Friday, September 28, 2012

Our Days

We don't have internet in our new place, yet. And that has caused me to fall behind in all sorts of things, least of all, this blog. (Its a little sad how much I depend on the interwebs!) But, I've brought my trusty laptop to my local branch of the library and I'm all set and ready to post.

That said, I don't have any time or patience for a particularly thoughtful post. I do have a few in the works, I promise. Posts that are more than "this is what we've been up to" and "look at the pictures". But for now, that's exactly the kind of post I've got to share. I'm going to blame the following lazy post on my sore throat and achy body. It's barely autumn and I already have a cold. (It might be a loooong winter!)

But don't let my general grumpiness fool you, we've been having a great time. Really! Each day we discover something new- some days is a medieval chapel, other days its a good place to buy cheap towels- events which, sadly, caused me to feel nearly equal amounts of excitement.

So, feast your eyes on the following pictures showing what we've been doing with our days, and know that I'll be adding a little more substance to my posts in the very near future!

One day, we went to Roslyn, and disregard my previous comment comparing the experience to buying towels, because this place is all together otherworldly. Photos are not permitted inside the chapel, so you'll just have to come visit it yourself to see what I mean. It is intricately carved- almost every inch of it- with flowers and stars and figures of angels and musicians (there is even a piper!). Most of these carvings have some mysterious connection to the Masons, or the Knights Templar, or the Holy Grail, or... well, the list goes on and on.

The area surrounding Roslyn is beautiful, and mysterious in its own way. We spent some time following the advice of Sir Walter Scott... hiking in the woods, exploring the old castle and delighting in it all.

 Another day, we headed to the Scottish Parliament  building. It has a strange yet inviting design, and it is neighbor to both Holyrood Palace and Arthur's Seat. We did not take the tour, but we will one day. I picked up a pamphlet that outlines the powers of the Scottish Parliament and its relationship to the Parliament of the United Kingdom at Westminster. Which answered a lot of questions Matt had been asking me (as if I somehow know about these things!)

Inside the lobby area, placed in lighted display cases, are gifts that foreign governments have given to Scotland. It is usually something significant to the giver's culture. There were beautiful pieces of art and pottery, things made from jade, or glass beads, and ancient-looking carvings. From the US, there was, what looked like, a white candy dish. I couldn't help but feel a bit underwhelmed. C'mon, America!

But our visit was more than just checking out the local government and seeing foreign bric-a-brac, we wanted to see the William Wallace Letters exhibit, before it headed out of town. The exhibit was small, but beautiful. And if your only understanding of William Wallace comes from the movie Braveheart, as mine did, you'd probably find it very informative.
(Photo credit and more about the letter)
On a different day, we strolled down a particularly lovely footpath, where people walked their dogs and pushed their baby buggies without the worry of traffic. Along this path, we found several hills of allotment gardens. What wonderful, wonderful sites! They looked like their own little towns, where all the citizens are veggies and fruits and flowers. Only my strong will (and the 6 foot stone wall) kept me from running through the plots trying to claim one as my own!

And maybe later that day, or another day altogether, I had my first ginger beer. It's alcoholic, but mildly so, and it has the same bite to it as a quality (nonalcoholic) ginger ale. Since this first one, I've had a few others. I think my favorite is the one with Gimli on the label.

On one of our many nights out to dinner, we got burritos. Our first Scottish burritos. They weren't fantastic, but they weren't bad (I had heard not to expect much when it came to Mexican cuisine in the UK). And, they came with instructions- which, as burrito-eating experts, we did not need. Obviously.

What else...? Oh, one day, we took the train to South Queensferry and we followed this awesome trail to get from the train station to the town. It was covered in blackberry brambles and long wooden steps... I was a bit behind Matthew when I got out the camera and yelled, "hey, Matt!" and instead of turning around to pose (he knows what that kind of "hey, Matt!" means) he just gave me the "whoo-hoo" arms and continued running down the stairs. 

Other than that, we've spent our days and our nights just hanging around Edinburgh, getting used to sites like this one:

and this one:

Oh, and I almost forgot, one day, we moved! We are tenants, with a real home address and house keys and all!

The move itself might warrant its own post, but here you can see the guys taking in their new place...

Where we moved to is called Leith. And, (We)

Because it is pretty, and a bit gritty and has a little more flavor than the neighborhood we were in before (which we do miss already, but was, undoubtedly, vanilla).

And just last night, I saw the moon rise outside of our new bedroom window and there was the strangest look to it. I don't know if it was just a reflection from the clouds, or from my rainy window, but it looked like there were two moons! You can't really tell in this picture...

But this one shows what I saw a little bit better. What is that all about?

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Catching up on my reading

I have not posted about books in a long while. My reading has been sporadic so far this year and I go through periods of feeling overwhelmed by how many books I want to read. I have hope, though, that I will add more reading to my nightly routine in our new flat, as it is without a television. (It will be my first time ever without a tv, although I have lived with one so small and with so few channels it hardly counts!) So, perhaps in the near future I 'll be blogging more and more about the books I have enjoyed.

Here is a little post about a few that have recently kept me company. As I have said before, several times before actually, I dislike writing book reviews. I find it a boring task and I am pretty lousy at it. I usually say too much about a book, ruining it for potential readers, or I say too little and my review is cryptic and frustrating. So, I have resolved not to review books at all. Instead, each title is a link to a Goodreads page, where the books are summarized and reviewed by people who know what they are doing (for the most part). Follow those links if you want to know more about the books below apart from the little bits shared by me.

Books I read a while back: 
I found In the Suicide Mountains at The Last Bookstore before they moved to their new location in LA. They were selling books at lowered prices to have less to pack up, and I nabbed a bunch of folktales and mixed mythologies. I was expecting this book to be like the others, short stories and tales, but it was a novel. A short novel.... actually, it is somewhere between a novel and a YA chapter book. Regardless, it was a strange and charming story that I am happy to have found. I am surprised actually, that I didn't come across it as a young reader- it has a sensibility to it that was very popular in the age and area in which I was raised. I can't properly describe what I mean, but I can see this book having a fan following, full of the same folks who love the movie, The Last Unicorn. 

The Children's Book is a hearty meal of a book. It is long, wordy and follows a group of writers, artists, politicians, and other VIP in Europe (mostly England) from the 1890s to about 1920. Some times, I couldn't help but feel totally ignorant while reading this book- Byatt mentions several people,places and events as if they are common knowledge. I am sure some of them are, and I just don't have a clue about them, but I'm equally sure she throws in some obscurities for good measure. And even though at times I felt like I just had to get through certain passages, there were moments of magic- the German puppeteers, the parties at Todefright, the opening night of Peter Pan in London... It's the kind of book you can hold in your hand, glance at the back cover  (and the page length) and determine on the spot if its something you want to undertake.

On the other hand,  Fearless Girl, Wise Women & Beloved Sisters: Heroines in Folktales from Around the World is a book for everyone. Truly. I couldn't see one person not enjoying this collection. It is a book of stories that feature women in non-traditional roles (i.e.: not the damsel in distress or the princess looking to get married). These are not stories written simply to counter-balance the norm, these are the stories that have been told along side the ones we are so much more familiar with. They are old stories, from all different cultures, that have not enjoyed the same kind of popularity as has Cinderella et al. Its well written, well explained and entertaining. 

Just finished: 
The Meaning of Night took me 4 months to read. Not that it was a slow story, or that it was particularly long, I was just only getting through one page at time during the months leading up to our move. I enjoyed the story, but more than that, I liked the Victorian writing style. Author Michael Cox is a scholar and a bibliophile, much like his main character, and that clearly comes out in his writing. He must have spent ages researching the specific books that appear in this one. The story starts with an incredible opening sentence. It doesn't always live up to the excitement of a "thriller", as there are sections that lag, but it is written as a confession, one that leaves behind no detail, big or small!  The Glass of Time is a continuation of The Meaning of Night.  It has a few more twists and turns than the first, but they are pretty easy to predict. The main fun is seeing how the other character's find out each other's secrets. Fans of Victorian writers, especially mysteries or thrillers, a la Lady Audley's Secret, would probably fancy these two tomes.

Currently reading:
I am only about 50 pages in to Neil Gailman's American Gods and there has already been a leprechaun bar fight and a death by vagina... so, I'm pretty much hooked... 

Next on my reading list:


Anyone read either of these? They continue to be recommended to me by my avid reader friends, so I think I'll have to finally go get copies for myself!

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Fun in the Firth of Forth

Yesterday, we ventured out on to the Firth of Forth, to see, among other things, the engineering marvel that is the Forth Rail Bridge. Built in the 1880, this bridge is one of the longest and oldest of its kind, and is the first major use of steel in the UK. It is also bright red, and coming from Northern California, I have an affinity for red bridges!

This proves that we were, indeed there...

And this shows, that we did not just admire it from the shore, but we sailed under it...

This bridge is for trains only...

So, in the 1960s they built the Forth Road Bridge. It is not bright red...

The two bridges are quite near one another.

But we didn't just sail around to see bridges, we were heading to an island...

At first, I thought it was this one, but we sailed right on by it.

And instead we sailed to this one. The island of Inchcolm, which, in this photo doesn't look like much, but is brimming with historical significance- from the ancient times, to the middle ages, to the Renaissance, to World War II...

Mostly due to this structure:

In case you don't want to follow the link, but you still want to know about the Abbey:

"Inchcolm Abbey was founded in the 12th century during the episcopate of GregoirBishop of Dunkeld. Later tradition placed it back in the reign of King Alexander I of Scotland (1107–24), who probably had some involvement in the island. He was apparently washed ashore there after a shipwreck in 1123, and took shelter in a hermit's hovel. The Abbey was first used as a priory by Augustinian canons regular, becoming a full abbey in 1235. The island was attacked by the English from 1296 onwards, and the Abbey was abandoned after the Scottish Reformation in 1560. 

Inchcolm Abbey has the most complete surviving remains of any Scottish monastic house. The cloisters, chapter house, warming house, and refectory are all complete, and most of the remaining claustral buildings survive in a largely complete state. The least well-preserved part of the complex is the monastic church. The ruins are cared for by Historic Scotland."

We explored the Abbey thoroughly. Crouching to pass under arches and doorways,

Peaking through windows-

Or down into holes.

Posing for pictures together,

and alone.

We watched this handsome guy play in the waves-

And we peaked through nooks and crannies.

We climbed spiral stairs,

And took in the views-

 We thought about all that went on within these walls so many years ago-

And read the messages those people left behind. In the Warming House there are three legible sentences on the wall, written in Latin. They state:
It is foolish to fear what cannot be avoided.
The safest thing to fear is nothing but God.
Conscience overcomes whatever evil the tongue has composed.

We saw where the monks took their meals in silence.

We admired parts the parts of the Abbey that did not stay intact.

And dreamed about taking it on as a little fixer upper...

We walked over Holy ground,

And then decided to get high-

By climbing to the top of the tower.

 Where there were lovely views,

But it was quite windy...
The stairs were s-t-e-e-p.

and narrow.

We got back down to ground level.

And maybe went underground for a bit-

We explored the rest of the island, gathering feathers and looking for machine guns.

Matt wanted to go down there. Where it was steep, muddy and full of brambles. He did,

I didn't. I took pictures of autumnal island plants instead.

Matt found a bunker. Or some other war-related structure. Behind him is the city of Edinburgh. Our city.

We walked on the beach,

looking for shells and washed-ashore treasures (which we did not find, however, there are an alarming number of sunken sea vessels surrounding this island, one of which is the Cunard cruise liner,  RMS Campania so perhaps it is worth another look!)

It was a lovely day. A day of fun and exploration, climbing and tunneling, and history of long ago...and not so long ago.