Saturday, April 18, 2009

Inveraray at last

I know this is the post you've all been waiting for.  I've been talking about it for months. So I'm finally here to tell you about the trip that Aaron and I took to Inveraray, just before Christmas.  As it happens, it is the only trip, besides our day trip to Edinburgh in my first week here, that we have taken together here.  And it was really lovely.

Inveraray is a little town on Loch Fyne which is a "sea-loch", meaning that it is technically a long inlet, like a fijord. It is about a two-hour bus ride to the north-west of Glasgow, a rather hilly area.  On our way there we passed Loch Lomond, and climbed up to a high pass with rocky waterfalls streaming down the hills, known as Rest And Be Thankful.  I think who ever named that place is one of the people I'd like to meet in the afterlife.  

It was raining for most of our bus-ride, and by the time we arrived, Inveraray was in the midst of a monsoon.  We were a few hours early to check in at our B&B, and with the inhospitable weather putting a damper (sorry...) on any sightseeing, we found the nearest tea-shop and squished in for tea and scones.  I'd been avoiding caffeine up until that morning, but under the circumstances, I just asked for hot tea and didn't get into "do you have any herbal?"  The roof of the shop was low and the walls were thick plaster.  It must have been a real local, because the next person who blew in after us, was a thin little old lady in a mack and plastic rain kercheif, and everyone in the place knew her name and sang it in friendly banter. 
"Windy, isn't it, Isobel? Toast and tea, Isobel? That's two pounds, Isobel."    

After we'd made our stop for tea last about as long as we could manage, we headed back out into the rain and down the street along the water's edge, to our B&B - "The Old Rectory", to find two big boxer dogs and our host Chris enjoying a roaring fire in the lounge.  We were perhaps a bit surprised though not dismayed to see that much of the common area seemed to be... under renovation.  Chris was really casual, and seemed a bit more the type to be running a hostel than a B&B, with his work shirt and boots still on from hauling and chopping wood for the fire, which seemed to be his favorite chore.  He didn't mind us putting our bags in our room before he'd finished making it up, and we didn't mind the rustic nature of his hospitality, or the lack of a shade on the lamp in our room.  We took the opportunity to change out of our wet things and get an extra sweater on, then headed back into town to have a look around.  

This only took about an hour given how tiny the town is, basically only one street and a few lanes.  We were getting hungry and so went to a great place called Brambles for lunch, where Aaron had lentil soup, salad and rollmops, and I had an Orkney Cheddar Ploughman's lunch.  Lots of pickles and cheese. Perfect for pregnancy. 
 Then we poked around in various shops including a gallery, the whisky shop, the boot shop (where I got some psychedelic Wellingtons, out of great soaking necessity) and then the Woolen Mill, which sold everything from kilts to cookies, and where we sampled some amazing strawberry wine.   
After exhausting the shops, we walked out onto the pier, even though it was still raining and blowing, to check out the clearly closed Maritime museum, which was on a boat, moored up and battened down.  We stood there getting soaked like dumb tourists, before heading back toward the B&B, stopping in at the George Hotel on the way for a drink and to dry off a bit.  We fell in love with its low ceilings, fire places, rough-hewn wood and stone, and came back in dry clothes after a nap, for supper.  Fish and chips and breaded scampi, by candles and mini-Christmas lights. 

I woke up the next morning, unsure if the scampi had become a gas bubble passing through my gut or if I was feeling our baby doing the backstroke. ( As it turns out, it was a baby blorp which was absolutely amazing, and which in coming days I would be able to discern more clearly.  )
We got up around 7:45, and looked out our window at the water.  The sky was lightening and cloudless over the exposed low-tide pebble shore.  We could actually see the hills on the other side of the water, and all around.  

Aaron went down to the lounge to see if we could have breakfast, which on the website said it was served between 7:30-8:30.  Apparently, Chris was asleep on the couch, and when he heard the door open, sat bolt upright and barked "Ach. Breakfast!"  Then he asked Aaron what time it was and went into the kitchen.   There was still a glass and a mostly emptied bottle of red wine on the floor beside the couch. 

I went outside to get some air and check the weather, and once I had walked across the road to the water and down some steps to the shore, I caught my first real whiff of sea-smell as my pink psychedelic Wellies crunched down on some sea-weed.  It was a gorgeous morning, kind of warm, mild and calm.  Aaron came out too, to tell me breakfast was on the way.  
And after our breakfast, about 30 mins. later, we agreed we wouldn't have to eat for hours and hours. There was cereal, juice, tea and coffee to start, and THEN came the full (and I mean full) Scottish breakfast of eggs, sausages, rashers of back bacon, fried mushrooms, fried tomatoes and toast.  We were absolutely stuffed, and fully prepared for a day of walking.

It was shaping up to be a beautiful day, and we went out the back gate into the muddy lane that took us into the centre of the town.  We walked right through and out the other side and along the highway in search of the trail that would take us up to a stone watchtower we could see from the town. We are always climbing hills on our trips, Aaron and I.  
It turns out we overshot the entrance to the path by a mile down the highway, but our mistake took us for a great seaside walk in the sunshine and to a very old graveyard, which was absolutely amazing - enchanted.  It was overgrown and mossy, and some gravestones that weren't completely crumbling bore dates from the late 1700's.  Lots of Campbells there.  This is Campbell country after all and we were thinking of Tim all day.  
Though we were glad of our mistaken discovery, we turned around and went back to Inveraray Castle grounds and found where we were supposed to be.  We weren't as awed by the castle up close, as it seemed a bit drab and ungainly in its design. (Listen to me - the castle critic...) But maybe it was just the season.  It was certainly very closed.  But the grounds were quite lovely in that they were open sheep pastures with big old gnarled oaks and lots of wooly sheep.

We found the trailhead and started a beautiful walk through a beech grove that had mossy covered foundations of old buildings throughout.  This gave way on to a meadow which we crossed to get to the edge of a thick evergreen forest - fir, pine and huge fragrant cedars, almost reminiscent of coastal BC cedars.  We came across some more ruins, and they were much more than foundations, and we puzzled over what kind of building it was.  Then we started a long climb that continued through beautiful lush forest.   

Being a pregnut, I needed to rest, so we sat down on some moss and ate apples, before continuing on at a slow pace, but eventually I told Aaron to go ahead without me and I would see how far I could get.  My hip flexor was seizing up, making the climb painful and slow for me, and the only relief I could get was to actually grab the front of my leg by the jeans and lift it.  In this somewhat ridiculous way, I actually made it up the rest of the hill, and Aaron who was returning to get me found me almost at the top.   I was so glad I made it because the views were spectacular.  And I had no pain on the way down - using different muscles I guess- thus I was able to enjoy the trail more on the return.  There were some gorgeous sections of the path where we were surrounded by emerald green mossy tree trunks that seemed to sprout from what would have been a solid carpet of moss, were it not occasionally broken up by a mini waterfall or creek burbling down the hill.  And the footpath often was a rusty soft carpet of dry pine/fir needles,  a stunning contrast to the lush green on either side.  

Once down at the castle again, as we were heading back out along the epic driveway towards the town, Aaron stopped by part of the hedge where there was a little wren-like bird with a rosy breast  perched quite close to us.  A robin.  Unlike our North American robins, the ones here are much smaller and fatter, and bolder we learned, as this one actually flew right up to us at the edge of the hedge to size us up and cheep at us brashly.

Back again in the town, we were finally really hungry and went to Brambles again for lunch, and the George Pub again for a drink.  We also got a few souvenirs, including a whisky Aaron thought would be a nice Christmas Day treat.  We found ourselves (surprise, surprise) back at the George Hotel for dinner, and as it was a very busy night with all kinds of Christmas Party bookings, we were given a little table in a different room that had a sign outside that said "Public Bar" left over from a time when there was a private bar, I suppose.  And some carolers came through (soaking wet, poor souls, but very lively) and sang some Christmas carols in the bar, making me all choked up.   

Although something that also could have been choking me up was the coal they were burning in the fireplace.  We made the fearful discovery earlier in the day in a small gallery/craft shop, that people here do indeed burn lumps of coal in open fireplaces, and the vile smell I have noticed at times in Glasgow and noticed a lot here in a small town, is the smell of burning coal.  I have to say that I was always under the impression that coal is a terrible pollutant (and certainly smells like something that should not be burning) and I'm really surprised that people still use it.  But apparently it is much longer burning than wood and cheaper, and there certainly is a lot of it here.   

On another note, when we returned to our B&B after dinner, our host had a lovely smelling wood fire burning in his faithful quest to never let it die.  And the next morning, prepared us another great scottish breakfast, which I suspected he made so big that we couldn't finish it and he could give our leftover sausages to his dogs.  The rain was back, so we were especially grateful for the glorious day we'd had the day before, as we clambered on to our bus back to Glasgow.  

Some Inveraray Pictures

(From Top to Bottom)
1. On our hill climb
2. (top right) Graveyard
3. and 4. Views from the top o' the hill
5. The Rectory Boxers
6. The Castle and sheep meadows
7. The street our B&B was on
8. The first day - on the pier
9. The George
10. Our B&B room

Thursday, April 16, 2009

25 Random Things about Glasgow

1. The corner of Great Western Road and Belmont Street ALWAYS smells of burning coal. I still can't figure out who might be responsible.

2. After centuries of this tradition, Glaswegians still technically have the right to dry their laundry on Glasgow Green, a large public park. 

3. Down in the Kelvin river valley, under a bridge near our new flat, there is The Wall of Liverwort.  Liverwort is one of the most embryonic forms of plant life, even older and less complex than moss.

4. Birds that sing at night - all night.

5. There used to be a bridge that crossed under the Great Western Bridge at Kelvinbridge at a low level just above the water that dated to 1825.  They didn't leave it there long after they built Great Western in 1891, but you can still see the stone reminants of it in the water, and I saw a painting once of how it wound crossways under the new bridge before it was removed. 

6. Holly and rhododendrons - growing everywhere. And neither one loses their leaves in winter.

7. Whenever it snowed enough to stay on the ground, snowball fights seemed to break out everywhere. My supervisor, Dawn, at my job at the university told me about "The Sunday it snowed" several years back when people went sliding down the hills in Kelvingrove park in old bathtubs.

8. On days when the Rangers play at Ibrox, they post a notice in the subway stations to say that "football is on today at Ibrox". There is also a noticable increase in the numbers of men and boys out and about with close cropped hair - (they must use clippers.)  One day when my parents were here, we got out at Buchanan Street station to find tons of security guards and roped off areas directing people into streams entering and exiting the station.  It looked like there was some major celebrity nearby.  When Aaron asked one of the guards at the entrance what the occasion was, she just said casually: "Ibrox.  We're just here to prevent the riots."

9. There is a tree on campus at Glasgow University that, all throughout the winter, was leafless but bore the most beautiful berries I've ever seen.  They looked like ash berries, but were white with a dusting of pink.  They were there all winter.  Once spring came, they disappeared.  

10.  Random nights of fireworks - people like to set off their own from their back gardens.  There was a week around Guy Fawks day in November when it sounded like a siege. Nightly explosions. 

11. When my parents were here, we were out one night looking for a place to eat and wandered by a particularly popular restaurant in Ruthvan Lane.  As we were looking at the menu, a young guy in a dapper suit who was outside smoking, asked us if we were looking for a place for dinner and what we were in the mood for.  He said he was the owner of the restaurant and he recommended it, but not for the seafood we were interested in.  He said all they had for fish that night was salmon and that was common.  So he recommended some other places.  He also asked us if we were Americans, and when we said we were Canadian, he apologized profusely and colourfully: "that's the fucking cardinal sin, in't it?", and proceeded to kiss my Mom on both cheeks.   Then he asked us if we could find him a Mountie.  Because he could "mount",  and he mimed a "mounting".  He was like a 21stC Scottish Oscar Wilde in his cups.  

12.  The variety of flora here.  and there are so many things that look like things I recognize but aren't that thing.  Like a tree with leaves that look like Maple, but aren't.  A bush with giant red rose-like flowers that is no rosebush.  Little yellow flowers that are like snapdragons, but bigger and wrinkled.  The prolific daffodils are unmistakable, however. Even in their multitudinous varieties.

13. Saturday and Sunday morning sidewalk puke.

14. Litter.  I actually saw a lady throw her empty cigarette pack into a bush last week.  It deeply shocked me, reminding me that I am so Canadian.  

15. The steepest hill in any city I've been in is  from Renfrew St. to Sauchiehall between the School of Art and the Centre for Contemporary Art.  I'm sure others would argue with me, but it is hell on the calves of an 8 months preg Waddleoppolus.

16.  All the trains, buses and the subway are run by different private companies.  In fact, there are many different bus companies.  So you have to pay separately for each leg of your journey if you are going via, say, subway and train.  And if you buy a return ticket with one bus company, you have to wait for that company bus on your return trip, even if there are dozens of other buses from other companies coming by your stop. 

17.  The Co-operative, the UK's largest consumer co-operative.  They have grocery stores, a bank, a radio station, funeral care, insurance, pharmacy, travel agent and are now launching a TV channel. And they are indeed a co-op.  You can buy a membership.  We bank with them and buy groceries there almost all the time.  Mainly because there are two of them near by where we live.   They have a lot of local stuff and fair-trade stuff too.

18. No stop signs 

19. One day when we were walking downtown, Aaron pointed out the most amazing thing.  I wanted to include this as a photo, but sadly when I went back it was gone.  We had just passed the Central Train Station on Gordon Street and he stopped me in front of a long alleyway. It was a very grey and black, dingy, dirt and trash filled alley, but at the end of it was a big bright indigo board or banner with white words written on it -  "You are Beautiful".

20. People drive like they expect pedestrians to get out of their way.  In a cross-walk, with a walk light, when the pedestrian light starts to flash to let you know you don't have much time left to get to the other side, at the same time, the traffic light flashes amber, presumably to let traffic start to flow if there is no one in the crosswalk.  However this usually means that if you are waddling across the street and the light turns amber for the cars, you better waddle faster because they will be revving engines and starting to drive towards you, even if you're 8 months pregnant.

21. I frequently notice on the weekends groups of 4 guys walking down the street together.  What's noteworthy about them is that the groups are consistently made up of four, they are all "hip" in that hair in-the-eyes, skinny-jean kind of way, but they all have their own special look, just like they were a band, and they all called each other to make sure they wouldn't wear the same thing, but that together they would form a clear unit.

22. The Sub-Crawl - a Glasgow tradition involving the beloved Clockwork Orange, the 3rd oldest underground metro in the world, after London and Budapest.  One is meant to ride the subway, get off at each stop and have a drink in a pub nearby. There are 15 stops. 

23.  Glasgow claims Adam Smith, the father of capitalism (sort of), as one of their natives.  It also has a long history of strong unions and socialist politics (the Red Clydesiders).  In fact, 'in January 1919, 10,000 troops armed with tanks and machine-guns occupied the city to quell what the Secretary of State for Scotland called "a Bolshevist rising".'  It is a city with some strong polarities.

24. Kingfishers at Kelvinbridge. The other morning as I was walking to my midwife appointment, I saw a teal coloured bird with a rusty breast flying under the Great Western Bridge.  My first thought was "Kingfisher", not that I'd ever seen one before, but I had heard that they are sometimes seen along the Kelvin river.  Our friends John and Vi later supported the theory, and said that it was pretty special that I had seen one. 

25. Connie, the Irish midwife at the Southern General Hospital, who clinched my decision to transfer there.  She was so completely given over to her passion for the birth process, that she almost had an aura around her.  She was encouraging the other women on the tour with me to consider a water birth, or at least labouring in water, which seemed unusually progressive to me for staff in a hospital.  But it was the moment when she actually put her head between her own legs, demonstrating what the baby has to do in order to come out, that really made me hope she'd be around at my delivery. 

Pics: (Top) Great Western Bridge(Middle) Liverwort(Bottom) Fireworks over Hamilton Park Lane

Next Posts Coming soon:  15 Random Photos of Glasgow and Inveraray (No, really. I really mean it!)


Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Its spring!

It really is. 
But don't be too jealous.  Its still chilly. Although we did have that one day last week of nearly 20 degrees, which was gorgeous.  But extremely rare apparently.
Lots of daffodils are out.  Last week there were an abundance of flowering trees, pink and white. But this week most of their petals are blown off already, save a few that must grow in more sheltered spots.  
We have moved to a new flat recently.  And we love it.  So goodbye to Hamilton Drive, and hello to Raeberry Street. We will miss the views from our old place, but the new place makes us very happy.   It is a two bedroom, with high ceilings (11-12 feet?), a living room and dining room, and a bathroom with HEAT in it!  There is also a drying rack in our kitchen that hangs laundry near the ceiling. Tall windows, 3 south facing, so lots of light.  And somehow it already feels like a home.  
My temp job with the department of Geography at Glasgow Uni is finishing tomorrow. I will be sad to leave, although I am slowing down physically quite a bit as I approach the Ninth Month. So I am ready to finish work and do some nesting.  We are gathering bits and pieces of baby paraphernalia, much of it generously donated, and gratefully accepted. So we are feeling slightly more prepared now.  
My apologies for the short and mainly news update nature of this post, but there will be more once I finish working. More catch up ones.  Now I should go cut up the brownies I made to bring to my last day tomorrow.  Everyone here likes a sweet at teatime.