January 26, 2009

Burns Night: A Scottish Prom

Selkirk Grace
Some hae meat and canna eat,
And some wad eat that want it;
But we hae meat, and we can eat,
Sae let the Lord be thankit.

Burns Night is the celebration of the noted Scottish poet, Robert Burns. This year was the 250th anniversary of Rabbie's birth. Thanks to my pal Derek, I was invited to the Burns Night Dinner put on by my University's Business School, open to all post-graduates. It felt like Prom.
The Mylne's Courters in attendance went out for pre-drinks at a swank bar called 56 North. It had great two-for-one deals on drinks. The ladies enjoyed our Flirtinis and then we moved on to pitchers of Death by Something-or-other Pussy, after we saw the boys with them. They were both fruity, champagne-based cocktails.  

What a long straw you have - the better to drink you with my dear!

The dinner was held at Pollack Halls (my old dorms from two summers ago). We were invited for drinks at 7:00pm, and then dinner started promptly at 7:30pm. We had our own table and were served a wonderful three-course meal, which included desert. It had all the traditional Burns Supper foods: smoked salmon, then neeps and tatties with haggis. Neeps = mashed turnips or rutabaga. Tatties = mashed potatoes. Haggis = you don't want to know. But it was all delicious! Burns Night is big on ceremony. There was the piping in of the haggis, where a bagpiper marched around the room pipping, followed by the chef presenting the plate of haggis:
Piping in the haggis

There was the Address to the Haggis, which was a long-ish poem in Scots... to a haggis...
here's a stanza of it: 

His knife see rustic Labour dicht,
An' cut you up wi' ready slicht,
Trenching your gushing entrails bricht,
Like ony ditch;
And then, O what a glorious sicht,
Warm-reekin, rich!

Now doesn't that make you hungry for some minced lamb heart, liver, and lungs?! (I told you that you didn't want to know). Then there was an official toast to the haggis, with whisky of course, followed by a toast to the lassies, and a reply from the lassies (more speeches and recitations of Burns' poetry - which is all written in Scots), followed by desert, and then dancing!
MC enjoying the Burns Supper

There was a live band, and one woman taught us all of the steps to traditional Scottish dances. It's called a Ceilidh: like country line dancing, but with way more interesting steps. The night ended with everyone joining hands and singing one of Robert Burns' most famous poems: Auld Lang Syne. So even though we didn't get to sing it on New Year's, we got to sing it when it really counted!     

January 23, 2009

Snow Castle

Dramatic spires pierce the skies,
Let loose - the clouds alight,
Snow flurries hurry, tumbling down,
And speckle cobbles grey to white.

January 13, 2009

The Postbus Always Drives Twice ...a-day to Killin

 Adventures by postbus
This trip started out as a mission to get up to the Highlands and see some snow. But, of course, we picked the rainiest weekend of the year. We also picked the most difficult town to get to in all of Scotland! Not on purpose, but as soon as we realized that it was impossible to get there - we had to go! And how were we going to get there? By postbus... which is British for mailtruck.

Falls of Dochart

Roughly four hours after Rachel landed on UK soil, Laura and I abducted her and dragged her north with us on a weekend adventure. We took a bus from Edinburgh to Glasgow, and from Glasgow to Tyndrum, where we spent our first evening watching a marathon of Dr. Horrible, and singing along. The next day we hopped a ride on the postbus to Killin. We explored the Falls of Dochart by walking out on the slippery rocks as the rapids swelled with the rain. Then we set out to find the circle of standing stones, which was in the middle of a field surrounded by sheep. Our evening was spent in the warm Braveheart Backpacker's Hostel by the "open fire" with the four other people staying in the hostel, cooking dinner, playing cards, listening to Jack Johnson, playing the guitar, and watching movies on my laptop. It was really chill and relaxing.  

Circle of standing stones in Killin

The owner of the hostel, Peter, had a friend visiting named George. George was a character. From the moment we walked in and he referred to us three as "Charlie's Angles", I knew I liked him. I wish he had stayed, because I would have loved to listen to his stories, but he was off to find an apartment in Glasgow. George used to be Tom Hanks' butler, and Julie Andrews' as well! He's writing his memoirs about the experiences, so hopefully one day I'll come across his book.
Loch Tay

Day two in Killin, we hiked up along the River Lochay to Loch Tay. It was rainy and muddy, but it was still beautiful with the Ben Lawers disappearing into the fog. We met a lot of Scottish people out with their dogs. As if climbing on the rocks of the falls the day before wasn't dangerous enough, the three of us proceeded to climb up into the ruins of Finlarig Castle and Mausoleum in the rain.

 Rachel and Laura exploring the ruins of Finlarig Castle

The sun came out the morning we left Killin. We saw some beautiful rainbows and even some snow on the distant peaks of the bens. The postbus brought us back to Tyndrum where we camped out inside the Green Welly Stop watching "Clue" on my laptop, waiting for the bus back to Glasgow/Edinburgh. The Green Welly Stop, (the only place to go in Tyndrum), is merely a rest stop on the side of the highway with a charming name. But it served its purpose - a place for us to rest between bus rides.      

The postbus in front of the Green Welly Stop

January 7, 2009

Kirkcaldy: a Hellmouth?

Churches, Caves, Castle Ruins, Witches, Zombies, Werewolves, Vampires, the Devil and his shopping cart.

Kirkcaldy, Scotland

So in the ten days between my birthday and the start of classes, we needed to keep ourselves entertained. Mark and Derek suggested one night at 11pm to take a spontaneous trip the following morning at 8am. Just jump on a train, no destination. BTW I got this messaage via a text. I was all for a spur-of-the-moment trip, but they decided on Roslyn and Peebles (a place I've already been, and a place south of Edinburgh). I was in the mood to head north, into the Highlands. So Laura and I took an extra day and did a little planned-spontaneity of our own. We took the train 40 minutes north to Kirkcaldy and spent the afternoon exploring the small coastal town.

A gray day in Kirkcaldy

The first thing we saw when we stepped off of the train was a giant tree being cut down. Nothing says "Welcome" like the sound of chainsaws and timber cracking. Despite our quick overview on wikipedia, we pretty much had no idea what to expect of Kirkcaldy. So our first mission was locating Tourist Information. That was a feat, considering they hid it on the other side of town from the train station. We happened upon the Adam Smith College Orientation Day activities and the church where the college kids take their exams. I guess it's like killing two birds with one stone: being able to pray for good grades while taking the exam.  Although they probably frown on killing birds at church, especially killing two birds.

The broken sign

Beware what creatures lie ahead...

Once we had a map in our hands, we headed for the Castle ruins. Laura and I had fun exploring the ruins of Ravenscraig Castle. We walked along the shores of the Firth of Forth and discovered a cave. Laura was all about the cave, but I was a little anxious about walking into complete blackness. I was afraid to find homeless people sleeping there, or wild animals, or corpses... or remnants of a seance... or zombies... (my fears got more and more irrational the deeper we went into the cave). But all we discovered was a lot of rubbish. Apparently this cave is quite the party spot for underage kids. After I realized this, I was ever so grateful that we didn't walk in on two people doing it in a cave.

Inside the cave, looking out at the shore

Our findings on the beach were much more interesting. There was an abandoned shopping cart covered in seaweed... obviously. There was also a creepy old sign on the craigs that looked as if it had been stripped to pieces by the claws of a werewolf (once again, my imagination got the better of me). It probably just said "Warning: keep off the rocks", but it looked like it could have said "Warning: vampires ahead". So we went ahead to find out...

The Devil's shopping cart
"Some say the Deil is deid and burried in Kirkcaldy," so said our brochure. It was a fabulously grey overcast day, perfect for exploring caves and ruins and searching for the devil.  "The sands of Kirkcaldy's harbour are said to hide a demon who was challenged to twist the sands into rope by Michael Scott (c. 1160-1235), a local man, known as a wizard for his knowledge of mathematics, medicine, and astrology. When the demon failed, it disappeared below the sands." Laura and I came across a black beast with pointed wings on the shores of Kirkcaldy. Was it the devil? Nope, it was just a Cormorant (which sounds like it should be a demon, but is just a seabird found in Great Britain). It is also known as a Shag. Hah. Yes, sometimes I act like I'm 12.

A Cormorant, or perhaps a winged demon

PS "Hellmouth" is a Buffy reference and an homage to Joss Whedon - go look it up and learn to appreciate all things Joss.

January 2, 2009

Hogmanay 2009

The Vikings march down The Royal Mile

From burning Vikings to buying real estate in heaven, Scotland sure has its own unique way of ringing in the new year. Unfortunately, I arrived back on the island the morning after the torch light procession. But, courtesy of Laura Marshall, I have photographs of the "river of fire" as the Vikings, and 25,000 civilians with torches, march up to the top of Calton Hill, where a Norwegian dragon atop a life-size Viking longboat was burned in effigy. Spectacular fireworks seal the deal. Is it a coincidence that as the Scots are literally burning the Vikes, the Philadelphia Eagles are destroying the Minnesota Vikings on the (American) Football field for their chance to make it to the Superbowl? I think not.

The Vikings at the top of Calton Hill

Burning the Viking longboat 

Burning the Vikings boat in effigy 

New Year's Eve itself, was just like most New Years': high expectations resulting in an anticlimactic finish. We had a great cheese fondu dinner and the ladies sported their feather and jeweled head pieces (our own classy version of the typical cardboard cone party hat). Then, our Mylne's Court crew headed down our back steps to the Mound and onto Prince's Street for the Hogmanay Street Party. There were six bars set up on the street, but you could bring your own alcohol with you, as long as it wasn't in a glass container. We spent most of the night splitting up to use the bathrooms and then trying to find each other again. But we were all together at midnight to see the magnificent fireworks set off at the castle, right above our dorms. Everyone was so caught up in the fireworks display, that no one sang Auld Lang Syne (which is the epitome of Scottish!). We realized this about 10 minutes after the fireworks ended and attempted to sing the song ourselves, but no one actually knew all of the words, so it failed miserably. The night kinda went downhill from there.

New Year's Eve dinner of cheese fondu 

Derek, Chris, Mark, and Liam in their kilts on Princes Street

Midnight fireworks over Edinburgh Castle

The Scottish have this tradition called "First Footing". In order to have luck in the new year, the first foot to step across the threshold of your home should be a tall, dark-haired man. Since the Scots hate the Vikes, the last thing you want is a Norwegian, fair-haired temptress of a woman first-footing at your door (in other words, I bring bad luck with me to whatever house I visit on the 1st of January, even though I am really of Scottish decent and not Norwegian... it's the blonde hair, and the whole seductive female thing). The first-footer traditionally brings gifts with him, a coin to ensure wealth, coal for warmth and happiness, and shortbread biscuits to keep away the longbread Viking ships. Now, I didn't actually go first footing (because I'm bad luck) but I did get an overview of the process, and was given supplies at the Feet First Festival on High Street on New Year's Day.  
Once again, I live right in the middle of all the action. The Feet First Festival occurred on a small stretch of the Royal Mile that started right below my flat. It was basically performance art and theatre, but in fun quirky ways. We had to withdraw Neuros from a cash machine (which was a large cardboard box with a hole cut out for a human face that talked to me and tried to peek at my fake passcode that I "typed" onto a sticker that looked like a computer keyboard). With my Neuros I could go to the many booths and "purchase" things in the Markt of Optimism. I could "pay" for Senorita Stampata to stomp on and dance away my problems, or buy a plot of clouds in heaven, pick out my own personal guardian angel, get checked out by the optician for a pair of rose-tinted glasses, have the bartender mix me the elixir of life (which is the Scots nickname for whisky), and adopt a plague-free rat from the Rat Charmer complete with birth certificate. It was all free, and a lot of fun.  

Withdrawing some Neuros from the Cash Point

I'm rich!

Now I can buy myself my own personal Guardian Angel

Now tell me if this makes any sense... there was a carnival set up on The Mound for the week surrounding New Year's Eve. It had typical carnival rides and games, but it also had a haunted house ride... hmmmmm. There was no haunted house at Halloween... but now that the new year is coming, quick, let's take a ride on the Ghost Train...
The ride was directly behind our dorms and played "Thriller", "Adam's Family", and the techno version of the song from the movie "Halloween H20" on loop for a week straight. Luckily, I couldn't hear it from my room, but I was still blessed with the lovely sounds of the bagpipes that I had missed so much when I was back home for Christmas.  

Nothing says "Happy New Year" like a haunted house ride...

Oh, and yeah, my friends and I totally went on the Ghost Train, and I definitely screamed out of terror, despite it not being scary at all.