Saturday, December 23, 2006

Consecutive dry days!

It had to happen eventually - I had two days off in which it didn't rain. Monday this week I woke up to see a clear day as the sun was rising. I had been planning to go across the water to Greenock for shopping but I postponed that trip in favour of a day of walking. I was bouncing around like a dog who knows it's going for a walk as I got ready. I went up a trail behind the Loch Eck caravan park to get onto the forest road - a set of tire tracks running roughly parallel to the road below but up on the mountain. I walked it all the way up to the Whistlefield Inn, and stopped in there for a drink and some potato chips. I've been hearing about the Whistlefield all the time since it's a neighbouring hotel but I'd only seen it from the outside so I was curious to go in. I hung around there a bit and talked to some of the staff and then headed back to the Coylet. On my way back I met a fast-walking elderly local man who kept the conversation going so well that I missed my turn off and had to double back to find the trail back down to the road. It was a very good day of walking - it was incredibly sunny and just a bit chilly.

Here's Loch Eck perfectly reflecting the mountain and the mists when I set out for my walk.
One of the many streams running down the mountain-side along the forest road.

Tuesday I took the ferry across the Clyde to Gourock and walked around there a bit before hopping on the trail to Greenock - along the rail line to Glasgow. Greenock was a big port town at one time and a major shipbuilding area. Lots of stuff was imported from the Americas - it has a Jamaica Street just like Glasgow does, probably oweing to some sugar importing going on. It was also a major export town of Scottish emmigrants heading overseas - a lot of them last set foot in Scotland in Greenock. And Greenock's final claim to fame is that it's the birthplace of James Watt, for whom the unit of power is named. They're very proud of him - there's a college named after Watt in Greenock, and a building to mark his birthplace with a statue of him on it, and a restaurant/bar named for him even. There's even a collection of some of his equipment in the small town museum - I saw his balance and what appeared to be a set of drill bits.

I got myself a pair of hiking sneakers in Greenock to replace my worn out sneakers that I've been wearing. I was also thinking of getting myself some new dress shoes but didn't see any that caught my eye and so figured I'd wait a while since I still had the cheap shoes that I've been wearing for work. Then the next day at work, Sod's Law (mocked by fate, similar to what we call Murphy's Law at home) came into effect and my left dress shoe broke at the ball of my foot when I put it on for work. So I've managed two evening shifts on a squeaking, improperly supported shoe and came into town today to get some shoes. I managed to get some very decent shoes so I'm alright now.

I'm glad Christmas is coming, not only for the day off and the gifts and food and all, but also because once it comes I will no longer have to listen to the Christmas CDs we play in the restaurant and the bar, as well as what the radio plays. Other than the music it doesn't feel very Christmas-y to me, even with the decorations and all, simply because everything is so green around here and it's so warm.

It hasn't been raining much at all this week - miracle of miracles! The weather forecast I read for Christmas Day (in The Scotsman) called for it to be clear and a "bracing" 5 to 7 degrees Celcius. I wouldn't describe those temperatures as bracing, but I've checked with some Scots and they wouldn't either so I don't know what The Scotsman was thinking.

And now for something completely different and slightly amusing to you perhaps. Just to show you the kind of joking that goes on around here, and to show how talented our chef Victor is at not only cooking but artistic stuff as well, here is our kitchen porter, Fraser, dressed up as a space-man by Victor. Fraser had to bear this costume because it often seems that he is on another planet than Earth.
Anyway, happy Christmas to everyone!

Saturday, December 16, 2006

Buses, plus-fours, and food

Just in at the Dunoon library again, with a post of assorted thoughts.

I don't know if I mentioned this before, but the public transport buses around here are also used as the school buses. There's a bus that goes into town and gets there for 8:30am that is a school bus, but anyone else can take it as well. Then there's a bus that leaves downtown Dunoon at 3:20pm and stops at Dunoon Grammer School (the secondary school - ages 11 and up) and waits around while all the school kids get on. I generally try to avoid taking that one as I feel weird sitting in amongst all the teenaged, loud, kids. So if I'm in town on a school day and need to go back around that time I catch the 3:50pm bus. It also picks up some school-kids but not so many. However, when one driver in particular is on, the bus always makes a stop at a newsagent in Sandbank so that the kids can get off and buy snacks. I knew I was living in a small, unrushed place when the public bus makes an extra stop for kids to buy treats.

The hotel has some more hunters staying once again. Deer hunting, pheasant hunting, and fishing bring out a lot of our guests. Most come from "down South"; i.e. England. Now, if you are to picture the stereotypical image that most Canadians have of the outdoor sporting Englishman, I think it would probably be the slender man in a wooly sweater, perhaps a tweed coat, but most certainly he would be wearing short pants that I've been calling breeches (from fencing terminology) and long socks. Think Prince Phillip or another prince of choice out in the woods with a gun. Well, believe it or not (and I had trouble believing it), people other than royality still do dress like that to go hunting or fishing. The trousers are called "plus-fours" so I'm told (because they extend about 4 inches below the knee as I've just read online), and they often have little tassle-like things on the hems. I've yet to see anyone under age 40 wear them, or anyone Scottish, but I have seen women wearing them on a few occasions and loads of men. The posh-er the accent, the more likely the person is to wear plus-fours in my experience.

One of the hunters this morning thought I was from Quebec because he said that he could hear French in my accent. I told him that English was my native language as it was of all the people I grew up around but that didn't seem to sway him. A hotel owner up the road did tell me that she could hear similarities between my accent and that of a Quebecer that works for her but she didn't go so far as to say that I sounded French. It puzzles me as I speak French with an English accent so how can I speak English with a Quebec accent?

In my time working at the Coylet, I have been fed 5 meats that I had never consumed before. Those meats would be venison, pheasant, rabbit, duck, and pigeon (yes, you read that correctly - not the street ones, wild ones). The venison I don't find too different than beef - in fact, in effort to use up leftovers one day our chef made us meatballs and pasta in which the meat was venison and pheasant - our manager coined them "game balls". The pheasant I wouldn't really know from chicken if no one told me otherwise, and the pigeon is like a flakier almost nicer-than-chicken version of chicken. The rabbit I don't know if I'm super keen on - it's very strong flavoured, dark and chewy - I don't dislike it but it didn't capture my fancy. Duck, however, I really like.

Then, in addition to the meats, I've had black pudding once or twice, usually a leftover Stornoway black pudding that someone didn't eat at breakfast time. It's actually quite nice for being made of blood - you can certainly see the colour of it but it tastes alright. I couldn't eat a whole plateful of it but one slice, a few inches in diameter, is fine. I had haggis as well last week, which I've had before in PEI and liked then anyway.

Thursday, December 14, 2006

Weather, ghosts, and sleepwalking

Another quick update while I have computer access - and I just put up a post from a few days ago that didn't make it the first time. I couldn't check if the post had worked last time either because according to the censoring software at the library my blog is blocked because of "Sex/Acts" content. I don't know what sort of word I used in one of my posts that qualified it for that - "Acts" could incorporate something violent I suppose so maybe when writing about something historic I talked about weapons or wars or something. It annoyed me anyway, and surprised me as I try to keep this blog as a family show.

Really bad weather in the west of Scotland yesterday - loads of rain and high winds. I read in a newspaper (bear in mind it was the Scottish Sun that costs 10 pence and it likes to use CAPITALS and italics just like that on select words and phrases for emphasis) that this is the rainiest fall/winter for at least 30 years and perhaps since records have been kept. Loch Eck has once again overflowed its bank just up the road a bit down by the caravan park and the wind this morning was blowing waves from the loch up on to the road. The loch water level has been going up and down regularly with all these rainy days we've head - the two rivers that connect to it are tidal so when they drain out the loch can then drain pretty quickly itself.

I believe a long time ago I said that I would write about the ghost stories at the Coylet so here I go. The most famous story is of what's called the Blue Boy. It's supposed to be the ghost of a young boy who died at the inn in the early part of the 1900's - from what I know he lived here because his family ran the inn, and he slept-walked one night out of his room and into the loch and drowned. The story gained some fame after Emma Thompson the actress made a film based on the story called The Blue Boy which was filmed here. The reason the Ghostfinders Scotland were at the Coylet some time ago was to do with that I believe.

The haunting from what I read entailed mostly places feeling cold and doors and objects moving on their own. The room that is supposed to be the haunted one is room 3 which is straight across the hall from my room. I've been told by people of their experiences with seeing people in the night or feeling cold but I've never experienced anything inexplicable while here. Matt, who claims to have had many experiences with ghosts over his lifetime, would tell me that I don't experience anything because I don't have an open mind about supernatural stuff, but if that prevents me from being scared by anything then I'm not going to worry over it. He also tells me that he can sense that there is no ghost at the Coylet any more, but he feels there is one just up the road before the caravan park where the staff caravan is. Again, I've never seen anything.

I did, however, start locking my bedroom door at night a few weeks after I started here because I had begun sleepwalking several times a night every night. I never left my room to my knowledge, but I didn't want to go wandering around the hotel spooking guests and then I heard about the kid drowning in the loch and I figured locking myself in was probably a good idea. I doubt that I would ever make it outside to the loch in fall temperatures without waking up as I usually wake up once I get out of my bed, but it doesn't hurt to be sure. I probably can't manage to turn the key to unlock my door while asleep but I certainly can if I needed to get out in an emergency like a fire so leaving it in the lock keeps me safer on all accounts. My sleepwalking seems to have settled back down to rare occasions now (probably since I got used to my surroundings) so I'm not too bothered about it now at all.

And as one guest who I told about my sleepwalking said, if anyone of the hotel guests does hear anything moving about and thinks it's a ghost it might just very well be me!

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Long time passing...

I haven't updated in a while due to lack of computer access. This will probably have to be a short post as well because I'm at the library and the computers are in demand.

Been having some wicked weather lately - heavy rains and wind, with roads flooding alongside lochs. The hotel held a Christmas craft fair on Sunday and attendance was good considering the aforementioned flooding. We've also had problems with the smoke from the fireplaces blowing back down the chimney and into the hotel when the wind gusts the wrong way. On slightly windy days you have to walk around and wipe soot off of tables and chairs every ten to fifteen minutes, and on bad days, like one afternoon when I was working, the fireplace essentially explodes, covering every surface imaginable with a layer of soot and even setting off the fire alarm. We're waiting on getting the appropriate protective top for the chimney; I think they're called cowals.

The Christmas staff party was yesterday and overnight. We (there's now six of us full-time - out front there's Karen the manager, Matt, and me, and then in the kitchen the chef Victor, food-prep guy Pickle, and kitchen porter Fraser, and then one-part time woman out front, Teresa) all went up to Inverary which involves driving up to the top of Loch Fyne, a sea loch west of the Coylet, and then down the other side some distance. At the top of the loch the mountains are more Highland like because they're pretty much treeless, and the tops of them were all covered in snow since they're higher as well.

Inverary itself is the capital of Argyll, although it's much smaller than Dunoon. It's also the seat of clan Campbell of Argyll and the castle is in the area. When we got to town we started off by visiting Inverary Jail with the original buildings from the 1820's and 1840's. As part of the visit there was a history of torture and punishment in Scotland and Victor, who is Spanish and heard people complaining about the Inquisition before, said that the Scots were just as bad as the Spanish and I would agree.

We stayed at the George Hotel overnight, with food and accomodation all paid for by the hotel as our compensation for working over Christmas. It was a good time and then we all headed back today.

Business should be picking up now that we're into December so should be good workwise. We're getting two weeks off at the end of January and I'm trying to decide where I'd like to go for it. I think I've settled on Ireland but not absolutely sure yet.

Thursday, November 23, 2006

Return of the Pictures: The Focusing

More Coylet interior photos (see previous post).

The back of the dining room (on the other side of the windows is where us staff peer in and watch people eat). The main kitchen is to the right of those windows in back, and the small kitchen for coffee and stuff is to the left in back.

The back side of the bar.

The front side of the bar, as viewed from the door.

Pictures 2: The Coylet Interior

I was bored a bit on Tuesday so I wandered around the inn and took some photos. Here they are in no particular order.

This is in the "lounge"; the first part of the restaurant after you enter from the hallway (which is on the right in this picture). The table in the bay window is table 9, where the staff tend to have our meals and hang about when the place is closed. The heater is actually under the window seat by the table so I like to sit on the heater on one end with my feet stretched out over the heater on the other end.

The front of the dining room (the lounge is to the right of here), showing the conservatory.

Here's our lovely steep spiral staircase (original, i.e. 16th century according to everything I've read). It presents quite a challenge to the drunken and elderly. It's almost like a ladder instead of a stair. And no it's not slanty; I was when I took this picture I guess. Oh, and the other doors are to the toilets. The view here is from the front door, so the bar is to the left and the restaurant is to the right.

The hall fireplace with door to the bar on the left and door to the women's washroom on the right. And some pictures of the Coylet years ago and a moose that someone killed.

A darkish picture of the other end of the lounge, showing the fireplace that divides it from the dining room (and another moose head - there's a hunting and fishing theme to the place as you may have gathered).

Few more pictures to come in another post.

Rainy reverie

Rain, rain, and more rain. I think it's been raining some each day for at least two weeks. I got out running on Monday when it was clear for about 30 minutes but it started raining again on my way back. That was a miserable day actually, as the wind was gusting and it was pretty chilly. Tuesday the weather was teasing - it would start to clear up and I would start getting dressed to go outside and it would be raining again before I finished, sometime with the sun still shining. I did see the most intense rainbow I have ever experienced and it seemed very close as well. Here's a photo that doesn't do it justice:

Rain is so advanced in Scotland that it can rain without clouds being present. Honest. Sometime last week there was a shower, a pretty good one too, and the sun was shining with no clouds overhead. The only cloud that I could spot was some little white whisp off in the distance.

Whilst standing in line at the bank on Monday, a customer ahead of me started speaking to the teller in an American accent, mid-West I think. The sound of it jarred me out of my standing-in-a-long-line-at-the-bank-soaking-wet reverie. I've become accustomed to every one around me speaking in Scottish accents, or other UK and Commonwealth accents that still sound closer to a Scottish accent than an American one. So the flat sound of an American accent seemed really out of place. (Oddly enough, I can watch movies with that accent and it doesn't seem out of place, but I guess it must be similar for Scottish folk watching those movies as well.) I then realized that out-of-place is how I sound to everyone else when I'm going about my business in town or at work. For all I know, every time I speak in a bank or a grocery store or whatever, I'm jarring people out of their reveries with my Canadian vowels. I seem "normal" to them until I open my mouth and speak. Actually, come to think of it, that's probably true in Canada as well ;)

The word "wean" is used for kids over here, pronounced something like "wain". It is so common a word that in a bookstore in Dunoon I saw a shelf in the cooking section labelled "wean food". It seemed to me like "weans" are some sort of other species that have a special diet.

Something I find interesting: I've been told that it's hard to measure the true depth of lochs because they are so dark, owing to little sunlight because of northerness and mountains surrounding them blocking out the light. However, you can get a general idea of the depth of a loch by looking at the height of the surrounding mountains. The loch is about as deep as the mountains are high. So here's a picture of the mountain beside Loch Eck for your consideration (taken from part-way up the mountain on the other side - on a sunny day nonetheless!).

That's some deep water.

Friday, November 17, 2006

It's bloody Baltic out!

To start, my apologies to my loyal readers (I think I have a few of those) for not updating for a while. I really don't have any excuse as it's not been too busy around the hotel with the exception of Saturday evening. Not being busy, however, seems to make me and everyone else here feel lazy and tired and I so I simply haven't felt much like updating. And I haven't had much to update on.

It's raining today - a really cold, sloppy sort of rain. It's been raining pretty much straight since Monday or maybe even Sunday. The temperature has gone down this week so that it's often just around or above freezing overnight and around 8 or so degrees during the day. It's been snowing on the higher hills and so the mountains around the inn are now topped with snow, as you can sort of see in this picture that I took of the moutain straight across the loch just at sunset.

When the weather gets a damp chill to it like now the Scots describe it as Baltic. I think it's a brillant sounding word for it, but I really don't know if the weather feels like this in the Baltic states. Actually, every time I hear the word "Baltic" I think of Monopoly first and Eastern Europe is an afterthought.

With the colder weather we've been keeping fires going all the time and my hands are getting stained from coal in the cracks of them and I can't get it out from under my nails all the time which is somewhat annoying as it doesn't look so good to be serving food with blackened hands. Even wearing gloves doesn't seem to keep the coal from getting on them. I was out to shovel coal into the buckets and for some reason the act of shovelling coal makes me feel very historic whereas burning coal doesn't so much. It seems very Dickensian to shovel coal (It's not easy stuff to shovel either - I wouldn't want to do it for a living all day or anything.). When I was in Edmonton my office mate Aaron said that we Maritimers were Dickensian for burning oil for heat as it's natural gas that's burned in the West. I guess everyone has their own definition of what is behind the times - for me it's coal.

I'm taking an indoor rock-climbing class down at the Benmore Outdoor Centre which is 3 km down the road inside the Botanic Gardens. It's a three week class on Wednesday night and I missed the first class because I didn't know about it but I got up to speed this past Wednesday. I heard about it when some men who were taking the class came by the Coylet after class for some drinks and were telling me about it. Anyway, once I finish the class that gets me certified to use the climbing wall facility on the practice nights every Thursday. That will give me somewhere indoors to get some exercise when it's dark and rainy over the winter. Climbing is something I've wanted to do for some time and I enjoyed it the night I was there. It's nice to do a sport that also involves my arms since I seem to be leg heavy.

There's also a fencing club in Dunoon that I just found out about but I've just heard that it's a kids club. There's a possiblity of them setting up some adult fencing activities, or if they need some help teaching kids I'll be up for that. They only fence foil which isn't so great but if I'm desperate enough I'll pick up a foil again.

Tuesday, November 07, 2006


Finally got pictures off my camera so that I can post them. We'll see how many Blogger will let me put up. I may have to use my MSN Space for some of them.

Let's start with around the Coylet Inn and Lock Eck, since that's where I am now. I'll leave my journeys in Edinburgh (seems so long ago now) for later.

Here's the view of Loch Eck, looking southward on the road, from room 3 of the inn. I took this while cleaning the room because it shows the mists rising off the mountain that I see pretty much every day that it's not "pissing" rain. And yes, those are small palm trees you're seeing.

I took this one the day I went to Glagow. It was so foggy it looked as though the world ended a dozen feet or so out into the loch. Amazing.

Here's a nice one of Loch Eck that I took from a walk on what I think is Stroncullin Hill, about 1-2km south of the Coylet.

An unfortunately dark picture of the stream at Puck's Glen. There's also loads of little streams along the roadside like this - they drain under the road and where the culverts are no grass grows on top because they're covered with stone so I have to jump over them (they're sunken compared to the surrounding grassy areas) when I'm running on the shoulder of the road.

These trees actually scare me. I first saw them at Benmore Botanic Gardens and I didn't have my camera with me and the only label on them was Latin and it was something like Aracinthea aracina or whatever. This specimen I spied on my walk along the road back from Puck's Glen. It appears to be dying and good riddance. What frightens me is how thick the branches are and the needles - the needles are sort of succulent and it just looks like the thing is waiting to reach out and grab you. Please note that I have never before in my life been frightened of a tree.

This is the trickiest part of my usual jog, which I do going southward on the road. The shoulder here is narrow on both sides. I should be jogging on the right hand side because I'm going northward but because of that rock face I always cross the road and run on the grassy part next to the short stone wall with my back to oncoming traffic but checking behind me all the time for cars. If one comes from behind me I stop running and shimmy up to the wall ready to jump into the loch if need be.

Finally, some poor photos of my room for anyone who's really curious. I should post some interior photos of the hotel but I haven't really taken any. That's for another day I guess. Or you could check out this website on the ghost investigators who were here some time last year and who took some interior photos of very weird things. And some video which I'm unable to hear since I have no speakers. I'll probably write some more on the ghosty stuff another time, but not tonight since I'm tired after all this.

Here's my bed and door (these were taken the day I moved in by the way so my stuff is all over the place)

The other side of my room, showing window, chair, dresser, and the edge of the sink. Beside the sink the roof comes in and there is a cot stored there that I am using for a table but the plan is to get some shelves to put in its place.

Finally, the view of the hillside that comes up sharply beyond my window.

Sweep, sweep, sweep, balayer

Brownie points to anyone who recognizes where I took the post title from.

It's been a quiet week business-wise. November is a dead month at the hotel, so I'm told, until December when it gets busy again. Other than the odd day when we had steady business - like lunch on Wednesday, which I attribute to it being sunny so people decided to leave their homes and have food - it's been very quiet. So quiet that us staff have been occupying ourselves with extra tasks or by reading, writing, playing cards, and knitting. I taught Karen, the manager, how to knit on Thursday afternoon and she has become addicted and is well on her way to making a scarf as tall as her.

We've also started doing things like cleaning and organizing closets and doing work outside. I voluntarily swept and bagged leaves the Saturday before last because it was sunny out and I wanted to get outside and get some exercise, and we had more people working at lunch time than we needed. But by this weekend they had accumulated again, and Karen asked me to do that again plus haul wood for the fireplaces. I was quite happy to as the weather was nice and it meant getting outside instead of sitting around inside (we had four people working out front for lunch which was way more than we needed). So I swept the leaves and pine needles from the "car park" and put them in "bin bags", then I used the wheel barrow to haul wood from the woodshed up to the door by the bar where I stacked up as much of it as I could, then I swept some more and filled up the coal buckets. That pretty much took me 4 hours.

And if I had a dime for every time someone told me that I was silly to be sweeping up leaves as it was a losing battle... well, I'd have about 90 cents, but the point is I was told by every customer who walked by me, and every workman that stopped in front of the place. The attitude about getting rid of leaves is entirely different over here than it is in Canada. In Canada, if a business left them to rot on the ground and clog up the drains and totally cover the pavement, it would be considered sloppy. The same with not raking up all your leaves from your yard - the neighbours would talk about you just like if you didn't cut your grass. Over here, every one seems to be of the viewpoint that the trees have an infinite supply of leaves and that to gather them up is senseless because there will be more on the ground later. Well, there will be more, but soon the trees will be out of leaves and the ones I bagged up won't be blowing around anymore. And it's all about appearances, since we are running a hotel.

One man from British Telecom accounts for about 30 cents of the money that I would have as he talked to me for about 15 minutes on various topics but always coming back to the fact that I was wasting my time. He said I should have work gloves and that he didn't like to see a woman do hard work. I had about 3 comments on the tip of my tongue in response to that which I didn't give - the first one was that he probably goes home and sits down on the couch while his wife does all the cooking and laundry and cleaning. The second was that if you wanted a hard job done right you were probably better off to get a woman to do it as it would be done right and she wouldn't complain about it like a man (I mean look at that man - he was complaining for me doing work - imagine the complaints if he had to do it himself). And I can't remember the third one, but maybe there wasn't any.

Anyway, all those people who told me that I was wasting my time seemed to forget that I was getting paid to sweep those leaves.

The weather has been pretty mild really, as evidenced by me cleaning up leaves in the first week of November and there still being more leaves on the trees. It's about 11 degrees out today. I still have not yet figured out how to dress for the weather entirely. I went down to Puck's Glen on Thursday via the forest road that is halfway up the mountain and runs roughly parallel to the main road. I dressed in far too many layers for the weather, but I was dressed according to what I saw other people doing - wearing big coats and winter hats. Also because I was going up the mountain I figured it would be colder up there and windy. So I put on a tank top, a t-shirt, a long-sleeved shirt, a wool sweater and a puffy vest, and I had a hat and gloves in my bag. The climb up the mountain made me feel too warm for the vest and then it was sunny on the forest road so I certainly didn't need it. By the time I got to Puck's Glen I had stashed my vest in a bush to collect on my way back and had my sweater tied around my waist. I have learned my lesson - the Scots overdress for the weather - they've been wearing winter hats all week and it's been 3 to 15 degrees. So I'm just going to dress for what I think I should wear.

Puck's Glen itself was a really cool walk. I came up on it at the top of the glen which is sort of like a gorge with a rocky stream running down through it. The trail is along the bank of the stream and there is cliffs on either side. Along much of the cliffs there is moss growing and water dripping down them in drops from the trees and grass growing on the tops. It's quite pretty as each droplet catches the sunlight at different points while it falls so the cliffside is sparkling. The drops make small sounds that you can just hear over the sound of the water in the stream rushing over the rocks.

Now that Daylight Savings Time has ended it's getting dark very early in the day. The sunrise time is about 7:30am and the sunset time is about 4:30pm. If I work 8am-4pm I basically have only an hour after work to get outside and back before it gets dark. By 5:30pm it's completely black out. I asked how dark it would be by the shortest day of the year and I was told it would be dark by 3:30-4pm. Also, given the position of a mountain to the south of the Coylet the sun is blocked from view for all but a few hours at midday. By the solstice it will be so low that we probably won't be able to see the sun directly for very long. I will have to take walks down the road to visit the sun.

I had today and yesterday off as the hotel is now closed for Mondays and Tuesdays until the Christmas season. I slept in a bit yesterday then went into Dunoon to take care of some banking and get some contact lens solution which is really expensive and hard to find in Dunoon. I eventually went to an optician and the woman there told me that people are generally given solution when they purchase soft lenses so I guess that's why there's not so much of a demand for it to be stocked in drug stores.

Spent yesterday evening once it got dark up at the Coylet-owned caravan (mobile home) where Matt lives at the moment watching Ryan Reynolds movies with him and Pip. There was 3 on the DVD set which is two more than I was aware that Ryan Reynolds had made. Today the three of us took the Coylet van and went for a drive around the Cowal Peninsula, down to Colatraive and then up to Strachur and around to Ardentinny and back to Loch Eck. It was a very pleasant drive as the scenery is splendid and it was good to get a sense of the area around where I'm staying.

It's 5:30pm and once again pitch-black out. I think I'm going to make so tea, grab some of my McVittie's Hob-Nob cookies that I bought in town (they're crispy oat digestive cookies - I love them) and sit down in one of the restaurant windows over the heater and read my book. I'm reading Catch-22 at the moment, just started it really. It's bizarre but in an interesting way, though still not really sure what to make of it.

Later all.

Monday, October 30, 2006

I woodsed 'er

Work is not busy this afternoon; that is I'm the only one on duty and there is no one in the bar to tend to and supper doesn't start until 6pm. So I'm killing time on the computer.

I last wrote when I was in town on Friday on my day off. It was raining then, thus why I was in town and not out hiking or something. By the way, I have been unable to post to Blogger properly from the library in town due to problems with the computer browser caches and not being able to clear them, so I have been e-mailing my posts to my Dad and he's been posting them. So if the time stamp on the post doesn't match up to what I'm writing, that's why.

It rained pretty much Saturday as well, but it cleared up some yesterday. I worked an odd shift, 8am - 2pm and then was on again from 6-8pm. So when I finished at 2pm and had eaten my lunch, I decided to go for a long jog until I had run my guts out as I had cabin fever from being inside out of the rain for so many days. I was about 1.5km into my jog, at the base of the loch, noticing a strong flowerly smell around there and wondering what was in bloom this time of year, when I completely woodsed 'er as the title would suggest. I had just gotten back on to the asphalt after a car had passed and I saw another coming toward me so I jumped back on to the shoulder to get out of it's way. I think I must have lept onto a rock disguised as a patch of grass and I went down, banging my left knee and landing nearly face first on my right arm. There may have been an empty can of Red Bull involved in tripping me in some way as I kicked it when I got back up. I was so embarrassed about having fallen that I got right up again and fled the scene so to speak, so I didn't really check out what had tripped me. The car that I had been moving aside for stopped and asked me if I was alright and I told them that I was, just a bit banged up.

Anyway, my knee is alright, just a bit cut up and sore. I continued running after I tripped, and because I was moving and keeping the joint warm it only hurt me a bit. It actually hurts more today to bend it because it's stiffened up some.

I went down the road all the way to a place called Puck's Glen where I intend to go hiking some day when I get the chance. It's a bit over 2 miles a way I think. When I got there I took a woods trail back up to Benmore Botanic Gardens which is about a mile-and-a-half down the road from the Coylet. Then I ran back along the road. I think I did about 9 km round trip and didn't feel tired at all. Just being outside after so long (and it was reasonably warm out) was good enough motiviation to keep going.

There is a redwood forest across from Benmore Gardens and also some planted in the gardens proper. I have read that they are the tallest trees in Scotland if not all the UK.

I started work at 2pm today so went for a jog/walk this morning and "found" a long distance route (it's well marked with a sign at it's base) that goes up the mountain behind the Coylet and actually goes right around Loch Eck at a full distance of about 22 miles. Walked on it for a bit to see if I could see the Coylet from above but couldn't see anything and then there was a rain storm starting to blow in so I got down from being halfway up the mountain as fast as I could as it can get nasty quick around here and where I was at the time there were no trees for wind protection.

I have Thursday off this week; I'm doing an extra day (and getting paid extra fortunately) to make up for Emma leaving, and then Monday and Tuesday we're shut next week and all weeks thereafter so those will be my days off then.

Now I'm going to go cast on the stitches for a second sock. I finished knitting the first one yesterday.

Friday, October 27, 2006

Dae It Yersel

I had a cool title thought up for this blog entry the other day but I now completely forget it. So I'm using the name of a hardware store in Dunoon that I saw the other day.

It's been rainy and windy and generally miserable for a few days now. Of course, two of those days have been my days off so that killed my plans to go hiking. It would have been swimming instead, as our chef Victor put it. This weather is, so I'm told, the typical "winter" weather for the Cowal peninsula. The weather that I've experienced before has been atypical - little rain and relatively warm, in the 15 degree vicinity. I don't think it's been ever much colder than 5 to 10 degrees with the exception of one night when it went down to a few degrees. Today it's about 11 degrees.

I have been surprised to find that I am living up to the stereotypical Canadian who doesn't find it cold when others do because I am a person who gets cold easily. I have been amused to hear people say that it's "freezing" when it's something like 8 degrees with a breeze and I have sat outside at night in short sleeves while Scotsmen and Englishmen huddled up in heavy coats and complained about the cold.

I went to Glasgow last Saturday to do some shopping and see the place. My primary shopping goal was to buy a pair of dressy black pants for work because the ones I've been wearing for work are too big in the waist despite the fact that the food here is keeping me at a solid 130 pounds, or 9 and 1/3 stone as the scale I measured myself on read.

To get to Glasgow I flagged down the bus at the hotel by standing on the loch-side of the road so that I could see it coming around the turn and then ran across the road when it came whilst waving my arm to get it to stop. Round trip on the bus from the Coylet to Dunoon costs £3.20. I got off the bus at the ferry terminal and on to the ferry within 10 minutes as the buses are timed to meet it. The ferry return ticket costs £4.80 and the trip is about 20 minutes to Gourock. It's a small ferry compared to what I'm used to so it's pretty zippy. The ferry terminal in Gourock is right next to the dilapidated train station where all the signs that have arrows on them pointing to "Trains" have had the graffiti addition of "one" in reference to the fact that Gourock is the end of a single line and so there is really only one train that heads toward Glasgow. The return ticket on the train costs £5.60, so the grand total for the trip comes to £13.60 or under $30 which is pretty good for a trip out of the sticks.

I got off at Glasgow Central station and it's right around the downtown shopping. It was very crowded so by the end of the afternoon when I had to head back I was pretty glad, having remembered what it is that I dislike about cities. I think Scottish people must be even shorter than Maritimers who are shorter than other Canadians, because although I often feel tall when around middle-aged and older Maritimers, I felt tall around young and old people in Glasgow. Except for around the occassional giant man.

I accomplished my mission of buying pants, or "trousers" and discovered in the process that clothing sizes are different here. The pants from Canada that I was replacing are a size 7/8 and too big for me; the UK trousers I bought are a size 10 and I think equivalent to about a 6 in Canada. I also bought some sneakers in Dunoon the other day and my feet are now a size 6 here instead of an 8 at home. So I got bigger overall but my feet shrunk ;)

On the topic of sneakers: my Scottish and English co-workers laughed out loud when they first heard me call them that (they're "trainers" over here) and the English fellow, Matt, has since teased me about whether I'm doing any sneaking. I do keep frightening people by approaching them undetected, in particular our manager Karen, so I think they are learning that my explanation of the name - that sneakers enable one to sneak - is quite accurate.

I had my first Iron-Bru while in Glasgow because I was really tired and needed something to give me a boost. If you don't know, Iron-Bru is an "energy drink" - one of those sweet, caffinated things (with quinnine, whatever that is). Scotland's answer to Red Bull, and it seems to be the standard Scottish hangover treatment. Some of the guys I work with, the aforementioned Matt and the second-chef Pickle (yes that's a nickname, but no one calls him by his right name), consume at least one Iron-Bru daily, usually starting when they get up. It's orange in color and taste but translucent, unlike orange pop, and it's not as carbonated as I thought it would be but it's not thick and sirropy either. It tastes a lot better than Red Bull from what I remember of the one Red Bull that I consumed when in the UK 4 years ago.

That's it for my happenings, now some musing on language differences, since they're prevalent.

What I have always called "the royal we" isn't royal, it's British. I've heard both English and Scottish people use it so far, always when asking a question. A common use would be "Could you get us a ...?" when asking for a drink.

I am picking up more terms and phrases as I expected I would. I have on a few occasions asked customers if the wanted "to-mah-to" sauce (ketchup) with their chips (fries) instead of saying it my usual way. I still insist on pronouncing it "to-may-to" around Matt because he's so insistent on correcting my pronounciation, in a typical imperialistic English fashion ;)

I have also used "hoover" in place of "vacuum" a few times and I pretty much say "chips" instead of "fries" now and "crisps" in stead of "chips". I keep forgetting and saying "pants" which can cause confusion or just amusement since that means underwear here.

I also have a feeling that I'll soon be saying "cheers" or "ta" in place of "thanks" because I often hear those words in the back of my mind when thanking people. Ditto for the word "wee" for little", and for "aye" instead of "yeah", and "ach well" instead of "ah well".

Finally for today - I have been surprised at how many people in the UK know where PEI is. I am accustomed to Americans who never seem to have heard of it, so when I was first here and people asked me where in Canada I was from I would reply "the Atlantic coast". They would inevitably enquire for more specifics and many of them would nod when I said "Prince Edward Island" (some of them of course Anne of Green Gables fans). So I have now modified my response to saying that I am from Canada, then PEI when I'm asked "where in Canada?" and if I don't see recognition on their faces I'll add "on the Atlantic coast, near Nova Scotia" as they all seem to have heard of it (it's New Scotland afterall).

I've written a tremendous amount so that's me for now.

Thursday, October 19, 2006

A Day in the Life of the Coylet

Since some of you may wonder what it is I do at my job, I will now present a lengthy description of a day in the life of a Coylet Inn General Assistant.

The earliest shift starts at 8am. Breakfast is served only to hotel guests or "residents" as we call them. With usually two people to a room and only four rooms there's rarely more than 8 people for breakfast. The tables are set with cutlery, cups, side plates, jams and sugar the night before so all that has to be added in the morning is butter, jugs of milk and menus. I do this after walking around the hotel turning on all the lights, starting up the coffee machine and unlocking the doors.

While waiting for people to come down for breakfast I start by vacuuming the bar ("hoovering" as they call it over here) and mopping up the floor behind it. Then the public toilets have to be cleaned up and the vacuuming done everywhere else that's carpeted - the entryway and hall and the "lounge" which is the more casual part of the restaurant. Generally by this time I'm waiting on breakfast people, so some of those tasks have to wait until I finish. While doing breakfast I bring out crockery (coffee mugs, saucers, jugs and side plates) from the kitchen to the "little" kitchen that is used by us front staff for preparing tea and coffee, "sauces" ( i.e. condiments), etc. Then cutlery for the bar and for people who come to the restaurant without a booking has to be "rolled" - that is you pair together certain items, like a knife and a fork or a butter knife and a soup spoon and roll them up in a napkin. The fancy restaurant cutlery has to be polished as well in the morning. So those tasks are good to occupy me while I keep an eye on the breakfasters.

At 10am another person starts on the front staff, or on many days I start at that time myself. At that time one person finishes up whatever's left to do downstairs. The following are tasks that have to be done that I haven't mentioned so far. Fires have to be lit in the fireplaces (always in the bar and sometimes in the hall and restaurant fireplaces duing cold weather). What's interesting to me is that they burn coal primarily with some wood, and that burning coal is common in this country. Then the bar has to be stocked with soft drinks, juices, wines and bottled beers. The ice bucket has to be filled up and fruit cut up for drinks.

While one person finishes up downstairs the other can go upstairs to do the rooms once guests have checked out or left for the day. When everything downstairs is finished the second person can join the upstairs work and just keep an eye on the downstairs from time to time. Cleaning the rooms is fairly straightforward. If the people are staying another night you make up the bed, change and really wet towels, empty the garbage cans ("rubbish bins"), replace any dirty dishes from the tea tray and wipe out the bathtub, sink and toilet.

If the people are leaving then you strip down the bed and make it up again. Beds are made differently here than I am used to. A flat sheet is folded around the mattress the way that a fitted sheet would be back home. Then a duvet cover goes on the duvet and that's put on the bed with the end of it tucked under the foot of the mattress. Then there's a bedspread that gets called a "bed cover" over here, that's put no over the bed and pillows. That's it, there's no second sheet to lie under.

Then the rooms need a general dusting, the wood furniture a polishing, and all the towels need changing and fancy folding. The toliet paper has to have that triangular thing done to it and there needs to be a spare roll with it's end tucked in underneath it. There's shampoos for the bathroom and then there's the aforementioned tea tray that has to be stocked with cups, saucers, spoons, a teapot, a clean electric kettle, water glasses and packets of tea, coffee, hot chocolate, sugar, milk, and shortbread.

That process is repeated for all the rooms and then they're vacuumed at the end. The bed linens get bagged up to be sent out once a week. The towels are washed by us staff.

Lunch service starts at noon and goes until 2pm or 2:30pm depending on the day. It's pretty straight forward as well - taking people to tables, taking their orders, putting those orders into the computers to send them to the kitchen or the bar as necessary, setting the tables with cutlery and butter and sauces, bringing out food and then clearing it away. When the kitchen shuts down after lunch they make the staff lunches. If I'm working an 8am-4pm shift then I take a quick break from work to eat once it's not busy any more. If I started at 10am then I'm on what's called a split shif and I'm off at 2:30pm and then back on again at 6pm for supper time.

If I'm working until 4pm then I'd set tables for supper - tables for the residents plus any bookings, set with full cutlery for a three-course meal. Then it's often quiet until supper starts at 6pm so there's usually only one person on duty in the late afternoon, mostly minding the bar since that's all that's open.

When people start arriving for supper they often start with drinks in the bar if they've booked a table and they order their meals from there. The people working in the restaurant see the orders come up and we'll set tables for what food has been ordered and remove unnecessary cutlery from tables that are already set. When a table's food is about ready we bring them through from the bar and then bring out the food. Then it's just repeat that throughout the night. Last orders for meals are at 8:45pm and then we wait around while people have their desserts and tea and coffee. The coffee machine has to be cleaned nightly and the floors swept and mopped in the back areas. Once the restaurant is empty it can be set up for breakfast and that's if for the restaurant for the night. The staff suppers are ready by then so if I'm working a split shift I'm done by that point and can eat.

One person has to mind the bar until close, which is midnight on Friday and Saturday and 11pm otherwise, or earlier if no one's around. I haven't worked an afternoon until lock-up shift yet but I'm doing one today from 2pm onward. All that's new with it is counting up the money at the end and then locking the place up.

And that's a day at the Coylet.

The scoop

I will no longer be looking for another job come November. Instead I will be staying at the Coylet Inn since another girl who works here is going back to Australia in November. She had been planning to stay through the winter and so they wouldn't have needed me before as the inn will be closing on Mondays and Tuesdays starting in November. Now that she's leaving they need another person and I'm all trained up and I like where I am so I've agreed to stay.

Other news since I've updated: Just pretty much been working. Had Thanksgiving day off and was in town and updated the blog, then we had a staff party that was supposed to be a goodbye party for our manager but she had already left abruptly on a vacation so we just had it without her. Had the next day off and then was back to work since. I have tomorrow and Saturday off and I'm going to Glasgow Saturday to do some shopping and generally just to poke around and have a change of scenery.

In grim news, a fellow that was good friends with many of the staff - he even came to our staff party - died as the result of a car accident last week. His name is Lyndon Dash and he was about 40 I think. He had been at the Coylet visiting with Emma the Australian girl and hanging around the bar. I was talking with him about helping him figure out how to do a pH test on some vegetable oil for his diseal engine (he was a mechanic) and then he headed to town. He got in an accident less than a kilometre down the road - was going to fast around a turn, just clipped a stone wall and the car rolled into some trees which kept it from going into the loch. He most likely wasn't wearing a seatbelt and he was driving a BMW M3 which could certainly go. He died the next day in hospital (Friday October 13) and what made it more shocking was that we had heard the night before that he was injured but was going to be ok. His funeral is next week so the Coylet will be closed for it. Tomorrow our manager, Karen, is picking up some flowers and all the staff is going to walk down to the accident site, where there's already flowers left by other people, and leave the flowers and a pint of Guiness for Lyndon. There's been 10 accidents on this road in the last week - only the one fatal fortunately. It's really winding and people drive very fast. And just in case any one is worried about me because they know I jog along the road, well I leap onto the shoulder as soon as I hear a car coming from either direction, and I run on the shoulder even if it's rough. I'm not trusting any one on it to go around me.

Next up is a big write up on my job. That's all for now.

Monday, October 09, 2006

Finally an update

I tried to update my blog on last Tuesday, but due to computer problems it was all lost. I can't really remember what I wrote then but I imagine it was just stuff about working at the Coylet Inn.

I started working here Thursday, September 28. I'm a general assistant so I do everything from waiting tables in the restaurant to serving drinks in the bar to doing laundry and cleaning the rooms. I felt pretty useless and stupid the first few days of work because I didn't know how everything was done, but now that I've caught on things are going pretty good. Most people are surprised to find out that I've only been in the country for 2-and-a-half weeks so I guess I've adapted alright. I still need some work in knowing how to mix drinks since over here they drink all sorts of weird things involving combinations of soda water or flavoured soda water and alcohol or juice. I did, however, manage to pour a reasonable pint of ale and a half pint of lager all on my own last night so I'm getting better at that as well.

I'm living in the hotel itself. There's three double bed rooms upstairs, a room with two twin beds, and those rooms are for guests. Then my room is also upstairs which has a twin bed, a dresser, a chair, and a sink. I share a bathroom with another guy who lives downstairs. My meals are cooked for me with the exception of breakfast for which I can grab some cereal or toast if I like.

The hotel is right in the middle of a mountain range of sorts. The tallest mountain in the area is Beinn Mhor at about 700 m (2100 ft). I hiked up it last week, almost to the very top where I stopped because it was so soggy that to continue I would have been up to my knees in mud. There are sheep grazing at the top of it. I was following tracks that looked like they were made by a four-wheeler so I guess that's how the farmer gets up to check on them. I've also done a shorter hill walk on another mountain, Stroncullin Hill I believe it's called, and I've been jogging along the road as well.

Despite seeing the mountains and the loch every day it still seems surreal to me that I'm living in amidst it all. I'll look out the hotel windows while I'm working and the view is entirely filled by the loch and the mountain across it. If there's not much wind then the mountain is peferectly reflected in the water. In the early morning, and often even later in the day depending on the weather, there is mist rising off the mountain. When it's cloudy the sun will poke through the clouds in really pretty, interesting ways that I can't really describe without showing a picture.

I'm pretty much isolated from the world. There's not TV's at the inn so the only news I hear regularly is on the radio or if some guest leaves behind a newspaper. I'm 9 miles from town so I've only been here on my days off. There's a bus service that goes by 4 to 6 times a day which is also outstanding to me since there's nothing like that in PEI.

I am gradually learning the nuances of the Scottish accent and can now understand the more difficult accents on some of my co-workers up to 60% of the time. That is actually an improvement ;) That also means that I am getting better understand customers with heavy accents which is more important. I am also picking up some of the lingo of course. I'm getting accustomed to calling ketchup "tomato sauce" (and it's pronounced "to-mah-to sauce" I've been told, not "to-may-to sauce" as I say it. And yet, "potato" is pronounced "po-tay-to" over here.). I'm starting to respond to questions with "aye" instead of "yeah". And I'm learning to convert all my distances into miles and to think in pounds instead of dollars, and to convert weights from pounds into stone (stone = 14 pounds so it's a pain to convert).

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

To Loch Eck!

I've accepted the job I was offered at the Coylet Inn on Loch Eck in Argyll-shire which is about 15 km outside of the town of Dunoon. And yes, I'm aware of what the Campbells from Argyll did to the MacDonalds at Glencoe ;)

If you want to see where the Coylet Inn is, check out here which shows it in relation to Dunoon and Glasgow.

I'm going to Glasgow by train this evening and staying at a hostel there. Then tomorrow morning I'm taking the train to Gourock, and then the ferry across to Dunoon where someone from the inn is going to pick me up.

Not sure on what my internet situation will be when I get there, so I may not be able to post for a while.

Thanks for the comment Wyatt, and if anyone else wants to leave messages for me you can post them here or you can email me at by using my firstname.lastname

Monday, September 25, 2006

I've got a 24-hour pass to the internet cafe...

... so I'm updating again. I was feeling a bit run down after phoning a bunch of places for work today and only speaking to one. I thought some playing around on the internet and checking out job sites might help me, which it seems to have. And I'm determined to make the most of my internet time.

Also, I was just offered a job as a General Assistant at the Coyet Inn in Dunoon, which is in the Argyll region. I had thought I wasn't going to hear from them because the woman I had spoken to said she would call me back in the afternoon and it was 7pm before I got the call. When I called about it earlier today I was told that the live-in accommodation would be in a 3-bedroom "caravan". I assume that means a trailer, or what would often be called a mobile home. Anyway, when the woman phoned back to offer me the job, she said that I would be housed in the hotel, perhaps because the caravan is full, I'm not sure. I hadn't had a chance to look at the Inn's website before she called, and so I asked her if I could let her know tomorrow if I wanted to take the job and she said that's alright. I've e-mailed a few other places that I saw advertised on (they didn't provide phone numbers) so I would like to wait to hear from them so that I have some choice. But looking at the website of the Coylet Inn it looks like a pretty nice place, and very small, so it would seem to be a good place to work. Hopefully if I do decide to take it the job will be still there. I'll check my e-mail in the morning, and if there's no word from anyone else before noon I'm taking that job.

It's raining again this evening, pretty steady. I still haven't broken down and bought an umbrella yet, mostly because I don't want to have to carry it.

I'm going to throw in some links to pictures of things that I think are neat around Edinburgh.

The street that this internet cafe is on is Rose Street (pronounced "Row Street" for some reason). It is a pedestrian street made of brick, and at various intervals along it their are mosaics made of pebbles, depicting roses I would imagine. I found these really cool the first time I was to Edinburgh, and four years later I still find them cool.

The Princes Street Gardens surround the train tracks although you can't see the tracks very well unless you're up close because they're hidden by trees. The gardens are also very low compared to the surrounding streets, and I can't find just one picture that depicts how low they really are very well so I'll just direct you to this site where there are many pictures if you scroll down to the bottom.

There's also loads of nice old buildings around. The link above for has pictures of stuff all over Edinburgh, and another good site for pictures is

I've already mentioned my fondness for the closes, although since I haven't had to live along one and have my sunlight mostly blocked out I guess my fondness for them is very unimportant and cerebral. I already posted a link to one picture and you can find loads of others if you do a Google image search for "Edinburgh close".

The keyboard layout here is actually different than in Canada. For starters, the difference that's giving me the most trouble is that the SHIFT key is half it's usual size on the left-hand-side of the keyboard, and that's the SHIFT that I always use. I've somewhat adjusted to it, but maybe I will try to use the right-hand SHIFT key some as well. The ENTER or RETURN key is not the full L-shape it is back home which means that when I go to hit it I often hit the # and ~ key which is in its place. The £ is taking up SHIFT-3 which is where # is back home. The " is made by SHIFT-2, which means that the @ is not where I am accustomed to but is done by SHIFT-'. So those two basically switched places. If there's any other differences I haven't noticed them yet as those are the only ones that have been messing up my touch-typing.

I'm actually getting tired already (at 8:30pm), so I think I'll head back to the hostel.

Brief Update and Trip to Roslin

So I checked up on the science event manager job and it won't start until middle of November and from the management skills it requires I'm not likely to get it. I'm going to apply for it anyway, but I'm going to look for some other work anyway since middle of November is a long way off. I'm phoning and e-mailing around about live-in jobs at some small hotels here-and-there. I think I'm going to go to Glasgow tomorrow mostly for a change of scenery and that will put me closer to any of the jobs I'm looking at anyway.

I went to the village of Roslin yesterday to see Rosslyn Chapel, which is described by some as a gothic building but then by others as not conforming to any architectural label. It was built starting around 1446 by the Prince of Orkney and it is very ornate, with carvings on every surface imaginable. The most famous is the Prentice Pillar, which even gained a mention in the DaVinci Code as the chapel is the location the protagonists end up in at the end of the book. Since it was mentioned in that book the number of visitors to the chapel has shot up, and the tour guide joked about it by pointing out the carving of one head as being Dan Brown's.

I managed to spot the engravings of cacti on one archway; there is supposedly also engravings of corn as well (which I didn't manage to spot) and these images are considered as indication that the Norse had landed in North America before Columbus (the Prince of Orkney would have had some connections to Norway since it was a region controlled by them).

Anyway, the chapel was quite pretty, but did smell a bit musty and damp, which can be explained by the fact that there's been a problem with algae growing on the ceiling of it and so there is a large metal canopy over the chapel to protect it from the rain so that it can dry out.

It rained quite a few times yesterday, the first time it's done that since I got here other than a light shower one evening. Today is a little overcast and it must have rained overnight since the park benches are wet.

Sunday, September 24, 2006

When will I see your like again?

The title comes from the song "Flower of Scotland" which I have heard played on the bagpipes around town at least twice every day since I got here. So it's been stuck in my head often.

Correction from my last post: Edinburgh's New Town was built starting around 1780, not in the 1600's. They had to drain the loch at the base of the castle rock and then build the bridges across that sunken area later on.

What follows are my assorted thoughts on Edinburgh and Scotland. I'm including some links to photos of what I'm talking about since I haven't found an internet place where I can hook up my camera yet.

It is really hilly around the Old Town. My hips and upper legs have been aching slightly just from walking around ever since I got here. Then I went and climbed up Arthur's Seat, a 800-some-foot inactive volcano that is east of the Old Town, part of the park that surrounds Holyrood Palace (the royal residence in the city). After that, my hips have been *really* aching. I imagine I'm getting in better shape from it. The rocks at the top of Arthur's Seat were very dark and slippy, so I assume that they're volcanic since I've never seen any before.

A neat aspect of the streets in the Old Town is that they're frequently linked to other streets through alleys called "closes", although the closes don't always cut all the way through a block. Every close has a name posted on it, as does every set of stairs. Closes generally have stairs owing to the hilly nature of the town, but they are closed in by buildings on the sides and sometimes overhead. Some of the closes are quite narrow - the width of a narrow hall - whereas others are much wider with restaurant and store fronts along them, as well as residences. The close that forms one side of the hostel that I'm staying at is called "Fleshmarket Close" which to me conjures up images of prostitutes lining up along it at night. I don't know if that was how it got its name - perhaps butchers once sold their wares along it.

People in town seem to get drunk earlier in the evening than do folks back home. By 8 or 9pm I have seen hordes of drunk people stumbling about the streets talking loudly. I think this earliness may have to do with the bars generally closing earlier than at home, with the exception of some night clubs. In Charlottetown people would usually only be starting their drinking at 8 or 9 pm and would be doing it at home to save money before heading to the bars at 11-12pm. It seems here that folks here don't do the drinking-at-home-thing first.

Girls in town have been wearing huge winter scarves the past few days. Yesterday it was fairly sunny and about 18 degrees I'd guess. Today it's rainy so it feels a bit chillier, but I was fine outside with a small t-shirt, a sweater, and a light rainjacket. I guess the girls are wearing the scarves for style, not warmth, but they must be cooking under them. If I were to wear a scarf for style at this time of year, it's be a thin, light one like you see on girls in Canada. I wouldn't wear one of the bulky scarves the Edinburgh girls are wearing unless it was freezing or below.

I've now adapted to trafic being on the opposite side of the road, enough that I always look right first when crossing the street. However, I still can't help but instinctively look left immediately after that as I start to cross the street. Cars with only one person in them still look bizarre to me though, because it appears as though the car is driving itself with a person in the passenger seat.

In my head I am often hearing my thoughts in some sort of Scottish-like accent. I've been immediately correcting it in my head to sound like my own accent. I don't want to end up sounding like one fella from Canada that I met (who's been over here for over a year) that alternately sounds sort of Scottish or sort of Australian or sort of Canadian. I'm allowing myself to use words like "mobile phone" instead of "cell phone" or "biscuits" instead of cookies, but I'm trying to limit that to when I talk to locals.

And I think I'm now figured out how to make the £-sign quickly by hand. It was stumping me a bit at first. It's so fancy compared to the $-sign.

Currency here is issued by actual banks, not like by the Bank of Canada which is a bank that you can't have an account at. I've seen Scottish bills that have been issued by Clydesdale Bank and Royal Bank of Scotland. It's RBS where I've set up my account, so they're "normal" banks.

Friday, September 22, 2006


I'm writing this from the really big internet cafe in the New Town of Edinburgh; "new" referring to the 1600's, if I remember correctly.

I got into town yesterday afternoon at about 3pm. I wrote last time that my flight left Halifax at around 8pm and that I was taking the shuttle over. That was before I looked at my itinerary again on Tuesday and realized that 22:35 did not refer to 8:35pm but to 10:35pm. If I took the shuttle I would get to the airport at 3:30pm and have 7 hours to wait which would have sucked. So instead I drove my truck over with my father and my uncle and then they drove it back from the airport to PEI. That way I only had to wait around for about 2.5 hours.

I spent yesterday afternoon just trucking around town a bit, trying to wear myself out so that I would certainly sleep well (even though I was quite tired from not sleeping much on my overnight flight - I nearly fell asleep on my feet during the 45 minutes that I had to wait in line at immigration in London). That didn't seem to work - I got to bed around 11pm here but I guess my body still knew that it was 7pm and so I couldn't manage to sleep for ages. The loud screaming Scottish guys who had a fight outside my room on the street at 1 am didn't help any either although it was funny to listen to. I haven't felt too worse for the wear today, and I imagine I'll sleep at a normal time tonight.

I did my orientation session this morning and applied for a bank account that should be ready in a few days. I'm going to look into getting a cell phone tomorrow, and since it's the weekend I think I'll just do some touring around Edinburgh figure out where I'm going on Monday. I'm still keen on the Highlands, but I also saw an advertisement for a job in Edinburgh as an event organizer for the Edinburgh International Science Festival, so I've written an e-mail to get more info on that and I'll wait to see what it's all about.

Anyway, just about out of time, so later.

Monday, September 18, 2006

Here goes nothin'

Well, the series of posts I mentioned last time didn't materialize, which is probably for the best anyway as I had nothing too substantial to say.

I'm nearing my departure day now. I have a few more boxes to pack to store stuff that's currently in my room, and then I have to play a bit of a game of real-life Tetris in stacking them in the basement. Actually, all my stuff doesn't take up too much space once it's put in Rubbermaid Roughneck totes that stack nicely.

Then I have to pack my backpack and hopefully everything I want to take will fit in it. If not I'll just leave behind some of the clothes that are in my "maybe" pile.

You may wonder why I haven't figured out if all my stuff will fit yet - well, I've done a partial packing and did some guessing and it seems that I'll be alright. But what with the state that my bedroom has been in for the last month, with boxes every where and things half-packed and stuff of my newphew's sitting around as well (and it's not a big room to start with) there hasn't really been any space to spread out my stuff and do a real packing trial. So I've guesstimated, and I'll figure it out for sure this evening or tomorrow. Mostly I've just placed the stuff that would be good to take in various piles around my room.

So I fly out of Halifax Wednesday evening, around 8-9pm. I'm taking a shuttle over in the afternoon so will be at the airport *plenty* early, by "plenty" I mean about 2 hours before the recommended 3 hours early for international flights. Then my flight is overnight to London, landing at 4am Atlantic time (8am Britain), and then I'll have another 4 hours to kill in Heathrow before flying to Edinburgh for the afternoon. My plan is to take it easy that evening, get a good night's sleep, and then start the bureaucratic processes on Friday before heading to either Inverness or Fort William (as they're the big centres in the Highlands) to job hunt on the weekend or the Monday after. I may hang around Edinburgh for the weekend and do some touristy things as well, whatever strikes my fancy.

Seeing as I still have packing to do, I'd best be getting back at that. Next update will be from Scotland.

Thursday, August 24, 2006

Where has all the summer gone?

Ok, so there will probably be a series of lengthy (see warning in blog subtitle) updates since I haven't written anything here for months, mostly because I was too lazy to find the piece of paper where I had written down my Blogger user information. I've actually been writing out blog entries on good ol' paper to type in. I prefer to recline when writing, and I can't do that at a desktop computer. I miss having a laptop.

So, on to the show... Man-oh-man is time going by fast. It's been nearly 8 weeks since I moved back to PEI and it feels like almost nothing at all. It does seem like a ways back in some ways - the way it always seems a long time ago to me when there's been a significant change in my life (I can feel that effect after only a few days). But it also seems to have passed quickly in that I can hardly remember what all I did to pass the time. It's even getting cooler out. Summer's almost gone and it seems that it just started.

There's so many things that I had planned to do that I haven't gotten around to. Trips to make - I was hoping to get to Newfoundland this summer, but no go. Projects to finish, mostly of the crafting variety. Books to read.

I did get one trip done that I wanted to, and finally got up to the Cape Breton Highlands for a couple of days. I enjoyed that trip - I do like driving and camping any time, and the Highlands were neat. I'd like to do a cross-Canada trip like that someday. There's another plan for the list.

I also finally found the time to educate myself in an area that I was sorely lacking - world history. I found one of my Mom's old Prince of Wales textbooks kicking around and I read it through. It was really interesting to finally learn about all these names that I've heard mentioned before but never knew about. So now I'm up-to-date, at least until 1965 when the book was published.

What else did I actually do this summer? Uh... I started jogging pretty much every day, first 2 km but now I'm up to doing 2 km at a fair pace and then the return trip at a slower pace. The jogging plus fencing plus rollerblading plus home-cooked meals has allowed me to finally regain the rest of the 10-15 pounds that I lost back in Edmonton, so that I'm now up to 128 pounds. That's about 5 pounds of muscle alone that I put on in two months. I think it's all in my legs. I'm rather unbalanced... muscularly.

There's nothing else that I did that really stands out. Pretty much just vacationing stuff - puttering around, going here and there. And I also had my 25th birthday, so I am now halfway through my twenties and beginning to feel old. And the way that time keeps slipping by, leaving me with unimplemented plans isn't helping the situation - I feel like my life is going to run out before I have time to do everything that I want. Before I can do all the things that I've already decided that I'd like to do, I manage to think of dozens of other things to do as well, and I accomplish very few of them in the schedule I imagine. I keep telling myself that I'm only 25 years old, but that reminds me that I'm already somewhere between one-quarter to one-third of the way through my life if I live to old age. Is it natural to feel so old when I'm apparently still so young (as I've been told)? Am I just being paranoid to think that my elbow that is still twinging with a bit of pain weeks after I somehow hurt it is a sign that my body is beginning to disintegrate? I got mistaken for a student once again last week, so I must not look all that old.

On a lighter note, to combat that last paragraph: In the past year that I've owned a pick-up truck, I have discovered something about mankind - and when I say mankind, I mean men excluding women. Being a girl who drives a truck tends to draw attention and comments, and from those comments I have discerned the following: There are three types of men in the world. The first type of man, upon learning that I drive a truck, will comment something to the effect of "Cool truck" (because it is). The second type of man will ask "You drive a truck?" with a tone of curiousity, and he might add "Is it your truck?" (thinking it perhaps belongs to my father/brother/boyfriend/husband?), or he might state that it's unusual for girls to drive trucks. Then there's the third type of man, who asks "WHY DID YOU BUY A TRUCK?" with a tone of confusion and aggression that implies that my purchase of a truck was a personal attack against all that he stands for.

That's all for today; it'll at least get me started at getting in the habit of writing so that I will remember to do so once I get over to Scotland. T-minus 26 days.

Thursday, June 01, 2006

The joys of being an aunt

This is my nephew Ben. The "thing" he is sitting on is actually my head and neck (you can see my pale skinny arms trying to grab hold of him). While playing I let him tackle me to the ground, and then the real fun began. This photo was taken while he was bending down to hug my head after having jumped up and down on top of me, landing with his butt on my face/neck each time. I could hardly scream or laugh because he was smothering me. Then once I escaped, I still couldn't breathe because my throat had been crushed by a 30+ pound toddler. Good times.

Did anybody help me? No, they just all looked on, laughing, and my brother took photos.

Thursday, May 25, 2006

The big announcement

First of all, this is my weblog. 10 points to me for stating the obvious.

Why do I have a weblog? Mostly, to allow people I know to read about what I have been doing. Occasionally I may stray into the territory that many bloggers do, waxing somewhat philisophical or political or just plain ranting. You don't have to read those entries (you don't have to read any of this if you don't wanna). I may just write for the sake of writing. I do possess the ability to write at *great* length about the most mundane of subjects.

So why would people need to read about me online to find out what I'm doing? Well, for those of you who don't know already, this is the "big announcement" that I refer to in the title. I'm going to Scotland in September. While I'm there, I will update people on my doings that are transpiring through this blog, instead of doing group e-mails like I did on my last European romp.

And now, to fill in the rest of the details, here's my Frequently Asked Questions about my move abroad:

Q: Why are you going to Scotland?
A: I visited Scotland for about 3 weeks when I went to Europe in June/July of 2002. I really liked the country. You could call it the atmosphere: the people, the land. Yes, I do know that it's windy and rainy there quite often. And I know it's not an exotic culture compared to Canada, but there's something about it that I like. Also, most of my ancestry can be traced back to Scotland about two centuries ago, so I've had an interest in the country for as long as I can remember. Pretty much everyone in my family seems to see an attraction in going to Scotland. My Dad's calling my trip "reverse immigration". I believe he may have said "Wagon's East".

Q: Where in Scotland do you want to go?
A: Ideally, I would like to live on the Isle of Skye for at least some of the time that I'm in Scotland. This is where many of my ancestors came from (the ship that brought most of my maternal ancestors to PEI left from Portree harbour in Skye). It's also a rural area, and since I'm a country girl I'm interested in living in rural areas, not just the cities where most people flock to for work. Of course, since it's a rural area work opportunities will be more limited than the city, but I'll try for something in Skye or elsewhere in the Scottish islands or Highlands. Plus, if you've ever seen Skye or seen pictures of it, you'll know that it has an incredible landscape of coasts and mountains. It's a very popular tourist spot for a reason. So its scenery (and all the landscape of the Highland region) certainly doesn't due anything to dissuade me from living there.

Q: What are you going to do there/Do you have a job yet?
A: I'm going to work, and travel around the country and other parts of Europe. It's certainly cheaper to visit Europe when you're living in it and you don't have to hop on a plane each time. And there's no better way to get to know a place than to live and work there. I don't have a job yet, but I've started hunting around on the web, and I can always find something when I get there.

Q: Are you crazy to go somewhere you don't know anyone and don't have a job and a place to live?
A: No more crazy than usual. I've moved twice to places where I didn't know anyone (Edmonton and Annapolis Valley) and that worked out fine: I met people there. As for the job and place to live - if I'm not fussy about what I work at (and I'm not) then it shouldn't be too hard to find something to pay the bills. There's always hotel and restaurant jobs, some of them are even live-in, and honestly I think I wouldn't mind one of those as a break from the physics and academics for a while.

Q: How are you getting a work visa?
A: There exists a type of visa called a "Working Holiday Visa" (WHV) It is essentially an agreement between two countries to allow young people (usually aged 18-30 years) to work abroad for some period of time in order to earn money to fund their travels in that country (hence the "holiday" part of the visa). Since Canada is so chummy with the rest of the world we have a decent number of agreements with other countries. For some you need to be a student, for others you don't. Obviously for Britain you don't, since I'm no longer a student. The visa allows you to work in the foreign country, usually for only half of the time you are there (they don't want you setting up shop and becoming a citizen on them).

In Canada, there's an organization run by the Canadian Federation of Students and Travel Cuts (the budget travel agency) called "Student Work Abroad Program" (commonly referred to as "SWAP") that will apply for a WHV on your behalf and also provides pre-departure and in-foreign-country support for things like setting up a bank account, filling out tax papers, finding a job, finding a place to live. I've decided to go through this program, largely because I hate bureaucracy and paying some fees to cut down on that was worth it to me.

Q: How long are you staying for?
A: The Britain WHV is currently a one-shot deal. You can only hold one once in your lifetime. So since I won't ever be able get another, my plan is to stay for the full two years that the visa allows, barring me discovering that I have a strong dislike for Scottish life and deciding to leave. I won't be allowed to work for more than 12 months, so the other months I will spend travelling, and I may try to pick up some volunteer work that would provide me with room and board, or at least room so as to minimize expenses.

Q: What are you doing with your truck? (Honestly, many people have asked this)
A: I don't know. I have yet to figure out which will mean less financial loss and less hassle: selling my truck, or storing her inside until I come back (yes, I did intend to use "her" instead of "it". Her name is Molly, if you're interested.). I wouldn't mind keeping her since I do love my truck (I really do - I even hugged her once when I got her back from repairs). But storing involves the hassle of having people in PEI look after her. I guess I have a few months to figure it out yet.

Q: How are you going to get by for two years without *all* or your clothes?
A: Ok, so only I have been asking myself this one, but it's the most frequent one that I ask myself. I don't have any worries about finding a job or a place to live or meeting new people. No, I worry about how I'm going to manage with only a backpack's worth of clothing options for a couple of years. Especially having to cover such possible diverse situations as outdoor work, office work, getting dressed up, doing athletic things. I know I will be able to buy clothing as necessary abroad, but I have clothing here already that I adore. So if you're going to worry about me, worry about how I will "survive" without my precious, beloved clothes.

Q: (actually, more of a request, so)R: Be sure to send me(us) a postcard.
A: Sure, just tell me your mailing address and thy will be done.

I can't think of anything else I haven't answered at length already, so I'll leave'er at that.