Wednesday, December 30, 2009


Rather than taking a direct New York - Edinburgh flight, I decided to make cross Atlantic travel a wee bit more interesting by stopping in Belfast Northern Ireland. 

I landed in Dublin, promised to return, and grabbed a train to Belfast. Found my Lonely Planet hostel. Based on a recommendation by William, the hostel owner, I walked to a pub called Fibber McGee's that is famous for live traditional music. Everyone was friendly. I sat by the bar with my sketchbook and no less than 5 people asked if I was an artist (yes). 

Belfast at dawn

Two locals chatted me up for a long time. They thought that the way I said Ireland: "Ay-er-land" - was just great, kept asking me to repeat. I like the way they said it better: " Oyer-lind."

Both of them were married, wedding bands, but completely content talking to me, not exactly flirting, but paying for my drinks, as my new friends. They said it was the Irish way that a girl should never pay for anything. I wasn't about to argue so had some whiskey and some Guinness. I like Jameson better, but knew better than to order that in Bushmills territory. 

Friendly as the married dudes were, don't trust anyone when traveling alone so after a few hours, took a cab home and slept reasonably well, considering the small, cold, unadorned room.

Next morning, I went in to the hostel lobby for my "Full Irish Breakfast" and found William looking the kind of hungover one can probably only achieve in Northern Ireland. I asked him where breakfast was. He handed me £2 to go buy it at the nearest cafe. 

Anyway, I was out the door for my day's adventure, and the true reason for coming to Belfast- to visit the Giant's Causeway, a geological phenomenon of over 40,000 hexagonal protrusions jutting into the ocean. Many call it the "8th Wonder of the World". The stones show up on the other side, in Scotland, which makes locals believe the Causeway was actually formed by a Giant or other mythological creature who wanted to get across. 

It became clear that getting to the Causeway might be impossible on public transit during the Christmas season, so I got on a tour bus. The kind of tour bus that sort of sucks because you suddenly feel more alone than you do when you are just by yourself doing your own thing. You become "that lonesome traveler who has no friends so has to go on tour busses alone, god that must suck!" 

Anyway, not that bad, at least I didn't have to worry about directions or bus schedules or maps in a new place.

The bus went through some very sweet towns of Antrim County before arriving to the site of the stones. The trail leading down to the ocean was very peaceful, a solid walk, and we landed there at the perfect time of day when the shadows are stretched out and the frost glistened on every surface.

The stones themselves were really interesting and beautiful, worth the journey, though slippery and hard to walk on! Very inspiring. I will make a painting about them, and really you just have to go, but for here are some pictures to get the idea:

I almost got left at the bottom, the bus driver was mad, but it wasn't my fault. Long, boring story. Essentially I got back to Belfast just fine and went to bed for the early ferry ride across the sea. 

One last thing to say is the ferry was awesome! The best part was they HAD A MOVIE THEATER on board. Funniest thing ever? They played "Mall Cop" which is about as American as you can get. I was the only one laughing in that theater. Laughing way too hard.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Fog rolls in

Edinburgh Castle & Princes Gardens drenched in fog

The city is superbly beautiful today, so beautiful that I skipped lecture (shh!) to walk around in the fog, and make my way to the Botanic Gardens on the Northwest side of Edinburgh. I saw an exhibition by Glasgow-based artist Karla Black, held at the Gardens' own Inverleith House Gallery. To my surprise there was also a permanent sculpture by one of my favorite artists, Andy Goldsworthy.

I didn't have my camera at this point, but lets just say that the whole day was so beautiful as to inspire a new oil painting...maybe I'll post a photo sometime soon.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

B & W

Getting back a roll of processed film never gets old! (Though, it keeps getting costlier and costlier...) Here are some highlights from 6 recent rolls. Taken on a trusty Nikon and scanned in to the computer. 

They are all pictures from the Western Isle of Arran, except the close-up which was taken in the woods near the Roslyn Chapel.  

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Winter Wonderland-y

My Skidmore friend Lucy visited Edinburgh this weekend, and the nice thing is that she has been here before - so already has knocked off Arthur's Seat, the Castle, etc. This allowed us to just hang out like we do in any city where one of us is living (usually, that has been New York; Lucy's been in Brooklyn for 4 years). Between a load of school work for me and grad school applications for her, we fit in a lot of down time and a lot of fun. We threw a flat party, for one, and invited nearly everyone we encountered during the party preparation errands (why not?) In the end, it was about ten of my MFA colleagues, some of their friends/boyfriends, the cheesemonger from Victoria Street (from Canada), and our Hungarian neighbors.  

Old friends reunite in Scotland!

We had a great time exploring little neighborhoods on foot, and all bundled up, now that the weather has grown so winter-y. I wanted to see snow - the clouds had that December glow, as if little snowflakes inside were just waiting to fall (no such luck). Stockbridge and Broughton Street are new favorites, very cute and New York-y, something like a smaller, British West Village or  Carroll Gardens, or a street in Boston or Philadelphia, with local bistros, butchers, wine shops, charity stores and cheery couples running here to there. 

Christmas decorations on the Mound

Gorgeous wintry sky

We had a lot of hot drinks.  At this point, Lucy and I could easily call ourselves connoisseurs. Cappucinos, Lattes, Flat Whites (essentially, Australian lattes with less milk, and very tasty), Gingerbread Lattes, tea of all sorts. By far, the best hot drink of the week was the hot mead at the German Market in Princes Street!

A whole stretch of pedestrian walkways is taken over by "German style" food and gift vendors for the month of December. It is really pretty cool - you can purchase a ceramic mug of any number of hot, alcoholic drinks for £5, hang out with everyone else drinking, return your mug, and get £2 returned. There are also rides and winter games like a bouncy snowball contraption and an ice rink. The whole city is beautifully decorated, with lights strung throughout many streets and Christmas trees everywhere you look - they really get into it here. 

Entrance to German Market

Multitude hot drink options. What to choose?

We so enjoyed the hot mead concoction that we actually noted the recipe and made it the staple drink of our Friday night party. Mead, white wine, apple juice, spice sack -- an absolutely perfect winter party drink. 

Another highlight of the weekend was a trip to both Sandy Bell's and the Royal Oak, consecutively. They are folk music pubs/ local institutions for Edinburghers young and old, around for ages, crowded all hours of the day. They are both tiny places, but absolutely packed with spirit and feel so... Scottish. Musicians sit in the corner and keep things lively, with phenomenal fiddle reels, guitar runs, an Irish hand drum keeping the beat almost as much as the foot-tapping of the seriously accomplished, utterly laid-back musicians. I kept thinking how much my parents would like these places, and I felt very much at home because of so many years of band rehearsals in the living room in Glastonbury.