Sunday, December 30, 2007


The last two nights at the hostel, we went from having around 30 people staying per night to having 90-plus guests each night. The place is quite different when there's so many around. Just in terms of living here it's busier, with the kitchen being full of people and the television rooms being used whereas previously I could have one to myself if I wanted.

In terms of work, it's meant that I haven't had to resort to books to keep me busy - on my evening shifts I was busy with checking people in, providing tourist information, etc. In the mornings there was plenty to keep me busy with checking people out, booking them in for another night's stay, cleaning, laundry, and then once reception opened again at 2pm the phones just kept ringing. It made the time pass quickly though.

It's quieter now again - the groups we had in left this morning, so we're down to 40 to 50 people, so there's some work to be done. Still, I've had a taste of what this place would be like in busy season. It'd be a madhouse, as we were only half-full the past two nights.

Thursday, December 27, 2007

UK Christmas Charts

An interesting phenomenon of the UK at Christmas time is the chart for Christmas music singles. Not all the songs are Christmas themed; many are just released right before Christmas in hopes that people will buy them as stocking stuffer gifts, so there's regular pop songs, novelty songs, and Christmas songs done by pop artists (so not traditional generally).

Many of the chart-topping singles become Christmas classics of sorts over here, thus there's Christmas staples of the UK that I had never heard until I came over here. Examples of that include:
- "Fairytale of New York" by The Pogues featuring Kirsty MacColl
- "Stop the Cavalry" by Jona Lewie
- "Driving Home For Christmas" by Chris Rea
- "Merry Xmas Everybody" by Slade
- "Last Christmas" by Wham!
- "Stay Another Day" by East 17
(if you actually want to hear these songs, I'd suggest searching them on YouTube, which I can't do from the computer I'm currently on)

Actually, as far as Christmas songs go, The Pogues one isn't bad as it's sort of an anti-carol. The next three aren't too bad, and then the Wham! song and the East 17 song are terrible pop songs that are unfortunately very catchy (they're running through my head alternately as I type this).
Then there's the normal songs that make it to the top of the Christmas charts as well, many ones you would have heard of (check the list out below if you're curious); recently it's been X-Factor winners (a reality show like Pop Idol/Canadian Idol which the infamous Simon Cowell is now on). There's also one-hit wonders and novelty songs, which have included singles from South Park, The Teletubbies, and Bob The Builder (with "Can We Fix It? the theme song).

You can check out the number one's and number two's on Wikipedia if you're truly curious.

And of course, as you can gamble on many things quite legally over here (see my old post here), bookmakers take bets on which songs will reach the top of the charts.

Monday, December 24, 2007

Only in Scotland...

I took this photo back in the summer but never got around to putting it up. This is the sign of the big public library near the downtown.
Note that there is a bar in the library. That's right - it's on the main floor, near where all the computers that I was going in to use were located.

I've seen people queue up to get a 500ml can of beer at the ferry canteen for a 15-minute trip - can't go without afterall.

Saturday, December 22, 2007


I went over to Aberdeen Wednesday evening. I'd promised Jamie that I'd worked with in Kyleakin that I'd come visit him at some point (and I had a book to return to him anyway), and there were people who worked at the Aberdeen hostel that I'd met before that I figured I could visit with as well. Also, I'd never been to Aberdeen or even that region of the country before, so it was worth a little visit.

Pictures are up now below, but you can still have a look at the Undiscovered Scotland page on the city if you'd like.

I arrived after dark, so the grey granite buildings all looked shiny in the light of the street lamps and Christmas lights. The youth hostel there is in a rich-looking area of big old houses that seem to be mostly office buildings now. I walked by the office of Petro-Canada in one such house, and puzzled over why it would have an office in Aberdeen for a few moments until I recalled that Aberdeen is the centre of the oil business in Scotland, and I guess Petro-Canada's getting some oil from here.

I met up with Jamie at his place of work, the Prince of Wales bar, and we went to a few places around town, having chips and cheese from a chippy where the salt and vinegar was applied from a spray bottle (a fact that I found novel but the employees there did not seem to share that sentiment) and leaving a 10 cent Canadian Tire bill at a bar called The Moorings where they had world money posted on the wall (I'd brought Jamie some Canadian Tire money since he'd thought it cool when I'd mentioned it). I could tell that there's a few universities in town just by the type of young people that I spied out and about in unusual clothing and hairstlyes that only city students can pull off, as you would get mocked in a small place like PEI (or Kyleakin or Dunoon for that matter).

I wandered around downtown Thursday morning. It's a busy place given that it's the thrid largest city in the country, and of course people were Christmas shopping. The architecture I would describe as nice, solid buildings - there's a few exceptional ones, but most aren't ones that jump out at me as being spectacular, but they also don't make me cringe, and I appreciate that in a city. Most of the buildings conform well with my senses of symmetry and proportion. I've heard lots of complaints about how grey Aberdeen can be - the buildings and the sky both - and that it can feel gloomy for that. I didn't mind it; I found the colours that were there stood out more because of the uniform, grey backdrop, but I didn't spend weeks there so I couldn't say how it would be after a long time.

Marishal College (owned by University of Aberdeen now) - this is just a section of it that would fit in a picture; it's the second-largest white-granite building in the world, I was told.

More average-looking granite buildings.
There was snow along the banks of the river, or perhaps very white ice that was accumulating from the floes on the water, as I was told that it hadn't snowed in the city. In fact, it was warmer in Aberdeen than in Inverness, contrary to my manager's warning as I headed there.

Cemetery at St. Nicholas Kirk in the town centre. The horizontal stones have inscriptions on them as well, and I'm guessing the caskets are encased in the stone above ground. Just a different way of burying than I'm used to.
I met up with Jamie again for lunch that day, and then hung out with some of the youth hostel staff in the evening: Rob that I know from Skye, Tina and Gareth who came to Kyleakin for a visit in October, and Sarah who I met just in Aberdeen.

I headed back to Inverness Friday afternoon on a very crowded train, so it was a pretty short visit but I imagine I'll end up visiting again and see some more of the city.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007


The temperature here has been around zero and below everyday for almost a week. The ground is covered with an increasingly thick layer of frost. Even though it's only been around minus 3 degrees and it's dry without any wind, it feels bitterly cold. Maybe a few inches of snow on the ground would help take the bite out of the air, but I don't think there's any in the forecast.

I walked down the River Ness to the Ness Islands park on Sunday - some tiny islands reached by footbridge and connnected by footbridges as well. It's a nifty park - just trees and paths, but there's also benches made out of slabs of wood twisted into interesting shapes. I was the only person there without at least one dog.

I went wandering around town after dark last night to look at the Christmas lights. Apart from in the town centre where the city had put them up, there wasn't a lot of outdoor lights. Unless I happened to catch a glimpse of someone's Christmas tree through their window, there were no lights except for maybe two houses. It doesn't seem to be a big thing in town like it is at home.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Watching telly to pass the time

Well, I've now done 5 days as a "trainee" at the hostel, probably more than I needed seeing as things are only done slightly different here than at Kyleakin, but it got me hours and let the others keep their hours as well. Now I'm working the desk all alone like a big girl.

There's 186 beds in this hostel, making it about 2.5 times the size of Kyleakin. Right now, since it's December, we're certainly not filling those beds; typically we've had between a few people to 30-some per night. Last night we had seven people staying in the place, which made my afternoon-evening shift pretty uneventful. There's also a conference room that's rented out as well, so that's added to the business on a few days.

The hostel's conveniently just beyond the town centre, with a Morrisons supermarket just 5 minutes walk toward the centre and another 5 minutes takes you to the high street and the shopping centre. I can get to the library in under 15 minutes of walking.

The town is quite busy with shoppers, Christmas approaching and all. Also, Inverness is the only place with any extensive amount of shops in the north of Scotland, so for anyone from the northern Highlands or the islands, this is the closest place to do their shopping.

We get digital television at the hostel, and one of the stations (ITV2) airs "Due South". No wonder people often ask me about whether the Mounties really wear those red uniforms. That's the only Canadian-produced show I've seen on the air over here, but that doesn't surprise me. As for the American shows that air, they're pretty much all hour-long dramas about doctors, lawyers and police (that sums up most American dramas, actually) and none of the sitcoms unless you count The Simpsons.

I don't know what digital television costs, but it doesn't give you as many channels as a basic cable package would in Canada. It's certainly more than the usual five "terrestrial" channels (i.e. that you can pick up for "free" - you have to pay an annual license to have a television over here, so it's not really free).

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

The new job and such

Well, I'm back in Scotland, having arrived Monday afternoon. My flight out of Halifax was delayed, as I expected, having heard about delays being common with Zoom airline after my initial flight (delayed also). The delay ended up being less than they thought initially, so we got away 1.5 hours late, allowing me to spend more time in the customer-service-award-winning airport (according to all the banners hanging up by the Tim Hortons, Halifax is one of the best airports in the world).

The pilot and the flight attendants this time seemed to know where we were going - on my flight to Canada, we were told a couple of times that we were going to Toronto, not Halifax and Montreal, and then thereafter they all paused for a second or so before saying the destination name, as though they had to think about it.

My overall concensus on Zoom: they're cheap for a reason, because they have planes that need lots of repairs and they don't get good take-off slots or something. The result is many of their flights leave late. On a bright note, however, they have very friendly flight attendants, and they're the only airline ever to offer me free alcohol, even if it was just a little cup of wine with the meal.

Before I left Canada, I got an e-mail from the manager of the Inverness Youth Hostel, offering me the reception job that I had applied for there. So following a stay at Glasgow Youth Hostel Monday night (where I got a free stay on account of being staff and knowing the guy who was working at the desk at the time; thank you!), I headed up on the bus to Inverness Tuesday morning. I got reacquainted with good ol' misty Scottish rain on the trip, and even saw some snow on the ground just north of Perth in one of the glens.

I'm wondering around town today, doing things such as visiting the library where I'm writing this now. Tomorrow I start "job-shadowing" the guy I'll be replacing, I guess you could put it.

Sunday, December 02, 2007

It gets cold here

Two things I forgot about PEI while I was away:
1. It's windy. Islands are generally windy, but PEI is especially windy. I mean, there was often a breeze on Skye, and the winds did pick up some fierce by times, but nothing like here. There's always at least a slight wind here, and more often than not it's strong enough. And it makes it cold. Which brings me to point number...
2. It gets cold here. Being away for last winter, I haven't really experienced cold weather since the end of the winter of 2004-2005. So sometime in April or May of 2005 - one-and-a-half years ago. Canada is a cold country, it just doesn't seem quite so bad once you get used to it, I guess.

Environment Canada is predicting the coldest winter for 15 years. I'll be in Scotland.

It snowed again, starting Friday night and all through Saturday. As always, the snow at least makes it feel less cold - sucks some of the moisture out of the air, or something, I'm not sure how it works exactly but it does. The roads got slippy, apparently (I wasn't out after Friday evening so heard second-hand) and the plows were out on the road. The snow was pretty wet when I took this picture:but after it all came down, the temperature dropped and the snow was cold enough that you could pick it up and make snowballs (I tossed a few at some trees when I went wandering around yesterday evening).

This morning this is what it looked like with all the snow down:

Wyatt and I took Ben sledding down the road to Henry's Pit, an old shale quarry of sorts in the front yard of a neighbour's former farm (named for the late Henry, who was never alive in my lifetime but his widow lived in the house until some years ago). I can't remember the last time I went sledding there, or at all - probably over 10 years ago. Since the cows haven't been out eating on the hills for a few years, there was weeds all over the place that weren't there back when we used to go there as kids, but we managed to make a track of sorts and sent Ben down on the GT. He wanted to use it, not the basic sled, since the GT has a steering wheel I imagine.
Ben told us quite a few times that it was fun, and he even enjoyed the "crashing" (hitting the weeds on occasion) although he had trouble describing what he did: "slid...snow" until I taught him how to say "I went sledding" ("I wen sweddin"). Wyatt wore himself out carrying Ben and the sled back up the hill; I carried the sled and made Ben walk up on his own, guiding him from behind by pushing on his back. The kid's got to get some exercise out of it, I figure (it builds character).

I'm heading back to the UK on a flight tonight from Halifax, so it was cool that I got to experience some snow before I went back.