Sunday, December 22, 2013

Happy Christmas!

Merry Christmas to my family and friends around the world! I love you and miss you.

Fantastically Festive Music

Ilkley is really lovely at Christmastime.

Thursday, December 12, 2013

Dog-Sitting in Ilkley

I'm finally in England. The people are polite, but not overly friendly. At least it's pretty here, and the pets I'm caring for are well-behaved.

This is Tiny
That's what he does 80% of the day. He's pretty much the best dog, ever. Except that he totally judges me if I try to stay up past 11 at night. He harumphs at me until I head to bed.

This is what our walks normally look like.

A pretty park.

Look! A dog not pulling on his lead! What a sweetie.

Cool footbridge over the river.

The river is up a bit from all the rain.

Yesterday's Morning Walk
The fog actually made it look brighter out than it would have this early in the morning. Usually it looks quite dark out as the sun doesn't rise until 8:15 and we go out around 7:30.

Yesterday's Evening Walk

Can fog be gorgeous? This fog was.

By the time we got near the river the fog had reached epic levels of spookiness. I had a truly horror-movie moment when a guy materialized out of the fog just in front of me asking if I had seen his lost dog. Let's just say Tiny and I had a very brisk walk home after that.

In other news, I think I've just about assimilated. I keep finding mostly consumed cups of tea around the house.

Saturday, December 7, 2013

Song of the Day: Start Wearing Purple

Nearly all the clothes I brought with me are either black or purple. Since 95% of my clothes are merino wool I had to wait and buy most of them when they went on sale. The colour most likely found on sale is, you guessed it, purple! When traveling it's a good idea to stick with a few colours so that you can wear everything together. Apparently, purple isn't a common choice though...

Here's to causing people to exclaim in surprise when they see you (not) wearing purple for once!

I miss Scotland already.

Friday, December 6, 2013

British Sweets are Awesome, or Why I'm Now Diabetic

My friend in Dundee decided to totally ruin American sweets for me entirely. The ruination actually started with the Thorntons chocolates I wrote about in my previous post. He wasn't content to stop there. Over the course of about a week I had so many delicious sweets. Not all of them are shown here, they were devoured without thought of photos.

Behold the sweet yummy treasure:

First up we have the Double Decker:
Nougat, krispies, and chocolate. Yum! It's like a Krackel bar with fluffy nougat.

Honeycomb inside, chocolate outside. Good enough reason to never leave the UK.

Pretty much identical to a Mounds bar, but without high fructose corn syrup.

 Kinder Bueno:
Hazelnut in a bar with amazing chocolate. NOM NOM NOM
If I win the lottery I'm getting my winnings in Kinder Buenos.

Little cubes of way-better-than-American chocolate.

Tastes like magic and coconut.

Chocolate, peanuts, and raisins. Meh. Still loads better than most US candy bars.

Licorice stick and a powdered sugar that's like one part Pixy Stix, one part Fun Dip, and a hint of Pop Rocks. Sounds good, but I actually prefer any of those to a sherbet fountain.

Not pictured:
Aero bars: *****
Excellent chocolate bars. I highly recommend the mint.

After Eights: *****
Pretty much identical to Andes Mints.

Poppets: *****
Little bits of chocolatey delicious heaven.

Thursday, December 5, 2013

The Food is Awesome, Wish You Were Here

From my second day in Scotland people have been feeding me. Americans, Australians, Scots, French... I'm not sure what it is about me, or if this happens to everyone - but it's fantastic.

The cook at Alison's Guesthouse kept urging me to eat various dishes even though she served me such a huge breakfast there's no way I could have finished it. 

The amazing people I met at the hostels in Oban and Skye kept offering to share their food with me. Everything from home-made crepes, fruit, delicious pasta, cheesecake, to unlabelled mystery alcohol. 

My hosts in Carnoustie cooked delicious meals for me, including haggis. My host's mother visited me every three days or so and always brought some kind of sweet for our tea. She also brought me various things like croissants, tomatoes, ham, yogurt, and sticky toffee pudding (my favourite). She also brought me Thorntons chocolate on her last visit.

My friend in Dundee had me try black pudding (not as good as haggis, but still quite tasty), fruit pudding (yum!), and loads of sweets. I think I've had more candy and chocolate in the past week than I've had in the past year. Here's a preview of what he plied me with:

Thorntons Premium: ***** 
Like Whitman's chocolates? You must not have tried Thorntons then.

Nougat: ***
Pink and white candy bar that resembles the nougat layer in a Snickers (but less corn syrupy sweet). I find it very odd to eat without the additional chocolate flavour, but quite tasty on its own.

Not to be confused with real Turkish Delight that tempted young Edmund in The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe. This sweet is (vaguely) rose-flavoured candy with a chocolate covering. The texture is very very strange.

Saturday, November 30, 2013

Vortex of Scottish Charm

The whole thing is fantastic, but the bit at 3:25? Totally spot-on. They really are that charming. 


(I have no idea why this doesn't play on the mobile version of my blog.)

Friday, November 29, 2013

Dundee (City Center)

Spent some time in Dundee last week and again yesterday. Overall impression: it reminds me a bit of Springfield, Missouri - if Springfield wasn't designed solely for cars and the people were much friendlier.

Here's a street illusionist I saw while waiting for my friend.

I've seen much better street performers in New Orleans, but listening to all the freaked out people as they passed by was amusing. 

Friday, November 15, 2013

Song of the Day: Jane S. Piddy

I first heard Sixto Rodriguez in the lounge of Oban Backpackers. After several days of hearing his songs, but being too shy to ask about the artist (because everyone knows way more about music than me, and generally thinks I listen to crap) I was lucky enough to overhear a conversation about him. Rodriguez's story is fascinating. He was a massive star in South Africa, but didn't know it! There was even a documentary about him, Searching for Sugar Man

This evening I kicked the dogs out of the kitchen and played this album while I cooked, sang, and danced. 

Amazingly, the dogs only protested during the first song and then quieted down. I think they liked it, and I hope you do too. 

Wednesday, November 13, 2013


So I didn't put much stock in people's reactions to my trip to Scotland. I ignored them when they told me Glasgow was a bore for anyone not interested in crazy warehouse parties or shopping. I was hesitant but interested when numerous people, including a Downtown Patrol Officer, suggested Oban. And now I'm in Carnoustie where several people scoffed and asked why the hell I'd come if I'm not interested in golf. Sometimes... it's best to listen to people when they know what they're talking about.

There is nothing inherently wrong with this town. Crime, I am told, is very low. There is a grocery store and pub about half a mile away. There are numerous shops and restaurants just a bit farther. But where Oban was small and charming, Carnoustie just feels like sprawl. The neighborhood I'm staying in is bordered by fields and the sea. Here's a look at what I see during my dog-walking. 


Fields and Sea

The neighborhood by night. 

My captors

The weird thing about this place is that I often hear gunfire in the distance. There's a military outpost of some sort about a mile away. They seem to practice quite a lot. The dogs aren't bothered by this for some reason. 

Friday, November 8, 2013

Dog-Sitting in Carnoustie

 Buttons and me hanging out on the couch. 

Both dogs are currently sitting on me. I can't hear fireworks, but I saw a few earlier when I was walking the dogs. Cassie is particularly unhappy about the situation. 

Alex, for whom I am dog-sitting, made haggis, neeps, and tatties for me this afternoon. It was DELICIOUS. 

Sunday, November 3, 2013


Oban Backpackers put on a great party for Halloween. I was so thrilled to hang out with this group on my favorite day of the year. We even went en masse to a pub down the street (running when it started to hail). Here are just a few shots, taken by a very talented French traveler (his cooking is even better than his photography).

My hostel family!

Before and After

It was a glorious morning here in Oban so I decided to walk up Battleship Hill. I wasn't exactly sure which hill it was, but everyone said it was behind Dunollie Castle so I figured it wouldn't be too difficult. It only takes about 15 minutes to get to the castle, especially if you go via the walking path and not the road along the water.
The path takes you to a gate, and then it's sheep pasture the rest of the way. It wasn't problematic until I got to about halfway up where there was another gate. The mud was deceptively deep and I sank pretty far down. I'm so glad I decided to buy new boots. My Simple wool boots would have been ruined. 

Here's the view from the hill looking down at Dunollie Castle. 

See the rain in the distance? It took about 15 minutes for it to reach me. Luckily, I had my rain jacket. Unluckily, IT HAILED. I just waited the shower out partially sheltered from the hail by some rocks.

Here's the same view after 15 min rain/hail shower. 

I love Scotland, you get rewarded with rainbows so close you can almost touch them.  
Can you see the snow on the distant peaks?

I didn't fancy another pelting of hail so I decided to head back into town

Oh La La

I was talking with a fellow traveler this evening about alternative money making opportunities and Fiverr came up. A few years ago I had a gig on there where I hula-hooped for 30 seconds with messages written in dry-erase marker on my stomach while wearing a swimsuit. It was a weird job, but I made about $12/hr with very little work. The song I used most often was Goldfrapp's Oh La La. Just thought I'd share in case anyone is starting to look at their bank account and the rapidly decreasing days until Christmas with nervous dread.

Monday, October 28, 2013

Isle of Skye

Today I took a minibus (van) tour of Skye. The one I took picked me up at my hostel at 11:30, and dropped me off again at 16:25. (Cost £35.)

We saw the Old Man of Storr (almost visible here). 

The gorgeous Mealt Waterfall with Kilt Rock in the distance.

The East Face of the Quirang

 The Cuillin Hills

It was beautiful; windy, rainy, and cold. 

I'll be heading back to Oban tomorrow morning, but now it's time for soup and tea. 

Loch Ness and Urquhart Castle

On Saturday I left Oban by bus (£9.40 to Fort William plus £10.20 to Urquhart). When I got to Urquhart Castle I realized that paying wasn't optional. The toilets, gift shop, view of the water, and tour of the castle were all one entrance. Since the next bus to Kyleakin was in six hours I decided to pay the £7.90 admission.

View of Loch Ness from the footpath to Drumnadrochit.

The full story is that I missed my stop at Urquhart and got off 2 miles down the road at the next stop. Luckily, there was a paved footpath along the road back to the castle, unluckily, I was carrying my 20 pound pack. 

I read every plaque and walked every inch of the castle ruins. That took about an hour, with much staring out at the water. 

View from castle ruins; of part of castle and Loch Ness. 

I then bought a hot chocolate at the cafe (£2.50) and plunked myself down at one of their tables watching movies on my phone until they closed at 16:30. 

I walked around the gift shop for a bit then decided I'd rather sit outside and hope a bus came early. It didn't. I waited outside until 17:45. In the rain. The bus to Kyleakin was £20.40!! And it was dark out so I didn't even get to enjoy the view. I wasn't expecting to spend so much on bus fare, and I had just enough. 

Skye Backpackers was mercifully close to the bus stop in Kyleakin. I stayed in one of the caravans (Starship Enterprise, Sulu bed) behind the hostel (£12/night). 
It's a bit loud and chaotic here compared to Oban. The showers are spread out in the main building, and aren't as nice as Oban's. The people tend to clump together based on language spoken, which is unfortunate. It's not a bad hostel by any means, and the price is good, but it isn't as homey as Oban. 

Saturday, October 26, 2013

Slovakian Schnapps

Just say no when a group of Scots and Australians offer you alcohol. 

Unless you are trying to forget your terrible day at Loch Ness. 

Then don't let them pour. 

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Manly Scottish Battle Cry

A fellow American traveler and I decided to walk to Dunstaffnage Castle today. It was supposed to be an hour walk there. It took us five hours round trip.

On the way there we stopped at the beautiful beach just a ways outside Oban and climbed a hill. 

We also encountered some ferocious young Highlanders practicing their battle cries.

Then we walked to Dunstaffnage Castle while discussing David Tennant's beauty and Scottish men's general sexiness. 

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Kilmartin Standing Stones

Saw my first proper standing stones today. Another traveler and I took the bus (£5 one way) to Kilmartin this morning. It was a lovely drive, and there were only three of us on the coach! The bus schedule was a little limited so although we set off early in the morning we ended up missing the only afternoon bus back to Oban. We decided to hitchhike back to Oban. We only waited about 15 minutes before someone picked us up. The gentleman was nice and friendly, and pointed out interesting bits of history along the way. He was kind enough to drop us off right in the center of Oban.

Cairn with Stone Circle

This was a standing stone formation just outside the town. They say it's an X-formation aligned to the phases of the moon. 

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

The Necropolis

So, because I'm not a huge fan of partying I didn't enjoy Glasgow very much. (My fellow travelers at the hostel here in Oban assure me Glasgow has fantastic warehouse parties.) Originally, I thought I'd stay there for a week then go to Oban for a day. Two days were plenty for me in Glasgow, but I think I could stay in Oban forever. I did enjoy my tour of The Necropolis though. It was a gorgeous cemetery patterned after the Père Lachaise Cemetery in Paris. Here are the highlights:

The Outside, Northwest corner

Ghoul Gate near the entrance

Weeping Angels. Don't Blink. 

The best-preserved monument I saw. Many of them were missing pieces, leaning, or had fallen over. This one was nearly perfect. It was also about 20' tall. 

Glasgow isn't always rainy, here's proof. 

More Weeping Angels. I think I was being followed. 

The variation on monuments even next to each other was amazing. 

Saw this on my way from my hostel to my guesthouse. This was before I saw the Weeping Angels. 

This is just outside the Necropolis, seen after the Weeping Angels. 

The really odd thing about The Necropolis was the smell. I kept smelling men's cologne as I walked around it, both inside and outside the cemetery.