Monday, March 31, 2008

TV Shows

I'm becoming a big fan of both Ninja Warrior and Unbeatable Banzuke. I'm shocked that- at least to my knowledge- neither of these shows has been "bought" and retooled for American audiences. Oh well, I'm enjoying them regardless!


...was kind of crappy. Filled with lots of unforeseen, time consuming, menial tasks and frustrating situations.

Saturday, March 29, 2008

It's opening night for...MLS!

My New England Revolution gained some small (very small) measure of revenge (2-0) against the Houston Dynamo tonight. I have to admit being more than a little concerned at the lack of movement during the off-season after losing Noonan and Dorman, but the Revs looked to be in mid-season form and the two Gambian players who saw a little time last year looked great. I guess in the future I'll just trust Stevie Nicol to make the right moves.

It is also clear that the L.A. Galaxy still suck (they just went down 3-0 to the Colorado Rapids...the Rapids!?). It would probably be good for MLS and soccer in America in general if the team that fields both Landycakes and Soccer Spice were at least competitive, but it's not looking that way.

All criticism aside, Beckam's crosses really are on a different level. It's just too bad they all roll out of bounds as his teammates stand and watch.

In unrelated sports news, the ageless Tim Wakefield is pitching a nice game tonight in the alternate universe that is the exhibition game being played against the Dodgers in the L.A. Coliseum. And speaking of the Dodgers, Jeff Kent is their second baseman- I didn't realized he was still playing, what is he, 50?

Stop Eight: Glasgow and Home

My final day in Scotland was in Glasgow where I did only one thing of substance and that was to go out to Hampden Park and visit the Scottish Football Museum/Hall of Fame. I've seen several matches at Hampden in the past, but never had enough time to see the museum. It was pretty good. I think my only criticism is that it lacks focus. Specifically, it goes in a great many directions but doesn't fully explore any of them. Nevertheless, it was worth the trip and I bought a nice souvenir in the gift shop.

The highlight of my return to Glasgow, however, was returning to my B & B to find that my kilt had arrived! I can't wait to wear it for the first time- hopefully to a local Highland Games or Scottish Festival this summer.

It was an early night as my flight left for Amsterdam at 6:00am, which meant hopping into a cab at 4:00am in order to make sure I was at the airport and through security on time.

The flight was fine, but being marooned in Schilpol Airport for five hours was not what I needed at the end of a two week trip. Schilpol might be the only place I've ever been that's more expensive than Iceland.

The flight home seemed to last forever, but that might just be because there were lots of crabby small children who had no interest in being quiet for even a few seconds. There was also plenty of turbulence and the worst airline food I've had in a long time. In many ways, it was the opposite of the flight over.

All in all, however, it was a great trip, a much needed vacation, and I can't wait to go back for visit number five!

Friday, March 28, 2008

My favorite "Kids in the Hall" sketch...ever!

I was discussing this with somebody earlier today, so I thought I'd share a link to it. I especially like the last scene with the kid in the park.

Thursday, March 27, 2008

Stop Seven: Ayr

In the almost two weeks since I was in Ayr I am no closer to having a handle on it than I was when I was there. On the one hand, it has an incredibly rich history dating all the way back to the 14th century. On the other hand, there's a little too much of a Jersey Shore/Lake George/Weirs Beach vibe to it. I'm not sure if I liked it or not, so, for now, I'm going to reserve judgment on it.

The highlight of my trip to Ayr was going to Somerset Park to see Ayr United face off against my team, Ross County F.C.- I was especially excited for this math because the Ross County home match I had intended to attend a week earlier had been postponed due to a water-logged pitch. The match was made even better because Ross County won 2-0, preserving my impress "no loss" streak (see the new post on this subject for details).

I also spent one afternoon in air watching Dundee United choke away the C.I.S. Insurance Cun Final to Celtic not once, not twice, but three different tiems- ARGHHH!

Also in Ayr I had genuinely spicy food for the first time in half dozen visits to the U.K. I think, thankfully, we here in the States have a better developed palate where hot food is concerned, so I was genuinely shocked when the "spicy baguette" I ordered at a deli was actually spicy, and even moreso when the hot chili sauce I got on my my noodles at...a noodle shop, were not just spicy, but downright hot!

Oh, and a tip to future visitors to Ayr, the town shuts down at 5:30 most days, and on Sunday you better be happy with SPAR and a few chippies if you're looking to get some dinner!

Richard Widmark (1914-2008)

Earlier this week the actor Richard Widmark passed away. In my mind, Widmark was one of those actors (along with Dan Duryea, Sterling Hayden, and the pre-City Slickers Jack Palance) who were "actors" rather "than movie stars." They possessed great dramatic range and could carry a movie without dominating it. As a result, Widmark and the others regularly chosen to"star" in films noir and in westerns (most of which, were, by definition, "B" pictures), or were paired with or against bigger "stars" in "A" pictures. Widmark and his ilk were not character actors, but they weren't Humphrey Bogart or John Wayne either. Within this very respectable "niche" Widmark carved out an exceptional career. Widmark appeared in just over 60 movies, among them were: He will be missed.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Burts Smoked Streaky Bacon Crisps 150gMcVities Milk Chocolate "Digestive" Biscuits
Here are three of the not-available-in-most-of-the-US-unless-you-buy
them-on-the-internet foodstuffs I tasted while in Scotland.

1. Burt's smoked streaky bacon crisps were okay, just not bacon-y enough for my taste.
2. McVitie's milk chocolate digestive biscuits are an old favorite- I love them and they are even better dipped into hot tea. It's actually good that it's hard to find in the States, or I'd eat way too many of them.
3. And then there is IRN-BRU, Scotland's favorite (non-alcoholic) beverage. Do I like it? I don't know, I just don't know. The only thing I do know is that it is not good warm, not good at all.

Stop Six: Ballachulish

The drive from Portree to Ballachulish via Ft. William was yet another one full of beautiful scenery. In this case, the fields along the road were full of stags for large parts of the journey.

The point of visiting Ballachulish for the very first time was to visit the village (pop. 639) where my great, great grandfather was born and worked in the slate quarry (seen in the foreground of the picture). What I was not expecting was how picturesque the area was. Located on the shores of Loch Leven and beneath the twin peaks of Beinn a' Bheithir, with the River Laroch running through the middle of it, Ballachulish was one of the most beautiful places I've ever visited in Scotland.

The first day in the village was mainly spent exploring the quarry and the surrounding area and finished with dinner at the village's one pub, The Laroch, where I dined on (venison) bangers and mash while watching a UEFA Cup match- not a bad way to spend an evening.

On day two I walked a mile down the road to Glencoe where I visited the monument erected to commemorate the thirty-seven members of the MacDonald clan killed by government forces in 1692. I returned to Ballachulish where I visited St. John's Church and walked the Brecklet Path above and behind the quarry.

One final fact about Ballahculish, the bank is open two days a week for a total of five hours.

Monday, March 24, 2008

Stop Five: The Isle of Skye

The ferry from Tarbert took me from the Isle of Harris to the Isle of Skye, home of, among other things, my clan, the MacDonalds.

The ferry ride was rough, but I'm not prone to seasickness, so I was just fine. Others on the boat did not fare as well...

I arrived in Uig (OO-ig) on the Isle of Skye and was greeted by very strong winds and what can best be described as "unpredictable" weather the minute I stepped off the ferry and onto the jetty.

However, I had it in my plans to walk from Uig to Portree (15 miles) and I wasn't going to let a little weather deter me, so I geared up and got to walking. The winds at one point were a sustained 50mph- I had to lean sideways into it to avoid being blown into the roadside ditches on several occasions. Oh, and in addition to raining and snowing intermittently, it also hailed. Sideways hail at 50mph hurts, a lot. All things considered however, the walk was fun. I was appropriately geared up and I made better time than I thought I was going to.

Upon arriving in Portree I felt something I had, until that point, only been jealous of in others. I was the intrepid traveler arriving in town from parts unknown. I could just about hear people thinking the things I have always thought about such hearty souls- "Who is he?" "Where did he come from?" "Where is he headed next?" I was, "that guy" and it felt great!

The bed in my otherwise fine B & B was the worst one of the trip, but after my walk from Uig and all of the other walking I did in and around town, it did really matter.

What does one take away from a trip to the Isle of Skye? Simply that it is one of the most beautiful places on earth.

Sunday, March 23, 2008

Stop Four: The Outer Hebrides

I next departed Inverness for the very scenic trip to Ullapool where I caught the ferry to Stornoway on the Isle of Lewis (Stornoway Harbour is the first picture above). One of the things I was looking forward to doing in Stornoway was going to the Museum nan Eilean (Western Isles Museum), but sadly, and even though I checked their website before leaving for Scotland, it was closed. However, during my unsuccessful trip to the museum, I witnessed an "old-fashioned" funeral- the kind where the women stay behind in the churchyard and the men follow the hearse to the cemetery in pairs.

Also while in Stornoway I heard many people speaking Gaelic on the streets and I was able to wander around the grounds of Lews Castle- a beautiful, but empty and decaying building.

From Stornoway it was a short and also very scenic bus trip to Tarbert on the Isle of Harris.* During the trip I missed the photo-op of a lifetime as I observed- from the bus window- three sheep who had sought relief from the rain and window by taking refuge in a bus shelter! Tarbert is much, much smaller than Stornoway and much, much quieter. In fact, as far as I could tell I was the only tourist in town the day/night I was there, and that was just fine with me.

*Lewis and Harris are actually part of the same landmass despite being referred to as separate "isles." There is a natural change in topography between the two isles (Harris is much more mountainous than Lewis), but there it is.

Friday, March 21, 2008

Stop Three: Inverness

The scenery on the bus trip from Aberdeen to Inverness was, in a word, bleak. With the exception of Elgin, which looked like a kind of interesting little city, I don't see myself spending time any more time in Scotland's northeastern corner.

Whatever the case, it brought me to one of my favorite cities anywhere- Inverness. As I've said before, it's just the right size, a half hour drive in any direction leads to magnificent scenery, it's small enough to walk around, and it's one of the more "wallet-friendly" cities in Scotland.

On this visit, I spent three days in and around the city. Among the highlights were buying a kilt (Modern Clan Donald tartan), walking up to the ruins of the Pictish fort on Craig Phadrig, and visiting a museum and an art gallery.

The lowlights: Being denied a trip to Dingwall to see Ross County FC play Brechin City because torrential rains had flooded the pitch, the small size of my room at the B & B, and eating at KFC (I try to avoid junk food- especially of the American variety when I travel- one needs to try to be adventurous, doesn't one?).

And then there was Kenny. Kenny was the proprietor of the B & B where I stayed. I had already made up my mind about him ("life-long bachelor"...not that there's anything wrong with that...), but then on my way out on the last day I saw the painting on the wall: Kenny in the middle wearing a red sweater surrounded by a ring of individual portraits...of his cocker spaniels. Uh huh.

Thursday, March 20, 2008


In addition to my "travel diary" posts from my trip, I'm also going to share some of the more general comments and questions that I made note of during my trip. Here they are!
  • It seemed to me that a lot of the news presenters on the various BBC channels were South Asian. I wonder why that is?
  • According to folklore, the sandwich was "invented" in the U.K. If that's the case, when did they forget how to make them? Here's a tip- there are condiments other than mayonnaise!
  • And speaking of mayonnaise- which I DETEST- one evening while standing in a "chippie" waiting for my dinner I watched a man put mayonnaise on his fried chicken. I didn't know whether to vomit or seek counseling. Here are somethings that normal people might put on fried chicken: gravy, barbecue sauce, or even honey.
  • I encountered some escalators that went up on the "wrong side" like people in the UK drive on the "wrong side."
  • English variety shows (the names of them escape me at the moment) are almost as odd as Japanese game shows- and that's saying something!
  • I don't care what anyone says, Heinz ketchup in the U.K. has a thinner consistency and a more vinegary taste than Heinz ketchup does in the U.S.
  • "Plans" and "Projects" are called "schemes" in the U.K., which always tends to make me- as an outsider- vaguely suspicious of them no matter how well-intentioned.
  • There are two kinds of women between the ages of, say, 18 and 35 in Scotland. Those who are stunningly beautiful without any make-up whatsoever, and those who trowel it on by the pound and still look hideous. (I've never claimed I wasn't shallow!)
  • How hard is it to make a shower that a) has decent water pressure and b) stays at the same temperature during your entire shower?! This especially bothers me because in Scotland because there is literally fresh, clear, abundant water bubbling out of the ground everywhere that isn't covered with asphalt. All other Europeans should visit Iceland, where the shower head is basically a fire hose spewing super-heated water!
  • And speaking of hoses... while public transportation in Scotland is generally abundant, convenient, and reasonably priced, if you're traveling to or from an out-of-the-way place, or- woe is you- from one out-of-the-way place to another, you'll get "hosed" for your ticket.
  • In the U.S. we have spurned the metric system. I don't have an opinion on that one way or another. But what's going on in the U.K. In theory, they've adopted the metric system, yet, they still measure body weight in "stone" (14 pounds) and the weight of other objects (automobiles, for example) in "hundredweights" (8 stone). And yes, I'm well aware that a "hundredweight" weighs 112 pounds- I didn't make up the system!
Okay, so I'm not exactly Alexis de Tocqueville, but I thought these things were interesting.

Stop Two: Aberdeen

Having not visited Aberdeen during any of my previous trips to Scotland, I made a point of doing so this time. My review is "mixed," but more on that in a moment.

The bus ride from Glasgow to Aberdeen was nothing special, which is "saying something," because there are numerous bus rides and train rides in Scotland that take you through some breathtaking landscapes.

While in Aberdeen I visited the Maritime Museum (it was excellent), visited Pittodrie Stadium (home of Aberdeen F.C.), and Bishop Skene's (pictured)- the oldest private residence in the city. I enjoyed all of these things.

About that "mixed review"... Aberdeen is a "boomtown." The problem is that the North Sea oil that caused the "boom" arrived almost 800 years after the city was chartered. Thus, a city with beautiful architecture ranging from medieval to Victorian is also full of ugly, poorly-placed, and unimaginative office buildings from the 1970s. It is almost impossible to take a picture of one of the beautiful buildings without having the corner of a building that looks like it was plucked out of East Berlin jutting into it. For example, Provost Skene's house is surrounded by just such buildings. If one has any appreciation of architecture or history is just gets depressing after a while.

Add this to the fact that all of the money coming into the city makes the cost of living very expensive (even moreso for a visitor) and that the rides to and from the city are underwhelming and I probably won't return to it. I'm glad I went, but given how many better places there are in Scotland to spend time in, once was enough.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Stop One: Glasgow/Bellshill

I'm going to condense my trip into "stops" rather than "days" so that I can be a little more compact in my posts.

Let's start with the flight, Bradley to Amsterdam. This was the best long-distance flight I've ever taken. Why, because there were so few people on it that anyone who wanted one, could have their own row! I took full advantage of mine and slept more than I ever have before on a trans-Atlantic flight.

I stayed in Glasgow's West End. I like this area because it is relatively quiet, near some major museums, and home to one of the city's universities. This time my B & B (which was "fine") was within walking distance of Firhill Park, home of Partick Thistle, so I went to check that out. Later, I went to see a movie so that I wouldn't sleep all afternoon. That night, while getting dinner, I saw the following spray-painted on a wall, "Resistance is the secret to joy." I wonder what the Latin is for "In vandalism there is truth?"

The next morning- before heading off to Aberdeen- I took the bus out to Bellshill, birthplace of my late grandmother. I'm not sure why I never did this on previous trips to Scotland...maybe because this is the first time I've gone since she died and because I was alone. Anyway, the picture is of 4 Hamilton Road, the house where she was born.

Tomorrow: Aberdeen

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

I'm home!

And really tired.

Major posts- with photos!- coming in the next few days.