Friday, September 13, 2013

Loch Ness, Glencoe & The Highlands - Beautiful Scottish Scenery

The Scottish Highlands - picture courtesy of Janice!
 Despite our shared hatred of package tours, Janice and I decided to take the Loch Ness Glencoe Highlands day trip as a part of our experience in Scotland. We both knew it was a packaged tour (through Haggis Adventures), yet we were both somehow disappointed by the fact that it was a packaged tour at the end of our day!  The scenery was breathtaking and the historical facts our tour guide spouted as we drove on the six hour journey were fascinating, but the rushed, packaged feeling (and the type of travellers you meet on tourist packages) was not.

1) The fact that the people we were sitting next to were talking SO LOUDLY we couldn't hear the commentary was incredibly annoying 

2) The fact that people on the bus got SUPER annoyed/catty/offended when we moved seats to hear better after our first stop (to seats without people's stuff on them, of course). Apparently moving seats "confuses" the tour guide and "causes an issue" for the travellers.  

3) Everyone seemed to just want to snap a photo and leave. Loch Ness -Check. Glencoe - Check. SERIOUSLY? What happened to enjoying the scenery, hiking, wandering and discovering a place for yourself?  Next time, I'll have a British Driver's License and take a car! (Trust me, I ranted on their feedback form)

We also discovered the same day that there is (*GASP*) a food Janice doesn't like --- haggis! Janice likes every food I've ever seen her eat (or talked to her about eating ;)

Here are a few fun historical highlights, followed by a slideshow!

  •  In 1707, James VIII of Scotland became James I of England through a Union of the Crowns
  • 1709 was the last year that a "witch" was hung in the Scottish witchcraft trials, which started in the 1500s
  • We saw Forth Bridge, County of Fife, but it was a bit tricky to snap a picture as we drove by. There was a much more beautiful bridge in the Highlands, but we drove by that one too quickly, too 
  • The Stone of Destiny is a Scottish symbol was taken from the Scottish by the British. Legend has it they gave the Brits a "fake" stone and the real one still resides among an order of the monks (The Knights of St. John) in the Highlands today
  • In 1950, a Scotsman named Ian Hamilton tried to "steal back" the stone from the British and bring it back to Scotland...and broke a piece off in the process! Apparently he had a stonemason friend of his glue back the piece of the stone, but legend has it that before he did so, he wrote something on a piece of paper, and stuck it in the stone. Our tour guides (including ones on the Edinburgh free walking tour and literary pub tours that we also did) disagreed as to what really happened!
  • Ben Nevis is Scotland's tallest mountain, 1344 meters tall
  • Braveheart was NOT actually William Wallace!  Robert the Bruce was the man who really the hero (more on him in my next post!)
  • Gallic and Gaelic are the same thing - the former is the Scottish pronunciation and the latter is the Irish 
More on the history in my next post on Edinburgh's free walking tour and historical guide. (I'll find a way to arrange all my notes and come up with a shortened version of Scottish historical highlights) For now, enjoy the slideshow and stay tuned!

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Dublin: A City Thriving with History, Language, Culture and Irish Fun

Dublin was, by far, my favourite part of Janice and my trip within the UK. Ireland has beautiful scenery and Dublin has a charming atmosphere with quaint pubs, cobblestone roads and a unique history. The free walking tour we took that left from our hostel was a beautiful introduction to the history, culture and language of the Irish people. Sadly, our guide, Ashley, kept commenting on the dying Irish language, reminded me of Sheila Murtagh's (2004) dissertation on language attrition, and her study that followed on why, how and when Irish young adults use Irish, their attitudes towards it, and the rate at which they lose their language (and/or gain it back if they try to later).  Ah, I love studying languages and linguistics!

Here are a few highlights of our historical tour, and also our time spent roaming the city. Although the first night was POURING rain, we did get quite lucky with the rest of our stay and saw some sunshine. 

  • Book of Kells - This exhibit is definitely worth a visit. While we couldn't take pictures of the book itself (an ancient Biblical text), there was so much information about books, Janice (who just completed an Masters in Library Science) and I were in heaven! There was even a video on how they used to make books, way back when they sewed all the pages on animal skin paper and then wrote/painted in them. If they made a mistake, they had to "decorate" around the correction to make it look pretty!
  • Kiara's name - My Black Lab, Kiara, was given her name because it is Irish Gaelic for "little dark haired one" (She was SUPER tiny when I bought her!) I tried as hard as I could to find her name on something in the souvenir shops, but no luck there!
  • Irish Coffee -- Okay, so I've tried Irish coffee in Canada (and in England after coming back), and I have to say, only the Irish can do it well! It's the right kind of whisky, with strong coffee, brown sugar, and topped with a specially poured layer of fresh cream. Sounds a bit strange - but  - yum!
  • O'Reilly's -  This small restaurant is worth a try - delicious food and potatoes more moist than I've ever had them (Janice says the Irish stew is amazing, too). It's in the beautiful Temple Bar area of town. 

  • Street performers - They are really great in Dublin!  Check out the photo of the guy who is "carving" a sand dog. We thought the dog was real (and the man was homeless) from a distance - from across the straight, it looks like a homeless man with his jar of change and a Weinereimer! 

  • Historical Walking Tour - a few top facts from  the 3 hour tour and our trip to Dublin castle (it's a lot of reading, but there are a few surprising facts!) 

    • In 1916, there was an uprising for independence from British rule
    • The British could not break into  Dublin they took city hall! Suffragettes - feminists of the time - pretended to be captured/damsels in distress to save their city (British soldiers came to their "rescue", only to find that it had been a trap! Well, that trick only worked once, and the next day, they were shot down by the British
    • Poric Pearce, the leader of the rebellion, was dying from a puncture to the lung, but was publicly executed in an "honourable" way (like any killing could be honorable?!) and unfortunately, tied to a chair and shot in the head.
    • 14 years later, in 1937, 26 of 32 counties were empancipated  and became the Republic of Ireland; the remaining 8 are Northern Ireland, part of the UK.
    • The city/government logo at Dublin castle is the same harp that Guiness uses in ts logo, only flipped. (Guiness used the logo first, and then the government asked them if they could use it!
    • In 896 AD, the Vikings came to Ireland, followed by the Normans. Vikings constructed buildings with wood, and Normans with stone, giving the building its unique look
    Lady Justice
    • In 1656 there was a massive fire; the castle had been built with gunpowder in its wall (for safekeeping), causing the entire castle to light up in flames
    • In 1700, the castle was re-done in a more British style, due to its occupation by British forces. Artwork painted on the ceiling and on chandeliers reflects political messages that Ireland (symbolized by a clover) England (a rose)  and Scotland (a thistle )should be one union. This painting is by Renaissance painter Vincenzo Valdre
    • Interestingly, the Lady Justice statue the British built in the castle is not blindfolded, as she traditionally is, and is pointing at the British in the castle, not towards the town, symbolizing the British power over Ireland and their concept of justice at the time.
    • The term "saving face" comes from the times in which high class women wore 
    • "Face screen-  Saving face!"
      wax-based makeup that could easily melt, but the castles were, of course, heated with fire. To "save their face" from being "melted" by the fires, and to thus avoid embarrassment, they would have to stand near "screens" like these
    • Veronica Guerin, an Irish activist against drugs, is a more recent figure that gained attention in the country, due to her efforts to rid drugs from poor n eighbourhoods in  Ireland. Sadly, she was fatally shot in 1994 by a gang.
    • Ireland is traditionally very religious and Catholic, but current trends are slightly moving away form this. Contraception has only been legal since 1986. 
    • Up until 1990, the Magdalen Laundry, an institution to which families sent their unmarried pregnant, raped or "determined unfit" daughters to avoid public shame. They would be trapped in the "laundry", working long hours for free cleaning clothes, and unable to leave until society determined it was okay for them to do so. 1990? How was that legal?!
    • A more recent hot-topic is abortion, which was illegal for any reason in Ireland until very recently. In 2012, a woman asked to terminate her pregnancy because she was miscarrying and  her life was at risk (BBC article here), and was denied the right to do so, which lead to her death.
    • Ireland's first legal abortion took place about one month ago.
Check out the short (2 minute) Animoto video below for my best shots and short captions of Dublin, including St. Stephen's Green - a beautiful park, historical buildings, and snapshots of the stories above. Enjoy!

Thursday, September 05, 2013

Shakespeare's Globe Theatre & Exhibition - A Renaissance Adventure

On Thursday and Friday night, Janice and I had a luxury splurge weekend in London, as we stayed at the Park Plaza Riverbank London hotel. It was fabulous to pretend to be rich!  I do have to say though, if I had to compare on luxurious hotel with another, the Park Plaza Westminister Bridge has just as good a view and rooms, but a much better breakfast spread! (I only know this from our Singapore Reunion weekend, when Kristin came to visit me for a couple days to London and graciously treated me to a night in a fabulous hotel). Our room included both a buffet breakfast and a three course meal at Chino Latino their chinese/mexican fusion restaurant.

Chino Latino - Noodle Dish
Chino Latino Chocolate Fondant

Janice and I spent Thursday night at Wicked, the musical. Now, you all know by now that I LOVE the theatre, but I have to say that Wicked wasn't my favourite. (GASP, I know). The story was interesting - the tale of how the Wicked Witch of the West and Glenda from The Wizard of Oz went to school together and were friends and then became enemies - but it wasn't the kind of musical where I felt really attached and emotionally connected to the  characters. 

I'm also the type of person that rarely watched cartoons when she was a kid, so maybe that puts things into perspective...

Picture of a Model at the Globe Theatre Exhibition

The Globe Theatre was the highlight of our two days in London (for me, anyway). I had been wanting to visit it since reading Macbeth and Hamlet in a high school English class! Hamlet, of course, is my favourite (I even have a  tattoo with a quote from Hamlet on my back - I got it at LA Ink, click here for post). The exhibition at Shakespeare's Globe is fascinating - it covers everything from costume design to Shakespeare's life to London's development as an city in the Renaissance times. Janice and I discovered that we both see museums the same way --- we read (nearly) everything!  It look us over three hours to look at the exhibition and hear the 45 minute tour!  (They suggest a total of 90 minutes, haha - I guess we love to learn; ;)  Unfortunately, we couldn't take pictures inside the theatre, because there was a rehearsal going on,  so the pictures about the stage will have to do. 

A few points that were REALLY cool:

  • The exhibition showed a 2012 world festival, in which "Shakespeare" companies from all over the world - Africa, India, China, Southeast Asia, Eastern Europe - came to London to perform their theatre pieces and versions of Shakespeare - complete with songs and dances. It looked fantastic!  Apparently it was (so far) only a one-time festival, but they are considering doing it again, and some of the companies have come to London this year to perform again. Apparently there is Macbeth in Belarussian coming soon!
  • The original Globe Theatre was stinky and gross, as those who paid a penny to watch the plays stood on the ground (covered in nut shells), were usually drunk and used the same standing ground as a TOILET. Ugh! Check  out the Jores Hoefnagel painting of all the different classes of society
    Jores Hoefnagel Painting
  • "Globe" was a catchy word in Shakespeare's day, as it had recently been discovered that the world was not flat and interational trade was a new industry; hence, the name Globe Theatre

Sam Wanamaker 1919-1993

  •  Sam Wanamaker, who dedicated a lot of time to fundraising from the public to reconstruct the Globe theatre in the 1980s, sadly died before seeing its doors open.  (The original theatre in 1644 was burned down by the puritans, and the second theatre burned down due to an accident with wadding thown from a cannon catching on fire  in the thatched roof; luckily no one was hurt.) Sam always envisioned creating an indoor theatre.  I'm not too sure if this was in the original 1600s design, but it was never created. So, a new, indoor theatre that seats  350 people is due to open in January 2014, allowing the theatre to be open in the wniter  Tickets are on sale now!  I'm seriously considering buying myself tickets for my 29th birthday in Janauary!!!

  •  We learned how to dress up renaissance style, from corset to bonnet  (the corsets were tight, so they had great posture - no back problems in those days!)

Queen Costume. Took the actress 90 minutes to dress!

Remember my glogs?! I haven't done one for awhile, so for those of you new to Singapore Lizard, a "glog" is a blogging poster, on which you can add notes, quotes, pictures and stickers (like a real poster) and then embed it on your website. People can share, repost and comment on your glogs. So, please see the "glog" below for a step-by-step demo on how to dress like a Renaissance lady. (Note: if you're using a mobile device, this may not show up. Please click "View full site" at the bottom of the page).

Mr. Bean "Teddy!"

Also, one note - Janice was finally able to find her Mr. Bean 'teddy" ---one that she had planned to get on her school trip to London when she was 13, didn't buy and regretted...after a LOT of looking, we finally found a souvenir shop that had it. 

We LOVE London!

Cardiff Castle & Bay - Stunning Scenery and Seaside in Wales

Cardiff is a gorgeous historic city with a charming castle, beautiful gardens and a majestic view of the ocean. Ocean! I love the relaxing, so cool, breezy and so picturesque. Dima joined Janice and I for our daytrip, and all three of us girls had blast!

Cardiff Castle was absolutely stunning - and so different to Edinburgh Castle, which I visited in July. While there was less "castle", than Edinburgh and less military information with fewer prisons, there were beautiful gardens and halls and halls of history of its times from the Vikings to the Second World War (at which time it was used as a war bunker for the royal families). It took us three hours to roam the castle, read, and learn about its history. The free audio guide handset was fascinating - and I wish I'd taken notes to tell you more about Welsh history (I will for the rest of my trip, I promise!).  We met a couple of Welsh guys on the train back to Oxford, though, and they filled us in on a few fun facts, though I should have whipped out my notepad at that point, too.

  • The original Welsh flag was a black background with a gold cross
  • The Welsh celebrate St. David's day, not St. Patrick's. To be honest, I forget the story he told us....he seemed to know so much about the country's history and kept talking for over half an hour!
  • Gallic (a Scottish language) and Gaelic (an Irish language) came from Welsh  (not sure how true that is...)
  • Famous Welsh people include: Catherine Zeta-Jones, Anthony Hopkins, Christian Bale, Richard Burton and Roald Dahl!
  • He also told me how to pronounce Lllewelyn (a Welsh name I saw on tv credits somewhere) and I tried a few times, but I really can't get it. Maybe next time I see Nia (since she's from Wales), I'll ask her!
Check out the slideshow below for photographs of both inside and outside the castle - I took this opportunity to whip out my zoom lens, portrait lens and what is left of the knowledge I gained a few years ago when I took those photography courses with Pam and Sean in Edmonton. I have decided though, that once I find a job, I will definitely be buying a landscape lens and some more photography lessons. I miss it!

If you're going to notice two highlights - check out 1) historical, engraved stone graffiti and 2) the old library book on Statistical Methods - thank goodness for SPSS!

Cardiff Bay

Salt: The Essential Ingredient - quite fitting for a seaside restaurant! This is where we ate a late lunch after walking around the castle and the bay.  I think - *gasp* - this may actually NOT be a chain! It seems that nearly every restaurant and pub I eat at in the UK, no matter how quaint, is really owned by a large, corporate giant of pubs. The food at Salt was delicious - I had the vegetarian risotto and rocket - and we couldn't have asked for a better view on their terrace. I would definitely recommend coming here. We were lucky enough to see the sunshine and have time for a mini photo shoot!  

Dima and Sapna

Janice & Dima

Seaside Fun
The only dog Dima will ever hug ;P

Union - in the Future!
This may be the last time I see Dima before graduation in November, since she's headed back home to Lebanon a day after I return from my trip with Janice...and what a beautiful way to spend a last day! Cardiff, I must say is an excellent, worthwhile day trip from Oxford - under two hours on the train - and voila! Gorgeous seaside. I love the UK!

Tuesday, September 03, 2013

Beautiful Bleinham Palace: Winston Churchill's Summer Home

Bleinham Palace Gardens, September 1, 2013
Did you know that Winston Churchill came from an aristocratic family of Dukes? That's right, his family is full of Dukes of Marlboroughs, the Spencer-Churchills. Here we were, thinking that he was an average citizen elected to be Britain's Prime Minister, when in reality, he was much more than that. Janice and I visited Bleinham Palace, a world heritage site about 20 minutes away from Oxford on Sunday and discovered that it was the childhood summer home of Winston Churchill, as well as the place where he proposed to his wife, Clementine and spent many days in his later years to relax.

The exhibition took us double the time they told us it would - we spent 6 hours there! It's really very well done, and takes you through the periods of history between the 1st Duke (1702) and the 10th Duke of Marlborough (1972), guiding you through a timed voice-over in which you meet one of the ladies in waiting for the Duchess to the first Duke, and learn about the tight way she ran her household. While she treated her housekeepers and servants well (with regard to the provisions they were given), she worked them to the bone and 14 hour workdays were common.

The interactive tour lets you listen to recordings from "employees" of the family throughout the hundreds of years, watch videos of current employees, see replicas of important documents, read timelines of historical events and truly imagine Churchill's role as PM and impact on the Second World War.

Here are a few key (well, maybe just fun) facts:

  • The Churchill name disappeared from the royal lines after the time of the 4th Duke. However, it was re-instated during the time of the 5th Duke as special permission was given by Charles Edward Stuart, the king.
  • Churchill wrote letters to invite Clementine, who he had met once at a ball, to spend some time during the summer at Bleinham. She deliberated on whether to go or not, out of shyness, but eventually agreed. Winston proposed to her at the Temple of Diana, a gazebo and statue in the palace gardens
  • Churchill was also a gifted painter
  • Hallmark Cards UK bought the rights to several of Winston Churchill's paintings to be used on Christmas cards and then other greeting cards. One of them is still sold on a greeting card today!

While the exhibition was full of facts about every Duke (except one, of whom little is know, as he ordered his papers destroyed upon his death), it failed to go into depth about the life of the current Duke, John Spencer-Churchill. Of course, Janice and I were wondering why and went straight to Google to find out facts about him. Granted that the facts below are mostly from wikis and blogs and cannot be held as completely credible, we found them interesting!

  • He's been married four times - he has 3 kids from his first marriage and 3 kids from his third, and 3 step-kids from his fourth.
  • He married his current wife, Lily Mahtani née Sahni, former wife of a rich Indian expatriate; she has 3 kids from her previous marriage
  • He is a distant relative of the late Diana, Princess of Wales
  • His wealth is estimated to be about 184 million British pounds
The next heirs, according to Wiki, are Charles James Spencer-Churchill, Marquess of Blandford, aged 58, followed by George John Godolphin Spencer-Churchill, Earl of Sunderland, his now-18 year old son. 

Here is a must-see slideshow of the beauty of this gorgeous palace and its gardens. Enjoy!

Monday, September 02, 2013

Sunny & Nia's Wedding - A Beautiful Ceremony at a Historic Tudor House

Sunny & Nia
Sunny and Nia's wedding was a small, gorgeous celebration at Hall Place and Gardens, a historical site where Henry VIII roamed the halls. The photos below are taken from the Bexley Heritage Trust website. The venue was absolutely stunning - a medieval design, beautiful lights adorning a castle-like structure and walls and hallways of historical significance to walk through.

I think it's the smallest wedding I've ever been to - 55 people -and I loved it! How amazing to meet nearly everyone that attends a wedding - and to really have a chance to talk to the extended families at a wedding breakfast the next morning.

Re: the photos - I have not been able to get the professional pics yet, and my own pics did not turn out (mostly because I only had my Android on me, as the wedding fell during my dissertation crisis), so I've borrowed these three photos from the communal wedding instagram feed and edited them as much as I could. (I'll skip my rant on how photo sharing programs other than Flickr Pro seem to massacre photography).
Bexley Heritage Trust - Hall place

Bexley Heritage Trust - Hall place

What a gorgeous wedding! Congratulations Sunny and Nia!