Monday, September 15, 2014

Glasgow, Scotland: August 23-25, 2014

Selections at the Glengoyne Whiskey Distillery

Our next weekend jaunt took us north to Glasgow -- half because we wanted to see Scotland, half because we wanted to explore the city’s artsy side, and half because Edinburgh was booked. Glasgow -- rhymes with floss glow – is a true northern beauty, with sweeping grace that belies an iron frame. 

Our hotel was centrally located in the Theatre district just a wee walk from George Square and a lively downtown that included bagpipers on every block, I kilt you not. Our favorite was the pipe and drum group, Clanadonia, who looked like they just tore straight down from the Highlands. And everywhere we strolled, the Scottish burr tickled our ear. (“Wha’s like us? Damn few and they’re a deid. Mair’s the pity.")

Willow Tea Room - fixtures and furniture
designed by Glaswegian Charles Rennie Mackintosh
Glasgow's famous sons include poet Robert Burns, author Sir Walter Scott, and millionaire Scrooge McDuck. But the one who shaped the city's appearance and allure is designer Charles Rennie Mackintosh. His signature Art Nouveau style is etched in everything from architecture to shop signs.

Our second day in Scotland we took a bus tour north, stopping first at historic Stirling. Its castle was home to the UK's Stuart family which included such notables as Mary Queen of Scots and King James V, known locally as Jimmy Five­. The castle overlooks Stirling Bridge, where Robert the Bruce finally – finally! -- defeated the English in 1314. You might remember the battle as the final scene in quote Mel Gibson's woefully inaccurate film Braveheart unquote. (Despite the inaccuracies, the film increased tourism by 200% and according to our tour guide, Scotland never looked back.)

The Heather and me above Loch Lomand
Next it was on to the bonny banks of Loch Lomand where we hiked through heather and bracken to the top of a hill overlooking the loch. The view was breathtaking. But it was hard to imagine this small country the size of South Carolina has over 1,000 such lochs. 

Our day closed out with a soothing visit to Glengoyne Scotch Whiskey Distillery. Those who know me, know I’m not a drinker. I can barely finish a beer in one sitting and a glass of wine makes me ill. But until now I never knew I could handle 18-year old Single Malt Scotch Whiskey.  This is why it's important to travel, folks.

Our final morning lent just enough time to visit Glasgow’s Museum of Modern Art with its beautiful stain glass skylight and oddly intriguing cardboard exhibit. Then it was back to the hotel for luggage and on to the train station for home. Farewell Glasgow and lang may your lum reek (long may your chimney smoke).

Clanadonia Bagpipes and Drums - Keeping it Tribal:

 For more pictures of our trip to Glasgow,  click here.

It’s the little things . . . 

Our bus tour made an unscheduled stop at Castle Doune. You probably recognize it from Monty Python’s Holy Grail. It was als­o used as ‘Winterfell’ in HBO’s Game of Thrones

Castle Doune. Look familiar?

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

I’m so far out of my comfort zone . . .

Studies show that making small changes to our daily routine can help keep an aging mind agile. Anything to get us out of our comfort zone will work, such as taking a different route home or holding your fork in the other hand. 

So if little changes can make the brain nimble, mine must be nearing gymnastic. The differences between England and America are surprising, endless and weird. Routine chores I could once do in my sleep are now bitch slapping me wide awake. They’re pithy things, too, like where to buy a bath mat or what snack to grab. Even retrieving a shopping cart is a challenge. I’m so far out of my comfort zone, I can’t even see it from here.

My longtime friend and neighbor, Abrina Schnurman, says there’s no growth in your comfort zone and no comfort in your growth zone. After these past 4 weeks I’ve discovered something else about that growth zone: its number one objective is to scramble back to the nearest comfort zone. It’s all about how fast I can establish a new routine. Here are just a few things that have rocked my CZ lately:

Washer/Dryer: I’ve had to relearn every major appliance in our apartment including the microwave which has a 4-step start cadence. My favorite though is the washer/dryer. It’s one machine that serves as two. The down side is it can only handle a small load and takes roughly 4 hours to complete. The upside is I can start the laundry in the morning then go out for the day without having to rush back to throw clothes in the dryer. 

Traffic: Because people drive on the opposite side of the road here, I have to check different directions before crossing the street. I can’t always remember which way to look, so I check every which way, 360 degrees. Like an owl.  Cars parked along the curb could remind me which direction traffic flows. But even that doesn’t always work. 

Coi­­ns: I’m a penny-nickel-dime-quarter gal from way back. Four coins, simplicity itself. But now I’m jostling twice as many in her majesty's realm -- and that doesn’t include anything in the Euro family yet. I need a bigger coin purse.

Porridge: Then there are times when I feel like I’m in a fairy tale. I didn't realize porridge still existed, let alone was offered  at coffee houses and diners. I'm guessing it's a lot like our oatmeal, but haven't tried it yet (mainly because I don't like oatmeal). 

Close, but not quite: In an effort to get to that new comfort zone, I scan everything for something familiar. And while Reading does have the odd Pizza Hut and KFC, there are lots [read: LOTS] of things that trick me into believing I’ve arrived. Is it possible to get Junior Mints airlifted in?


Shopping Carts: Called trolleys, I can only use one if I have the right coin with me (see above section on coins).  I have to put a coin in to release the trolley from its corral. Once I’m done with shopping, I empty the trolley and lock it back in place, then I get my coin back. This is actually a great idea for ensuring carts don’t leave the store property.

I don’t know which bag o’ potato chips (called crisps) to buy.  Not only do the markets stock the usual plain, bbq, and cheesy flavored, they've also brewed up such savory bits as:
  • Cumberland Sausage
  • Roast Beef and Onion
  • Honey Ham
  • Lobster Cocktail
  • Lemon Harissa
  • Roast Lamb and Mint, and
  • Parmesan, Asparagus and Truffle