few of us went up to try it out. Despite the small ice surface, the guys training were willing for us to join them and so a few of started going every week. Eventually, Mike and I bought all the gear so we could play without fear of our shins getting hit by a puck.

April

My folks made their third appearance in Dublin in between a trip to Europe to see the family that lives in Austria. During their visit, we made a weekend trip to the fantastic Ring of Kerry. We basically repeated the trip that Diane and I did on our own back in 2010 - with a couple of small differences. One of this was a stop at the Gap of Dunloe - a picturesque area to do a little walking. We capped off their visit with a trip to the Merry Ploughboy - a traditional Irish music pub which does a touristy show and dinner. It was a pretty nice little evening.

Later that month, Diane and I went to Paris. Our main purpose of going to Paris was to see a trio of bands (Epica, Stream of Passion, and Xandria) perform there, which seems like a pretty good excuse to finally make it to Paris (Diane had been previously but this was my first trip). We arrived late on Friday night, and spent Saturday walking around in a drizzly day. We met up for dinner that night with the same friend of Diane's who hosted us in Lausanne, Switzerland. On Sunday we joined the queue for the Lourve and spent a good portion of the day wandering around there. I think my favourite part of the Lourve was the architecture of the building. It really is a pretty stunning place. The show on Sunday evening was fantastic -- the venue was pretty big and well laid out, and the sound quality was excellent.

May/June/July

 One Arch

One Arch

As spring moved on into summer, we found ourselves not nearly as busy with trips as the prior months. Part of the reason for this was it was getting pretty obvious that the work situation was going to be sorted out one way or the other sooner rather than later. Up to this point we had constantly been promised that news on a deal to restore the site to operation would be coming soon. It often felt as close as a week or two away or at the very least not more than a month away. The mood and moral in the office was starting to get pretty bad as people seemed to be leaving for more stable employment almost every day or two.

Finally, at the end of July, the deal we were waiting for finally occurred. On the 31st of July, PokerStars purchased the assets of the company and formerly took over. Our sights were now set on a 90-day relaunch period in which we needed to get a pile of work done to ready the site to be used again by people. But my first order of business was to go back to Canada ...

August

 Piggy Bank

Piggy Bank

Diane's sister was due to get married at the beginning of August. So Diane went back to Canada to help setup the wedding a few weeks before-hand. I joined up with them in Vancouver at the beginning of August to take part in the festivities. A few very warm days in Vancouver were quite enjoyable. The wedding itself was lovely, and the reception was quite nice -- including some bonus fireworks at the end courtesy of the Vancouver Celebration of Lights which they hold every summer.

After a few days in Vancouver, I flew back to Edmonton to spend some time with friends and family. Diane joined me a few days later after doing a quick road trip down to Seattle and then back up to Edmonton. It was good to see everyone that we did get a chance to see. Apologies to anyone we missed -- we'll get you next time!

A couple days after landing back in Dublin, the hockey team we'd been training with made a trip up to Belfast to play a late night hockey game against one of the rec teams up there. So despite being a little jet lagged, I drove up with a Mike and Andrej to go play. We lost by a few goals, but it was a fun contest… one where I scored a flukey goal off a defender.

September

The relaunch effort at work was very much in full swing by now. The pile of work looked insurmountable, and there just weren't enough resources to devote to all the things that needed doing. Our work days got longer and there wasn't too much time to devote to much else. Despite that, we did get out to a couple of fun things. The company threw a "Fresh Start Party", at which the staff were treated to a night out with an open bar and got a chance to mingle with other staff. Gus Hansen, a professional poker player and the first of our signed pros, made an appearance and we spent a fair amount of time chatting with him.

Diane and I also got out to see Dara O'Briain's "Craic Dealer". Dara is an Irish standup comedian who we've been trying to see for ages. I finally just decided to buy tickets as soon as they came out which was about 8 months prior to the show. So finally we got a chance to go see him and it was an excellent show. There's a DVD out if you're interested - he's very funny.

 Tasting Menu

Tasting Menu

October

The relaunch of November 6th was looming at work, which made October a very work-heavy month. We did make it out for one quick weekend trip to London to see some friends there. While both sets of our friends had been there for more than a year we hadn't had a chance to get over there to see either of them … and one set was about to have a baby and would be moving away from London after the baby was ready to travel. So time was starting to get short to see them while they were still close! So a quick visit was in order which made for a nice weekend away.

November

Amazingly, despite the amount of work that needed doing, we managed to somehow get the site back up and running with very few problems. The relaunch day went way better than anyone really had any expectation of. Players flooded in and sat down to play on the site after more than a year of no action happening. It was an incredible day. A couple weeks later, the company threw a relaunch party. They booked out a night club, had plentiful food and drinks, and a good time was had by all.

  Goooal!

Goooal!

Also in November, the Celtic Clovers (which our hockey team was called) made two trips up to Belfast to play games. One game against the Foxes, and another against the Prowlers. We lost both games by wide margins, but once again I managed to score a goal in one of the games. There's even a picture that Diane took for proof!

Finally, one of the groupon style coupons we got was for a significant discount at a fancy restaurant called L'Ecrivain. So Diane and I went out on a Tuesday night for a very enjoyable tasting menu. This meal capped off several excellent dining experiences we had over the last few months - including a tasting menu at Bang Restaurant and a couple of nights at the Dublin cookery school popup restaurant night. It was a very good year for trying some tasty meals.

December

 Thanking the fans

Thanking the fans

This month, we went on another KHL hockey game trip, this time to Bratislava. Andrej is from Bratislava, and he proved an able guide around the town. He was also key in acquiring the tickets as there was a complicated auction process involved in getting them. It was quite a nice weekend where we enjoyed the local Christmas markets, had some good food and beer (Staropramen Black is very tasty), and walked around to see a few sights.

Just before Christmas, the Clovers made one last trip to play a quick hockey game against the Kilkenny Storm. This was quite a bit closer to Dublin as we didn't need to go all the way up to Belfast. The Kilkenny team only had about 8 people there to play for them, but they were a very strong side and we ended up losing by a significant margin. Still, it was an enjoyable game!

It's been an exciting year. Lots of trips and stories and pictures. I'm quite happy with how the work situation has resolved itself so far, and that means we might stick around Dublin for awhile yet to see how it continues to go. Early next year, we have a trip to the Bahamas to look forward to … and I'm sure there'll be a lot more to see and do as the year goes on.

I hope everyone had a good 2012, and here's to a better 2013! As usual, I'll leave you with a selection of some of my favourite photos from the past year.

Catching Up: June-July: Hampton Court, Sea Sessions, and Howth

So ... it has been quite awhile since we last posted here. Life has been insanely busy in the last couple months, and sadly this blog has been forgotten about.

 Hampton Court

Hampton Court

Let's try to catch you up on what we've been up to, shall we? After our Prague trip, we spent a weekend in London with my mom and dad. This might come as a surprise, but despite living just a one-hour plane trip from London for almost two years, we hadn't yet spent any time there that wasn't spent in the airport. So this was our first trip there to actually see anything there. We spent most of Saturday visiting the Hampton Court palace. It was a nice place to visit with a mix of architecture, art, history, and gardens.

The other day in London we mostly spent walking around central london. We walked around St. James Park, saw Buckingham Palace from the outside, saw the London eye, walked around in China town for awhile. It was a pretty nice weekend -- not too fast paced but we still saw a bunch. On the way home, we almost missed our flight by slightly underestimating the time it would take to train it to Gatwick airport. Luckily, we didn't need to check any bags, and a bit of stressful running through the airport found us at our gate before anyone had boarded yet.

 Sea Sessions in Bundoran

Sea Sessions in Bundoran

The weekend after London we went up to Bundoran for surfing classes. That weekend, there was a big music festival on called "Sea Sessions". So our weekend involved going to surfing lessons in the morning, and then heading to the festival to listen to some live music and enjoy some tasty beverages. The festival itself was kind of fun, although I didn't really know any of the bands. Probably the highlight was the battle of the bands. There was some pretty talented bands there and I enjoyed most of their sets. It was also the second time we'd been up to Bundoran for surfing, and our 3rd and 4th lessons went pretty well. By partway through the last one, we were starting to figure out turning. Maybe with a few more lessons we'll be pro surfers!

On Canada Day, a pub in town called the Woolshed threw a party that we decided to attend. They served molson canadian, moosehead, and sleemans at the bar (in bottles and cans), played the men's and women's gold medal hockey games from the most recent olympics on the televisions, and had a Canadian DJ playing tunes from Canadian bands like Great Big Sea, The Tragically Hip, Our Lady Peace, etc etc. It was pretty fun.

 Hanging Out

Hanging Out

One of our friends, Jess, arrived in Dublin for a few days. On the weekend, we went up to Howth to walk along the cliffs and see the market up there. We had a nice lunch there and watched the seals being fed in the harbour. It was a nice little visit.

The summer really flew by in a hurry!

Morgan