Tuesday, October 27, 2009

york part deux

Every year, Rotary districts around the world gather at regional conferences to review the work they have done during the year, and reinvigorate members to humanitarian service. District 1020 hosted their conference in York, England (still not quite clear on why it was in England, think it was a space issue). Since I, A. had so much fun at the conference B. have a lot of work to do this week, I'll do "Top 10":

Top 10 Moments/Experiences from District Conference 

1. Gorgeous train ride down along the eastern coast of Scotland

2. The chance to explore such a pretty English city. When I visited York as a child with my family, I remember liking it a lot. 15 years later, the feeling was the same. I climbed a minster, visited an old abbey, walked through the narrow streets, and generally enjoyed revisiting the city. 

3. Getting dolled up for the Railway Museum banquet where we:

4. Saw Queen Elizabeth's original luxurious train quarters and

5. Danced the "Gay Gordon" with Rotarians (all donning kilts) 

Scholars with the dashing and handsome District Governor, Alastair Davies

6. The selection of fine whiskys at a post-banquet hotel party sponsored by club presidents

7. Getting up on stage at York's Theater Royal with the other scholars, to present a video (made by Robin) showing each of us doing something "Scottish"

8. Comment received from older woman after our stage presentation, "Nice legs. I recognize them from stage. Very American."

9. Friday's performance by "Scotcha", hailing from the Scottish Borders. There is no American equivalent of this band, and likely no Scottish equivalent. Serious brogues, kilts, penny whistles, rip roaring guitars, bagpipes, derogatory jokes about the English. It seemed the harder the audience laughed, the less our row of foreigners understood. 

10. Meeting and hanging out with so many great people (obvious, but true) and hearing about the inspiring projects that have happened or are in progress in this part of the world. DG Alastair's Address was particularly powerful, but I'd do a bad job summarizing so I won't try. 

GSE crew from South Africa (in blue), Evan in white

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Across the borders

To York, England! For the 1020 District Conference. There is plenty to say about the weekend, but it is late, there is much to do in the morning, so I'll leave a few photos and write more soon:

(Scottish spelling of my name)

Me & the Minster

Friday, October 23, 2009


Up on the roof

Fall is in full swing in Scotland. The only problem is the sun doesn't rise until after 8am! All the same, the weather has been great (beats the October snows in Connecticut that my parents have reported!) and last weekend Robin, Annie and I took advantage with a daytrip to Roslyn Chapel. It's only 7 miles southwest of the city, and the bus ride was classically pastoral, full of adorable sheep, cows, horses, falcons, magpies, hay bales, giant clouds, rolling green hills. Top of the double decker, front row. Best seat in the house. 

In fact, the ride was much like the one I am on now - though UK trains beat UK busses because of the free wi-fi, outlets and tables. The people next to me are drinking Carlsberg. The Scots handed out drams of whisky by the platform. An attendant comes around selling coffee, and then another picks up your trash, like on an airplane.  

The chapel itself, built in mid 15th century, is gorgeous - intricately carved from floor to ceiling, and with an undeniable air of mystery, DaVinci Code aside. There are over 100 "Green Man" carvings, which is the pagan counterpart to Mother Earth. There are loads of masonic and Knight's Templar symbols. There is a replica of the death mask of Robert the Bruce. There are carvings of plants found only in North America, and this was years before Columbus landed. Go figure. Also, something mysterious is buried downstairs. Maybe Jesus, maybe the Holy Grail, maybe Elvis, lots of other possibilities, we'll never know. Oh - and Tom Hanks and his DaVinci Code crew left a big dent in the wall during their stint filming on site. Nice job guys. 

We also found gorgeous hiking trails through Roslyn Glen, just outside the chapel grounds. We wandered about for a few hours, passing castle ruins, running into locals walking their dogs, and talking about Edinburgh, Halloween costumes, wedding bands (Annie's, in particular), shoes, Rotary presentations. We ended the day at a cafe and nearly missed the hourly bus back

Monday, October 19, 2009

This is why I will purchase a digital SLR

So my photos can compete with those taken by my friend Josh:

Pre-dinner cocktails at 99 Hanover, New Town 

Dinner @ The Witchery, Old Town 

Bookstore on Victoria Street

Asperatus Clouds???

Photos: Josh Montgomery 

Encounter on the Royal Mile

When I wrote about visiting Edinburgh Castle, I forgot to mention who we met on the way in. William Wallace (Bravehart!) himself! Couldn't resist the photo opp:

Photos: Josh Montgomery 

Saturday, October 17, 2009

after hours

You know you've done something right when you knock on the doors of a local bar 2 hours after last call (make that 3:30 in the morning), and the bartender welcomes you with a smile and a hearty, "It's the Americans!" 

Sunday, October 11, 2009

The tourists

One great thing about having visitors is the chance to check important Edinburgh visitor destinations off the list. Robin's brother and his friend are up from London this weekend so we spent yesterday exploring the Royal Mile, enjoying a yummy champagne lunch, and venturing up to Edinburgh's gem, the Castle.

We jumped on the 3pm tour but our guide was pretty flat, so we ditched her at St. Margaret's Chapel. Funny story: before leaving for Scotland, my parents played me the home videos from our UK trip in 1994, which included a day at Edinburgh Castle. My dad filmed our guide telling a story about how thrifty (stingy?) Scots fire cannons at 1 pm instead of 12 noon, as to save 11 shots. The guide yesterday told us the SAME EXACT STORY. 15 years hasn't changed much here at the Castle.

The reddish building with grid windows is Edinburgh College of Art! I recognized it first because of the yellowy green tree, which sits in the middle of campus. Notice the canon facing in that direction. If ECA existed 500 years ago, the kings would have easily attacked and destroyed the studios! Ah!!

After seeing the outside grounds, we went in this long hallway that led to the Crown Jewels. The crown, scepter, ruby ring, and so on, were thought missing for some 111 years, only to be found at the bottom of a chest, exactly where the last king had left them (duh). There were beautiful portraits on the walls the gradually turned into 3-D fake people. Kinda weird, Disney-esque, but all interesting and good fun. And the jewels were quite beautiful, as you can imagine (no photos were allowed). 

Castles are kind of exhausting. After the tour, we walked down to the University area known as Cowgate, and settled happily into a cafe called Under The Stairs, drinking tea and coffee and unwinding. From there, our walk home included an amazing sunset. 

Royal Mile 

We spent a nice evening home at the flat, eating bread and figs and prosciutto and manchego cheese purchased from the Cheesemonger on Victoria Street. We watched Antichrist, the newest film from Danish director Lars Von Trier (Breaking the Waves, Dancer in the Dark) which was... wow. Provocative and profound and often hard to watch, though with absolutely stunning cinematography throughout. 

We went to bed full and happy. Sigh ... another wonderful day in Edinburgh. 

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Sushi party

On Friday night, my classmate Konomi had a handful of us to her flat for a sushi dinner. It was amazingly good. It actually turned into an international dinner, as Augustus (Athens) made a Greek salad and Madhuri (Bangalore) made curry with spices her mother packed her before leaving India. Andy, the only Scot, brought Stella Artois. I brought red wine and tangerines -- not very American, but the best I could find on my walk over. Megumi, also Japanese, offered crazy stories about her own Western Japanese traditions, which differed greatly from those of Konomi. Oh, and Konomi's boyfriend Miguel (Pais Vasco) offered some Spanish tunes on his guitar. 

Our hostess, Konomi

About to dig in - me, Andy, Madhuri, Konomi, Megumi

Madhuri, Megumi, Augustus, Konomi, me 

Andy gets real chopsticks

Andy was really impressed at the quality of the Japanese girls' family chopsticks, so Konomi gifted him a pair from a big box. He wasn't satisfied. He wants a pair printed with his Scottish clan's tartan.

Time for sake

After dinner

Post dinner serenade from Augustus. Listen here:

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Trip to Dunbar

Here in Scotland, I am sponsored by the Rotary Club of Dunbar which meets every Monday night. As my host counselor is traveling this month, Peter and Jenny Armstrong have stepped in as my surrogate counselors until November. 

Me with Peter

Jenny and Peter Armstrong 

After Monday's meeting, I stayed at their adorable farmhouse and got another good taste of Scottish/Dunbarian hospitality. We stayed up chatting until around midnight, had a lot of laughs sharing stories about travel, service ideas, past scholars, Scotland v. Ireland, Protestant v. Catholic, Rangers v. Celtics, French v. Spanish in schools, sons v. daughters, hard v. soft boiled eggs, stuffy v. laid-back Rotary meetings, Scottish v. American dating, Ryan Air v. Easy Jet, whisky with water v. whisky with ice, etc. (For the record, I took both delicious drams of the Armstrongs' Benromach with water.)

Wonderful view from the breakfast patio

In the morning Jenny prepared a delicious "cooked" breakfast, which is to say, anything involving a frying pan, I think. Eggs, bacon, potato patty, toast. Delicious. Peter and I headed to a quick tour of the John Muir house in downtown Dunbar with some other Rotary affliates visiting from South Africa. Very informative tour. As I may have mentioned before, Muir is a Scot by birth, and spent some of his childhood here until his father and his "itchy feet" moved the family across the Atlantic. Once in North America, John got the itchy feet gene and walked a total of some 44,000 miles exploring our natural world.

One of his journal entries made me nostalgic for my own trips exploring California. He writes, "Another glorious Sierra day in which one seems to be dissolved and absorbed and sent pushing onward we know not where." 

Another made me nostalgic for my family and childhood, "My first conscience memory is the singing of ballads and I doubt not they will be ringing in my ears when I lay dying."

A final entry just made me smile -- "It's always sunrise somewhere." 

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