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June 30, 2007

Watch That First Step, It's a Doozy...

My weekend plans had involved the Indian Ocean and swimming with dolphins, so obviously I found myself in the back of a 4 x 4 minibus full of Japanese students just about to slip over the edge of an extremely steep, extremely white sand dune while an Aussie driver reminded us to "Buckle up - this one's a doozy!"

I'm amazed at how often I suddenly look up and wonder what I was thinking to get myself into these situations.

trust me i'm a professionalI've already written about seeing the Pinnacles - a vast expanse of shifting sand with large rock formations scattered throughout. The sand there was shades of orange, unmoving, making it hard to believe that the large rocks were because the sand had all been blown away hundreds or thousands of years ago. But this area was different. The sand was pure white, the sky a brilliant blue, and the ocean was peaking out from behind the dunes. The wind was so hot and blew the fine sand into everything, including my camera. (The photos here are the last ones I was able to take with it before it broke. Even now, I can't get the other photos off it.) Including my hair.

Oh, my poor hair.

But first, the 4 x 4ing. It's the only time during the trip the driver insisted we had to buckle up, and waivers had to be signed. Then, he drove the bus into this vast expanse of white, and up, up, up the dunes before pausing at the very top of one of them.

"Ooo... we're beginning to slide!" he cried out as teenaged girls squealed and even the boys gripped hard onto their seat belts. I just felt my eyes getting wider and reminded myself that if it wasn't safe they probably wouldn't be doing it.

And then... boom! Down we went, at top speed! Slipping down the hill, watching everything tilt to 45 degrees out the window, and thinking "but if it wasn't dangerous, would they insist upon a waiver?"

I scream loud.

through the windowUp and down the hills, bumping and jumping while the driver laughed and the rest of screamed or whimpered or giggled, and I felt queasy, worried I would throw up from the bumps and leaps into the air the bus was somehow managing to make, until finally we came to a halt at the top of the same tall dune and everyone piled out.

Two things: Sand is very hot in the sun. Sand also turns very very cold when it's in shadows for short periods of time. I'm sure there's a physics lesson in there someplace.

Sandboarding, depending on how you do it, is either like tobogganing or like snowboarding - you either go down sitting on the board or standing on it. Either way, you need to wax the board in order for it to go far, it needs a certain amount of weight or it won't go very fast (and thus won't go very far), and if you scream loud enough, you'll go the farthest.

Near the bottomThe last one might not be as true as the first two, but I certainly found I went very very far as I screamed the whole way down the hill. I know, I like to sound so brave on my trips, but you don't understand - I was going down a hill! In the sand! In the heat! I could have been killed by... um... roving bands of... sand demons... or something....

Don't judge me!

I wasn't the first one down, but I was the first girl who went down, and I totally went the farthest of anyone who did. Which just meant I had the farthest to climb back up the damned hill afterwards.

Two things: Sand is very hot in the sun. And sand is also very hard to climb up.

my poor hairAll in all it was a great time, even if I did ruin my camera and have sand caked so hard onto my skin that it took me almost thirty minutes of scrubbing in the shower to get most of it out - and I still had sand in my hair two days and three showers later. It was a great adventure, one I would happily do again should the opportunity present itself.

But really, if you get the chance - screaming makes you go further. Totally the truth.

{all the photos}

June 27, 2007

MidWinter in Australia, a photo essay, by jo

delicate

Sail Away

Blue

{to save on dialup, the rest are behind the cut, or view the entire set.}

Continue reading "MidWinter in Australia, a photo essay, by jo" »

May 13, 2007

Heading West

It's easy to forget how big Australia actually is. I know, that sounds a bit odd - I'm Canadian, Canada's even bigger (and we have a song about that), but travelling in your home country is different than travelling someplace else. In Canada, I expect everything 'interesting' to be a long ways away, but here? Everything should be like the UK - a daytrip is always possible.

What really brought home for me how big Western Australia (just one state!) actually is wasn't that it took two days of driving to get out to Monkey Mia, but how different everything was by sunset of that second day.

On the first evening, everything was dark as pitch by the time we got to the hostel. We'd made a brief stop to look at some cliffs, but the sun was rapidly setting and there wasn't a lot of time to spend enjoying them. We hurried off to the hostel, leaving behind the crashing waves and looking forward to good food and a long sleep far away from the bus.

Sinking Like A SunsetBut the second evening, though, we'd travelled far enough west to make a different in how late the sun was out. We drove much later, and caught a spectacular sunset over the ocean.

I sat down and looked out over the water, watching the breeze blow through the trees, fluttering the sails on the boats, and thought about how easy it would be to get used to this.

Later, when we got to Monkey Mia, I lay down on the beach and looked up at the stars, and wondered at how easy it is to be overwhelmed by natural beauty. There were dolphins in the water, but I couldn't see them, only hear them, and I couldn't imagine a more peaceful moment in my life.

In many ways, being in Australia has made me very eager to go back and look at Canada and see how differently I view it now. I loved Scotland for castles and crags and men in kilts, but mostly for the ruins and the history behind them. As I've said before, I love Australia because it's beautiful here - from the ocean and the sand to the desert and the wind, so much of Australia is beautiful and overwhelming because of where it is. I keep being caught off-guard for it.

People say to me all the time "Oh, Canada! It's very beautiful there!", and I've always just smiled and nodded. I've loved the Rocky Mountains, but I don't really think about the majority of my country and if it's actually a beautiful place to be. I lament that Canada has so little history, so few ruins that talk about what happened "before", without thinking about how lovely it is to walk through old growth forests or stand on the edge of a crystal clear river. These are, quite frankly, things I grew up with. Things I don't notice.

I've been gone a long time. I'll be in Canada for two weeks this summer, and I wonder how different Alberta will look, now that I've been here.

May 6, 2007

Till Human Voices Wake Us

Shell Beach - From The WaterWhen I was a little girl, my mother always used to tease me all summer long that she couldn't tell what was dirt and what was tan. I spent entire days, from dawn till dusk, outside, running around and playing in the dirt and being rowdy, before puberty and a sudden interest in books turned me into a pasty white girl with a fear of the bright ball of light in the sky.

I was thinking about this as I floated in the Indian Ocean, looking at my feet. They were tanned and dirty and covered in sand, even though I'd been splashing in the water for a while. The dirt from Australia had ground in, and I could barely see the pale lines of where my sandals blocked the sun.

The place I was swimming is called "Shell Beach" for obvious reasons - the entire beach is made of shells, the bottom of the ocean is made of shells, white, brown, purple, all sorts of colours. The water isn't very deep there - I walked far out and it never got above my hips - and it was easy to pick up shell after shell as I floated. I lay back and let my hair drift, and wondered how far the waves and the wind and the sea would pull me away from land, if only I'd let it.

It was so warm, with just enough of a breeze to keep things comfortable. The rest of the tour group had walked back to land, complaining about cold and salty water, while I felt more relaxed than I had the entire trip. I closed my eyes and pretended I couldn't hear them.

I listened for mermaids instead.

I thought about Australia, about the deserts and the oceans and the short trees and red dust everywhere. I thought about how nice it would be to just lie in the water and see how far I could float away. I wondered how long it would take me to get lonely.

Shell Beach - Mermaid HuntingEventually I lifted my head and looked back at the beach. I'd floated quite a ways, I guess. I saw everyone on land beginning to pack up, waving to me to return so we could get back on the hot and cramped bus, get closer to the furthest point west in all of Western Australia.

I put my ears back under the water for just another moment, but I couldn't hear the mermaids singing.

Instead, I slowly started back towards the beach.

Maybe next time.

{photos of shell beach}

March 31, 2007

Blown Away

A couple of weeks ago I was staring at an empty weekend in despair. The dolphin tour was filled up, and I wanted to get out of the city. I wanted to *do* something with this limited time I have in Australia, but I didn't know what.

Australia is a great place to live, it is, but it just seems my life here would be easier to experience if I had a car. Or a driver's license.

I poked around online until I found a tour group that would be doing something on Sunday, and signed up as quickly as I could. I didn't care what it was, I was just going to go out and do stuff and have fun, and damn the consequences.

"Stuff" turned out to be going to see the Pinnacles, checking out some beaches, going 4X4ing in the desert, seeing koalas and kangaroos in something approaching their natural habitat, and finishing off with sandboarding. Sandboarding! Like snowboarding, but entirely different! The whole thing sounded like exactly the sort of adventure I'd moved to Aus to experience. I gave them my credit card number and remembered to pack lots of water. And sun screen. And my camera.

Oh, my poor camera.

My camera started out the day in a bad mood and ended the day in an even worse mood, so if my photos seem odd, that's why. Cameras, as you may not know, do not like sandboarding.

Go Away, It's time for sleepingBut first, the tour. I once again got that marvellous disconnect of being the only white person (other than the tour guide) on the trip, everyone else being from various places in Japan. (This happens a lot on trips in Australia, apparently.) I feel kinda bad for being amused by hearing kangaroos described as "kawaii!" by the two school girls behind me, having previously only heard the word used to describe characters on Sailor Moon.

But kangaroos really are cute! And tasty! Mmm... kangaroo.

Kangaroos, I have learned, come in two sizes: Wee (as they are in Western Aus) and Really Really Big. They are also considered pests here by farmers, and are regularly shot and then eaten. I have no idea if there's a kangaroo hunting season. I do know I have to remember to buy some kangaroo meat next time I'm in the store, because them's good eatin'. Even if they are terribly cute.

Anyway, at way too early in the morning we headed out to a place where you can walk amongst the trees and check out koalas. It was great - you could just barely see koalas curled up in their trees, deeply wanting everyone to go away so they could continue to sleep. I was told that koalas spend most of their days drowsing, and tend to be stoned. The infamous "drop bears" are just koalas that got stoned and forgot to hold on.

Hey, I don't make up the stories, I just repeat them.

After checking out the koalas and the wee kangaroos, we got back on the bus and proceeded to drive through the Aussie countryside. And drive. And drive. And then drive some more. Something I wasn't really prepared for when moving here, even after growing up in Canada, was how long it takes to get anywhere outside of the cities. I got kinda used to Scotland, where "getting there" is usually a short trip and you can be home by lunch time. It took quite a while to get out to the Pinnacles, and along the way we saw Emus, and Windmills (that came with Emus), and a Wind farm, and lots and lots and lots of countryside.

I may have fallen asleep.

But! We were on our way to an adventure! To the Pinnacles! That sounded exciting!

These are the things I know about the Pinnacles: They're a natural rock formation that's caused by... limestone being blown away? Sand? Something? I don't know. We have something a bit similar in Canada called Hoo Doos. I have to admit, although I love looking at natural rock phenomena, I just don't know a lot about them. They look cool.

Basically, they didn't used to be a tourist attraction at all, since they're just a bunch of nifty looking pillars of rock in the middle of a desert. The area is considered cursed by the Aboriginal people. This is it, this is all I know. I wish they'd told us why it's considered cursed, what the story behind it is. None of my digging around on the internet has told me anything about it. I can only imagine.

The PinnaclesThey are, however, very nifty looking pillars of rock. (I really like this photo, mostly because of the background. Gives you a bit of an idea of what you're looking at.) We got to walk amongst them, and I took off my sandals and let the sand rush over my feet. It was windy, and I had trouble keeping my hat on. I chased it through the sand three or four times, I think, dodging limestone pillars and attempting to keep my balance. Even though there were other people with me, the whole experience was a bit eerie. I described it in a postcard as "feeling surrounded by an army that had turned into stone, worn away by centuries of wind and no rain." For all that I don't know the story, I can suspect why the area is considered cursed.

The sand there is a very odd colour, and I knew when I looked back that my footprints wouldn't last long. There would be nothing left to say I'd ever been there at all.

I think that's the thing about Australia, that makes it so different than anywhere else I've travelled to. Rome and Paris and Scotland and China have all been about looking at the marks that people leave behind - castles and temples and statues. But Australia, as I keep saying, seems to be about nature, and the way we as people don't seem to matter much to it. The Pinnacles are there. They don't care about my footprints or my hat or my words. They just exist, and to them, I'm nothing but something to blow away with with the wind.

With the Warm Wind In My Hair

We ended up next at a beach where the water was many shades of blue and just watched the tide come in. The tour guide looked at me and smiled.

"This is my typical day at the office."

When I tell you my heart is lost to this country, remember that. To some, a typical day at the office is staring at every shade of blue.

I have lots more to write, as the trip was outstanding. I have 92 more photos to shuffle through and attempt to find the best of. I have a camera to be sad about.

For now, check out the current batch of photos, and I'll tell you about the beach, and the sandboarding, and the way my camera was destroyed soon.

March 25, 2007

Anna in the Chocolate Factory

This conversation may be slightly fictionalised.

I stood in a room full of chocolate and frantically pressed buttons on my phone until someone picked up.

Samples of Chocolate"He--llo?"

"Don, it's me."

"What? It's 4 in the morning, what are you doing calling? Is something wrong?"

"No, well... yes. Something's wrong. I need your help!"

"What help do you need? Did something bad happen with Amy? Was there an accident? Are you okay?"

"Yes, yes, I'm fine, but I need help. Don, I'm in the middle of a chocolate factory."

*silence*

"Don, are you there?"

"You called me at four in the morning to tell me you're in the middle of a chocolate factory?"

"No, I called you at four in the afternoon. It's not my fault you live in Canada. Now, you have to help me, this is a chocolate situation that I just don't know how to deal with."

"You called me at four in the morning to tell me you're in a chocolate situation."

Bags of Chocolate"Yes! Yes, it's four in the morning in Canadia, I acknowledge this, but c'mon, I'm in a chocolate factory and it's full of chocolate! And there's chocolate everywhere, and there's samples of chocolate and chocolate being made right over there by incredibly gorgeous and sexy people and there's all this chocolate and I'm going to go insane with love for chocolate and look, see, people are making chocolate right over there and I don't know what to do!"

"Anna. It's four in the morning. I don't care what you do. Buy yourself some chocolate. Let me get off the phone and go back to sleep."

"Really? I can buy chocolate?"

"You can buy all the chocolate you want. I'm going to bed now."

Boxes of Chocolate"But-- but-- you have to help me pick out which chocolate to buy! You don't understand! There's bags and boxes and bottles of chocolate right here in front of me! Don! Help!"

"I'm hanging up now. I'll talk to you later. Enjoy the chocolate and the eye candy."

And then he hung up on me!

And this is why I came home from the chocolate factory without any chocolate. It's all Don's fault.

{Photos of the Chocolate Factory}

March 18, 2007

Dolphins & Swimming & Sunburns

Look Out!If I ever decide to put up a singles ad, this is totally the photo I should use!

I have been looking forward to swimming with dolpins since well before I made it to Australia's over-heated shores. Every weekend I've planned on doing it, and then every weekend something else has come up. But this weekend was finally the day: I woke up way too early after way too little sleep, and headed out to catch the bus to Rockingham and swim with real live wild dolphins!

The trip out was great - the group I went with (Rockingham Dolphins) does a great intro to the whole thing on the bus ride out. They talked quite up front about how hard it can be to actually see dolphins in the wild - it's not as though they keep an updated calendar about where they'll be, and trips have taken as long as 5 1/2 hour before anyone saw any dolphins in the water. Nothing at all can be guaranteed.

They also gave great little facts about dolphins - apparently baby dolphins don't realise they have blow holes right away, and for a while keep surfacing to breath with their mouth (awww... so cute!). Also, apparently when mating (and they have no mating season - dolphins are always up for it), they take on a pinkish hue. I have no idea how obvious this pinkish hue is, but hey - I like the image of happy excited little dolphins playing in shades of pink. I'm strange that way.

Once we got out to Rockingham, we all started to congragate on the boat and get into our uber-sexy wet suits. "Swimming" with dolphins is really snorkling with dolphins, which really makes a lot more sense. As much as the image in my head of little dolphins happily frolicking and playing amongst the people, rubbing up against them and playing little games of tag appeals, the truth of the matter is that dolphins "are wild animals and as such behave in unpredicatable ways". (They had that sign up at AUC regarding the swans. It always makes me giggle.) Basically, dolphins will bite you if they don't like you.

So, we suited up, and proceeded to drive around the bay at Rockingham, looking for dolphins. It took a while (no where near five hours, though!), but I can definitely think of worse ways of spending my morning than sitting on a boat watching the water and the waves, looking for dolphins while seeing all sorts of birds I'm unfamiliar with.

But eventually we found dolphins! I was so excited (and I have a video clip of me jumping up and down about the whole thing), but a bit scared. The people running the tour suggested I come right up front and hold on to one of them while we snorkled around, in case something went wrong. Which was a really really good idea.

Because... guess who found out she panics when snorkling?

I've been in the water before, I've been in the ocean before, but I completely freaked out at the idea of snorkling and putting my head in the water and trying to breathe at all. I started frantically trying to keep myself afloat (not difficult, being that the suits keep you floating) and crying and sobbing and begging them to please please please get me out of the water please I am going to drown and die and there will be badness and god I don't want to die in the middle of the ocean please get me out of there now please.

They very quickly and calmly and politely got me out of the water and back onto the boat, where I proceeded to huddle in a corner and hyperventilate for a while, sobbing and crying and generally freaking out for at least two or three minutes.

A very nice woman who has been on the tour three times now (Hi Wendy!) sat with me for a few minutes and got me to breathe and got me some water. Then, she kindly held onto my glasses as I got myself back into the snorkle gear and went back into the water.

Scariest thing I've ever done. I was convinced I'd go back in and panic again and be so embarassed for the rest of my life that I had done that. I was so scared, and yet... went back in.

I'd love to say that the next time everything went fine, but it took me at least three or four times in the water before I could just relax and float and breathe through the snorkle. For the first few times I kept pulling me head out of the water and breathing that way. But eventually I relaxed.

Being in the water like that, even being unable to see very far... it's amazing. It's like there's nothing anymore except the water. It's like... like... I don't know. It's as close to being in paradise as I think I ever want to be. Nothing else seemed to matter except the water and the coolness and the way sounds pass. It's like floating forever, and time just seemed to stop for me once I could relax and enjoy it.

Because of how bad my vision is, I know I saw less dolphins than the other people did, but I did get to see quite a few out there. I remember seeing these two dolphins swimming side by side through the water, doing something that looked so graceful and acrobatic. They seemed so close... I wanted to reach out and touch them, I wanted to follow them. Watching dolphins swim underneath you is so... well, it's amazing. I'm sorry I lack the words for it. It was everything I wanted it to be. This was such an experience, and if you get the chance to do it, I recommend you do.

I didn't get as many pictures as I wanted, even with my sexy new camera, because I was soaking wet a lot of the time and didn't want to touch it. As well, as per my usual reaction to being on a boat, I felt sea sick a lot. (I didn't actually throw up, and yay on that.) I didn't really want to move much. But I did get a few photos of the tour itself, and some lovely pics of the beach out at Rockingham. There is, sadly, only one photo of a dolphin. But really - photos wouldn't have done it justice anyway.

I'm Sailing Away

Some time in the next few months I'll head out again and go actual SCUBA diving. I can't wait.

February 20, 2007

Anna’z Zany Zoo Adventurez!

LunchThe plan was very simple: Go on the ferry (yay!) to South Perth. Do not go to the Zoo, gosh darn it. I didn’t want to go to the Zoo because I didn’t have a lot of money (having no bank card yet) and figured the South Perth suburb would be interesting enough all on its own, at least for a nice Saturday afternoon.

Which, it would have been, but the Zoo is almost right on top of you when you get off the Ferry, and it occurred to me that I had purchased nothing cunning and nifty to send back to people in Edinburgh, to make them jealous of my madcap adventures in Australia (you know, the ones that have barely started, unless you count hostel living. Which is a rant for a whole other day. It involves cockroaches.) A lot of the shops that I’ve been in so far are *incredibly* touristy, and I was hoping for something with a bit more substance to it.

Pink Flowers [Also, picture this for a moment: I'm wandering aroud South Perth and I'm going all dreamy and wide-eyed because there are flowers everywhere and it is *simultaneously* February. This does not happen in my world. I spend half my morning squeeing over flowers and taking pictures of them and being incredibly touristy and excited over this idea. I resolved at one point that if anyone asked I'd tell them I'd recently been released from the hospital after a tragic accident involving a giraffe. Or that I was American. Which they might have assumed anyway.]

So, I passed the Zoo shop. And I thought “Hey! Zoo shop! That will have nifty things in it!”

And it did – lots of nifty things! Things involving… kangaroos! And it occurred to me, since I was there anyway, that there would probably *be* kangaroos in the zoo! And koalas! And snakes! And other cool and nifty animals that I had never seen! And how could I be in the Zoo shop and not go and see a real kangaroo!

So, I scrounged around in my pockets and went through the Zoo. There were kangaroos and lions and rhinos and koalas and crocodiles and big scary snakes that could eat a person, and little tiny birds, and I got attacked by a pine cone! (It was a vicious and evil pine cone that just dropped very heavily out of the sky. It hurt! Feel sorry for me! I don’t care that there were warning signs about the pine cones, it doesn’t count!)

(Also, Oz pinecones are *nothing* like North American pine cones. Not only are they evil and attack people, they also are big and green and heavy. North American ones are small and brown and are typically very light.)

The Lion Sleeps Today Green Future Politican Not Actually An Ex Now He Ded From Cute


I had *such* a good time at the Zoo that, on my way out, I bought a Zoo membership!

They told me I have the only adult membership card where the ID photo shows someone sticking out their tongue and making faces.

And that was my Zany Zoo Adventure of not going to the Zoo, gosh darn it.

(It’s a great pass, though – my tongue looks blue! And I get free entrance to the Zoo to see the elephants and the birds and the quokkas or whatever they are, and I get a newsletter, and I get other stuff, and it’s great fun because hey! Zoo!)

{More Zoo Photos}

February 11, 2007

Observations on Australia after only two weeks, a list, by jo

Observations on Australia after only Two Weeks, a list, by jo

Palm Trees Everywhere!1. Oh My God It's Hot. It's hit low 40 Celcius here several times since I got off the plane. (That's *PLUS* 40. I can handle minus 40.) I may die.

2. They don't give out free sunscreen at the airport like they totally should.

3. Phone numbers have eight digits! How do phone numbers have eight digits? It hurts my head - phone numbers should totally have seven digits!

4. For whatever reason, coffee here isn't as good as coffee in Edinburgh - but the hot chocolate is better. Please don't ask why I was drinking hot chocolate in this heat, because I don't know. It seemed like a good idea at the time.

5. There are flowers! In February! They're so beautiful!

6. They don't have pennies! How am I supposed to save my pennies if they don't have pennies? And why did no one tell me there were no pennies here?

7. Lots of places have air conditioning. I love these places. I shop in them just because they're there. They have signs that say "Air Conditioning - Come On In!" So friendly!

Sunday Afternoons8. The City of Perth seems to shut down at an incredibly early time. I thought Edinburgh did, too. I was told Edinburgh shut down because people would protest at having to work late when they could be out drinking. Apparently Perth shuts down because people want to be out surfing. I can understand this.

9. Speaking of surfing, they have plastic money! Lots of it! I refuse to believe it's for any reason other than that they're too lazy to take their money out of their pockets before tossing things in the wash, but Jezz says it's because of surfing. Jezz is so boring and practical sometimes.

10. Palm Trees! Palm trees everywhere!

11. On Sundays in Perth, you can go down to Forrest Square and they let people stand up and rant. They have police officers there and everything. It's like...like... college!

12. There's a duck crossing sign near my flat - I can hear the ducks right now, and at night, I can hear crickets!

Having a wonderful time!

January 7, 2007

Kissing, or How I Learned To Stop Angsting Unless It Was Going To Look Pretty When I Did It...

Kissing, or the lack thereof, defines entire countries for me.

I remember being 17 and walking through the street of Paris. I was at my angsty best, pining after a boy, and felt that everything I was doing there (walking across bridges, looking at beautiful buildings, seeing churches or statues or paintings) was coloured by the fact that That Boy, That Boy That Was Always On My Mind, wasn't there. I remember sitting on a bridge at night, holding a rose I'd gotten from some place, and slowly taking off every petal and dropping it into the river.

Light in the DarknessThe next time I went to Paris, I had freshly turned 29 and the memory of being that overly-lonely 17 year old brought me some form of bemusement. Ah, young angst, I thought, while pretending not to notice the young couple doing everything except actually getting naked whilst the lights were coming on at the Eiffel Tower. There's an age I think we all go through where that lack of someone to kiss is so... disheartening. The feeling that we're the only one that isn't being kissed *right now*, except maybe our parents, and parents don't do that *anyway*, right? 17 and in Paris probably should have been just as much fun as 29 and in Paris was, but I was so distracted.

Maybe if I'd had someone to kiss at 17, I would have been just as distracted. It's hard to notice the beautiful lights across the city when you're... well, otherwise distracted.

At 27, I went to China, and dealt with students that were the same age I was then. I didn't so much notice the lack of kissing in the school - it had been so long since I'd been in a high school, and most of my classes were of kids around 12, so it just didn't occur to me. Sometimes I'd tease my older students about having boyfriends, or get the younger boys to behave by telling them that they should stop showing off to impress their girlfriends, and quickly everyone would fall in line. It wasn't until my first trip to Shanghai that I finally noticed that those public displays of affection that were so common in my high school were totally absent.

I was sitting on the bus from Rudong, travelling with a friend of mine, when I saw a couple of teenagers on the street kissing. "Pssst..." I hissed at Paul. "Look over there." When he saw them, his eyes went as wide as mine, and we spent most of that weekend pointing out Public Displays of Affection in awe. How brave they were! How... affectionate! How... normal, at least to us. Then we went back to our respective very small towns and noticed how little affection we saw displayed in classes.

Soon after that I found out that students could be expelled and sent home in disgrace if they had boyfriends or girlfriends. I don't doubt there were relationships going on, but there was so much pressure to never be caught.

Two RosesI'm almost done my packing for Australia and I'm very aware of the fact that there won't be anyone to notice these things with. There will be no one just as lost as I am to whisper "Do you see them?" to, and smile and share secret memories of being that lost in each other that the lights seem unimportant, no one to discuss whether the socialably acceptable forms of affection in public are the same as they are back in Canada. {In thinking about this now, public displays of affection are much less in the UK than they are in Canada... maybe it's because we cuddle more to deal with the cold?}

There won't be anyone to kiss.

I suspect that this time that won't be quite such an end-of-the-world type of feeling. But I won't promise not to sigh occasionally in wistfulness....

{Sunday Scribblings}
{More pictures from Paris}
{More pictures from Rome}

December 11, 2006

Keepsakes

Hail the Conquoring Hero!I hate to disappoint anyone, but I have to tell you the truth:

Rome was full of a lot of cheap tacky crap. It was very strange.

Luckily, everyone who asked for something to be brought back asked for cheap tacky crap, so that was okay, but it was a bit surreal. I'm used to drooling over things of various levels of affordability and bringing back at least one really nice thing that one can show off to people and say in that oh-so-casual-I'm-really-worldly-but-hide-it way "Oh, yes, I picked that up at this little shop outside the Coliseum. It was a sunny day, I'll never forget how warm it was, and I'd just popped in there to see if they had any air conditioning, and I found that..." I'd put it on the nick nack shelf, next to my goat from China and dragon from Wales and the lovely clock my mom carved me.

I.. uh... brought back a bright pink glittery Coliseum made out of plaster. It turned blue once it left Rome. I have no idea why.

I alternately loved and hated the seemingly deliberate tackiness of all of the stuff you could find near the tourist-places. I wonder if it would be any easier during the summer, when tourist season is at its height and the place is packed with people who just want to be cheated on something nice.

Ah well. I have memories, I have photos of Don dressed up like a crusader, and I have this lovely blue sparkly Coliseum. What else could a girl ask for?

December 9, 2006

Flavour Text

Rome destroyed Italian food for me.

Never again will I be able to enjoy a "good" Italian meal, having had food that actually burst into flavours in my mouth. Never again will I be satisfied with some pitiful, anemic version of tomato sauce. Never again will ice cream make me happy, when Gelato from Italy has melted on my tongue.

The food, oh the glorious wonderous food that is Rome. Every day seemed to bring a new amazing food experience for me. From the first full day we were there and I found the Platonic Ideal of Latte (it was amazing! It only needed a bit of sugar because it was perfect. It... it... it made me want to sit in this little back-end restaurant down by the Trevi Fountain all night, discussing world-changing and whether Joss Whedon's comic book version of a Season 8 of Buffy would be considered canon and how to finance a month of living in Rome) to the last day where Pizza is sold by weight and tastes entirely different than the stuff I grew up with, the food was always the best part of everything. So flavourful, so good, so... inviting. Finding food every day was always an adventure, but never one to disappoint.

For Your Enjoyment... At one point I sat on a bench with Don, just up the street from the Vatican, both of us completely silent as we ate Gelato. Mine was banana and his was tiaramasu. Neither of us spoke, just enjoyed, as the scenes of Rome played out in front of us - beggars and people selling cheap trumperies and tour groups and large groups of nuns walking past. How do you speak, really, when you've just realised that you're going to never again taste such perfection?

Food in Rome seems to be something entirely different than what I've experienced elsewhere. In China, eating out is a huge social event, usually with lots of people, lots of dishes, way too much alcohol and laughter. In the UK, it's usually a much more somber occasion, and although it may be a comment on the type of places I go to, I rarely see families out eating, or groups of large than three. But in Rome, it just seems that eating, drinking, enjoying it all is practically a religion. Restaurants open for lunch, then close again till as late at 7 or 7:30 when they slowly start to fill up with people. Groups vary from couples who are being googly eyed and feed each other pasta slowly and lovingly to large parties that slam back lemonchelo at the end of the meal before going on someplace else. Plates after plates after plates of food are the norm here, and I wished we'd had more time (and money!) to spend an entire evening eating good food, drinking good wine, discussing the world and everything in it over good coffee.

But oh, lemonchelo. I first had it in this little place we found in the Jewish Ghetto. We had been given a *very* bad tip on a place just further up the streeet and had left in a hurry and just started wandering. The place we found eagerly escourted us to their "back room" - a little courtyard that would be open to the sky in summer but was closed over with a canopy because it was "cold". They had a little heater set up in the back, and the place was lit with candles. A mostly-gone statue of a warrior with his horse made up part of the back wall. We sat there for hours eating such good food (I had some sort of seafood pasta dish that just made my whole mouth happy), and in the end the waiter brought us two iced shot glasses of lemonchelo. I had no idea what it was, so I took a cautious sip.

Oh, my.... It's this amazing lemon liquer that just... rolls off your tongue and into your tummy, making the whole of you feel warm and good and happy. I recommend you serve it chilled in iced shot glasses, because it was so good that way. They gave it to us for free, and it was lovely....

I had it quite a few times after that, and even brought a bottle home.

Rome is... full of flavour and excitement. We walked back to the Met.Ro that night along the river, under the trees, past the Circus Maximus and talked about the distant past and how everything fades away.

December 8, 2006

The Streets Where Cleopatra Walked

I wonder if Italians ever come to the UK and think "Oh, they're so cute with thier 'history'. They think they have old buildings. Heh. Well, let's indulge them and look at their little divit in the ground out in Wales that they call a coliseum, shall we?" I know that how far back we can trace things really has little to do with physical remains of buildings, but it's something tangible, easier to point to, and it has that immediate effect. Within Rome, there's a vast difference between looking at a divit in the ground and saying "Yes, that was the Circus Maximus" and walking into the Pantheon and staring up at the dome.

Pantheon at night We came upon the Pantheon almost entirely by accident. We were looking for it - but it wasn't where we thought it would be, and I had forgotten what to expect. It's been so long since I studied the architecture of the period that the dome had slipped my mind. It won't ever again. We came upon it in the evening, when the place was cooler (it was so hot when we were there), and sat at the fountian and just... stared. As one does, I suppose.

It's like walking in a dream, a lot of Rome, and nothing really seems like you expect it to. The heat, the sky, the press of people, the way the Met.Ro gets so crowded in the mornings always seems so mundane. I know, it's a city where people live, but it just added to the feeling of disconnection - how could any of this be real?

In front of the Pantheon is a court yard, or piazza, with a fountain in it. Everywhere in Rome has a foutain in it. At night, at least, the little restaurants that line the piazza are filled with patrons. I didn't eat there - I had found the best restaurant in all of Rome when trying to find my way. There's a McDonald's directly across the piazza from the font entry which added to the strangeness of the scene.

I don't know what to say here. I've been reading the wrong type of books to write about Rome, I think - novels that try to be pretentious, and it's affected how I'm writing right now. I don't want to make Rome sound pretentious or holy, even though that's so much a part of it. Romans, Italians, seem to just shrug their shoulders about the history, much like I can't find anyone to get excited about Edinburgh Castle unless they're an ex-pat. It's just a place, just a church, just 2000 years old with a dome that dwarfs so many things. How to you explain that, the casual disregard combined with a feeling of "This is our legacy, this is ours, no one can take it away"?

I need to arrange to not ever again read Kay's "Sarantine Mosaic" right before travelling to Rome.

December 3, 2006

Words

A Day At The Forum So, when you write about going to Rome, where do you start?

I've been asked this dozens of times so far: "How was Rome?" And I still haven't come up with an acceptable reply. It's so hard to talk about, because the experience was so... much. So many things, good and bad. I remember telling Don that at one point I felt that I *had* to have an amazing time, because I had to come back and write about it to all my jealous friends.

But I did have an amazing time. Rome is so... different than anything I've experienced, even than Paris. It was being in this city so huge you know they don't care about you, with such ancient history that your country isn't even a blip in comparison to, and just wanting to wander around and gape at everything. It is finding these beautiful fountains and small little restaurants that are so... common to the people there that they don't get a mention on the map. It's a city where even the "bad" food is good, and where they complain that winter is here because it's only +8.

I loved it. I loved every second. I loved staring up at the sky through the window of my hostel and trying to decide what shade of blue it was. I loved seeing people on the street in the evening wearing scarves and hats and shivering while I was wearing my tank top and bemoaing forgetting to leave my coat behind. It didn't rain once.

I don't know where to start, sincerely. I don't know how to write about it.

I want to go back. I want to spend a month walking through the small little courtyards that make up Trastevere, I want to find more restaurants that make food that actually has bursts of good flavour that overwhelm your mouth, served in back court yards lit only with candles, I want to get lost and orientate myself by the dome at St Peter's.

For now, I have only pictures and words and memories, because I bought so little while I was there. There didn't seem to be anything I could take away that would be as meaningful as gazing at Christan frescoes from a 6th Century church, build on the ruins of a Mithral temple, that has in turn be built over by another Christian church.

I bought a little St Christopher's medallion, though. That might be enough, all things considered.

November 3, 2006

A Land of Myth and Legend

STA60070Last week I went to the Scottish International Storytelling Festival's opening night at the Storytelling Centre in Edinburgh. {That's right, my life rocks so much I have a storytelling centre in the town I live in. *grin*}

I've never really been to a 'formal' storytelling experience, and it wasn't exactly what I was thinking. I guess I had in my head the same thing they'd do at libraries, where someone would sit with a book and read aloud, and everyone would be very quiet, and it would be... odd. But I wanted to hear the stories (Tristan & Isolde, and Diarmuid Ua Duibhne & Gráinne) and was curious at the storytelling centre, so I went.

It was... nothing like what I thought it would be.

The stories were told in pairs, a man and a woman, and each were accompanied by live music. The first story was of Diarmuid and Gráinne, and of how Diarmuid had been cursed as a child from the actions of his foster father, and the ultimate story of how that fate had played out. Hearing this story told by such haunting voices, so dramatically, was beautiful and moving, and the music added so much to it. It was an hour, but it felt like only minutes.

There's this haunting quality to the voices, and a real sense that if I closed my eyes I would be able to see the whole story - Diarmuid being cursed, being granted the love spot that ended up causing all the problems with him and Finn McCool and Gráinne.

STA60047The story of Tristan and Isolde was different than the one I'm used to - I'm familair with the Authurian take on it. Throughout this whole story I was completely transfixed. It takes place at Tintagel, you see, and I couldn't stop imagining the beautiful blue waters, seeing Tristan out in the waves, picturing the cave of the druids and the way the ocean is both a lover and death to those who cast their fate upon it. When Mark casts Tristan out of Cornwall, I wondered how much of his grief was at the lost love of Isolde and how much was because of the beauty he was leaving behind.

If I'm not careful this will turn very maudlin. You may have heard - I loved Cornwall and thought it the most beautiful place I'd ever travelled, so I may be biased. *smile*

I think the British Isles have their legends because they need to capture that beauty and longing somehow, and words that describe places don't do it. Pictures that show you how beautiful Cornwall is don't give you the moving sound of the sea as it crashing through Merlin's Cave, or the way the air smells like salt and whispers. It's not enough, and so words that describe great romances, great men, strong women and deeds that defy the imagination do it for us instead.

I loved Cornwall, I'm sure that's obvious, but I never wrote about it. It was too hard in a lot of ways, because that beauty was caught up in how incredibly blue the ocean was, how the breeze that went through my hair seemed filled up with possibilities. I remember sitting on the beach and building sand castles with a cheap bucket while children shreiked and ran into the cold cold water, and then destroying the castle myself, leaving to trace of it before I left.

It was so tempting when I was there to believe in mermaids, to slip beneath the water and away from all my troubles and my cares. It was the first trip after everything had fallen apart with Kristi, my attempted flat mate, and I was still mourning for how that had fallen out. In many ways the trip was supposed to be a touch stone, to remind myself of why I travel, of why I love seeing the world, of why it was worth being sad and lonely some days because of the beauty I got to experience in it all.

In less than 12 hours I get on a plane and head back to Canada for a week. It's possible, but not probable, that I'll run into her, and have to ask myself again if this vagabond lifestyle is worth it. Some days it really feels like it isn't - I'm leaving behind more friends, good ones, in just a few months, and while other friends are settling into careers and making long-term plans, I don't even know where I'll be living in three months. It feels like it's not actually worth it at all.

And other times I look at my photos from Cornwall, and listen to the legends of this more wild land that I get to experience straight on, and I remember why it is.

One day, I'll find the mermaids, but until then, I have adventures to chase after.

STA60083

* * *

November 2, 2006

NoNoNoNo Day 1 & 2

NoNoNoNo, as some may remember from last year, is a project my friend Raven started a few years ago whereby one takes 50 Photos in 25 Days. It's a play off NaNo, of course. Last year I thought I'd take photos of churches and statues, since there are many in Edinburgh, but this year I gave up on that and just decided to take pictures of things at night. It's easier on my brain then trying to take pictures of things during the day.

We Are Not Amused

She Walks In Beauty Like The Night....

Beacon

November 1, 2006

How I Spent My Halloween


samhuinn festival
Originally uploaded by anialodz.
(TOTALLY not my photo)

There was this intense energy throughout the crowd last night for Edinburgh's Samhuinn festival.

I could write up an academic review of what happened, but I think that would be boring. Check out Beltane Fire Society for that.

It was wild and insane, with intense feelings running high, loud music and caperings that would have embarassed me at any other time, but here seemed appropriate. The red beasties ran over things, running into the crowd, while the greens danced and sang and drew up the energy levels before them. The hags were powerful, frightening, everything you should fear in the middle of the night and more so. The Green Man walked like a stag, his horns large. He seemed very noble as he walked.

The energy just flows through the whole crowd as things come to the end of the procession. The various courts perform to loud and intense drumming. I remember the fire dancers most vividly when I close my eyes - this sense of the erotic and exotic as the two tattooed men passed flames back and forth between each other, close enough to touch. I remember the orgiastic dancing ot the red beasties on stage as they formed ever-increasing towers of people. I remember the focused gaze of the white women as they bowed and danced for the Green Man. I remember the battle, and screaming as one was cut down.

My throat is sore.

I danced down the mile, down the mound, alternately to the greens who played music and looked like fae and flowers brought to life, and to the red beasties who were sex and licentiousness and insanity prowling through the crowd, while Don kept a closer pace with the black men, those that brought death as winter comes to everyone. I lost sight of him early on in the evening, but he always knew where I was.

I lost a staring contest with a hag in green later on - never have I felt so intimidated, so cowed, but I tried to hold her gaze as long as I could before twirling away.

I have a video I'm in the process of turning into something easier for others to see. It's of the beginnning of the procession, before I let go and just enjoyed everything around me. My camera was full, and the video is large, so it may take a while.

Red Beasties that Flow Through Darkness


{Samhuinn pics by other people} {my own attempts at photos, before everything started}

October 19, 2006

Excuses Excuses Excuses

17 I should totally title this photo "This is my squinty face".

One of the things that keeps me from updating about my travels is this sense of perfection - I can't possibly write about something until I've uploaded the photos to my flickr page, can I? That would be foolish! And that means I have to go through all of my pictures from a trip, bick the best bunch of them, and do things with them, and be all perfect, and label them and all that stuff. And then there's the writing of witty descriptions on each photo. Thus, I perfection-obsess myself into not blogging about something.

Really quite foolish, since I doubt anyone reads this for my stunning photographs.

That being said, I've decided to bite the bullet and just *write* about things again, without fretting about photos. (That I just uploaded 50 photos about my trip to Inverness is not relevant - it's just a coincidence. Really. Besides, they're untitled and have no description and most of them don't even have tags.)

It helps a bit, I think, that my time in Scotland is coming to a close, and I really do want to get all these things sorted out and written about and recorded before Australia just jerks it all out of my head and I'm left trying to remember what I did when I was up North in Scotland... did I see a lake monster or not so much?

Right now I'm thinking a bit too much about my upcoming trip to Canada (for another wedding - it's not that I begrudge going to weddings by any stretch, and certainly not this one, but damn it - can people please space out their lives so they're more convenient to me? *laugh*) where I'll be there for another whirl-wind visit where I'll see some people I want to see and miss out on all sorts of other people that I also want to see, and trying not to turn into a big pile of goo over the trip to Rome. (Did I mention I'm going to Rome? Because I'm *totally* going to Rome.)

Basically, I'm getting rid of my procrastination techniques one by one, because I do want to get back into writing about my adventures and joys and sorrows of being an expat. Lately, though, it's not been just "not doing interesting things", it's been a sense of waiting. I want to be here, but I also want to be in Aus. I want to be on to the next adventure, and I'm not living life here to its fullest.

On Halloween I'm going to the Fire Festival (Samhain?) that the people who did Beltane are doing. I can't wait!

September 11, 2006

Working for a Living

Anna - Duck Hunter Since I complain about it an awful lot, I thought I'd share what I did at work last week.

An awful lot of nothing, as the photos will attest.

{We did this carnival at work last week where you had to play in games to win points, and the team with the most points won dinner at some restaurant I've never heard of. It was surreal and fun, but the best part was, of course, the duckies.}

Inverness worked out well - I have great photos and some wonderful stories. Sadly, I did not see Nessie. Once I'm more awake, I'll post about it.

Actually, while I'm pimping out photos, I have some great ones of the Fringe, but I'm mostly happy with this one of Don.

August 20, 2006

Tattoo II: Return to the Tattoo

{That is, by far, the worst title I've ever come up with for a blog entry.}

I keep running into people who have either never been to the Tattoo or went once, when they were kids, and never intend to go again. I've sort of chalked this up to the same reason I can't be arsed to go back to the Waterpark at West Edmonton Mall. Of course it's there, it will always be there, and it will never, ever leave.

But I love the Tattoo. It's more fun that anything else I can imagine involving so much bagpipe music. I may love the pipes, but by about mid-August I could happily strange every busker on Princes Street, and that's not even going into the recorded stuff played in shops. But the Tattoo does pipes, like everything else, larger than life. If you ever get the chance, go.

{On the other hand, I regularly talk to people online that take "I'm going to the Tattoo! I loved it last year, I can't wait to go this year!" and think I'm talking about something to do with body art. *sigh* It's not.}

Plumed It's hard to describe the tattoo though. It's military bands doing performances for the public, which can sound kinda dry. Unless, of course, you know those military bands include the Top Secret drum corps from Switzerland, and they wear hats with white plumes. (Link is in Swiss, I assume.) I won't speculate on what's so Top Secret about a military band with drums - do they sneak up on the enemy by playing loud and entertaining beats in the dark? Their drums are all black, as are their outfits, but the sticks are white. (But, plumed hats!) Everything with them has this interesting combination of over-the-top performance and obvious skill. The plumed hats, as you can tell, did it for me, and now I want to move to Switzerland and find myself a nice young man with obviously good hand-eye coordination. (They would toss sticks between themselves to trade beats!)

This year's 'special' presentation was the Scottish Military, and the talk they gave read like a bad wikipedia article. Won't comment on it anymore than that, since if you're going to the Tattoo to learn your military history, you've got bigger problems than I can address here. It's nifty, though - they use the Castle as a projection screen for that part, while the bands play a counter-point (on the pipes, of course) and the announcer talks. Last year was about Admiral Lord Nelson, and involved a dramatic re-enactment by Highland Dancers.

(It wasn't a very good one, though - I have a hard time believing that the battle looked so neat and checkered.)

One of the best things this year was the band from New Zealand. Further proof I need to move there. {In saying that, do I have to give up my trip to Aus? I have no idea what the relationship between the two countries are...} They did Interpretive Dance during their performance. At one point they played the theme to James Bond while two trumpet players mimed out an opening gun sequence, and when they played the theme to Swan Lake the tuba players put down their instrucments to do "dying swans". At least, I think they were dying swans.... I hope they were dying swans. {Link is to a blurry photo.}

Powerpuff Girls! They also had a group in from China that made my heart hurt... One of the kids looked like one of my students from Jiangyan that I miss. *sigh* The demonstration of Kung-fu was great (in a performance sense - I could hear Kris rolling his eyes and making sardonic comments), and hard to photograph. Strangely, children jumping in the air with swords *move*.

I didn't love all of it - I though the gospel choir from Africa didn't lend itself well to a stadium-sized space, and I missed the little guys on bikes from last year - but I loved most of it. I wish I could go again, and I intend to at some point in the future, but like everything else I do this summer, it'll be the last time for some time, and that leaves everything a bit bitter-sweet.

The Tatto ends every year with all of the bands coming together to play while the performers dance, and although the combined music works *really* well... let's just say that "Can You Feel the Love Tonight?" is not a song I needed to hear played by bagpipes! The rest worked well, as did the entire audience once again singing Auld Lang Syne.

If you're planning on going to Edinburgh, get tickets. They go quickly. I haven't sat near the front, but the 'cheap' tickets at the back are still a great view, and you won't regret it. Bring a blanket, though - it gets cool in August.

August 14, 2006

Everything Comes To This

Grave

I'm disgustingly proud of this photo and felt the need to share it. I finally got to take my brand-new tripod (Thanks, Don) someplace and use it, and I got some lovely photos of St Cuthbert's Churchyard at night. Since it's usually locked up, I was very satisfied over all.

Steeple

I was in the churchyard at that time of night because of the Fringe show I caught there. It was Vespers, sung in Russian, and it was beautiful. It's amazing how religious music can be so moving, no matter if you know what they're saying. It really felt like... well, like a choir of angels. I was reminded of a quote I read once in my history of Wales... "When we meet God, I'm certain he'll be speaking Welsh." I think, in the end, how faith and spirits move us is so entirely based on feelings and impressions rather than words.

Which may be why the Islamic festival left me with a bad taste in my mouth. There was a presentation yesterday on women in Islam, and it was very poorly done. I don't want to go into it too much here, but I was hoping for some real discussion and insight into the faith, the religion, the culture, and everything caught up in those things. I wanted it to talk about things that were important to women in that culture and faith. Instead, they chose two "poster-child" type women to speak about their experiences. Neither had ever lived in a different culture. At least one didn't read Arabic. Neither could answer any of the questions we had about Islam and women. Neither was a scholar. In comparison to the way the man's talk earlier in the week had been, it was frustrating. And whereas I can see why people may not want to stand up and talk about their faith in terms of questions that seem like instrusions... well, that's what it was billed as. That's what I expected from what the Mosque itself had advertised. I wanted more.

I spent a lot of time questioning things this weekend. I went to a talk about history in India and Persia, where the idea that the problems in the Middle East right now go back as far as things in Ancient Greece. That sense of divide between us and them goes back to Sparta. Points were brought up about resentment on the side of people who are "Eastern". I tried to ask if the speakers, both authors of recently-published books about the history of the region, thought this might be because the "authoratative" books on the history and culture of the area were both written by White, Middle-Class, Western, Scottish Men. I didn't get a satisfying answer.

I wasn't really surprised at that.

I was strangely surprised by something else: Who'd have thunk it: People read at Book Festivals.

I was also surprised at one other thing: My passport returned from the Home Office. If I recall correctly from the last time this happened... things will start to move rather quickly from this point on.

I am so scared.... and so excited.

August 6, 2006

I am the Sun!

It's impossible to describe Edinburgh during The Festival (also known as August). Natives either completely embrace the city, or wish they could be elsewhere. The streets are packed with too much of everything, and it's either excilerating or overwhelming.

This year, I'm so excited! (Last year, not so much.)

Super You can see all sorts of things during the Festival, and it all seems so common place. There are buskers everywhere, doing everything you can imagine. There's a guy sitting on Princes Street during the day who's doing busking with chess - play a six minute game of speed chess with him. It's great to watch, and he seems to be quite seriously raking in the money.

Of course, the best thing about the Festival is that odd conversations and things you'll see. I had a very odd little man (made me think of Wormtongue) come up to me and start going on about how I was the sun. Yes, I, Anna, am the sun, and he was the Earth, and he revolved around me, and I was the sun, and great, and wonderful, and the sun, and my friend Melle was the moon, and should rotate around him, who is the earth... and I said "Can I marry you?" And he stared at me, and said "Yes...." then said "See, she is the sun, whose job it is to smile and not speak", and then wandered off.

I out-weirded the weird people on the Mile. Life is good.

I think most nights of this month will end in fireworks. I'm a good 30 minute drive from the Castle, and I could watch them from my window. I love fireworks, they're great. I is happy.

I'm really looking forward to days of being on the Mile, of the crowds of insane people. I might not feel the same way after three weeks of having buses slowed down on my way home from work, but right now, the world is full of promise, and the festival is full of exciting things to do...

{Photos!}

June 28, 2006

One Year Later

I've been here for a year.

I don't know how the time crept up on me so quickly. I was aware of it, of course, but in a distant sort of way. End of June = One Year in Scotland. Sorta like how Christmas is really far away, and then boom it's December 21st and I've forgotten to buy presents.

And here I am.

It feels good.

I love Scotland. I love the lifestyle to which I've become accustomed here - I travel so much, I know these great people, I'm content with life in general. It seems so good right now, and I realised the other day that I'm not waiting for the other shoe to drop. I think I've come home after searching for it in other people so much. Here it is.

So, a Year in Review....

My first post on this side of the ocean was on June 21. That month I spent a lot of time doing touristy things, which makes sense since I was living on the Mile, in a hostel. I actually look back very fondly on that now, but at the time, I really thought I would go insane. Especially after I got the night job. I had such a hard time dealing with sleeping in a hostel during the day. But the people were so friendly. I occasionally run into people I met there, and although we can't always remember each other's names, we do remember each other, and where we're from. Aussie girl is working in a book store, and the other two Canadians went back to Spain after the summer. I was back there and used them to take my tour of Skye, and the person behind the counter recognized me, and that was cool.

I got a mobile phone right away, and I have to admit it was the smartest thing I did that week. I also got a mail box, which has been nice and useful but occasionally annoying. The guy behind the counter is an angel, but I wish I got more mail to justify the expense. (Yes, that was a whine, just ignore it.)

July was all about hating the heat and protests and the like. That was G8 and Make Poverty History. I managed to avoid them (still working the job that I began to loath pretty darn fast), except for the bit that I was still living on the Mile. Other than that, it was okay. That was the month I got introduced to the orangest drink in the whole world, Irn-Bru, and warned by the people I'm renting my flat through that it stains everything and never comes out. I found my flat that month, and eventually got a paycheque sorted out so I had a lot of money finally. And I had my first birthday overseas. There were deep fat fried mars bars - they really exist!

Women Talking
August was the month I started travelling, and fell in love. Lindsifarne I can never stop talking about, of course, as it really did feel like finding home to get there. I also ducked off to Paris for a long weekend that month, renewing my love affair with that city. That's where I cam up with the cunning plan of being an international pastry thief.... I really want to go back again, unsurprisingly. I was talking to a friend about it, and he pointed out that I want to go back everywhere. I'm so fickle, I think everywhere I visit is where I should have moved. Well, except Cardiff, which is nice enough, but really is Little Canada. I'm sure the rest of the country isn't so... Canadian.

Daisy, Daisy, Give me your Answer Moo!August was also the Fringe, and Apocalypse the Music with the cow that looked like Levi. Wow, am I ever looking forward to the Fringe this year... I think I may try to book some time off and just revel in it. I suspect it's even better if you're not exhausted when wandering around.

Oh, I think July and August were both bad months for feeling homesick. It was also the month I realised I wanted juice mix *really really lots*. (Margery & Raven have both sent me some, because they rock, and Joe brought some when he came across. I have a bag I'm bringing to Canada that will come back to Scotland full of juice mix. Because I love the idea of that bag being search in customs.)

September was when I quit my job. I have never made a better choice in my life - I got paid at the latest job today and this having money thing kicks ass and takes names. That whole panic pretty much dominated the month, though. I tend to be like that. *grin* It also started my obsession with the fact that no one cooks in Scotland. Or, at least, no one bakes. *sigh* I *still* can't get a good sized bag of flour here, and when I'm really going nuts about baking I can go through three or four of the little bags in a week. (This is less annoying now that I'm all bourgeois and have my groceries delivered.) It's also when I started angsting about the weather over here. The seasons here are so weird in that they occur with enough variety to notice.

Archway to HeavenOctober seems to have been all about proving I am weird and random. It's when I started picking places to go out of hats, basically. And Linlithgow is still fun to say. I pondered differences between Edmonton and Edinburgh, did more touristy things, like free musuems and Holyrood Palace, sans Queen. I went to Kelso and started my goal of collection all of the Scottish Border Abbeys (just one more left!).

October was the month it dawned on me I was happy. I still occasionally feel guilty about this. Because I am weird that way.

November started with a bang: Guy Fawkes day! I still remember the cotton candy very fondly. I went down south to Glastonbury (and the World Famous Somerset Fair that no one's heard of) and saw Stonehenge and felt strangely unmoved. For Christmas I saw the Nutcracker for the first time in my life, and started going to the German Christmas market. And then people tried to teach me English. Or British. Or something.

Trafalgar
Then December happened. There was Sinterklaas and cookies made out of bad little children (that taste yummy in chai, if you were wondering). I got all giggly about Hogmany, and popped down to London for a day just because flights were cheap and I could. Christmas Eve service was beauiful, and I remember listening to the bells at midnight and being enchanted.

The only thing that could have made it better was snow.

Hogmany brought 2005 to a close with many explosions and the kissing of many strange boys.

Good year, that one was. I give it four out of five stars.

{I'll do the last six months of this year in Scotland in another post.}

June 24, 2006

1000 Words: Tintagel

Through the Door
* * *

June 10, 2006

A Tall Ship and a Star to Steer Her By

Tall Ship and a Star to Steer Her ByI do love being out on the water, and the trip on the Jean de la Lune today was beautiful. It was a perfectly clear day, bright and sunny, and out on the water it was cool enough to keep comfortable without being too nippy.

It was a short trip as these things go, but I really enjoyed every minute of it. I kept watch out for mermaids (I think they may be too clever to hang out in the North Sea, even in summer) and just generally enjoyed the view.

I sometimes dream about living on a ship like this one, which probably makes me sound a bit nuts. If it didn't have internet access, I might go nuts. But the idea of being out on the ocean, of being in a different place every minute, appeals to that wilder side of my nature, the part of me that really would just flip a coin and decide heads Africa, tails Asia. I want the type of freedom that I think being on a ship would give me.

I like that dream, I take it out sometimes and wonder what it would be like. I suppose I could live part of it by working on a cruise ship for a summer or two if I wanted, but I don't think that's the same thing. Working like that isn't freedom. It certainly isn't deciding that New Zealand sounds nice, maybe I'll head there this month.

I do love it, though. Maybe when I'm retired, I'll do it....

Anna Overseas
I must down to the seas again, to the lonely sea and the sky,
And all I ask is a tall ship and a star to steer her by,
And the wheel's kick and the wind's song and the white sail's shaking,
And a grey mist on the sea's face, and a grey dawn breaking.

I must down to the seas again, for the call of the running tide
Is a wild call and a clear call that may not be denied;
And all I ask is a windy day with the white clouds flying,
And the flung spray and the blown spume, and the sea-gulls crying.

I must down to the seas again, to the vagrant gypsy life,
To the gull's way and the whale's way where the wind's like a whetted knife;
And all I ask is a merry yarn from a laughing fellow-rover
And quiet sleep and a sweet dream when the long trick's over.

By John Masefield (1878-1967)

April 21, 2006

Anna: Princess Warrior

Hobbit God, I had a great time at Linlithgow today! (Or, I suppose, yesterday. Why yes, I can't sleep again, why do you ask?)

I've been to Linlithgow before, of course, and loved it there, but this time Don and I were silly as Joe, Kristi, Myles and Aaron explored the castle. There are many photos, and some of them are available for you to laugh at. (I also have a video of Don and I attempting to sword fight. I scream a lot at the end. Don is mean.)

I'm gonna try to avoid gushing about Linlithgow (since I love it, and thus can), but I will write a bit about it. It's the palace where Mary Queen of Scots was born, and where Margaret Tudor waited for word of Flodden, and found out about the death of her husband. It's very pretty, and obviously not meant to be a place to hide in a seige.

It rained most of the time we were there, which was unfortunate, but heck, it's Scotland. When it doesn't rain, I get suspicious. We also got into the beautiful church just outside the palace, which I wasn't able to last time. The stained glass inside is just gorgeous, all replaced at the turn of the last century, so it has this very... in between look, between the older stuff that looks so regal and the newer stuff that just looks gaudy and overdone to me. I wish I had some photos, but I don't like to take pictures in working churches.

Everyone else ended our trip with a walk around the loch, but I bowed out - the damned plague is still dogging my every step. I hates it. But I'm feeling much better now. Really! Just... can't sleep. At all. Ever again. *sigh*

Nothing new to add on the job front. Going nuts from lack of things to do that bring in money instead of sending it out.

April 16, 2006

Historically Significant

You know what? I'm a great marriage catch. And now I'm gonna tell you why.

I went to Jedburgh, as I said, to collect the latest in my list of ruined abbeys in Scotland and England (and to have little fits about Henry VIII, although he apparently had very little to do with the ruin of Jedburgh). It was a great trip, the abbey is lovely and very well presented, and I also checked out Mary Queen of Scot's house and the lovely little Royal Burgh of Jed. It's a great trip, and I do recommend it for a lovely half-day if that's your thing.

But really, what makes me great marriage material is that I got the urge to go out and see the Historically Significant Tree in Jedburgh, and thus I missed my 2:00 p.m. bus back to Edinburgh. That, ladies and gentlemen, is what makes me great marriage material because don't you want to be married to someone who is that flighty?

Capon TreeSo, yes, there is this Historically Significant Tree in Jedburgh. (You think I'm making this up, don't you?) Back in 2002, the United Kingdom was celebrating Queen Elizabeth's Golden Jubilee and found 50 Historically Significant Trees to ... make important somehow for this. Jedburgh's tree is the Capon Tree, the last tree that survives of the Great Forest of Jed. Allegedly, it's the tree that several members of the clergy travelling to the Abbey sheltered under during a storm.

They say it could be as much as 500 years old.

...

.....

Look, I know this makes me sound awful, but come on. 500 years old? That's nothing for a tree. I'm sure there are trees on my street in Edmonton that are 500 years old. I remember being a kid and looking at trees that were over a thousand years old. Call me then for your "historically significant trees".

Me & The Tree*sigh* I know, I know, it's the UK, we have to judge things differently here. Here, 200 kilometers is long way to travel (and probably not something you'd do just for a milkshake), and there are buildings on the street I live in now that are older than the Capon Tree, and I totally respect that. But 500 year old trees? Not so much. Call me pretentious.

But, yeah. Me good marriage material. I walked the 3 kilometers out to see the 500 year old tree, took some photos, and then walked back to just miss the bus by 10 minutes. *sigh* Because I am just *that* geeky. ("Oooh, historically significant tree! I wanna see that!" "Do you have a car?" "Oh god no, I'll walk! How long could it take?")

{All my exciting photos of the Capon Tree are here}

* * *

In unrelated news, I'm also the type of geek that not only now owns a lemon zester, but actually said to someone "And it makes my life so much easier now, too!"

Please shoot me.

April 9, 2006

Westminster

This is what I think happened:

I had a cold. A nice, regular cold that would eventually give up and I would get better. But then, I went on the Tube in London. And, as everyone knows, the air in the Tube is its own special kind of icky. And something that I breathed in combined with my cold and transformed into some sort of plague that will eventually bring down humanity.

But before that happens, I want to write about this second trip to London.

Time Like I said before, seeing Big Ben when I came out of the Tube station was... wow. It really felt like that sudden shock of familiar. I knew where I was, I could get around without difficulty, and I was good. It's kind of strange the idea that I can get around a city like London without getting too terribly lost. Granted, I didn't go exploring snickleways or strange alleys, but I didn't get lost, either.

Unlike last time, I did decide to go into Westminster Abbey, and while there I took one of their guided tours. The tour was amazing, but sadly not because of the quality of the tourguide. The guide seemed so bored, like he had done this so many times he couldn't understand why anyone else would want to take the tour. On the other hand, taking the tour gets you into areas that you can't get into otherwise, like the actual tomb of Edward the Confessor. You get to spend some time wandering around in this area that is dominated by royal tombs, like Richard II and Henry III, but there was no real historical context for any of them. I mean, I know this stuff, but most people don't, and that was frustrating.

(Of course, this is where my coughing got so bad that the person leading the tour had to get me a glass of water. *sigh*)

But, putting aside the boredom of the guide (a priest of the Abbey), the building itself is outstanding. I had caught a glimpse of it the first time I went in for Evensong back in December, but seeing the whole thing was just so overwhelming. I can't even describe the size of this abbey....

It actually reminded me so much of places like Lindsifarne, or Kelso, and the ruined abbeys there. I never really got a sense of how big they would have been until I went into Westminster. These sites would have been huge, and they're all in ruins and stones now.

I'm not sure what I'd say the highlight of the tour itself was. Inside the Abbey is the tomb of Elizabeth I and Mary Queen of Scots, as well as Henry VII and Elizabeth of York. There is also some amazing stained glass, and the details of the floors, the ceilings, and the walls... well, it's amazing.

One thing, though, is the burials and the memorials throughout the Abbey. No one's buried there anymore, but for some time people were, and you walk over the stones without thinking so easily. There are memorials up to various poets, writers, artists, and actors, as well as scientists (the one to Newton is beatiful) and politicians. They cover a lot of the walls and the floors. The Bronte sisters are there, as is Lewis Carroll.

The tour ended not all that long before Evensong was to begin. This time was different than last time in that it was a guest choir, and with the time change it was still afternoon light filtering through the windows, and I was surprised at how bright it still was when we got out of the Abbey at 6. It felt like it should be dark, like there should be a hush over the world after the beautiful music and the awe-inspiring setting.

I know I've mentioned before that I'm not religious, but I do recommend Evensong at Westminster Abbey if you're ever in London. It is the most beautiful call to prayer I've attended yet, and it's very moving. It's... well, it's beautiful.

March 22, 2006

Worth Every Step....

The first, and most important, things you need to know about Stirling are these:

1) You can get amazing cell phone reception on top of the Wallace Monument.

2) I am afraid of heights.

3) 246!

What that says is "I have climbed the 246 Steps!", and damn it, I deserved that medal afterwards!

Stirling was lovely, but the rest of my week has been absolutely insane. I don't think I'll do this again. That is, have people move in, plan a massive Quest for a Con, attempt to keep work under some form of control, help with lots of outings, and then I edited out the rest of this sentence in order to keep my life sane (no, it was nothing bad). It's all just too much for one week, you know? I am, in a word, exhausted, and the week isn't over yet.

Crowning GloryBut, Stirling. We mostly just did two things: The Castle (of course), and the Wallace Monument. And not the one with Mel Gibson, but the one at the top of a very nice hill. My understanding is that it was built from public subscription, truly Of The People of Scotland. It's very well designed, with rooms every so often on the way up so you can take a break from the tiny stairs and learn a bit about Wallace. Kinda over the top, and the fact that the "Hall of Scottish Heroes" has no women in it kinda bothered me, but that's just me.

...

God, I'm really having a hard time gathering my thoughts about this. I feel like I should be gushing, you know? I went to Stirling! I climbed a monument! I've been planning this trip for months, looking forward to it, trying to coordinate my schedule with my friend in Stirling so we could at least hook up for coffee and hang out, and all I feel right now is exhausted. I want to be more supportive of Joe and Kristi and Moving To Scotland and yay and all that, but all I've got is a lot of exhaution and feeling confused by it all. I mean, to me, the moving thing wasn't that hard, and it really seems to be throwing Kristi for a huge loop. I'm finding it so hard to be supportive of her, because I can't really see what the problem is. And I feel so bad about that, like I should be better, and I just can't be. It feels like constant, never-ending stress between trying to get them into some form of "settled" enough to be comfortable, trying to plan this Con thing, trying to plan outtings around my incredibly varying work schedule, and doing all the other things that one just does when one is alive.

I mean, I loved it, but I just can't write about it right now, because I feel like I'm wasting time I should be spending doing Something More Important.

Heroic

I've never felt this out of sorts about living overseas since I started it all.

I promised myself when I started this blog that I would write about the bad stuff as well as the Great Grand Adventures, and so I do express when I'm feeling out of sorts and culture shocked. Right now, I'm feeling very much "other"... I mean, I know expats who have just jumped into it with both feet, but I only know them through the internet. I was kinda expecting that, for Kristi, it wouldn't be that hard - she has me here, she's got the 'net whenever she wants it, she's been hearing about Scotland every day for months, there's someone handy to introduce her to people, help her find a job, help her with her paperwork, all that jazz, and I'm confused that it doesn't seem as easy for it. It makes me feel like... like I'm the strange one, you know? Like I never formed the right sort of attachments to notice them missing when I came here.

I don't think badly of her, by any stretch. I guess I just want to be the right sort of friend, and right now, I'm not.

Anna at the Top!

So, consider this photo to be my thousand words on how great it was to be on the top of the Wallace Monument. The view, I'm telling you, is worth every step.

{Photos}

March 15, 2006

The Passion of the Mel

The Passion of the MelRandom Fact: They do have a statue of Mel Gibson done up as William Wallace in Stirling.

Random Fact 2: It has cages put around it at night and has a lot of CCTV cameras pointed at it. Seems there were a *lot* of vanadalism attempts on it when it was first put up.

That somehow made me feel better about it.

It's kinda hard sometimes to tell how ironic all the Mel Gibson/William Wallace stuff is around here. I've seen pencil sketches of "Wallace" as Gibson, and seen people selling off replica swords from Braveheart and telling people it's a replica of Wallace's sword.

I suspect that a lot of it is just "let's fleece the tourists". But I could be wrong. I mean, Wallace is a hero, and what's wrong with appreciating that?

(This brings me back to thinking about Louis Riel, our Canadian revolutionary. I was thinking we could con Gibson into doing a biopic of Riel, right? I mean, we could change a few facts around, skip the bits that he spent in sanatarium in the US, maybe toss in some extra romance... we could call it Riel-ity Bites.)

(Yes, I waited all week to type that.)

I went through Stirling on that Skye tour I took, but didn't actually get up to the Wallace Monument itself. This statue (carved by a man who was getting heart surgery when the move came out, and felt that the movie helped his recovery, and carved this in tribute) is at the base of the hill the Monument is on. I do want to get up there, but I have a friend in Stirling I keep meaning to do it with. We just... haven't gotten around to it yet.

Ironic, isn't it? I can travel hundres of miles to see something, but can't make the hour-long journey to Stirling without adult supervision.

* * *

Two points of unrelated news:

1) Thanks for the input on the layout. I need to change at least a few things, and will be working on that later.

2) I'm taking a half day off work today to panic about Kristi and Joe, and then a half day off work tomorrow to pick up Kristi and Joe. In between, I thought I'd panic more. It'll be fun!

Really.

Kill me?

March 2, 2006

Red Skye at Night

Sailor's Delight I've been having troubles writing about Skye, figuring out which pictures and stories to post, and it took me a bit to figure out why. I'm so used to seeing things like ruined abbeys, fallen cathedrals, castles that don't exist anymore, and those are easy to write about. I can write about getting there, or what it looked like, or how it felt. But this tour was different, and not the least because most of the beauty is in the landscape, and not in individual places.

So, what should I say? I stayed in a place called Kyleakin, a tiny village with three pubs and a couple of youth hostels. We stayed there two nights, spending the day in between driving around Skye. They call it the "Winged Isle", but I have a hard time seeing why. I guess if you squint when you look at the map, you can see a pair of wings and the like.

FallingWhat I remember most about Kyleakin was how incredibly still it was... you could hear the lap of the ocean at the coast, the way the air moved through the village, anyone coming up close to you. I remember looking up at the sky, seeing a million stars.

I remember the mountains, and the sudden realisation that I'd never seen mountains outside of Canada before. They looked odd to me, because I kept looking for familiar peaks and not seeing them. I spent a few years living in Hinton, and a summer in Japser, and it's strange to see snow-caps that aren't Roche Miette.

A lot of people have been saying to me "Your descriptions of the Highlands makes me want to go there." I'm rather torn, though.

I mean, on the one hand, I could probably go back up there and live, maybe see Loch Ness every morning. I could walk around in a town like Kyleakin, or Inverness, or any other place up there, and see the mountains every day, and look up and see the stars every night.

I suspect, though, that I'd forget to keep looking up after a few months, and that makes me sad.

But I'll go again, soon, I'm certain.

February 27, 2006

Birnam Wood

9 Cathedral Street, DunkeldSo, I had a rather lengthy and kinda tedious post about Dunkeld, which is a town I stopped in for about 30 minutes on the way to the Highlands, and after much thought decides it wasn't really interesting enough to post up. Especially when I can sum it up in a few sentences: Dunkeld is pretty, and there was a Cathedral. Also, it is near Birnam of Macbeth fame, and Alexander MacKenzie, the first Liberal Canadian Prime Minister, live there for a while. I know this, because there is a plaque. {Other photos of the lovely Dunkeld Cathedral... beautiful place, with lots of bird song.}

But mostly what I wanted to write about is the guide we had on the tour.

I went on the MacBackpackers 3-day Skye Tour, and I recommend it if you like irreverent humour, brief glimpses of history, and really loud music. It was a hoot, but if you're expecting anything of any real depth... well, it's fun!

Ewan, our guide, has his volume set permanently on 11, if you know what I mean. And I do mean that both literaly and figuratively. I ended up buying a set of earplugs on the second day because of how loud everything was on the bus. But he told some very interesting (if not precisely factually accurate) stories about Scotland, about the Highlands, about mythology and stories and legends about this amazing country I'm currently in love with.

Our Fearless GuideThe stories he told were all over the top and fantastical, with everything being larger than life. He told the story of Bonnie Dundee (which is now *stuck in my head* - Come fill up my cup, come fill up my can, Saddle my horses and call out my men), changing the numbers so the Jacobites come out as an even more amazing victory than they had historically. He made Bonnie Prince Charlie into much more of a hero than he was, glossing over a lot of things. He romantised the Highlands and the people from it, turned tragedies into greater ones by adding zeros, told myths and legends like facts, and overall was exactly what a good and fun tour guide should be. He told stories of Scotland like I think a lot of people want it to be. His discription of how Highlanders could fight and take out any five or so Redcoats was inspired. I have a video, you should see it.

{It's interesting to me that I like my tour guides to tell larger than life stories, but I want my historical movies to be accurate, damn it. I have no idea why this is.}

It was more than beautiful, it was fun and funny and irreverant. That's really what I want to tell you about it. I could (and will, I'm certain) wax poetic about the mountains and the bird song and Faery Glen and the waterfall that sang, and about how I loved it all. But Scotland is full of stories, not just pretty pictures and picturesque castles, and I occasionally forget that.

{Birnam Wood... apparently they really did cut down a bunch of trees, and used it to hide the numbers of their armies. I can see how it would work.}

But, damnit... William Wallace is *not* the inspiration for Robin Hood!

February 24, 2006

Caledonia

I'm back from the Highlands.

I don't know if you can see
The changes that have come over me
In these last few days I've been afraid
That I might drift away

I did not fall off a mountain, or drown in a Loch. The faeries in the Glen did not steal me away, and I have yet to discover that I am Anna MacLeod of the Clan MacLeod, and I can never die.

Now I have moved and I've kept on moving
Proved the points that I needed proving
Lost the friends that I needed losing
Found others on the way

I put my face in an icy-cold river because I was told it would keep me young. I saw the Old Man of Storr, and stood and listened to the faery pipes as the wind blew my hair like a curtain across my eyes. I looked out on the battlefield where Bonnie Prince Charlie lost his war and led so many men to their deaths.

I have kissed the ladies and left them crying
Stolen dreams, yes there's no denying
I have traveled hard sometimes with conscience flying
Somewhere in the wind

I sipped at Drambuie while looking out over the ocean, and pondered legends and myths and tales of a land so old and ragged that the mountains are worn to softer peaks than I'm used to. I listened to tales of brave men and wild women, of those who would die fighting for a way of life, for honour, sometimes just because to stop fighting meant to die.

Oh, but let me tell you that I love you
That I think about you all the time
Caledonia you're calling me
And now I'm going home

If have fallen so deeply in love with this land, with its stories and its people and its wild landscape up north. With its castles and ruined abbeys and graveyards older than my country. With cobbled streets and roads so narrow that they have 'passing places' to avoid oncoming traffic in.

If you asked me right now, this second, to choose, to decide between this country and anyplace else in the world....

Eilean Donnan

I'd pack everything I owned and go up north, to the Highlands and Islands, and live the rest of my life up there and never give a backwards glance.

Which begs the question of what the heck I'm doing planning on leaving.

February 13, 2006

Dead Burying the Dead

First and foremost, I wonder if I'll ever stop being amused by being invited to sit down for 'tea and biscuts' instead of 'coffee and a cookie' at work. There's this wonderful combination of accents and this thing that sounds so... so... old world classy to me. It's odd.

Also, tea and biscuts are yummy. And can fix anything.

VictorianBut mostly I wanted to write about the Victorians, and sarcophaguses. Sarcophagi. Sarcophagus plural. I've been seeing them in all sorts of places, and always wondered what they were, these big stone coffins that seemed so out of place in various abbeys that I went to. I usually just assumed... well, I assumed they were big stone coffins of some sort, really. And I suppose they are, but they aren't from the era I thought they were.

These things (and they keep getting stuffed in odd places... this photo is from the ruins of a leper hospital in York) are actually Roman Sarcophagus..es... From what I understand, the Victorians found them at various times, dug them up, looted through them, then dropped the empty things wherever they could be bothered to. There's quite a few of them in places throughout England and I've seen one or two in Scotland as well (Kelso comes to mind immediately... I don't recall any anywhere else right now). They're always just there, as part of the landscape, just accepted.

I am intellectually aware that the Romans were here, and I know all about Hadrian's Wall and Constantine being declared Emperor of Rome here, but I keep forgetting how far back it all goes. And whereas I know that there were civilisations in Canada just as long ago, and that there is a great deal there that I have to learn about... I don't know, it just somehow seems more overwhelming to me that the Romans were here.

(This is a huge blind spot in my education. I must do something about it.)

But here's the thing that gets me worked up:

For all that we have some knowledge because of foolish Victorians rushing in and digging things up where angels fear to tread... they wrecked things! For crying out loud, the people in York don't have a clue where these things were dug up from. They know there was a Roman graveyard someplace, that it would have been outside the Roman city walls, but other than that... not a thing.

It makes me want to scream.

February 6, 2006

Clifford's Tower

Octagon This is all from memory, and of course may be incorrect.

Clifford's Tower is on the top of a high hill, difficult to climb. Originally it had a moat, but nothing seems to remain of it now. There are many many many stairs to the base of the tower, and several more to the top. It's not a tower like I think of them, which is tall and thin and goes up a lot higher. This is only really two stories, but with the hill underneath it, there are some spectacular views of the city.

Or, so I would believe. I'm scared witless of heights. Absolutely witless of them. (You should see me flying. Or maybe you shouldn't....) I did manage to get myself up to the top of the tower, and I will admit that it's lovely up there, but I couldn't get myself to really enjoy it. I may think I'm not going to fall - it may be impossible that I'll fall - but I believe that I'm going to go crashing to the earth and that'll be the end of it all.

I was advised against climbing to the top of York Minster after this. *smile*

Clifford's Tower has some incredibly nasty stories told of it. The first is why it's named Clifford's Tower. According to the Ghost Tour I went on, a Lord Clifford was hanged to the side of the building and left to rot.

Let's leave the image, shall we?

The other story is quite horrific: In the 11th century, there was an uprising against the Jews in York. They fled to Clifford's Tower (then called York Castle, and a tower made of wood) for protection. The leaders of the uprising demanded that the Jews renounce their faith and give up all their wordly possessions, or they'd die.

They chose to die. When the door was forced open, they found every man, woman, and child of the Jewish community dead, and everything they had brought with them burning in the center of the room. In impotent rage, they left the tower to burn, leaving the bodies to burn as well.


Not that High... Really! I took this next picture when I had safely returned to the base of the tower. I looked up and said, "Hey, it's not that high..." The people who had seen me at the top, shaking and trying not to look down, found that rather amusing.

I'm glad I went here, as it's not only pretty nifty, it's part of the English Heritage sites, so I got in for free with my membership. However, I'm not quite sure I'd recommend it to other people. It's interesting, but there's not a lot to it. It's not really big, and very little of it really survives. The view is nice, and I guess that's what you're really paying for. (It's not that expensive, if I recall correctly.)

There's quite a bit here about the Jewish Massacre. For centuries, Jews wouldn't live in the city at all, until Cromwell invited them to come back. I know there's been formal apologies and formal acceptances of those apologies. There is an official memorial stone at the base of the hill, as well.

I just can't get that image out of my head, about how hopeless (or brave, or faithful) one must be to decide to kill your child, your wife, yourself, in order to escape from a fate you think is worse than death.


WitlessThis photo is me, standing at the top of the tower (obviously). My friend says to me, "My, your shoulders look strange in that photo." I said, "It's because I'm so scared I'm about to fall suddenly to my death."

I haven't had much to say over the past week or so because I've been pretty busy. I got another job through the agency, and it's fun and interesting. I've been baking for the bake sale, and doing other things. But mostly I've been sorting things out with a couple of friends that are coming here to live for a while, and it's been stressful and tense. I'm looking forward to them coming, but if I were anymore nervous about it, well... my shoulders would look funny.

I'm beginning to feel better now because I *think* everything's been sorted. Hard to say, yet, and there's still time. They'll be here in early March.

January 25, 2006

Minster

What can I tell you about York Minster that will really convey the beauty of the place?

Bring Me To Light The place is full of light. Sound echoes away, but light seems to flood from every window and corner. Walking inside, I was overwhelmed by the light that I could see. The walls are bright white, reflecting more of the light coming in from the amazing stained glass windows. I kept thinking there must be a skylight or something to bring in all the light I could see, but there isn't.

Unlike every other church and cathedral I've been in, I managed to get on a tour of the Minster, and I really recommend them if you get the chance. They're offered for free and are about an hour. The one I went on was hosted by this lovely lady (also a Yorkist, like me - we talked a bit about Richard, of course), and there were several others ongoing. The sense I had is that each person has their own way of running the tour, and each one really loves what they're doing. They describe different things, but in that way that carries you along with their enthusiasm. She pointed out all sorts of things, like the carving near one of the windows of Aristotle being (a-hem) 'ridden' by his favorite harlot (she's holding a whip and smacking him as they go along) and that the Victorians, when they did their own restoration of parts of the ceiling, replaced an image of Christ being suckled by the Virgin with one of him being bottle-fed. Which is very surreal. (She also advised that we'd have to take her word for it - it's a very high ceiling, after all.)

Look up... The result of this is that I'm full of details on the Minster. I'm quite fascinated by the wooden roof, for example. That's why it's so wide, and the ceilings so high. It's not as heavy as other churches I've been in. This lead to problems fairly early on, and those problems have continued to this day. The first bells they set in the ceiling fell, which is why the're now in the towers instead. There have been multiple fires that have lead to extensive restoration and rebuilding, most recently in 1984. Only through an amazing coincidence were they able to spare the stained glass in that fire. The whole window on that side had been repaired a few years earlier, and the fire was put out about 10 minutes before the lead would have given way, shattering the glass.

Light of God

As I did with Westminster, I went to Evensong again. It's interesting to compare the two. I don't know if I can put my finger on just why, but Westminster felt much more welcoming in their Evensong than York did. Maybe it's just the way they layout the service for the non-initiated, though. I'm not familiar with Anglican rituals (my friend calls it "High Anglican"), so I'm often lost at these things. The music wasn't as nice either, but that may be because instead of an entirely adult and mixed choir, like at Westminster, it was mixed boys and men... and the boys seemed very bored. There's also that the psalm they sang was very, very, very long.

In thinking about it, I specifically remember that Westminster said prayers for other people - for those persecuted for their Christian faith in China (yes, this still happens, don't let anyone tell you differently), for those fighting in wars and those suffering and dying in poverty, and for the Queen. I don't recall that at York. I know they prayed for the Queen, but not for anyone else. I wonder if that's why I felt it less welcoming.

But there's something about listening to prayers being sung that is very moving and beautiful. The organ music was amazing, and the voices seemed to echo out into all that space and up to the ceiling. Everything was much darker and more somber than when I had been in earlier, and it was very beautiful. I do recommend making it out to an Evensong if you get out to either of these places. It's amazing, and moving.

Heart of York The real beauty here is in the stained glass. I can't tell you enough about it. It seems that they still have medeival style stained glass workers in York, and they carefully remove, clean, and restore all the glass in the Minster every so often. Right now they're working on the East windows, and the west window (The Heart of York) has recently been cleaned and repaired. The entire Cathedral seems to be under constant restoration work, which means I got to the see facades when they're still bright white. (This makes up for the fact that the east facade is entirely under scaffolding at the moment.)

It just find it outstanding to think of some of this. There are people who learn how to make stained glass... and they make entire careers out of the churches and cathdrals in Europe. There are families who pass down the skills required to ring the bells in proper time for the services, volunteers who do this for their lives. There are people who put their lives into caring and maintaining and playing the amazing organs at these churches. On some level I think I should be pondering the waste of time, money, effort, support that goes into these old cathedrals. A lot of money has been spent on the restoration work, millions of pounds in donations was given when it seemed it might come tumbling down, and shouldn't that money be spent on more 'worthier' projects?

On the other hand... these buildings are works of art, are works of history, and are important in their own right, not just as churches and cathedrals, but as important parts of our past. We learn so much from examining them, and they do awe and inspire so many.

Myself included.

{All Photos of Yorkminster, including the Five Sister Window}

January 3, 2006

Should Auld...

And so, it was Hogmany.

I think I've made it clear that I had a marvelous time. It was great... from the company to the food to the fireworks to the party in the street, everything was exactly what I wanted it to be. If I were to do anything different, it would be to ignore everyone who insisted we get there super-uber early, as there's really only so much entertainment a street full of people without anything to can provide for a couple of hours.

But there were amusement park rides, and we did enter the Maze of Terror. My lovely companion for the evening (that would be Myles) discovered my horrible phobia of just about anything that comes out of the dark, and I was suitably terrified. And it killed a bit of time. *grin*

HaggisThe evening started with something approaching a traditional Scottish meal. There were tatties and neeps, carefully boiled so there was next to no flavour in them. Then there was haggis, also boiled, but it did have some flavour to it. Luckily, there was also copious amounts of alcohol to mask the flavour. You can never really go wrong with that, can you?

I'll skip the story where we had the clever idea of trying to move the rather large kitchen table into my not-as-large bedroom, and just mention that it a) seemed like a good idea at the time and b) was discussed while we were still sober, so I have no idea what we were thinking. I do know at one point it came down to "Well, let's have some of that good Edinburgh beer... then maybe we'll come up with a plan on how to get the table into the bedroom!" At that point, the table was stuck in the hallway, and blocking access both to the bedroom and to the bathroom, but no one ever said I was clever.

After all that (we moved the table eventually, and now it is in the other room), we decided that 7:30ish was a perfectly logical time to head out to a party that didn't start till 10, donned our sexy Scotland Is The Place hats and our Street Party wristbands and headed out into the night.

Streeters 3How do you describe a Street Party that had a million-zillion people at it? I've been to things like this before (I guess, kinda, not really - people huddling for warmth at the First Night in Edmonton isn't really the same thing, is it?), and it was insanely different in Edinburgh. People were laughing and carrying on, there was much singing and being silly, and some people showed up in costume. There was a Harry Potter (of course), an entire court of medieval Princesses and Knights, a trio that consisted of Batman and Robin (from the t.v. show in the 70s) and Cruella DeVille, and a rather disgruntled looking Santa, trudging along with an empty sack and a frown. There were many, many boys in kilts, some of whom may actually have been Scottish. (At least one decided to show off what he was wearing underneath the kilt. Myles wouldn't let me snap a picture.) Oh, and there was a bunny. A really big bunny. No idea what posessed anyone to do that, as he was covered in sweat by the time I ran into him, and it wasn't even 11 o'clock yet.

Streeters 2I guess what I can't get over was how friendly people were. I don't know what I was expecting - violence and chaos, maybe? But there was a distinct lack of it. No one was terribly stupid, at least not where I could see. People danced, they carried on, there were a million photos taken of everyone being silly, and it was just grand. Even after the actual 'entertainment' started (there were free stages set up in Princes Street, and a few things that you could buy tickets for in the actual Park itself), most of the fun was in just watching people. Myles and I hit the two big stages down on one end, then entertained ourselves for the next 45 minutes just trying to press our way through the crowds and not get seperated. Lots of gawking and people watching.

Of course, the whole point is the fireworks, at least for me. I adore them, and they really do know how to do them in Edinburgh. I had, of course, heard of the whole thing... they set off fireworks on most of the hills, and I guess you can see them from everwhere on New Years Eve. (I had friends who were at a party at their place instead, and they rushed out right before midnight to watch from the Meadows.) But seeing them bursting into life above the castle, huge displays of colour and noise, surrounded by people singing and laughing and clapping... it was so amazing. It was like being at the best party ever, and everyone was having a good time.

Boom 4

As the fireworks began to subside, all around me, people were singing. Some were singing the unofficial Scottish national anthem (or so Myles told me), and some were singing Auld Lang Syne, and it all just sounded wonderful together. People were shaking hands, kissing each other, laughing and hugging. Walking through the crowds afterwards, I must have kissed a dozen boys at least, and a couple of girls, too. It was just that sort of thing to do. Lots of smiles, lots of "Happy New Year!" It just felt like the best place to be, right at that moment.

{See all the photos}

December 25, 2005

Hark Hear the Bells

I'm living in a country where they play bells at midnight on Christmas Eve.

I'm not sure if they do that back in Canada. I've never lived close enough to a church, and I can't recall the only midnight service I've been to. It was beautiful, and moving, and at the same time very isolating.

It's odd, celebrating the holidays someplace else. Add to it that I'm not Christian, but I did go to Church last night, and everything was a bit off-kilter for me to begin with. But much to my shock, they don't sing the same carols over here.

No, that's not right. They do sing them, but differently.

They translate the Germam of Silent Night to Still the Night, and the words have the same meaning to them, but are different. I can see how the translations are similar, but it was so strange.

Then there was singing Oh Little Town of Bethleham, my Christmas favorite since I learned to play it on the piano as a wee lass. The parts of the song that mean so much to me are completely different here: the tune was something I had never heard before, and I found it impossible to sing along to.

Fall On Your KneesOther songs were different, too. One was a "Scottish Paraphrase", again the same music, but words that had changed enough to confuse. I think that was our While Shepherds Watched Their Flocks By Night, or here: While Humble Shepherds Watched Their Flocks.

Oh, and they spell Noel: Nowell.

Only two songs were exactly as I recalled them: Oh come, all Ye Faithful, and Joy To the World.

The service, though, was lovely, and being in a candlelit church built in the 1400s was a very powerful experience for me. The organ at the front of the church was massive: it took up the entire front of it, with pipes at least 7' high. The choir was beautiful, in the loft above our heads. Everything was lovely.

Just... different.

December 23, 2005

One of Those Days

I had one of those days today. You know, the ones where you feel all happy and cheerful and giggly and do fun things, just because you can.

This was my afternoon, in pictures.

A Sign of the Times I made a beeline for the German market immediately after getting off the bus. Work ended at noon today, so I had plenty of time to finally see this place during the day. It wasn't as packed as it has been when I've gone past on weekends, and I'm glad I made it out. Lots of people spending money, having fun, and riding the various rides that come with the Edinburgh Christmas Experience.

One Stop Santa Shop There are lots of cunning little shops that set up. I realize now that I failed to take a photo I should have, of one of the hat stores, but we'll go with what we have. The shops range from this, and places that specialize in Christmas decorations, to a place that sells rock crystal lamps, and another one that sells pirate ship cutouts for your wall - they really dance. The shops are a lot of fun, and although I'm certain that the staff is bored to tears by this point, they're all very friendly.

Mulling I stopped for two things along the way: Crepes (of course) and mulled wine. Last time I was here, I had a glass of mulled apple wine, and it was okay. The stuff I had today, though, was wonderful. Served in little cups with a lemon floating inside, it tastes just like I think mulled wine should taste. I made some of it myself this Christmas, so I was really impressed with this stuff.

Mulled The cups are pretty cute, too.

The hilight, though, for me was a bit later. I poked around in a few more of the shops, and made my way gradually towards the hat shop near the end. I've been looking for something cute for a while, but everything I tried on just looked silly on my head. But today, I hit the mother load. The reason to wait:

Continue reading "One of Those Days" »

November 27, 2005

Snow Day

I love living in places where panic ensues because of snow.

On some level I can understand it - if you're not ready or warned, snow can be dangerous and unpredictable. Sorta like swans. But there were snow alerts and warnings all week, so having Friday turn into a snow day shouldn't have really surprised anyone.

Snow Day Tree 3
But, by the time the snow got to this point (had been snowing for less than an hour) we got an email alert.

PLEASE NOTE THAT THE BELOW SEMINAR, SCHEDULED FOR TODAY AT 1300 AT THE EMPLOYMENT RESEARCH INSTITUTE, HAS BEEN CANCELLED DUE TO SEVERE WEATHER - APOLOGIES FOR ANY INCONVENIENCE CAUSED

It was all in bright red, too.

By the end of the day, when the snow was melting so loudy you can actually *hear* it melt, we'd received another email telling us that, due to the severe weather, there would be no afternoon pickup of the mail. (Just to clarify, that's internal pickup - I'm sure the Royal Mail went just fine.)

I got plenty of pictures, which is good, because by Saturday morning it was all gone, and I was sad.

Watch the day unfold...

November 20, 2005

NoNoNoNo Day 19 or something

Window

Unicorn

November 19, 2005

NoNoNoNo Day 18 or something

Shades of Orange

I Dream of Red

November 15, 2005

Stonehenge

Henge

I want to write about how moving Stonehenge was.

I want to write that I felt the energy of the earth, that I felt something when I walked there, that I saw something unique and wonderful in this world. I want to write that the angels wept, and that I am forever changed.

Sadly, none of this happened, so I can't.

Please, don't for one moment get me wrong. I loved it there. It was a lovely day for it, too. Cold and windy, so there weren't a lot of people out. The sky had that hint that it could rain, but it didn't. And just seeing something I've read about, I've thought about, for so much of my life... that was an experience I'll treasure.

But, no faeries carried me away for a night of dancing that lasted a hundred years, and nothing strange happened when I looked through the stones. You can't get close, except on the Solstice, and even then only if you line up for days ahead of time. They keep you on a far away trail, to the point where it's hard to really appreciate the size of the stones. And they are quite massive, of that I am certain. It was difficult to imagine how the stones would have been brought there.

Don't tell anyone this... but it was smaller than I thought it would be. Not the stones. The circle. It's not very big at all.

I've been told to go to Avesbury and see the standing stones there. You can walk through them, get close to them, and the size of the circle is what I was thinking of every time I thought of Stonehenge.

Ah well. I'll have this. And memories, and thougths, and dreams.

Tourist

NoNoNoNo Day 11 (delayed)

Pointed

Viscount

November 11, 2005

NoNoNoNo Day 10 (delayed)

House of Ill Repute

Remember

Christmas

November 10, 2005

NoNoNoNo Day 9 (delayed)

Look...

Striking

November 8, 2005

NoNoNoNo Day 8

Through the Trees

Call to Arms

November 7, 2005

NoNoNoNo Day 7

Shadows

Shades of Brown

George Porgie

November 5, 2005

NoNoNoNo Day 5

Churchyard

Victoria

November 4, 2005

NoNoNoNo Day 4

Well Rounded

Do you have the time?

Alone

November 3, 2005

NoNoNoNo Day 3

Well Lit

Darkneing Sky

As a note, that second picture is how dark it is now when I leave work. Must get myself out of the office during lunch hour if I want light in my photos.

November 2, 2005

NoNoNoNo Day 2

Watched

Growth

November 1, 2005

Caerleon

Caerleon was not what I expected at all.

The day actually got off to a lousy start. I had a great deal of trouble sleeping, and ended up being awake until the wee hours of the morning. This meant I slept past the tour I had planned on taking, but decided to just go out to Caerleon instead. I knew it was Roman ruins, and I heard there was an amphitheatre. I'm not as much a fan of Roman ruins as some people I know, but I was fairly certain I would regret not seeing them.

They were... not as impressive as I could have hoped. But then, they are from something like 2000 years ago, so I really should be impressed with what's survived. (As a note, I have no really good photos of what I saw there - my camera batteries ran out and it took me most of the time I spent there to get around to buying new ones. Strangely, they didn't sell batteries at any of the shops I ducked into, only the post office.)

The first Museum type place I went to were the Roman Baths. That, I will admit, was an amazing thing to me, as someone who is fascinated both by history and the ways we find out about history. They had excavated a lot of the place because of an attempt at building something on the site, and the excavations found a lot of interesting stuff. I won't bore you with all the details, but I will say I'm interested in how much we learn just by what people lose. Rings and bath items and toys and milk teeth, all found in the drains.

After that, I went to the amphitheatre, or what remains of it. There really isn't a lot there - just a really sunken place in the middle with some remains of the stands around it. But, it had this great feeling. Probably having several groups of students sitting in the area where the stands would have been helped, so I had to go in the middle and stage a mock-gladitor battle. Because I am nothing if not strange that way.

I did a run through the little museum, but it was terribly underwhelming. I get frustrated with that sort of thing - I think museums should work hard to capture your imagination and create a sense of what you're seeing. A few stone fragments with "excavated at X" doesn't really do it.

To the PainBut, it was an interesting day that ended with a visit to a small courtyard that was full of fascinating art work. Most of it was carved from wood, with detail and skill that had me in awe. I spent almost an hour just walking around the place, taking photos and wishing I had a big enough suitcase to bring something home in. The pieces are amazing, and capture a great deal of the Welsh culture and history. There are wooden carvings of Roman soldiers, of maidens waiting for their lost loves, of dragons of various sizes, and even a bull head, advising that kissing him will bring you either Love or Fortune.

I ended the day by returning to Cardiff, and getting ready to get back on the plane. Sometimes it's hard to believe I was even there, being that I only stayed for one night. But then I can close my eyes and still see those lovely ruins, can remember the ocean and the green and the train, and I smile.

{All of the photos from Wales in one place}

October 29, 2005

The View...

I have been reliably informed that Edinburgh weather is miserable, that there are no seasons here, that it is always raining, and that everyone is always unhappy.

I'll let you judge for yourself. I took this Thursday during my lunch hour, after looking up from reading my book.

The View

(click for larger sizes)

October 26, 2005

Castles

Road Sign Cardiff, as I mentioned many times before, was beautiful.

My first glimpse of Cardiff was the ocean. Stepping off the plane and heading towards the train station, the sight of the ocean, so close I felt I could touch it, caught me by surprise. It's not that there's no ocean in Edinburgh. In fact, it's about a 2 minute walk from here, if I walk very slowly. But I wasn't really expecting it in Cardiff, and it caught me so suddenly that I was gasping for breath. Beautiful, beautiful, and I was content.

I did do one of the bus tours, but I found it very unsatisfying so I won't linger on it except to say I don't find them worth the money. But, it ended right in front of Cardiff Castle, and I was very excited about that.

It's not really a castle, at least not as I think of them, having been spoiled by Edinburgh Castle. It's got the high walls and turrets, but little of that is original. When you get inside, though, you can see the grounds, the remains of the Norman Keep (upon its high mound, complete with moat), and the Manor House. And it's really the Manor House you're paying to see.

The Keep is interesting in and of itself. It's a very very very big round tower with an amazing view of the city stretching out for miles. You can see why the Normans would have built it there, and why the whole area has been the site of military occupations for so long. The Romans had a fort at Cardiff Castle, and the big walls in the 'back' of the grounds are rebuilt from their original foundations.

The grounds are beautiful as well, with peacocks and other exotic birds to see. The whole area was lush and green, and that's the big thing I remember from the trip: Cardiff was so much greener than Edinburgh.

But, as I said, the star of the attraction is the Manor House.

ReflectionsUnfortunately while I was there, a great deal of reconstruction work was going on, and that does affect the quality of the tour (which just means I have to go back). My recollections are that the place was owned by the Big Family That Ran Cardiff (the Butte family, if I recall correctly). There's a lengthy story about it, but basically at some point of the owners decided "Eh, to heck with it", and blew an awful lot of money on the place. Each room is decorated with its own interesting and unique theme, there are stained glass windows with pictures of historic figures that have some relation to the area (including some that I had studied, which made my Historic Fangirl Heart go squee), and there are some rooms that are so detailed and intense that it's hard to even be in them for any length of time. In fact, the wife of the man who decided to blow all that money insisted on keeping some rooms plain, because she couldn't stand every room being so intense.

To put some of the decadence in perspective for you:

The dining room table, which is round, has a perfect hole in the center. The table actually pulls apart at that point, and there is a shelf beneath it. It's a bit odd, especially since it's inside and there's no reason to think it's an umbrella.

It's for the fresh grape vines that the gardener brought in every day at dinner time, so the family could pick their grapes off the vines.

Yeah, that decadent.

There are, sadly, no photos allowed, or I'd show you pictures of the beautiful mantlepieces, the hand carved screen for the musicians in the dining hall, or even the scary face carved above the doorway of the smoking room, to keep the women away.

Guess instead you'll just have to go and see it yourself.

{photos}

October 22, 2005

Kelso: Scottish Border Town

As I said before, I loved Kelso. It's a quaint little town, and it has more than one bookstore around the town square (it's a real town square, too). I wasn't quite sure all why I was there. It's not very well done in my guide book, and the World 66 Entry was less-than-helpful.

Graves at the Abbey
One of the things I found very interesting was the graveyard that's next to the abbey. As I said before, there are many graves placed within the ruins themselves (photos), but this other, larger graveyard has an interesting purpose to it.

Rather than have a large space in the center of town they can't use, and rather than dig up the graveyard, Kelso has turned it into a park. There are lovely old trees towering above your head, and curving paths of stone to walk along. The graves are as preserved as they can be, some repaired and others allowed to fall on their own. It's a very peaceful place, and I loved walking along the shady paths after the abbey. (photos)

But the tourist information board suggested that I check out Floors Castle. It's apparently the largest currently-loved in Estate in the UK, owned by the Duke of Roxburghe. I had never heard of him, but I figured "Hey, castle!" You can never go wrong with a castle, at least not in my mind.

Again... so cute when I'm wrong.

"It's about a mile and a half away!" said the chirpy tourist information person. I figured I could walk that easily, and in fact I did walk that easily. And technically, it is a mile and a half.

To the gate.

I have no idea how long the actual trip to the castle from the gate was. It was very long, and by the end I just wanted to sit and stare at the thing rather than walk around it. It's not really a castle, per se. It's a large house with turrets and the like. Very purty, but not quite what I thought when I first heard of it.

It was amazingly well done, though. Much better and more friendly than Holyrood was. There were many lovely old ladies that were more than happy to answer any questions and make lots of comments about the Duke and his family. There was a lovely view of the 'back yard', complete with sheep, and several amazingly beautiful paintings. One of these paintings was of another ruined Scottish Border Abbey that I intend to see as soon as possible.

It was really quite lovely. I wish I'd had more time to be there, as the grounds looked outstanding, but there was a bus back to Berwick to catch (and grumble about: I didn't realize until I got back to Kelso that I could have taken a bus directly from Edinburgh, rather than taking a train to Berwick and then a bus), and I was in need of not-overpriced food, so I left for the lengthy walk back soon after finishing the tour of the house itself. (photos)

I might recommend Floors if you're interested in that sort of thing, but I really think you can enjoy Kelso just checking out the town and the abbey. But that's my take on things, as I suspect seeing how the other half lives can be quite entertaining.

As for me, this photo was the best part. It instantly made me think of Raven and James.

Beware Children!

October 19, 2005

Kelso Abbey

The Big Picture

I went to Kelso on the strength of a photo I saw on the Historic Britain group on Flickr. It was a quick glimpse of the fallen abbey through the trees. I wasn't sure what to expect, given the photo.

Kelso is one of the many interesting border towns of Scotland, and I intend to see all of them. The other ones I've been to are Berwick upon Tweed (which I never stay in, but keep meaning to) and Lindisfarne. They all have fascinating histories, being torn between England and Scotland the way they have been, and there are so many ruins and places to dart into because of that.

Kelso Abbey was one of the many religious houses that Henry VIII, in his mad stupidity and lust, had destroyed during his stupid stupid reign. (Oh, wait, I should interject here and say I'm currently reading through many books of history on Henry VIII right now, and I'd probably be less foaming-at-the-mouth anti-Harry if I wasn't.) What's left now is a pale imitation of what must have been a beautiful site at one point. It's free to enter since so little of it survives, and the town of Kelso seems to be a place to hold it, and little more. (Which isn't fair, considering that it also has Floors Castle, but we're talking about the Abbey here. I'll talk about Floors Castle another day.)

What used to be the main part of the abbey has been used as a graveyard for some time, and you can catch glimpses of that in some of the pictures that I took. It gives the whole thing an eerie feeling... this sense that the dead are watching. It's hard to explain. It doesn't have the sense of desolation that I got from Lindisfarne, with its howling winds, but a sense of bleakness, I guess.

The place tries to give you a sense of the history. There is the obligatory writeup at the entrance, going on about the dissolution of the religious houses, but what really intrigued me were the little plaques scattered around the grass, telling what would have been in that area originally.

I spent over an hour just walking through what remains of this place, which is more impressive if you realise how small it is. There really isn't that much to it. Just what's left of the walls, all of which you can see in the above photo.

Of course, I fell in love with the place.

Photos, as always, are here.


The rest of this post has nothing to do with Kelso.

I went to Ikea for the first time yesterday, with the stated goal of finding picture frames. I had heard people raving about how great it was.

I will admit to being terribly disappointed. I didn't want to walk a curving line through a big box behind a bunch of slow moving people. It was tedious, and not the fun poking around for funky frames that I wanted. I made up for it by buying very purple covers for my pillows and popping in and out of antique shops along the High Mile. Please don't ask how I got talked into buying a sword, because I'm certain I will regret the purchase at some distant point in the future, but for now, I just keep giggling when I see it and saying "ooh, pointy!"

As for random things that may be of interest, Mark sadly did not get in on the wildcard entry to the Sonic newscaster. Thanks to the people who voted from my blog - I appreciate it, and I know that Mark does to.

Don may or may not have updated his Ponderings blog. I usually go with "not", but he suprised me.

And much to my disappointment, "Wife Wanted" is now the lowest hitting search term for my blog. Damn it, I need a wife to come over here and darn socks or make phone calls or cook supper once in a while or something! Gah! Cornacopia has been knocked down to the number two spot, and the new number one search term for my blog is "Anna Overseas". I will admit to being surprised.

Also, I have an interview with the bank tomorrow morning. This could be a sweet gig, folks, so wish me luck!

October 4, 2005

Yummy Nutella


Yummy Nutella
Originally uploaded by Troubled.
The Cunning Plan Photo

September 13, 2005

Suggestion is a Powerful Thing


Ghost Tour Guide
Originally uploaded by Troubled.
So, I can't sleep.

There are two reasons for this. The first, and probably the most influential, is that I worked nights for over a year, and my body is just programmed to be awake right now. I'm only a bit tired, and not enough to actually sleep when I could be doing countless other things.

The second reason is that today I went on one of the Ghost Tours. (Warning: Very Crappy Website. It makes noise. Lots of really really loud and awful noise, for no reason.)

I won't bother discussing if I believe in ghosts or anything of the like, and just put myself firmly on the fence for that debate. But I do love a good ghost tour. They usually work in some interesting history, and there's lots of good stories.

This is the second Ghost tour I've been on. The first one, in Edmonton, was a lot different. That guide could have sold snake oil to snakes and had them count the cost a small one. She took us around to various places in Old Strathcona, telling stories about the history of the area with ghost tales tossed in for each stop. Some of the tales were from other places (like the haunted railway, since ours apparently isn't haunted) and various tales from other places in the city. We made up a Ghost Tour Drinking Game for that one: if you took a shot every time she said "It's is said that" before telling a story, you'd be seeing the ghosts about halfway through the tour.

This one was a bit different. It's split between above ground and below. The above ground stuff that we did and talked about wasn't anything I didn't already know, but it was told in a fun and interesting way, so it didn't matter. We got the old "Gardy Loo!" or "Gardez L'Eau" story, and the details about the Nor'Loch, and stuff about the plauge pits and witch burnings. We heard the tales of how horrible the housing conditions were in Edinburgh up until the last outbreak of the plague. Very standard stuff, but again, with a guide that could have sold snow to eskimos, and then a fridge to keep it in. He was outstanding.

The more interesting stuff was with the South Bridge Vaults. (Well, there was the torture room before the vaults, but I actually covered my ears and said 'la la la' while they were discussing that. So, I can't tell you much about it. I don't like that sort of stuff.) My understanding is that they were walled up after a big fire that destroyed a lot of the Old Town, back about 150 years ago or so, and were forgotten about. When some workmen were doing renovations, they were discovered again.

The vaults are, allegedly, the most haunted place in Scotland. There are two levels of "activity": Low activity, which is cold spots, bright balls of light, and a couple of ghosts that don't really do anything; and High Activity, which is in the room where most of the people who lived in the vaults died. They cooked to death during the fire, hundred of them underground. Allegedly the ghost hates women, and has been known to attack them if they come into "his" side of the room.

Sadly, nothing happened that the power of suggestion didn't create (I will admit to getting chills up my spine, and feeling extremely jumpy through the whole thing), but now that I'm at home, and it's 4 a.m., I'm jumping at every noise and wondering what everything is.

So, I'm awake.

I loved the tour, though. I'd totally do it again in a heartbeat. There's another one I want to go on that does tours of the graveyards at night. I think I'll bring a flashlight to that one, though.

August 13, 2005

Mumps


Edinburgh Castle
Originally uploaded by Troubled.
So, I had this great plan yesterday. It was even a cunning plan.

See, the past few weeks a bunch of my friends back home in Edmonton have been hitting the festival circut. (Edmonton has about 3749 festivals every summer. Because Edmonton is really boring in the winter.) And I've been writing emails or commenting on blogs with "Oh, I'm so jealous, I wish I could go to Heritage Days/Shakespeare in the Park/Klondike Days/Whatever". As though I'm a big festival goer. (Of those three, for example, I've made it to K-days once in the past five years. For a couple of hours. Me, great on talking about going to festivals, really sucky at the actual attending thereof.)

So, I decided I was Absolutely Positively Nothing Was Going To Stop Me going to the Fringe yesterday morning. No matter what! I would go home, get changed, and go out and see everything that I could, and totally OD on fun! Yes! Great Plan! Marvelous!

I am not that clever some days.

I knew I was in a bad mood. I knew I was overtired. I knew I should probably stay home, eat something wholesome, and get more sleep. But I am nothing if not stubborn, so I insisted on braving the annoying bustrip and the 8 million tourists on the Royal Mile to attempt to do something fun.

Cunning plan, yes?

Anyway, I spent about an hour getting increasingly tense on the Mile before deciding to call it a day and stomp home. Of course, along the way I had to rant about freaking tourist and how I want to move to freaking Iqualiuit or Tuktiuktuk or something so that I can live a life without tourists and blah blah whine whine and did you know if you have a Canadian accent and rant about tourists in Edinburgh people look at you funny?

But, all was not lost, as this lead to three good things:

1) I have tickets to the Tattoo, and will be going in two weeks. I have decided that Tattoo day (which will also be Day Off day), I will hit the Royal Mile and be all touristy and obnoxious, now with more sleep.

2) I picked up a book I ordered about living in Australia, and it is chock full of information and useful stuff.

3) I took a picture of The Castle from Princes Street, and I kinda like how it turned out. Like the comment on my Flickr site, it's more about trying to show the scope of the castle rather than the details.

About Photos

This page contains an archive of all entries posted to Anna Overseas in the Photos category. They are listed from oldest to newest.

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