Don't tell anyone, but I've been south of the border…

…and it was pretty good. Fear not, for I did not stray far from Scotland, and I returned quickly. I hired a car for the weekend again, and headed south. Down to Edinburgh, then east along the A1, down towards Newcastle. A quick photo stop at the English/Scottish border (it’s not very exciting), then on south. The plan was to roughly follow the line of Hadrian’s Wall across the country, then curve back up around through the Borders region.

Coming up to Corbridge, I thought it would just be a “blink and you’ll miss it” type of affair, but it turned out to be a lovely little village. It’s quite cool when you walk across bridges that have stood for nearly 400 years. I was going to get something to eat in the town, but they were having a food festival on at the old Roman site in Corbridge, so I thought I’d kill two birds with one stone. There were quite extensive remains of the Roman town that had stood there 1800 years ago, which were pretty cool to look at. The extent of the water and drainage systems they had in place were pretty amazing.

Then it was time for some local food and drink, and one of the more unusual settings I’ve seen for food festivals. The local Angus beef was very nice, and the chocolate orange fudge was particularly good. The Fentimans drink was pretty good too – quite unusual, something along the lines of the Phoenix range in NZ, but with more of a herbal taste.

Off to Chester’s Roman Fort next, which was the first real sighting of Hadrian’s Wall. Not only running water and drainage here, they even had central heating! What I don’t quite understand is how the Romans could have had that, but later all these works were lost, buried. When the places were abandoned by the Romans, you somehow would have thought that the locals would have taken a look at them, compared them to the thatched huts they lived in, and moved right in!

The other thing that cracked me up was some of the old tombstones – people were buried, a stone was erected, with their name on it, then 20 years later, someone else can’t be bothered getting a new stone, so they just engrave a new name over the top of the previous one!

Via Carlisle, then on to Dumfries for the night. Went in a B&B;, looking for a place to stay – they were full, but the fantastic manager rang another place, gave me a map of the town and pointed out good places to eat/drink. Great service, especially since he wasn’t directly getting anything for it – will hunt down the name and post it here. The actual place I ended up at – Morton Villa – was very nice too, really nice personal service.

Caerverlock castle (Or is it Caeverlock? Seems to be some variation) Sunday morning. I don’t think I’ve seen a castle with its moat filled with water before – it really made the place come alive, made it a real castle experience. Lots of good photos here, I’ll just add the one:

Back via the A7, stopping at the Malcolm Memorial. Quite stunning views of the surrounding area. There’s some pretty barren terrain there. The thing I didn’t get was the road signs pointed towards the McDiarmid memorial – but that only seem to consist of a small cairn 400m from the summit, compared the large obelisk that is the Malcolm memorial.

Nice country to drive back through, towards Edinburgh. Strangely enough, there was an NZ flag flying about a rural house, more or less in the middle of nowhere. Perhaps not so strange though, the Borders region seems to be pretty big on its rugby.

Went into Rosslyn Chapel (if you’ve read the Da Vinci code, you’ll know what I’m talking about) on the way home. It’s actually quite an amazing little church, with massive amounts of imagery – of which I might only be able to work out 10% – but it’s kinda taken over by the people out there who think that the Da Vinci code was just the best book ever written, and that’s it all true, every word. Never mind that it was possibly the only book those people have read in the last 5 years. It would be quite the place to wander around just by yourself, but you’d need a few religious scholars to help you interpret the meaning of it all.

Hope everyone out there is doing ok. Not sure exactly when/where the next Scotland trip is – I’m thinking the west coast/Skye for a long weekend, but I’m not sure when that’s going to work out, due to some other stuff happening.

Kultur, Kaffee, Kuchen und Scheiße auf die Straße

…is one way of summing up my weekend in Vienna. Vienna was different to what I remember – I had thought of it as somewhat sterile, but I got a different feel for the place this time. Eindankfest was on, the weather was good, people were out and about enjoying themselves, it was a really good place to be.

I headed over on Friday, going via Edinburgh and Birmingham. Thanks to Scott for letting me stop with him on Thursday night. I can’t say that my hour at Birmingham airport was the highlight of my life, but it could have been worse. When I got to Vienna, I thought I should try and make my way from the CAT train station to the hotel without the aid of a map. Turned out to be slightly more difficult than I planned, but it was a good walk around the town, and I had a lot of fun with the Germanic tourists who were also lost, trying to work out where we were. Everyone seemed to think I spoke German – I don’t know, I’m pretty sure I didn’t look like I belonged, but maybe I did.

Later I was speaking to some Austrians, and they were just effortlessly switching between English and German – it always makes me feel so inadequate, when people do that. I will be doing some work on refreshing my German. I think I need to spend a few months there. Perhaps get a contract, but I don’t know how it would work out visas-wise.

Nic and Dave arrived early Saturday, and came and woke me at 7. I think they were just happy to be able to use my shower at that point though. We then had two great days touring the city. I didn’t bother carrying my camera much, since Dave had his with him, so I don’t have any photos to upload yet – will get some when they get back.

The crypt under St Stephens was a bit different to many other church crypts – there is an old part out under the square, where thousands of ordinary people were buried during the plague – rooms with thousands of bones, all neatly stacked. Not exactly a fun job that. The Imperial crypt was also pretty interesting to visit later that morning – you can get so close to the sarcophagi. The medieval use of skulls and cross-bones on coffins is something I find quite interesting – people had a quite different attitude to death then. I don’t think it would go down all that well in a modern graveyard if you said you wanted a skull wearing a crown mounted on top of your headstone.

Went to the Kunsthistorisches (Art History) and Naturhistorisches (Natural History) museums on the Sunday – the buildings by themselves are just stunning works, even before you start to look at the assorted treasures within. Just a huge collection. You do wonder about the historical provenance of many of the items within though – how many were basically stolen?

Also visited MUMOK (Museum of Modern Art) – can’t say that I was all that impressed with ‘Realism’, but the modern/pop art was pretty cool – particularly the paintings that were trying to outdo photography.

Throughout the weekend, more people were assuming I was Germanic – particularly since I wasn’t wearing a bag, I didn’t look so touristy. I guess it’s a good thing – it forces me to try and understand more German.

All up, a very nice weekend, great to catch up with Nic and Dave. The only thing missing was I didn’t find a place where old men were playing chess in the park. Oh well, it’ll have to wait for another trip to a classic European city.

Trips around Scotland so far – part 3

I’d been to Glasgow several times for work, but just to the data center, I hadn’t really had a chance to look around the town, so I decided it was worth making a visit. Only £6.50 return with megabus, pretty outstanding really. Glasgow was not really what I expected – I was expecting a much grimmer place, but it was actually really nice – I was even struggling to find large numbers of neds. I did notice a disturbing number of people obsessed with wearing their Celtic shirt to all social occasions though. My particular favourite was the man who was too hot to wear a shirt (another disturbing British tradition, that of taking your shirt off at the first sign of sun), but stil had his Celtic shirt over his shoulder, just so you would know who he supported. Overall a nice place, and I met some interesting people, who I’ll probably run into again a few more times.

Blair was travelling through Scotland, and stopped in here for a couple of nights. We went up to the Orkneys for a day trip, which meant a pretty long day, but it was well worth the admission. There’s something not quite right about an island that only has about 7 trees on it, and none of those over 5m. We were very lucky with the weather though, and it was really quite a nice day. There are a huge number of prehistoric (or perhaps neolithic is a better term) monuments on the island, not least of which was Skara Brae – a cluster of dwellings inhabited 5,000 years ago, then covered up until about 150 years ago. You have to figure the climate was different then though, I’m not sure I would have settled there.

The highlight of the day though was probably stopping at some Cairns on the way home – they had been partially rebuilt, so that they were closed in. You could scramble through a narrow tunnel, then it opened out into the central part. The road wasn’t really suitable for tour buses, so no-one seemed to go there. It was just getting dark as we got there, which made it a bit spookier. Here’s a photo of me inside one of them:

The other travelling so far has been some touring around St Andrews – nice town, ruined cathedral, castle, golf courses, lovely houses, students spewing in the gutter, it’s got it all – and the Angus region. I went up to Dunnottar castle, which was great – really dramatic, must be pretty mean there during a big storm. Places like the Whig Vault were a bit spooky – must have been terrible with 160 people imprisoned in there.

Trips around Scotland so far – part 2

Bruce and Tanika stayed with me for a few days, which was great – really good to catch up with them. We had a good day out with Paul and Kate in Edinburgh. Just the one photo here, of us holding a snake. Good to have done, but I don’t think I’ll get one as a pet. Huge strength, very quick moving.

A week later, I hired a car and headed north. Some fantastic driving around here, the scenery really is amazing. Went up to Culloden Moor, which was interesting, but didn’t really grab me. Maybe you have to be a Scot. I found the nearby Clava Cairns more interesting, without the tourists. 4000 year old burial cairns, nestled amongst the trees, make you think a bit about the people who were once here. You just don’t get that sort of thing in NZ.

Further north after that, to the town of Wick. It’s just a small town, near the north of Scotland. Ended up having a great night out, amazing the interesting people you meet, even in places you might not expect it. Pushed on to John O’Groats the next day. Not that exciting, but one of those things you have to do. Came back via the Inverness -> Fort William road, travelling alongside Loch Ness. Can you see Nessie?

No, neither could I. Coming back through the Glencoe region was awesome, huge rugged country, no trees, just some scrub and tussock.

Trips around Scotland so far – part 1

Dundee is pretty centrally located in Scotland, with much of the country relatively nearby. Since getting cheap flights to Europe isn’t an option from here, I’ve been taking advantage of the location, and touring as much of Scotland as I can. Hiring a car is reasonably priced, especially if you don’t really care much about what car you drive – e.g. last time I ended up with a Nissan Micra. If you’re feeling charitable, you would describe it as a scooter – fun to ride, but you wouldn’t want your mates to see you on one.

Anyways, Scotland trips – the first one outside Edinburgh/Dundee was a short trip up to Aberdeen. The train goes up along the coast, and is a lovely trip on a fine day. Aberdeen had a different feel to Dundee – you could almost feel the oil money floating around. It’s almost multicultural (well, within reason…). Take a look at photo here of the beach:

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Doesn’t look all that bad right? Could almost swim there? Well, on the edge of the horizon, you can see oil rigs, where men walk around in survival suits. All people going over on helicopters must be dressed in survival suits, and even then they’d be lucky to survive 5 minutes in the water…meanwhile back here in Aberdeen mothers are pushing their kids into the water. Scary.

Next weekend trip was to Stirling, Falkirk and Linlithgow, followed by a morning in Fife, and watching the last afternoon of the British Open at the Old Course. Stirling was pretty cool, if packed with bored American students. The approach to the castle is just fabulous – it really dominates the surrounding plain. Something I hadn’t realised was that the castle used to all be a golden colour – it was clad with King’s Gold. Currently only the Great Hall is, but it must have been quite something with the whole castle that colour.

Getting to Falkirk was a bit more..interesting…than it should have been – I was following the signs to the Falkirk Wheel, but then they just seemed to stop. I ended up going around a few times, and until I finally saw the smaller, different coloured sign, that pointed the way down the last road to the Falkirk Wheel. It’s really quite cool, and it’s made me really want to hire a canal boat for a week, just cruising along between pubs at 4 knots. I don’t understand how the whole EU/millennium funding works, but who cares, it was pretty good.

Linlithgow castle was very interesting – it’s ruins, but relatively complete, as far as ruins go. Unlike some other places, you get pretty free reign, and you can go pretty much anywhere. Not really sure what they were doing with that weird thing on top of the church next to the castle though.

On the way back, I went via the Forth Bridge – I really don’t understand why all the fuss is made over the rail bridge – personally I quite like the road bridge.

Visited Scotland’s Secret Bunker on the Sunday morning. Really quite interesting – makes you wonder what else is around that we don’t know about. Suprisingly few people seemed to know about it though.

On to the golf at St Andrews – huge crowds, all pretty exciting. Not cheap to get in, but I figure I’ll probably never have the same chance to go to a golf major again. The course was weird – it was basically a paddock, with some mown strips. It would take me about a week to get around if I was playing I reckon. Good to see Michael Campbell playing, with huge numbers of Kiwis following him, all dressed in Kia Kaha shirts.