Thursday, 16 October 2014

Small beginnings

A new road bridge is taking shape across the River Forth.  Lots of word play about it being the 'second fo(u)rth bridge'.  We don't cross the Forth all that often - about once a month perhaps - so each time we do there's quite a bit of progress to be seen.  This past weekend we could see the support for what will be the carriageway taking shape.  And the pillars grow ever higher.

Down at water level there is a great bustle of supply boats, and at night the work continues and the pillars are lit up like purposeful Christmas trees.

A national competition was held to choose the name of the bridge.  From a selection that included the St Margaret crossing, the Saltire crossing and the Queensferry crossing, the Queensferry crossing was the most popular.  I am old enough to remember a time before the current bridge was built, when cars crossed the Forth by actual ferry. I'm only in my mid 50s, and it seems quite incredible that in my lifetime we have gone from a manageable queue of cars on a small stone slipway, to two bridges to cope with the weight of traffic.

I would be able to bring you a much clearer view of the new bridge's progress if I could bear to take photos from the footpath on the old bridge.  People merrily jog across the bridge, families take Sunday strolls across it, but such is my fear of heights that I wouldn't put myself through that suffering for the sake of a blog photo!

Sunday, 5 October 2014

Skywatch Friday - The Balmoral

Streaming clouds provide the backdrop to an Edinburgh landmark, the Balmoral Hotel.  I've lived in Edinburgh long enough now to slip up occasionally and call it by its former name, the North British.  It was built in 1902 as the railway hotel for the North British Railway Company, and sits beside Waverley Station.  Apart from the useful information that it has a very nice cocktail bar, I can tell you two things about it:

  • the clock is set fast to help travellers going for a train hurry up and get there on time.  There's some debate as to whether it's 2 or 3 minutes fast.  I suppose I should check for myself by looking at it when the 1 o'clock gun is fired from Edinburgh Castle.
  • JK Rowling finished the final chapter of the last Harry Potter book in a suite in the hotel.  The suite has now been named after her, contains her writing desk and a bust of Hermes, the Greek god of travel, signed by JKR, and you can stay there for around £1,000 a night. 
 More skies from around the world are at Skywatch Friday

Wednesday, 24 September 2014


Back in May we had decided that we were so fed up with the all-pervasive independence referendum that, whatever the result, we wanted to escape  the day after.  And so we booked cheap flights to Sweden, and steeled ourselves to get up at 3.30 a.m. on 19 September.  

There was no time to turn on news and hear the progress of the outcome before our taxi arrived.  Votes were being counted during the night by council region of Scotland - you can see the breakdown of the final result here.   Thankfully our driver was of the taciturn variety - I had been dreading a chatty  journey with a running commentary on the latest results to come in.  At the airport people were glued to their mobiles and tablets.  Halfway through my breakfast porridge in the Italian Cafe Nero (love that particularly Scottish combination), I had to go to the chemist and buy earplugs to block out the constant reading out of results around me.  All I could bear was to know the final result, and then just to move on, for better or worse.

We were just boarding the plane in Edinburgh as the result began to be firming up, and my husband showed me a picture on his mobile of a glum-looking leader of the nationalist party, but it wasn't until we arrived in Gothenburg that it was a definite 'No' to independence.  We had left Edinburgh in the same fog and drizzle that had hung low over the city for the past few days, and we emerged from that darkness into the clear light of the northern autumn.  I think I will always remember walking across the tarmac at Gothenburg airport into the low morning sun, and feeling the lifting of a great weight.

During our visit we spent a day with a Swedish friend at her summer hut, catching up on several years' worth of news and watching boats sailing through the archipelago.  It was the escape we needed.

Wednesday, 10 September 2014

Anguish, annoyance and absence

Or - reasons why I haven't been blogging.  Let's take them reverse order.  

Absence:  it's been a busy summer.  Busy at work, busy with family comings and goings, and I've had no inclination to be in front of a computer screen.  Another screen did claim my attention during July, as the annual Tour de France is essential viewing for me.  The photo above shows a patriotic breakfast from a Tour de France day, complete with home-grown blueberries and alpine strawberries.

Before touring France mentally by bicycle, my husband and I toured the Tarn valley in south west France much, much more slowly on foot.  Each day's walking started with steep ascents through chestnut and oak forests, up out of the valley floor and onto the high plateau.   Here I am below, complete with blindingly white Scottish legs and fetching hat.  The heat was pretty crushing for us Scots - mid 90s.  We were only walking about 10 miles a day, but it was enough in the heat. 

Our starting point was the beautiful city of Albi, with its cathedral of rose-coloured brick. 

We certainly saw a lot of fields of barley, with many more wild flowers along the edges than would be the case in Scotland.  Butterflies and bees were also much more in evidence, as were rather large snakes, which I could have done without.

At the end of each day, with our luggage transported in advance, we could look forward to cool drinks and regional cuisine in small family hotels.  If you are ever in this area, do stay at the Hostellerie des Lauriers in Villeneuve-sur-Tarn - mouthwatering sample below.

We visited medieval villages en route - another rare glimpse of me, below, at Brousse le Chateau.   I seem to be rather podgy round the middle in this photo.  Must be all the gourmet meals. 

More of Brousse le Chateau, with gathering thundercloud.

No summer is complete for us without a visit to Speyside, this time including whisky tasting at the Macallan distillery.

What about the annoyance?  Well, I started fiddling around with my blog template one night, and before I knew it the whole thing had transformed itself with no apparent way of going back to the previous template.  I was so annoyed with it that I signed up to Wordpress, but have had no time to set about the laborious-for-me business of creating a new template.  So absence and annoyance together combined to keep me away from blogging.

And finally anguish. With the Scottish independence referendum looming next week I am finding it impossible to think any sort of creative, positive thoughts, as I face the possibility that the UK may be split apart and I may have my identity as a British citizen taken away from me.  I find this deeply depressing and unsettling. For myself, but most of all for future generations.  Whether I have the heart to return to blogging if there is such a profound upheaval in my life isn't clear to me at the moment.  

Edited to add this link, which shows why my anguish is well founded:

Negotiations after a Scottish referendum yes vote.

Saturday, 24 May 2014

Cycling to Syria

In aid of Unicef's Children of Syria Emergency Appeal, a group of cyclists is cycling the 3,284.5 miles from Edinburgh to Syria at the east end of Princes Street over two days.  I encountered them cheerfully setting up yesterday morning on my way to work.  By the time I passed then again on the homeward journey after 6pm they were into the grimly determined phase.  From the map below they seemed to be on the German border, judging by the white dot.

Their fundraising page is here, if you're moved to donate.

Sunday, 18 May 2014

Amazing Antwerp

Cathedral of Our Lady

After being bagpiped in Brussels, we did a quick hop by train to Antwerp.    Because this was my daughter's first visit to Antwerp I was determined that I wasn't going to be the annoying mother-with-camera and intrude on our precious time together by photo-bagging.  So although  Antwerp is worthy of a photo at every step, I only have a few glimpses to show you.


We stayed in a self-catering apartment overlooking Vrijdagmarkt, or 'Friday market'.  Unfortunately we weren't there on a Friday, so missed the market, but the square was a microcosm of Antwerp life.  A mix of cafes, residential apartments and one of Antwerp's major museums, daily life went on under our windows.  Most striking of all, life cycled by under our windows - the square was criss-crossed by cyclists at all times of day.  Early morning workers, the husband on the baguette run for breakfast, children being taken to nursery on the back of bikes, business people with laptop cases strapped on the carrier, students pedaling dreamily towards lectures.

Plantin-Moretus Museum
The museum, Plantin-Moretus, is on the right in the shot above.  If you've heard of the Plantin typeface, it was named after the original printer Cristoffel Plantijn, whose home this was.  The printing presses are still there, set up ready to print 440 years later, together with some of the earliest printed books, ancient manuscripts, paintings by Rubens, and all the furnishings of daily 16th century life.  To make up for my lack of photos you can catch a glimpse in this video - although the ferociously elegant 'visitor' skips past the most fascinating manuscripts! 

Downstairs cafe

Below, one of my few words of Dutch, but an important one: 'winkels' means 'shops'.  This is Antwerp Central Station - a cathedral of rail travel from the turn of the last century at ground level, with two futuristic underground levels dating from 2007.

Antwerp station

More transport - a typical Belgian bike.

Typical Belgian bike

If you're lucky enough to visit Antwerp, do consider staying at Aplace apartments.  Decorated in quirky vintage style complete with vinyl records and a ferocious coffee machine which we failed to master despite looking up a tutorial on daughter's phone, our apartment was an absolute delight.  (Edited to say that the coffee machine failure was all ours - we are not a coffee machine family at all.  Our most technical piece of coffee apparatus is like the yellow 'Koffie-Automaat' in the shot below.)

Aplace living room

Aplace kitchen

Aplace dining area and view to square



More my style
I wanted to stay.  For a long time I've thought that if I wasn't British I'd like to be Norwegian or Canadian, but now I have to add Belgian to the list, or more particularly Antwerpish.  I think Dutch is going to have to be one of this autumn's evening classes.

Sunday, 4 May 2014

Bagpipes in Brussels

At the end of March my daughter and I hopped on the Eurostar for a mother-daughter holiday in Belgium.  I have no Eurostar photos for you, because I was so entranced by the journey that I forgot to take any.  Travelling all the way to Brussels by train was magical.  Just a short hop across the road in London from King's Cross to St Pancras International, a quick passage through security, and then on to the train.  The route from London to the Channel Tunnel goes through Kent, and it was lovely to see this part of the UK. There's still so much more of my country that I want to explore.

We spent the first night in Brussels, just off the Grand Place/Grote Markt. The next day we were returning to our hotel after a quick trip to the English bookshop (daughter having exhausted her reading material on the journey from Edinburgh), when we realised that there was a procession forming.  At first it all seemed very Belgian, with unfamiliar ceremonial uniforms. 

And then suddenly - a pipe band.

Followed by what appeared to be 'anciens combattants' (veterans).

The whole procession congregated in the Grand Place itself. Competition for viewing spots was fierce.  I definitely need to polish up my pushing-to-the-front skills. 

The Belgian police band played, and then the pipe band formed a circle and played Scottish tunes, among them Highland Cathedral and The Bonny Lass of FyvieHearing the pipes far from home made the hairs stand up on the back of my neck.  No-one around us in the crowd seemed to know what the event was.  I chatted in French to a lady beside me, who said that she wasn't from Brussels herself, but one thing was sure - there was always something going on in Brussels. Very true - just behind the massed flags a joyful same-sex marriage was emerging from the Town Hall.

I leave you with this puzzled piper - any guesses as to what he's thinking?  And if Anni from This is Belgium knows what the event was on 22 March, please tell us!


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