Sunday, December 30, 2007
In terms of work, it's meant that I haven't had to resort to books to keep me busy - on my evening shifts I was busy with checking people in, providing tourist information, etc. In the mornings there was plenty to keep me busy with checking people out, booking them in for another night's stay, cleaning, laundry, and then once reception opened again at 2pm the phones just kept ringing. It made the time pass quickly though.
It's quieter now again - the groups we had in left this morning, so we're down to 40 to 50 people, so there's some work to be done. Still, I've had a taste of what this place would be like in busy season. It'd be a madhouse, as we were only half-full the past two nights.
Thursday, December 27, 2007
Many of the chart-topping singles become Christmas classics of sorts over here, thus there's Christmas staples of the UK that I had never heard until I came over here. Examples of that include:
- "Fairytale of New York" by The Pogues featuring Kirsty MacColl
- "Stop the Cavalry" by Jona Lewie
- "Driving Home For Christmas" by Chris Rea
- "Merry Xmas Everybody" by Slade
- "Last Christmas" by Wham!
- "Stay Another Day" by East 17
(if you actually want to hear these songs, I'd suggest searching them on YouTube, which I can't do from the computer I'm currently on)
Actually, as far as Christmas songs go, The Pogues one isn't bad as it's sort of an anti-carol. The next three aren't too bad, and then the Wham! song and the East 17 song are terrible pop songs that are unfortunately very catchy (they're running through my head alternately as I type this).
Then there's the normal songs that make it to the top of the Christmas charts as well, many ones you would have heard of (check the list out below if you're curious); recently it's been X-Factor winners (a reality show like Pop Idol/Canadian Idol which the infamous Simon Cowell is now on). There's also one-hit wonders and novelty songs, which have included singles from South Park, The Teletubbies, and Bob The Builder (with "Can We Fix It? the theme song).
You can check out the number one's and number two's on Wikipedia if you're truly curious.
And of course, as you can gamble on many things quite legally over here (see my old post here), bookmakers take bets on which songs will reach the top of the charts.
Monday, December 24, 2007
Note that there is a bar in the library. That's right - it's on the main floor, near where all the computers that I was going in to use were located.
I've seen people queue up to get a 500ml can of beer at the ferry canteen for a 15-minute trip - can't go without afterall.
Saturday, December 22, 2007
Pictures are up now below, but you can still have a look at the Undiscovered Scotland page on the city if you'd like.
I arrived after dark, so the grey granite buildings all looked shiny in the light of the street lamps and Christmas lights. The youth hostel there is in a rich-looking area of big old houses that seem to be mostly office buildings now. I walked by the office of Petro-Canada in one such house, and puzzled over why it would have an office in Aberdeen for a few moments until I recalled that Aberdeen is the centre of the oil business in Scotland, and I guess Petro-Canada's getting some oil from here.
I met up with Jamie at his place of work, the Prince of Wales bar, and we went to a few places around town, having chips and cheese from a chippy where the salt and vinegar was applied from a spray bottle (a fact that I found novel but the employees there did not seem to share that sentiment) and leaving a 10 cent Canadian Tire bill at a bar called The Moorings where they had world money posted on the wall (I'd brought Jamie some Canadian Tire money since he'd thought it cool when I'd mentioned it). I could tell that there's a few universities in town just by the type of young people that I spied out and about in unusual clothing and hairstlyes that only city students can pull off, as you would get mocked in a small place like PEI (or Kyleakin or Dunoon for that matter).
I wandered around downtown Thursday morning. It's a busy place given that it's the thrid largest city in the country, and of course people were Christmas shopping. The architecture I would describe as nice, solid buildings - there's a few exceptional ones, but most aren't ones that jump out at me as being spectacular, but they also don't make me cringe, and I appreciate that in a city. Most of the buildings conform well with my senses of symmetry and proportion. I've heard lots of complaints about how grey Aberdeen can be - the buildings and the sky both - and that it can feel gloomy for that. I didn't mind it; I found the colours that were there stood out more because of the uniform, grey backdrop, but I didn't spend weeks there so I couldn't say how it would be after a long time.
Marishal College (owned by University of Aberdeen now) - this is just a section of it that would fit in a picture; it's the second-largest white-granite building in the world, I was told.
More average-looking granite buildings.
There was snow along the banks of the river, or perhaps very white ice that was accumulating from the floes on the water, as I was told that it hadn't snowed in the city. In fact, it was warmer in Aberdeen than in Inverness, contrary to my manager's warning as I headed there.
Cemetery at St. Nicholas Kirk in the town centre. The horizontal stones have inscriptions on them as well, and I'm guessing the caskets are encased in the stone above ground. Just a different way of burying than I'm used to.
I met up with Jamie again for lunch that day, and then hung out with some of the youth hostel staff in the evening: Rob that I know from Skye, Tina and Gareth who came to Kyleakin for a visit in October, and Sarah who I met just in Aberdeen.
I headed back to Inverness Friday afternoon on a very crowded train, so it was a pretty short visit but I imagine I'll end up visiting again and see some more of the city.
Wednesday, December 19, 2007
I walked down the River Ness to the Ness Islands park on Sunday - some tiny islands reached by footbridge and connnected by footbridges as well. It's a nifty park - just trees and paths, but there's also benches made out of slabs of wood twisted into interesting shapes. I was the only person there without at least one dog.
I went wandering around town after dark last night to look at the Christmas lights. Apart from in the town centre where the city had put them up, there wasn't a lot of outdoor lights. Unless I happened to catch a glimpse of someone's Christmas tree through their window, there were no lights except for maybe two houses. It doesn't seem to be a big thing in town like it is at home.
Wednesday, December 12, 2007
There's 186 beds in this hostel, making it about 2.5 times the size of Kyleakin. Right now, since it's December, we're certainly not filling those beds; typically we've had between a few people to 30-some per night. Last night we had seven people staying in the place, which made my afternoon-evening shift pretty uneventful. There's also a conference room that's rented out as well, so that's added to the business on a few days.
The hostel's conveniently just beyond the town centre, with a Morrisons supermarket just 5 minutes walk toward the centre and another 5 minutes takes you to the high street and the shopping centre. I can get to the library in under 15 minutes of walking.
The town is quite busy with shoppers, Christmas approaching and all. Also, Inverness is the only place with any extensive amount of shops in the north of Scotland, so for anyone from the northern Highlands or the islands, this is the closest place to do their shopping.
We get digital television at the hostel, and one of the stations (ITV2) airs "Due South". No wonder people often ask me about whether the Mounties really wear those red uniforms. That's the only Canadian-produced show I've seen on the air over here, but that doesn't surprise me. As for the American shows that air, they're pretty much all hour-long dramas about doctors, lawyers and police (that sums up most American dramas, actually) and none of the sitcoms unless you count The Simpsons.
I don't know what digital television costs, but it doesn't give you as many channels as a basic cable package would in Canada. It's certainly more than the usual five "terrestrial" channels (i.e. that you can pick up for "free" - you have to pay an annual license to have a television over here, so it's not really free).
Wednesday, December 05, 2007
The pilot and the flight attendants this time seemed to know where we were going - on my flight to Canada, we were told a couple of times that we were going to Toronto, not Halifax and Montreal, and then thereafter they all paused for a second or so before saying the destination name, as though they had to think about it.
My overall concensus on Zoom: they're cheap for a reason, because they have planes that need lots of repairs and they don't get good take-off slots or something. The result is many of their flights leave late. On a bright note, however, they have very friendly flight attendants, and they're the only airline ever to offer me free alcohol, even if it was just a little cup of wine with the meal.
Before I left Canada, I got an e-mail from the manager of the Inverness Youth Hostel, offering me the reception job that I had applied for there. So following a stay at Glasgow Youth Hostel Monday night (where I got a free stay on account of being staff and knowing the guy who was working at the desk at the time; thank you!), I headed up on the bus to Inverness Tuesday morning. I got reacquainted with good ol' misty Scottish rain on the trip, and even saw some snow on the ground just north of Perth in one of the glens.
I'm wondering around town today, doing things such as visiting the library where I'm writing this now. Tomorrow I start "job-shadowing" the guy I'll be replacing, I guess you could put it.
Sunday, December 02, 2007
1. It's windy. Islands are generally windy, but PEI is especially windy. I mean, there was often a breeze on Skye, and the winds did pick up some fierce by times, but nothing like here. There's always at least a slight wind here, and more often than not it's strong enough. And it makes it cold. Which brings me to point number...
2. It gets cold here. Being away for last winter, I haven't really experienced cold weather since the end of the winter of 2004-2005. So sometime in April or May of 2005 - one-and-a-half years ago. Canada is a cold country, it just doesn't seem quite so bad once you get used to it, I guess.
Environment Canada is predicting the coldest winter for 15 years. I'll be in Scotland.
It snowed again, starting Friday night and all through Saturday. As always, the snow at least makes it feel less cold - sucks some of the moisture out of the air, or something, I'm not sure how it works exactly but it does. The roads got slippy, apparently (I wasn't out after Friday evening so heard second-hand) and the plows were out on the road. The snow was pretty wet when I took this picture:but after it all came down, the temperature dropped and the snow was cold enough that you could pick it up and make snowballs (I tossed a few at some trees when I went wandering around yesterday evening).
This morning this is what it looked like with all the snow down:
Wyatt and I took Ben sledding down the road to Henry's Pit, an old shale quarry of sorts in the front yard of a neighbour's former farm (named for the late Henry, who was never alive in my lifetime but his widow lived in the house until some years ago). I can't remember the last time I went sledding there, or at all - probably over 10 years ago. Since the cows haven't been out eating on the hills for a few years, there was weeds all over the place that weren't there back when we used to go there as kids, but we managed to make a track of sorts and sent Ben down on the GT. He wanted to use it, not the basic sled, since the GT has a steering wheel I imagine.
Ben told us quite a few times that it was fun, and he even enjoyed the "crashing" (hitting the weeds on occasion) although he had trouble describing what he did: "slid...snow" until I taught him how to say "I went sledding" ("I wen sweddin"). Wyatt wore himself out carrying Ben and the sled back up the hill; I carried the sled and made Ben walk up on his own, guiding him from behind by pushing on his back. The kid's got to get some exercise out of it, I figure (it builds character).
I'm heading back to the UK on a flight tonight from Halifax, so it was cool that I got to experience some snow before I went back.
Monday, November 26, 2007
Friday, November 23, 2007
Some years ago, the government started cracking down on tobacco sales to try to prevent people from starting to smoke and to encourage those who do smoke to quit. The same as most Western countries, I presume. Cigarettes are taxed and taxes got raised to try to discourage people from buying them. Then taxes would be lowered because it would become profitable to smuggle in less-taxed cigarettes from the United States and sell them here. Then taxes would be raised again once the smuggling had died down. Then repeat. I'm not sure what the story on smuggling is now, as I haven't heard much about it recently - with the Canadian dollar being so high, it might be profitable again, I don't know. But then the border is more tightly controlled now then it was years ago.
Another thing the government has done to discourage smoking is to put warning labels on all packages of cigarettes. If I recall correctly, these started out much smaller than they are now. At present, the labels have to cover one-half of the cigarette package. Unlike the UK, the warnings have pictures as well - of diseased hearts, of pregnant women, of children, etc. My favourite is pictured below. It's the only one that is remotely funny.
At the start of 2006, laws were passed to prevent pharmacies (i.e. chemists) from selling tobacco, and from any supermarkets that have pharmacies within them. Tobacco could only be sold on these premises from shops that were attached to the buildings, but had a separate entrance. Now, the supermarkets on PEI that had pharmacies (Sobeys, Atlantic Superstore) already had separate smoke shops (that also sell lottery tickets), closed off from the supermarket, but the entrance was just inside the main doors to the building. So they moved their doors to the outside, and all was well. As for the pharmacies, I don't know of any on the Island that built separate tobacco shops; they just stopped selling tobacco products.
Apparently that wasn't far enough. The problem now was that tobacco was still on display in convenience stores (i.e. newsagents), in supermarkets without pharmacies, and apparently children seeing these displays would want to start smoking from the sight of them. So the so-called "shower-curtain laws" were passed in several provinces, including PEI, that required retailers to keep tobacco hidden from sight. The picture below depicts what convenience stores now look like - the cigarettes are behind all those beige screens.
Thursday, November 15, 2007
It snowed here earlier in the week: this is what it looked like Wednesday morning in the front yard, before it melted later in the day (note that it's unusual for there to be so many leaves on the trees this late, or the grass to be green for that matter).
I didn't see much of the snow as it came down on Tuesday or Wednesday morning as I was laid up in my bed sick for much of it. On Tuesday as well our furnace quit, which meant that I was the only one who could tolerate staying in the house, as I was under a heap of blankets. To make a long story short, I was pretty miserable with what seemed to be a stomach flu, had a nice mental-freak-out experience with horrific (at the time) geometry-based hallucinations on Tuesday night (presumably due to fever - fevers seem to bring out mathematical-related thoughts in me ever since I was a kid), and by Wednesday was still having pain in my abdomen and lower back. A trip to the doctor resulted in a diagnosis of a possible kidney infection (test still to come back), but I got put on antibiotics and feel the better for it now. And as a bonus, the drugs are clearing up the chest cough I still had left over from the sinus-cold/flu that I had during my trip over here. So far my visit to the Island has been two illnesses.
I got to try welding for the first time today, playing with my Dad's new arc welder. Didn't actually weld anything to anything, just playing around on a bit of metal learning how to control it. I like it better than soldering, although I can't really say why.
Saturday, November 10, 2007
Arriving on Monday was like landing in an oddly familiar foreign land. It was cold, the cars drove on the wrong side, the people spoke differently, the bank notes were smaller and the coins were thinner, land that once seemed hilly was flat.
All that seemed unfamiliar was only strange to my conscious mind - my subconscious never forgot the place. Once I started driving, muscle memory, or whatever you want to call it, took over and I have no problems so long as I don't think about which side of the road I should be on too much.
The accents don't catch my attention anymore (I picked up my own old one straight away), and I'm now appreciating the subtlety of the landscape once more (it sure seems like a hill once you rollerblade up it against the wind - I finally got to skate for the first time in over a year!).
My nephew was the biggest change I saw coming back - he was 21 months old when I left, and now he's a month shy of 3 years old. He's gone from a baby to a talkative little boy. I was introduced to him as "Megan, Daddy's sister", to which he kept asking "what one?" I don't think he has the concept of sister down yet. After some initial shyness of a few minutes we were playing cars, so I've been accepted into the flock and now have the role of re-building the train tracks when they get knocked apart.
Saturday, November 03, 2007
This past week I've been doing some extra work doing deep-cleaning of the hostel with Alysha. And then there's been a succession of small parties and just hanging out with folks.
Jamie, Alysha, and I went up to Broadford on Tuesday evening to join Rob and Caroline from the Uig hostel, and Gareth and Tina from the Aberdeen hostel (who were visiting) at the Broadford Hotel for their pub quiz. We had to split into two teams, and the boys decided that it would be boys against girls, despite our protests that all of us girls being foreign would give us a disadvantage on a Scotland-based quiz (Caroline is from France and Tina is from Switzerland). So we named our team "Rob, Gareth, and Jamie Suck" (Tina's idea). I believe that their team was named The Knights, refering to the Monty Python Holy Grail film. Anyway, we ended up with 21.5/39, whereas the boys had 28/39 I believe. Us girls may not have beaten the boys, but their reactions when the team names were all read out with scores at the end was quite funny when the entire pub heard the words "Rob, Gareth, and Jamie suck".
After the quiz we had intended to stay in the Broadford Hostel, but we got Gareth to drive us all back to Kyleakin (in two trips) where there was more booze. We spent the rest of the night talking and playing games on Jamie's Nintendo Wii (it has a cool controller that has motion sensing, so if you're playing bowling, for example, you move your hand as though you were throwing a bowling ball).
Halloween was Wednesday, and the official day of our end of season party, which basically ended up involving all the above-mentioned people (minus Tina, who had to go back to Aberdeen) plus our manager Pat, since none of the other hostels that we invited could make it. So instead of sticking at the hostel entirely for it, we went to the King Haakon bar first, after having gotten dressed up, where we found that we were the most in-costume people there. Alysha was a ghost, using an old hostel sleep sheet, Caroline was some sort of monster involving wearing cling film on her head, Rob was sporting a leather gimp mask and borrowed leather jacket and gloves, Jamie had a Scary-Movie-stoned-guy-from-Scream mask (the best I can describe it) and a pair of handcuffs for some reason, Gareth had a hat that makes him look like Pete Docherty, and I was painted green and in a dress with homemade wings attached to look like a woodland fairy. So needless to say, some of us attracted attention. We later headed to Saucy Mary's, where at least the staff were all in costume, and some other people as well.
Thursday and Friday were just sort of hang-out days, doing some cleaning to finish up the hostel. Gareth headed out, and Jamie packed up all his stuff and got picked up by his dad. I went up to Uig with Rob last night and chatted with him and Caroline until the wee hours. Caroline headed off to her new job in Argyll today, and I came back to finish up my packing in preparation for leaving tomorrow. Alysha's planning to be away to visit folks in Aberdeen tomorrow as well, so that's all of us staff save Pat away (who is still on managing groups who rent the hostel until January).
So that's my Kyleakin phase to an end. I'd have to say it's been fun. I've liked my job, and the people that I've worked with, and I've certainly made some friends out of them. I've gotten to see some more of Skye, though still not as much as I'd like. All in all, it's been a good few months, and far too quick.
Sunday, October 28, 2007
The hostel is closed now; our last guests left this morning. We had a busy enough weekend to end it off, including the best-behaved Haggis group ever. I probably need to explain that last statement, and it will allow me to reminisce about tour groups anyway.
Haggis refers to Haggis Tours, a company that offers backpacker tours generally to "Wild and Sexy Scotland" as they put it. They come in busloads of 30 to 60 people, and are renowned for being a piss-up on a bus, that is they travel from pub to pub and see some scenery in a hungover fashion along the way. In recent times, they have moved from having just the usual mix of Americans, Australians, Canadians, and Kiwis in their 20's to having older people and people from other countries. We have had Haggis groups this summer that included Indian young people living in London, Chinese young people living in London, and French middle-aged couples. They are generally better behaved then the regular Haggis groups.
We often get teenaged foreign school groups in as well, which can be nice because they don't get drunk, but since they can't go to the pubs they tend to make more of a mess of their rooms, because they sit around having snacks in them (and seem to turn bags of crisps upside-down and shake the contents all over the floor). They also run around in the hostel a bit as well if not controlled. Still, they're not usually as annoying as the drunken backpacker lot.
So when we got lists of names of people on the Haggis tours, we generally check them out to see what we're getting. On Friday morning, I got this weekend's list, and after scanning it uttered: "Oh no, there's a Brittany". Because, of course, there's not really anyone older than their mid-twenties with a name like Brittany, and it's stereotypically American, so the worst type of group possible. You do get Canadians with names like that as well, and probably Aussies and the rest (if there's a Kylie, odds are she's Aussie). To be honest, the Canadians on the Haggis tours are just as bad as the Yanks in terms of misbehaving (and sometimes being annoying, with the Yanks whinging about how everyone hates them because they're Americans, and the Canadians going on about how we have better health care than the Yanks (or something like that)). Not all of them are like that, but there's enough of them that when American/Canadian Haggis groups come in, Alysha and I will allow our softening Canadian accents (under Scottish influence) to come out entirely, so that we don't sound (to the average Scottish ear) like the annoyances that have descended on the village.
But, as I mentioned, the group this Friday was great. They were all American students studying in a program on British women authors for a semester in London. Alsyha and I hung out with some of them at the hostel, and they were all friendly and interesting people. Half of them were in bed by 10-11pm, and the rest were back from the pubs before Alysha and I later on. So with this Haggis groups there was no people running through the halls in the earlier hours. There was no bottles being thrown at cars, no running on the roof, or cursing at the night porter (that was done all courtesy of one lovely Canadian girl on the previous week's Haggis bus). There was no couples making out on the bonnet of the manager's car, with bottles in hand, like I had to chase away last week (they seemed quite scared of me, even though I just politely asked them to move, and they moved over to the church wall until the police moved them along). There was no teenagers running around on the roof, pissing off the roof, or vomiting in the fire stair behind my room (that was French kids, whom I yelled at in Canada's two official languages). There was no drunk people trying to come in the back windows by my room, or other drunk people locked out of their rooms wandering into mine looking for a place to sleep.
That all sounds pretty rough, but that's a whole couple of months condensed into a paragraph. Plus our usual hostel guests are easy-going and friendly, with the exception of the few unhappy people and those that would be better off staying in a hotel than a hostel. But that's a whole other story.
Wednesday, October 24, 2007
About an hour before we were to set out, Helen, Alysha and I were walking across the Skye Bridge and the wind was quite strong, so the sailing looked promising. However, once we had all assembled in the boat and gotten out onto the narrows, there was absolutely no wind. We drifted along for probably 40 minutes to an hour - under the bridge and past it. Helen, Alysha, and I took turns in steering the way while the others set up the sails. Then once we started to get some wind, we also helped out with setting the sails and changing directions when we had to tack.
Jeff took this one of all of us just after we'd started crusing along in the wind.
Jeff putting up the sail (this obviously happened before the other picture, but I'm having trouble re-ordering them).
We really picked up some speed once we started to get out near the little island of Pabay, and the boat was leaning quite heavily to one side. That intimidated me a bit - where I'd once been sitting on the edge with my feet in the space in the middle, I was now standing with my feet on the other edge, watching the edge of the boat slipping under the water. I wasn't afraid of drowning or anything - I had a life jacket on and all - my primary concern was actually for my camera should I go in. However, Jeff didn't seem concerned about the boat's tilting (and I've seen boats doing that, it just feels a little weird the first time I guess) - he had us all sit on the high side of the boat for a while with our legs dangling over (except Helen who was freezing and taking shelter down below).
Passing the islands; I think that one's Raasay, and then Applecross in the back right.
Looking back toward the bridge.
Because of the delay due to lack of wind, it was starting to get dark as we neared Broadford. We hove to, I believe the term is, while Jeff tried to start up the motor to take us into the pier, where we were to tie up to his friend's boat. He couldn't get it started, so then an alternate plan was formed that involved sailing in and bringing sails down as we went, until we were just using the back sail as we approached the first boat tied up at the pier. Jeff and Dan tossed a rope to tie ourselves to it as we approached, and there happened to be a fisherman still on it so he tied us off and we were yanked to a halt. Then we began working our way down the pier from boat to boat by looping ropes through and yanking (done by Jeff and Dan mostly) while the rest of us helped push the boat away from the other boats and the pier, a mad but fun bit of scrambling around.
It was half-seven before we got back to the hostel (we'd set out at about 4pm); cold and hungry (since I hadn't had lunch). Helen and Alysha made a dinner of something like Shepherd's pie from leftovers that was just what we needed.
I really enjoyed my sailing outing (even despite the intimidating leaning), so I'm going to have to work myself on to other boats in the future.
As always, there's more photos in my web albums; you can go here.
Saturday, October 20, 2007
Crisps (Potato chips)
Cheese and Onion, Walkers being the most common brand.
Other odd flavours for a Canadian are Prawn Cocktail, Steak and Onion, and Worcester Sauce. The prawn one tastes nothing like prawns to me - a bit like all dressed potato chips, but not quite.
Cadbury's Double Decker. It has crispy things and nougat.
Tie between McVitties HobNobs (oaty) and McVitties Ginger Nuts (gingery).
Anytime you see chocolate chip biscuits over here, the packaging often tries to persuade you that they are American in source or at least taste, even though they're made over here.
McVitties Jamaica Ginger Cake (you might notice I like ginger - as a spice and a hair colour!)
Aniseed balls. It's the spice that gives black liquorice it's flavour and I love it. The balls are like a black liquorice jaw breaker.
Cheese and pickle (made with Branston Pickle)
Bacon butty (sandwich) - conveniently available for sale all over the place. Or make it at home as I've been doing pretty nearly every day. Bacon over here is back bacon, but not roundish like Canadian back bacon. The bacon we eat in Canada is called streaky bacon (because the fat is streaked throughout it.)
New use for baked beans
Topping on baked potatoes or dipping chips in them. Or with a full breakfast. Never really cared much for baked beans until I tried them those ways.
Excellent source of iron
Black pudding. It's made with blood afterall. One guy I know described it as basically being a big scab. Tasty though.
Chip butty - that's a french fry sandwich, with butter. I tried one once after watching the boys at the Coylet eat them. I wouldn't say it tasted bad, but I wouldn't call it good. I call them starch sandwiches.
Monday, October 15, 2007
This is Uig - call it the outskirts of Uig, I suppose, because it's farther along from the pier. The little round building is a folly, meaning that it was built to look old back when it was fashionable to have ruins on your property.
That's a Cal-Mac ferry sailing off to the Western Isles.
Rob and I walked to the Faerie Glen Sunday afternoon as the weather was nice.
This is the bit referred to as a castle with some name I can't remember. Ewan, Elwen? Can't find it on the internet either at the moment.
In the Faerie Glen again, where the hills are ridgey. Rob's guess was that maybe peat was once cut out of them, which seemed a good explanation to me.
More of the Glen, with sheep. It seems that I managed to not get a photo of some of the spirals made of stone on the ground, but they are there. I just read on the BBC that legend says that girls who dance naked on the spirals will have their desires fulfilled. So I missed my opportunity. Or the BBC's quite conniving.
And here's a photo from Thanksgiving Day (unfortunately, I forgot to take photos of the meal itself). This is me and my apple pie (wearing my lovely SYHA top). It's in a frying pan, which caused amusement and confusion amongst my co-workers, who when seeing it initially wondered how I had fried a pie. I didn't fry it, it's just that we didn't have any pie plates so that was the most suitable dish that I could find.
Friday, October 12, 2007
I've been giving Helen French lessons over the past few days. She's spent some time working in France so she's picked up some already, but I've been teaching grammar rules and verb tenses to add on to what she knows. It's been a good review of French for me as well. I even had a dream last night where I was speaking in English with most people but in French to a francophonen who was in the dream.
I'm going up to Uig today to spend a couple of days at the hostel there. The manager there is the aforementioned Rob of the Thanksgiving dinner, and then there his is assistant Caroline, and that's it.
Wednesday, October 10, 2007
The last day of flights to/from Halifax with the airline I'm using, Fly Zoom, is on December 2, hence why I'm visiting in November instead of December (Christmas makes flights expensive).
The first one, several weeks ago now, was driving through the Applecross Peninsula (over the highest road in Britain) and the Torridon hills with Matt, a Kiwi guy who stayed at the hostel (and became a temporary employee in return for free accomodation) and Jamie who I work with. See clickable map. We hired a car in Kyle of Lochalsh and Matt drove us. The journey northward took us about 8 hours, what with stops to take photos, eat lunch, wander and stop at pubs. We passed through Applecross, Shieldaig, Gairloch, Torridon, and then up to Corrieshalloch Gorge. The return trip took about 2 hours since we did it non-stop, although we did incur a flat tire when Matt had to drive on the shoulder to avoid a large truck that was not going to wait for us in a passing place. The tire proved difficult to change because the lock on the wheel cover had been changed on that one wheel so that we didn't have the proper tools to remove it, but a helpful trucker loaned us a pair of pliers. Anyway, the photos are in this album, with some descriptions along the way.
About a week after that trip, I spent the day with a German guy who was staying at the hostel, Helgi, and we walked to Plockton on the mainland. It wasn't as nice a sunny day as the previous trip; there were a few showers and we spent an hour at the Plockton train station, taking shelter from the rain and wondering where the village was (it was about a 10 minute walk farther down the hill). Photos you can find in this album.
People may complain about there being clouds in the sky so that it's never really "sunny" here, but I like the clouds. You can still get the sun, and without them you never get lighting effects like this:
Tuesday, October 09, 2007
Anyway, yesterday was Thanksgiving, for which Alysha and I cooked a traditional turkey dinner. It was the first time that either of us had ever roasted a turkey before. We took advice from various relatives and websites on turkey cooking and went over to the Co-op on Sunday to do our shopping. The smallest turkey that we could buy was 12 pounds and frozen. Shopping proved a little tricky - no cranberry sauce or cranberries in the supermarket. The friendly assistant who we asked (who knows one of my UPEI lecturers, oddly enough) said that it's usually not stocked until Christmas and recommended trying the butchers (we eventually found some at the little shop in Kyleakin). I also couldn't find lard or shortening to make pie crust with, but found some frozen blocks of shortcrust pastry that worked well enough. I threw the turkey in a sinkful of water as soon as we got back and left it there for 10 hours and that did the trick for defrosting after it spent the night in the fridge.
Early Monday afternoon we got cooking for an evening meal. The turkey seemed to be cooking very well and we had prepared up all our vegetables ready to be cooked in the evening. It all seemed very easy, and given the stories we've heard about the difficulty of making a Thanksgiving dinner and the disasters that can result, Alysha and I felt a little bit nervous as dinner time approached. We felt as though we must have forgotten something or messed something up. Even the cleaning of the turkey, something that Alysha thought she would find really disgusting (she warned me that she would probably make a lot of "weird noises" while assisting in it), went well, with Alysha coming around to playing with the turkey while it was in the sink and eventually singing "Alouette" to it as she picked things off of it (the song's about plucking clean a lark, just in case you didn't know).
So as dinner approached, we decided on two plans of action. Plan A was that the turkey would turn out and everything would be fine. Plan B was to be put into action if the turkey failed, and consisting of getting our expected guests (Jamie and Rob) so drunk before the meal that they would not notice if the food was bad.
The only slight hitch was that one of our guests missed his bus, so dinner ended up being a little over an hour later than we intended so we had to work out keeping the food warm without drying it out or making it soggy. The turkey turned out really good, so we were quite happy. Our guests were Jamie, Rob from the Uig hostel, and Helen, our new relief manager, who had arrived in time to eat with us. Mid-meal, a girl came in looking for the hostel that she had booked - it turned out that it was one down the street, but since we found out that she was from Alberta we instructed her to come back for some food once she checked in. Another guy from the village, Jeff, wandered in as well in time for dessert (apple pie and ice cream - no canned pumpkin to be found in the Co-op either).
Thursday, September 13, 2007
It seems to be funded in part by some government agency for the Highlands and Islands (and Royal Bank of Scotland, for whatever reason) so we had to sit though about 20 minutes of advertisement for the Highlands and Islands and what they have to offer in terms of environment, sport, arts, language, etc. That seemed strange to me, since the audience is already living in the Highlands and Islands, so they should already know about the place and you won't be convincing anyone new to visit or come to stay.
Friday, September 07, 2007
Ok, so I went to Raasay since the SYHA (Scottish Youth Hostel Association) Hostel there was going to close for the season within the week and I can stay for free since I'm Association staff, so it was an opportune time. I can see Raasay on clear days from Kyleakin, under the Skye bridge, with it's distinctive flat peak of Dun Caan, so it was good to go one of the landmarks around here.
I took the ferry from Sconser, as I indicated on the map. The ferry's a Caledonian MacBrayne, or CalMac as they're generally referred to, and that company opperates most of the ferries in Scotland. Because of bus difficulties, I hitched a ride from Broadford, and then when I landed on the island I was offered a lift to the hostel by some folks from the Raasay Outdoor Centre, and since it was 4 miles it was appreciated. Then I wandered into the village (about a 2 mile walk), where I saw this playground sign. Most people on Raasay belong to the Free Presbyterian Church, which is pretty strict about the Sabbath.
The next day I walked up to Dun Caan, which on clear days is apparently one of the best views in the Highlands. When I walked up to it, it was like an island in the clouds, the mist was so thick. The wind was blowing the mist as well, so I was gradually getting wet although I didn't realize it until I got back. On my walk, I did get to see either some pheasant or some tarmigan (not sure which) and some deer later in the evening, so that was neat. And lots of heather and rocks - there's only really any forest on the south of Raasay, and where the hostel was you had to go about a mile to get to a tree.
Friday, August 31, 2007
I had the day off Wednesday, so I took the train from Kyle (across the water on the mainland) to Inverness to do some shopping. The first train leaves at 7:35am, which means catching the bus from here at 7:05am. Jamie was also catching the train to go visit his parents in Sutherland, so since he was finishing the night shift at that time, he kindly woke me up and fed me a breakfast of a bacon butty and Stornoway black pudding.
The journey was scenic; the train followed the coast for a while, then in through some hills and past lochs. It was sunny starting out, so the heather on the hills looked purpley-pink. Most of the lochs were still on their surfaces, so were reflecting the hills and clouds, a feat that amazes me still, being accustomed to sea water which never does that. Then the land got flatter as we got closer to Inverness - it was a marshy looking plain between more distant hills, very few trees and houses and many sheep. I didn't have my camera with me (not that I could really take pictures from inside a train), so unfortunately there are no photos.
Inverness I found to be a nice little city. Nothing too exciting about it, other than that there are shops! (that becomes exciting when you live where there are none). Got my shopping done and wandered around until the train back at just past 6pm. For photos, check out Undiscovered Scotland, or one I found of the High Street.
I ran into Alysha at the train station; she was coming back from Aberdeen from her days off, so I had company on the train ride back. It was rainy by then, and starting to get dark by 8pm, so the heather now looked a deep purple. We saw a lot of deer running away from the train up the hills.
I had to go through the extensive questionnaire about my health and "lifestyle", same as with Canadian Blood Services (over here it's the Scottish National Blood Transfusion Service, who must be affiliated with National Health Service as all the workers were wearing that uniform). They offer a local anesthetic over here, but since it involves an injection anyway it didn't seem to any advantage.
So I passed the questionnaire test, and the iron-blood-content test, and on I went to one of the beds so they could start draining me. Pretty much as soon as they had the tube into me, the nurse and blood worker started discussing how slow the flow of blood from me was. I was told to keep squeezing my hand, which I did until my wrist was sore and my little finger wasn't moving properly because it didn't have enough blood. The nurse commented that I just wouldn't give up my blood, and after some time limit (15 minutes, perhaps) they pulled me off and I think I'd filled about 3/4 of a bag. I inquired as to what makes the difference in blood flow (I thought it might have been blood pressure), and was told that it's vein size. I have small veins, it seems.
I went out to have my cookie and juice, and started feeling increasing hot and flushed (and drained, pun intended if you so desire), so I had myself led to a bed where I recuperated for probably half an hour before walking back to the hostel. I had actually anticipated that this would happen, based on before, and the fact that I just know that I don't react well to blood loss (probably why my body makes damn sure that it holds on to it). The nurses and blood workers seemed very concerned about me - I don't know if it's unusual for people to react the way that I do, or if the concern is just to ease me (it tends to make me feel a little uncomfortable instead, like I'm a burden).
I talked to a fellow from the village last night who I saw up at the clinic, and we compared stories. He has the opposite problem to me - once they finished taking blood from him and put on some gauze to stop the bleeding, it took a lot to get it stopped. He had to be re-bandaged because his arm started bleeding again. Whereas with me, I didn't bleed into my bandage at all. In terms of survival, I suppose that's a good thing for me, but it sure makes donating difficult.
Thursday, August 23, 2007
Then yesterday, Alysha checked in a guest for me while I was fetching some laundry. I walked into reception just as said guest was turning around to go out to his room, and there was a moment where the two of us were struck by familiarity before remembering who the other was. The guy was Nick from Oregon, and we stayed at the same hostel in Varna, Bulgaria, back in June. We had e-mailed once or twice because Nick had said that he was going to be visiting the UK at a time when I knew that I'd be back, but he had no idea that I worked at the Kyleakin hostel.
I had the afternoon off so we spent it taking a walk past the castle down the shore, enjoying the exceptionally warm, sunny day (I wore short-sleeves and no sweater/jacket!). The shore here is fun to walk along, as along parts the rocks are quite large so you can kind of hop from one to another and scramble on.
In the evening, Alicia, Alysha, Nick and I went to the ceilidh across the road, where I noticed a guy wearing an oyster shucking shirt referring to PEI (it read "Keep on Shucking" on the front). I asked him if he had been to PEI, and it turned out that he's a MacLellan from Kensington who's doing a backpacker tour of Scotland. We talked until we found someone that we knew in common, as one does when meeting a fellow Islander.
Anyway, there's my two coincidences (if you can call them that exactly) from yesterday.
Wednesday, August 22, 2007
In an earlier post, I mentioned three of the people that I am working with: Pat the manager, Alicia, and Alysha. I'll finish up by mentioning the other people that I work with, whom I hadn't met at the time of posting before. On cleaning duties is May, an older woman from the village that comes in for a few hours a day. On the night shift is Jamie, a young fellow from Sutherland (Highlands).
And then there is Henry. Actually there are several Henry's. I've spent a lot of time with that wee fellow, as May prefers cleaning sinks and toilets to hoovering, so when we clean together I do the hoovering (which is fine with me since I'd rather do that than clean sinks and toilets - we have a symbiotic relationship). Henry's alright, except that he manages to catch himself on every corner or doorframe that is near him.
So work involves taking bookings at reception, answering inane questions, cleaning, folding laundry (I find that oddly soothing), serving meals when we have groups book them, and occasionally in the afternoon and evening, sitting around surfing the internet or reading.
Between working some extra hours, getting outside when the sun shines, and going to listen to music and the two neighbouring pubs, I've been fairly busy. I've walked down to the castle ruins, walked across the bridge from the supermarket in Kyle of Lochalsh with Jamie one day (that's the nearest supermarket, to which you can catch a bus as well, although it's under a 30 minute walk), and walked down the shore and under the bridge as well. There's ceilidhs at one of the bars, the King Hakkon every Wednesday and Thursday, then the other bar, Saucy Mary's, has bands come in on Friday and Saturday night and traditional music on Sunday night. As Alysha #2 put it, there's only two nights of the week, Monday and Tuesday, that she has off from going out. I've been taking more nights than that, though, or else I would be really suffering from lack of sleep (oh to be 19 and energetic again!)
Monday, August 20, 2007
Sunday, August 19, 2007
Sunday, August 12, 2007
The people I'm working with seem like good fun. The manager is Pat, and he's been here for years. He's got a "weird sense of humour" as he puts it, but since I have have a fairly odd sense of humour myself I imagine we'll get on well. He tells entertaining stories too.
There's two other live-in girls, Alicia from Australia and Alysha from British Columbia, both name are prounced the same. So we've decided to tell people that my name is Alisha, but that we've decided to call me Megan to make things easier. Or Alisha 3, since the other two are referred to as one and two, respectively. The girls have been good fun so far; we went over to the bar down the street last night and I met probably half the people in the village plus tourists.
I think there's a few hundred people who live in Kyleakin, with the population growing some in the summer since there's so many inns, B&B's, and hostels. There are 4 hostels in town, which is very odd for a place that has only one tiny shop and no major tourist sites. The hostel I'm at, which belongs to the Scottish Youth Hostel Association (SYHA) is the largest, with about 70 beds. I'm not sure how many beds are in the others, but judging from the building sizes I'd guess anywhere from 10 to 40 beds in each of the others.
Thursday, August 09, 2007
To throw the stones, the competitors generally twirl around through one-and-a-half rotations (3 pi - I had a physics moment that just had to get out), which causes the kilts they're wearing to billow out. All I can say is that in the days when people didn't wear anything under their kilts, there would have been no secrets regarding what was under their kilts. A lot of flashing would have been going on.
There was actually a woman competing in the stone-throwing, although she had a lighter stone by the looks of it. We were informed by the announcer that she was from Ontario and competed in the women's Highland Games circuit in Canada, which I've never heard tell off. She was one big woman, but she still couldn't throw the stones any where near as far as the men.
Classes are going along alright this week. I can now describe things that I'm doing or have been or will be doing, but it's harder to speak it on the spot since there's lots of new vocabulary and grammar.
One thing I'm not liking as much this week is the atmosphere in the college. There's over 120 fiddlers here for a fiddle week, and there's only 8 of us learning Gaelic. So first of all, we're hearing no Gaelic outside of class, unlike last week. Secondly, I find many of the fiddlers to be very cliquey. I've chatted well with some, but with others the banter is atrocious. Since they don't know me they won't bother to talk to me at the ceilidhs in the evenings, or if they do talk to me once they find out I'm not a fiddler I'm sort of shoved aside. As one girl put it, "Oh, you're that Gaelic one". So the music has been good, but the friendliness of last week has been lacking.
Also, since many of the fiddlers are teenagers, and some of the fiddlers who will talk to me are around 18 or 19 years old, but hanging out with the younger ones, when I have gotten some conversation I've also felt like I'm crashing a summer camp.
I've been getting to experience the delight that is midges this week, although they haven't been too bad (from what I've heard). First of all, I'm not sure exactly how you pronounce "midge". The folks I worked with at the Coylet tended to say "midg-ie" so that's how I say it, but I think I've heard other Scotsfolk saying it without the final "ee" sound.
Anyway, I don't generally notice that I've been bitten by a midge until well after the fact. I can see them about but I've never seen one on me when it's biting, and I never feel it like I would with black flies or mosquitoes. I do notice the bites afterward, as I react a little bit to them - some of my bites swell a little bit into something like a hive with a dent in the middle of it. And they itch, of course. I won't complain about them too much though, as they haven't been that thick here and I've had far worse experience with mosquitoes.
I might get some photos up soon as it's been a while.
Sunday, August 05, 2007
To the tune that you may know better as "She'll Be Comin' 'Round the Mountain", here's the lyrics to the first one (it seems to be traditional):
Ye cannae shove yer granny aff a bus,
Oh ye cannae shove yer granny aff a bus,
Ye cannae shove yer granny, for she's yer mammy's mammy,
Ye cannae shove yer granny aff a bus.
Ye can shove yer other granny aff a bus,
Ye can shove yer other granny aff a bus.
You can shove yer other granny, for she's yer daddy's mammy,
Ye can shove yer other granny aff a bus.
The other song is apparently to the tune of something I don't know, and the words were then written by Billy Connolly, a very funny man. So check out this YouTube recording I found of The Welly Boot Song to hear it for yourself. A note for my Canadian readership: "wellies" (plural of "welly boot") are rubber boots. The name is short for Wellington boot. They are generally green over here, not black with red soles like at home.
I've also made some friends who will be at the Gaelic college as full-time students in September, so I'm determined that I will get down to see them and go to some of the ceilidh's even if I have to acquire a bicycle or hitch a ride.
This week at the college, the only language course on is the Level 2 class that I am taking. Instead of Gaelic learners, the place is filled up with over a hundred fiddlers here for a course with Alisdair Fraser, who is apparently well-known in the fiddle world. With all the fiddlers here, it means that the impromtu ceilidhs that get held each night are certainly going to have a lot of music. But since few of the fiddlers speak any Gaelic, it also means I don't get to listen into coversations that I may not understand but are good for picking up the sound of the language and a few words. I've been walking around all week hearing Gaelic songs in my head that I don't even understand, so just hearing the language is obviously good for me. So I'm missing that right now. Plus I can't really talk shop with fiddlers, so I can get left out in the cold in that sort of coversation. Once classes start tomorrow it should be better.
Wednesday, August 01, 2007
It's the middle of day 3 of classes. We're up to having conversations of a sort now. My teacher, Cailean, is a youngish guy (I'd guess a bit over 20) and he's quite fun. As he put it, you're never going to need to know how to book a train ticket in Gaelic, or go to the bank, or any of the types of conversations that you usually get taught when learning French or German or Spanish. So he's teaching us how to speak about the fun stuff, as he put it. That involves where you're from, what the weather's like, do you have a car and can you give me a lift to the pub so we can get a pint, etc.
At the end of each day, we've been getting a short play recounting the adventures of Calum-Alig who is attempting to chat up a good-lookin' girl, Trixibelle, in various bars around Portree. So if you read just plain ol' "well hello" in my post title, you now need to stretch out the words so that it sounds like some fellow greeting the object of his attention in a bar.
Tuesday, July 31, 2007
Good times I've been having, eh? I mean, how could I forget to tell you about a tick?
Classes are coming along alright here. I'm now used to being addressed as "a Mhegan" which gets pronounced as "Vegan" but with a softish v that's closer to an f-sound than normally. In case you didn't know, in Scottish Gaelic I would say that my name is Megan, but then names can change when you address someone, hence "a Mhegan". That's where the name Hamish comes from - it's actually how you pronounce Seamus (which is Gaelic for James, I believe) when you address him.
Monday, July 30, 2007
I guess I should say that the class went fine; a bit of a review for me in terms of vocabulary but working on my pronunciation and intonation so that's good. This afternoon we're going to learn to talk about the weather, which my teacher tells us is crucial for Gaelic conversations. Again, not so different from the Maritimes. If you can talk about the weather, where you're from and who you're related to, you're set.
There's a girl from Antigonish here (that's in Nova Scotia for my non-Maritime readers), one of the first Maritimers I've run into in a long while. We've already found one person that we know in common, of course. I'm sure there will be more if we keep trying.
People at the college here all know where PEI is. I guess if you're paying attention to Gaelic culture the name crops up, even though there's not many speakers there anymore.
I've caught myself pronouncing things a bit differently since I've gotten back into Scotland. I've been speaking a hybrid English for a while - sort of UK vocabulary with a Canadian accent. Recently I've caught myself saying "gair-age" instead of my usual "grage" (that's for "garage" as it's properly written) and "toe-maw-toe" intead of "ta-mah-tah" (i.e. "tomato"). I'm slipping.
I read in my Scotland guidebook that it's the only country in the world where neither Coke nor Pepsi is the favourite fizzy drink (pop). It's Irn-Bru (pronounced iron brew). Given the sort of "energy" nature of the drink (it has quinine in it, and I notice that it certainly perks me up more than something like Coke would), and it's popularlity amongst kids, it's amazing that I don't find Scottish children as annoying as English children, as they should be unnaturally awake all the time. Even when working in the Coylet restaurant, the majority of the Irn-Bru drinking children weren't too bad, and if they were, it was really their parents' fault for not controlling them.
Saturday, July 28, 2007
Being along Loch Eck again made me realize that it's still one of the more beautiful places that I've been to in my life. It's hard to compete with it.
Thursday, July 26, 2007
Monday, July 23, 2007
Wednesday, July 18, 2007
In the last month, I've had 13 visits from search engine hits. The most common search is just my name, as you can see in the chart below (take that all you other Megan Glovers - who's at the top of Google now?).
I'm guessing number 2 on the list is someone who met me, heard I had a blog but didn't know my last name, but then who knows. I'm puzzled by number 3 on the list - why would you crush snails for money? Who would pay you for such a thing?
The real kicker for me, though, is number 7 - someone searched "dunoon porn". I guess I've used the word "porn" at some time in a post - I won't argue that. I do find it absolutely hilarious (I'm using italics so you know it's hilarious) that someone would search that combination of words. I don't know much about porn, but from what I know, I wouldn't search for porn from Dunoon. If there's any produced there, I have a feeling it's an inferior product to the rest of the market.
I'm really rendered a bit speechless in trying to explain why I find it funny. Dunoon? Porn? Who puts those together?
I actually just searched that combination and I don't see my blog anywhere, so I guess I won't be getting hits that way any more. I'm sure the searcher was disappointed when they got to my site anyway. I may have photos up, but not the kind they were looking for.