Sunday, October 28, 2007

Oh no, there's a Brittany!

A disclaimer for all those named Brittany, or who know people with that name: I have nothing against the name; if you read on you'll realize why my title is the way it is.

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

Sheep waiting for a bus

Go look at this photo: it's not mine, but I find it very funny. It was taken on the Western Isles, where there's lots of sheep and few buses.

I'm sailing away...

Monday afternoon, I went on a little sailing trip from here in Kyleakin up to Broadford. Jeff, a fellow who lives in a boat that he's rebuilding at the pier, had promised to take us out sailing, and the weather and all had never agreed before. So on his final sail of the season, he took Helen, Alysha, and I with him for the sail, along with his crew of Dan, the caretaker of Eilean Ban Island, and Margaret, who works at the Eilean Ban trust centre in the village.

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

UK Food Favourites

Since there's foods that are available over here that aren't at home, I thought I'd share my favourite new (to me) foods in the country, and explain a bit about them. In no particular order:

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.

Chocolate Bar
Cadbury's Double Decker. It has crispy things and nougat.

Biscuits (cookies)
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.

Weirdest food
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


I went up to Uig on the weekend, as I mentioned in my last post. I visited with Rob, and then his assistant Caroline and her friend Alice when they got back from a trip to Harris. We walked to get food, as one does, and back up the lovely steep, hairpin-turns driveway to the hostel. We listened to the football match on the radio (Scotland beat Ukraine, hooray!), watched the rugby World Cup semi-final in the evening (England beat France, boo), and went for some walks. So here's the photos.

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

Makin' up for bein' lazy

Last night I went over to Saucy Mary's with Helen to see a band that was playing called Too Far North. I would describe them as bluesy-rock. Anyway, what was interesting in particular was that they had a percussionist who looked to be no more than 12 years old. We heard rumours that he's the band manager's son, which seems sensible as I can't see the band putting out an ad in the paper for a percussionist and a little boy applying. The boy, referred to as Mighty Joe, took his music-playing very seriously and looked quite focussed. There were jokes amongst patrons about offering to buy him a pint.

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

In other news...

I just booked a flight to Canada. My job here ends at the end of October (the hostel is closing), so I'll do a bit of travelling or something and then fly from London to Halifax on November 5. Then I'm flying back on December 2, and will either start work if I have a job lined up, or keep looking.

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).

Two photo albums

I took two little trips in the last few weeks that I documented via photos.

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

Thanksgiving dinner

I haven't posted in about a month, I know. I've just been lazy. I'll link to some photos some time soon.

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).