jeudi 31 juillet 2008


That night we pressed on to Pitlochry, a quaint little town in the highlands. We decided to go there after reading this article in the NY Times about independent whisky bottlers in Scotland. The distillery is owned by the Signatory bottling company, which sells all kinds a rare whiskies from all over, available to sample in the tasting room. It was a fun tour. Lo and behold, I found out that I prefer the peaty, smoky whiskies of Islay to the other types. Voila!

The dude in the kilt at the entrance was our tour guide.
We made it!
The stream on the grounds is used to cool the whisky after the distilling process.
OK, so we got a little drunk from the tasting.Below is the town of Pitlochry, highland tourist uber-mecca. The night we were there we went out to a local pub for a round of pool, and we got to watch Scots get drunk and sing karaoke. B's karaoke standard is some old country-rock song that wasn't on their list of available tunes, and I would only sing if he sang, so we chickened out of the singing. Those Scots didn't know what they were missing.

There is no shortage of sheep schwag in that town.

mercredi 30 juillet 2008

Monty pilgrimage

After that we swung by Doune castle. Does this look familiar?Here is a hint.

Cue your own Monty Python recital.

mardi 29 juillet 2008

Wallace monument

The next day we woke up and headed over to the Wallace monument, a serious trek uphill. They built the monument at the highest point overlooking the site of the battle of Stirling Bridge, where in 1297, William Wallace's outnumbered Scots defeated the English army. Wallace was later caught by the English, hung until partially suffocated, disemboweled, decapitated, drawn and quartered, and differing pieces of his body were sent to different Scottish towns, to put on display, in case the message wasn't clear yet.

Here is the monument, from the bottom of the hill.
Here is Wallace himself, ready to leap out and kick the English army to the kerb. Inside the monument was his sword, which was very large; he must have been quite tall and strong.
It was extremely windy up there.

Below the monument you can see the battle site at the Forth river. The Forth traditionally separates the lowlands from the highlands.

lundi 28 juillet 2008


As the rainclouds moved in, we pressed on to Stirling. It never actually rained that day, but it certainly looked like it was going to. Different buildings at Stirling castle were built at different times, so they look quite distinct.

This building made of lighter stone is the great hall, built in the early 1500s by James IV. According to our tour guide, it was pretty much designed to keep all of his courtiers in awe of him. Inside the room, the king and queen spent their time on a raised dais so as to always be 6 inches higher than everyone else.
They did have a great view of the surrounding area. In Europe, to ascend a hill is to find a castle or church.
The statue outside the castle is of Robert the Bruce, ever keeping watch in case those naughty English come back.

dimanche 27 juillet 2008


I just read that the solar eclipse on Friday will be visible in France, it looks like in the morning. Estimated viewing times for Paris are from around 8:40 to 10 AM, with the peak at 9:20; we'll probably have slightly less than that, according to this map. I hope it will be clear out so we can actually see some of it.


On Monday the 14th we drove out of Edinburgh en route to Stirling. We stopped in Linlithgow to check out the castle there, the former residence of Scottish kings. Mary Queen of Scots was born in this castle. The fountain in the center was built in 1538 to celebrate the wedding of James V to Mary of Guise-Lorraine.

The roof had long since disappeared.

samedi 26 juillet 2008


I finally made it to Edinburgh last Saturday the 12th, where it was chilly, cloudy, and rainy. Apparently I made photo-taking a low priority, because I have not so many shots. Suffice it to say that I did the tourist 101: the castle, Holyrood house, the Royal Mile, and sitting in pubs having a pint. We also had one of the best Indian meals I have ever had. YUM.

Here was our hotel room at the Mingalar guest house.Here is B pretending to be drunk in front of the Whisky museum. (We did not actually go in.)
We took a walking tour of the downtown, where I took this picture.
B was amused that in the men's bathroom at some random pub we were in, you could buy an inflatable sheep from the condom machine.
This is one of the 10 bajillion monuments to Sir Walter Scott in Scotland. One of the reasons why he is so beloved, I learned, was that he led the group that re-discovered the Scottish crown jewels. It seems that when Oliver Cromwell invaded Scotland in 1650, the Scottish King took elaborate precautions to hide them, because Cromwell had already destroyed the English crown jewels. So the king first sent them to Dunnottar castle, which was then surrounded and they had to be snuck out secretly; how exactly that happened is a matter of dispute. Then they were hidden in a church for 9 years. After the Restoration they were returned to Edinburgh castle, where in 1707 they were padlocked in a box, which was then placed in a room that was bricked over, for fear they may be lost again. After about 100 years the Scottish people had forgotten all this and began to speculate that they had been lost forever. So, Scott led a group that broke down the bricked walls and broke open the box to find them again. At Holyrood house, the Edinburgh home of the royal family, there are the ruins of an old cathedral out back.

Behind there are the gardens; the queen had some plants in her gardens that I had never seen before. This was an unusual type of rhododendron. The queen also has views of the hills in the distance. Serious Scottish walkers were out for their afternoon trek up these hills.

vendredi 25 juillet 2008

I hate Heathrow

I took the high road (flight to Edinburgh, connecting through Heathrow) and B took the low road (TGV to Paris, flight) and he indeed got to Scotland before me. People have warned me about Heathrow's Terminal 5, and now I am equally on the bandwagon of the Terminal 5 hatred. My flight was late leaving Lyon, and when we got to London we were in a holding pattern-- the phrases 'Heathrow' and 'holding pattern' go together like salt and French fries-- and then after we landed, we had to wait on the tarmac because our gate already had a plane in it-- again, typical. So, I watched my layover evaporate and I missed the connection, which was the last flight of the day. At least the employees know the drill, down cold, so they handed me an overnight pack and put me up in a quite nice hotel overnight. Nicer than I could have afforded myself, for that matter.

I should have been concerned when I looked at my itinerary and saw that I only had a 1-hour layover in Heathrow. At the Lyon airport, the woman at the check-in desk pulled out a purple 'short layover' tag to attach to my bag. It turns out this is standard practice at Heathrow, because they did it to me on the way home when I had a 2 hour layover. What is considered a long layover? Are you always supposed to budget 5 hours?

Oh well.

jeudi 24 juillet 2008

Long lost friends

Yesterday I got an email from a college friend who found my blog through the miracle of google. That's what I get for placing real names on the blog. note to self: be discreet.

I'm sending a big virtual smooch out there to my friend, the Suburban Gorgon.

mercredi 9 juillet 2008

Day tripping with Amir and Amy

A few weeks ago Amir and Amy came for a visit. We rented a car and drove down to the town of Grignan to check out the lavender en route. We stopped for this photo op; Grignan is on the hill in the background.

We climbed into town to get up to the castle.
and up.... and up....
We stopped for a drink at a cafe by this statue. This is Madame de Sévigné, who was known for her letter-writing.
The castle had a real Disney-esque entrance.
The castle was built by the Adhémar family, but they ran out of money before they could complete it.

The view from the top.

jeudi 3 juillet 2008


I was excited to hear the news of the capture of Ingrid Betancourt, the 3 Americans, and the 11 other hostages freed by the Colombian government. The Colombian army tricked rebels by dressing as other rebels who were supposed to transport hostages. What an amazing operation. It astounds me that there are people who have been held by FARC for upwards of a decade!

The only sadness is that an additional 600 people are still hostages of the FARC. However, the FARC appears to have been in disarray of late, with the deaths of the leader, Manuel Marulanda, and several other leading figures, and the infiltrating by government intelligence. Nonetheless, it is still a fairly large group.

Congrats to President Uribe!