Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Things I Learned in Scotland

To sum up:
The Scottish really do say 'aye', for yes.
  • Pretty much everyone does eat Haggis, either on occasion, or frequently. And, it's not as gross as its infamy would suggest.

  • "Pub grub" is, by far, the best bargain for eating out. The food is not just all fried fare - great from-scratch fare at good prices.

  • Get the breakfast sausages whenever possible, they are wonderful!

  • Do not look at the direction cars are parked in to determine which way to look when trying to cross the street (they are parked every which way). If possible, look every which way, & then again, quickly, before venturing off the curb...........then utter a prayer & run.

  • I think there are more varities of scotch in Scotland than wine.......I'd wager on it.

  • Fruit ciders (apple or pear) from the UK kick ass; I will be looking for them back home.

  • Bagpipes can be more cool than you can imagine.

  • The Scots really do look for a bargain. (but then again, who doesn't?)

  • You don't have to search very far to hear Gaelic spoken.

  • If you don't like the weather, you only have to wait about 2 or 3 minutes (never mind the usual 15). You can actually get an aerobic workout doing the following: 1: put jacket on 2:Take jacket off: 3:Put sunglasses on. 4:Take sunglasses off. 5:Open umbrella. 6: Close & shake off umbrella. Repeat, in no particuar order, as necessary.

  • I observed children (from all over the UK), in public, to be much whinier than I expected. I thought North American kids were bad - holy Moses!

  • Finding traditional celtic music in a pub was not so common as I thought it would be. In fact, I never heard any, other than in the dining room of our B&B in Edinburgh. I did, however, hear live blues & bluegrass.

  • I was disappointed to see that, like our grocery stores, local produce is generally extinct. I was happy to have found The Farm Shop, outside Elie.

  • Hospitality/service staff are infinitely more professional & friendly than back home. Your presence doesn't actually seem to be a source of aggravation to them - go figure!

  • Showers can be tricky, tricky things. That's all I'll say.

  • Unlike our toilet stalls that have spaces below & above, theirs go all the way to the floor/ceiling. Privacy is nice!

  • Further to the toilets, the public (including portable ones at the Gathering, and ones out in the middle of nowhere) are identical, and often cleaner/better, than private washrooms. Truly a pleasant surprise. No need to test the resilience of your bladder for fear of what you might find!

The Fife Coast

We left Edinburgh on the Monday following the Gathering, and headed northeast towards the Fife Coast. My father had rented a vehicle to be picked up at the airport. He has driven in the UK before, and although it took a bit for him to become re-accustomed, I immediately knew there was NO way I would ever be able to drive on the left (without killing someone, anyway). I've always had troubles with spatial ability, & wonder now if this is somehow related?

Anyway, on we went. After a few wrong turns at roundabouts, which are everywhere, and inconsistently signed, we finally made it to Elie, on the Fife Coast. The body of water in this area is called the Firth of Forth, or was it Fourth of Fifth, Fifth of Sixth......? Firth, as I found out, means 'bay'. Elie is a lovely coastal town, very cute & picturesque. We had a self-contained townhouse there, with lots of room & a fully-equipped kitchen (yeah!).

The morning after we arrived in Elie, we set out to get groceries. I had seen an ad for The Farm Shop. This place was about 5 minutes outside Elie, also along the coast. It was a small building, housing a farm-to-market produce shop and high-end food items. It was immediately inviting, with the metal ducks leading to the front door. As you entered, this was the display - those are real veggies, not fake display models. The way the product was displayed there was how you bought it, out of the display baskets & into a shopping (woven) basket. I loved this store!

When I went to pay, I noticed that there were huge pots of fresh herbs outside, & asked how I might purchase them. The girl said I just had to say what I wanted & she would cut them. So, I asked for some rosemary, chives & parsley. She cut a few stems of each & charged me accordingly; I know she would likely not be happy with this picture, but here she is, cutting the herbs for me.

After spending a few relaxing days in & around Elie, hiking along the coast, hanging around cafes, eating crab & lobster hauled from the ocean just moments before, my last weekend was quickly approaching.

This last photo was taken in Pittenweem, during the Arts Festival. This was a really unique festival, where local artists open up their homes, converting a portion of it into an art gallery, displaying their wares. Visiting artists were also housed in many locations around the town; there were around 89 artists in total. I bought a few prints, and some jewellery - it was great fun talking to the artists in person. An amazing fireworks display was held on the Saturday evening - it was quite the display, one the the best I've ever seen (and we lived in Vancouver & saw a few of the fireworks competitions), for such a small town.
One of the more interesting artists was Derek Collins (Flaming Art), who actually ignites the paintings, yielding a lacquered effect. The art itself was really interesting, & then I saw an article he had on disply. He actually uses loved one's ashes & incorporates them into paintings - a permanent, tangible memory. I really was drawn to this idea.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Sunday, the Gathering, day 2

We had set aside Sunday as the day to check out the musical acts. The first band we saw was the Red Hot Chilli Pipers . I was expecting a somewhat comical, more or less traditional celtic band. Wrong. The show was introduced with the music by Strauss from 2001: The Space Odyssey, which quickly drew everyone to the stage. The show immediately went into their first song; the guitarist had a flourescent pink mohawk, the group (about 5 main musicians, plus brass) leader played pipes; the music was fast & full of energy. They have defined their invention of this type of music as "Bag Rock" . Check out this video on youtube for a sampling.

Later, we saw another great act, Capercaille, a unique blend of traditional celtic music (mostly in Gaelic) with a contemporary beat, with vocals sung by Karen Matheson . Really lovely - picked up their new CD entitled Roses & Tears. Check out this video on youtube for a sampling.

The rest of our day was spent catching the events at the Highland Games, wandering, eating............a great day all around.

That evening we had our formal clan dinner at the University of Edinburgh. Lord Strathnaver gave a small speech, which included a story that my father told him about our family's history. My great grandfather settled in Canada, ahead of his wife. Once settled, he sent her a ticket to come over.........on the Titanic. She had to make quite the journey to get to the port, apparently, & was furious when she found out she had been bumped by someone from higher class. Anger would have quickly turned to relief, obviously, with the demise of the unsinkable ship. Our immediate family history almost immediately snuffed out.

Clan Parade up the Royal Mile

OK - back to blogging about the trip, before all the details completely fad from memory.......... (naughty, naughty me)

Saturday evening, refreshed from our nap and another fabulous meal (beef & guinness pie for me) at the Reverie pub, we took a taxi to the bottom of the palace gates to await the parade. At first we couldn't find our clan, & they were supposed to alphabetical, yet, there were A's mixed with T's, pretty much a big clan snafu. Eventually we all found our Sutherland sign sitting up against a trailer - no one had bothered to take it out yet. So, our little group became the beacon. Lord Strathnaver, the Earl of Sutherland (our clan still has a castle, Dunrobin), was there. I didn't know until that weekend that we still had a castle, which is uncommon for existing clans. Most have clan chiefs, who were marked by wearing 3 tall feathers in their caps. The parade finally began, but of course, we were S, followed only by Taits & Unruhs, so we had a bit of a wait.

When we were finally passed the gates & began our jaunt up the Royal Mile, I was shocked to see so many spectators watching the parade & cheering the clans on. Apparently, this was THE thing to do in Edinburgh that evening. As people saw the clan names, they would yell out the name & was pretty cool. I even had the opportunity to carry the sign for a while!

At the top of the Royal Mile, we all entered the stadium set up in front of Edinburgh Castle to watch the pageant, which was the finale of the parade. It must have been an amazing spectacle to see from the city - there were spotlights waving up into the sky from the castle, and the castle itself was lit up with both lights & torches. The pageant consisted of a theatrical history of Scotland, and ended, of course, with a huge pipe band. Always goosebump raising........

Sunday, August 16, 2009

The Gathering

We headed out for the Gathering Saturday morning. We were there well before the big crowds began to arrive, so we beelined for our clan (Sutherland tent).
I then suggested that we check out the merchandise tent, since things tend to start selling out later in the day. I thought we were standing in a LONG line for the merchandise, which did not seem to be moving. Suddenly, there was a lot of movement, and people turning to our right. There appeared Prince Charcles & Camila Parker Bowles (!!). I had no idea he was there to open the games. This was the best shot I got.
I was also able to record the audio of his opening speech for the Games.
The beginning of the Games was marked by a LARGE pipe band that was marched in. Hearing & seeing Pipe bands became de rigeur throughout the Gathering, but I never tired of them. I was fascinated by the unfettered displays of strength that comprised the game events. I had a thought that the cost of sports in our own country could be greatly reduced by integrating these type of events. Whoever can lift/throw/pull the item of choice, usually logs, people or rocks, the farthest/longest wins. As simple as that!
At the Taste of Scotland venue I purchased some lovely wildflower honey to bring home and huge bag of Walker's various shortbread cookies for gift-giving. I then enjoyed the cutest little tub (picture a tub of Haagen-Dasz about 4 inches tall) of honey ice cream. Yum!!!!!
We then headed back to the B&B to take in a nap before the big event, the Clan Parade up the Royal Mile, later that evening.

Scotland - the Orientation Phase

I had wanted to write this immediately upon my return, but, as with all holidays, 5 minutes after your return.............the realities of everyday life come crashing down around you :)

Two weeks later, I'm finally sitting down to write about my trip!

My father & I arrived in Edinburgh in the early afternoon - thanks to being able to sleep on the overnight/over water portion of the flight, neither of us felt any jetlag. Immediately you are struck with being surrounded by the charming Scottish accents, which quickly become 'normal', but how I miss them now that I am home :) When we told our cab driver (a woman, surprisingly enough) that we were there for the Gathering, she replied "Oh, that's right...........I forgot that was on." Since that was the entire reason for us going, we were both surprised. My memories of the Spirit of the West Song "The Old Sod" popped into my head......"There's none more Scots than the Scots abroad..........." I get the meaning now. We experienced this quite a bit, but at the same time, there were plenty of locals that knew all about it & were also participating.

Our first meal was had at what became our favourite pub, The Reverie . Excellent food (we did end up going traditional & ordered the recommended fish & chips), great price, quaint & lively atmosphere. They were setting up for a band & was all ready to hear some form of celtic music. The band, good as they were, was blues (!). Thought it a bit odd, but enjoyed them nonetheless.

The breakfast routine at our B&B was good - you chose your hot items from a list the night before. You came down to the dining room, table number the same as your room number. A continental breakfast was set up, with cereals, yoghurt, fruit, milk, juice & coffee. I had gone with traditional breakfast items (excellent sausages........I ended up having them nearly everyday we were in Edinburgh), while my father had chosen Haggis. I squeamishly gave it a try, quivering only slightly while raising a tiny forkful to my mouth. Surprisingly, my immediate reaction was that it tasted just like crumbled up, good quality pate. Strong in flavour, but not all.

Coffee, however, was somewhat unbearable for me...........panic started to set in. The coffee itself was fine, but I unfortunately have never been able to take it black, despite many attempts to do so. I tend to make a meal of my coffee...........lots of cream & lots of demerara sugar. They are tea drinkers in Scotland.............the dairy brought to me was skim milk. Skim.........I would actually prefer no coffee, however desperately I needed it. The sugar packets contained white sugar, something which I no longer prefer. I drank a scant cup & feared about the impending caffeine withdrawl.

We spent Friday strolling up the Royal Mile, the location for the big Clan Parade the following evening. Bought lots of trinkets (including the new love of my life, one I'll have for the rest of my days........the alpaca cardigan in my visions). One of my favourite momentos is a silver pocketwatch with a celtic pattern on the front - I haven't worn a watch in years & always rely on my cellphone for the time. To my surprise, I had no cell coverage there.......thanks SaskTel Mobility! In the end it was quicker to just ask my father for the time than fishing it out of my pocket & popping it open. I continue to wear it now that I'm at home, & back with my cellphone ways, just for show :)

Still suffering from caffeine withdrawl, & the fear of when it might end.......there it was, a Starbucks. I know, I's like going to McDonalds in Paris (which I also did, but I was 17......forgive me), but the siren was beckoning (ok, screaming). Outside the Starbucks I witnessed an unlikely couple of buskers - 2 pipers!

Once sufficiently replenished with caffeine upon consuming my Caramel Macchiatto, we continued on. Spending lots, eating & drinking lots. Over a lunch of bangers & mash, I enjoyed a lovely Bulmers Pear cider. The fruit (mostly apple) ciders immediately became my beverage of choice. Just a little bit bubbly, sweet, but not overly so, & light. You don't end up with that full belly feeling after drinking mugfuls of Guinness.