Glad you're here!

Welcome to my personal blog. Squirrel(!) is such an appropriate title for this spot on the Internet. This began as a way to share the journal from my walk across England with hubby Jan. That trip is archived here for you to enjoy (June of 2012), but now when you visit you'll read my crazy musings on everything from horses, to cars, to grammar, to books, baseball, or weasels. Don't get whiplash trying to figure out a theme; just watch out for the squirrels!

Saturday, August 19, 2017

Day Six – Auchentoshan, Sleeping Monkeys, and Dear Dear Friends

Our last full day in Glasgow was the first rainy day of our trip, but we didn’t mind at all since we had an outing planned. Last year Jan read about an excellently reviewed Scotch called Auchentoshan and
Jan at the Auchentoshan sign in Clydebank
put a bottle of it on his Christmas wish list. His wonderful sister got it for him and he loved it. We were amazed to learn that the distillery is just outside of Glasgow, and when we discovered we could get to the site by bus right from downtown, we jumped at the chance.
It was one of those happy chances when everything worked out to create something special. After a 35-minute bus ride (42 stops) in the top of a double-decker, we reached the last stop of the route in Clydebank. The driver asked if we were going to “get some Scotch” and happily pointed out the white distillery buildings just a ten-minute walk away.
Cute Highland Cows
We passed our first Highland cows on the way (they live next to the distillery and get to eat the barley mash left over after fementation! We got in on a tour led by our great guide Kieran that was interesting and thorough, and we found the process fascinating. Auchentoshan (“Akken-tosh-un” which in Gaelic means “corner of the field”) is Scotland’s only triple distilled whisky. They told us that doesn’t make it any better, but it does make it unique!

This is the mashing room--after the barley is hot-air roasted it's ground and mashed in here.

The tun room -- these are backwash tubs made of Oregon pine. Water and liquid yeast is added and the resulting "beer" is 8% alcohol and smells terrific!
Most Scotch whisky is distilled twice and ends up around 50-60% alcohol. Auchentoshan goes into the first copper distillation still at 8%. After the first distillation it is at 18%, after the second it's at 54%, and when it comes out of the final still it is at 81%, higher than any other in Scotland. It’s watered down to about 70% before it’s casked for maturation.Most of the whisky is stored in bourbon barrels from the U.S. Some is casked in sherry barrels from Europe, and a small amount is stored in red wine barrels from France. 
The smallest of the storage rooms. Barrels are used three times and then sold as planters or decorations!

First time use barrels have plain ends, second time use is yellow and third use is black.

I’m not a whisky drinker although I love the IDEA of it and even the smell. But at the end of the tour
This is exactly the kind Jan has at home.
Kieran posed with us after the taste-testing.
I drank my  sample plus two shots of their special drink “Auchy Ale,” a mixture of whisky, ale, and lemonade. THAT was a way I could drink whisky! It was also a great way to end a distillery tour since, lightweight drinker that I am, I slept the entire way back to Glasgow on the bus!
These adorable tin Auchentoshan mugs were our souvenirs. I managed to snag a set of four!
 Back in the city we climbed the steep slope up from the River Clyde’s level and found a restaurant
we’d heard of called “Where the Monkey Sleeps.” It’s a very small sandwich shop specializing in paninis and bagel sandwich creations. Once again the menu was light-hearted and irreverent. I had a “Wytchfynder” bagel and Jan had a “Beef of the Beast.” The atmosphere was very coffeehouse unchic, with several small rooms full of worn sofas and book nooks and people eating in groups. A total hoot—and excellent food!
Amazing lunch menu

In our little lunch room -- you can see how worn the couch was. Such ambience!
After lunch we wandered the pedestrian shopping again and took the last hour of our stay to visit The Lighthouse—an arts center in a building designed by Glasgow’s home-grown world-class architect and designer, Charles Rennie Mackintosh. Mackintosh designed many buildings in Glasgow and around the world, back in the late 1800s. He was a modernist at the time, his designs mostly straight and stark and functional, and not everyone loved him. Now, however, he’s highly celebrated in his home city. A bonus for going up the 130+ steps of the tall building was the proverbial bird's eye view of Glasgow!

Above one of the churches Mackintosh designed--and several of his clean-line chairs.
A balcony with a view!

Glasgow skyline

The spiral staircase leading to the top of the Lighthouse
We weren’t as sad leaving Glasgow for two reasons—we get to return once our hike and trip to Inverness is done and spend one more morning. We also knew that we were on our way to start a great adventure and meet up with wonderful friends we met on our last big hike in England. We were blessed to connect with Joy Miller and Andy Chisnall in 2012 and even more blessed to have remained in touch via Facebook for five years.  To our delight (and honor) Andy and Joy who are even more accomplished and avid hikers than we are, drove four hours from Liverpool to join us in Scotland for a night and walk the first day of The West Highland Way with us.
When they knocked on our hotel door in Milngavie (more on THAT name later!) there were squeals and excited hugs and even some disbelieving tears. We picked up talking as if we’d seen each other the day before. It was a true joyful reunion. 

Andy, Jan, Me and Joy!!

We ate fish and chips and drank good beer and cider at the Burnbrae pub, and had a hard time saying goodnight even though it was going to be mere hours until we started our walk. It was a wonderful night and we are so thankful for these wonderful people who are in our life!   Tomorrow the adventure begins! Eight days hiking in Scotland.     

Thursday, August 17, 2017

Day One in Glasgow: Bagpipes, Grannies on subways & a Cathedral for St. Mungo

Glasgow is definitely a cheeky city! Where Edinburgh is classic and historical like a refined lady, Glasgow is rough and tumble, historical but with many, many modern elements and a humorous vibe
that takes a little while to appreciate. We took a taxi from the train to our hotel, Malmaison, on Wednesday evening. This hotel is modern and young. We had large comic book panels as framed art in our room! We left our bags and headed out right away to check out the historic center of the city George Square. The square was named for King George III, but he was declared insane by the end of his reign, so it’s not his statue on the column in the center of the green, but Robert Burns’! There are statues of famous figures surrounding the entire space.
The City Chambers at the head of George Square & below Burns' column in the square's center
Queen Victoria and prince consort Albert.
We found an amazing little place to eat called The Butterfly and the Pig and loved the atmosphere, the food, and the live jazz.  The menu was hilarious, too, with descriptions like this for their steak: “Sir Sirloin steak certainly is a handsome catch for a princess, with his dedicated followers mushroom, tomato and lord peppercorn sauce and chips. Price: 17 smackeroos 95p. Add prawns for 2 squids.”

The first full day was beautiful weather-wise. In full sun we walked to the city’s major park, Kelvingrove by way of a very ritzy neighborhood of Glasgow’s equivalent to NYC brownstones, or so it seemed with all the BMWs, Aston Martins, Jags and other fancy cars parked in front of them!Kelvingrove itself is massive with miles of walkways, a skateboard park, formal gardens and fountains, and lots of people out enjoying the day.

What was really fun was the sound of bagpipes everywhere we went. It was like Scotland actually does pipe “Scotland the Brave” everywhere all the time. It turned out there was Bagpiping Championships taking place in the city, and the park was filled with designated practice areas for

The sign is designating bagpipe practice areas.
Warming up

They actually tune bagpipes! This man is checking the frequency.

Bagpipes are cool.
St. Mungo, patron saint of Glasgow

The floating heads at Kelvingrove have been there since 2006--they all have unique expressions.

Christ of St. John of the Cross--not the original here :-(
Another highlight of the park is the Kelvingrove Museum and Art Gallery. It’s a fantastic place, really well done and easy to walk through. What we wanted to see most of all was Salvadore Dali’s painting Christ of St. John of the Cross. It’s a stunning work even when it’s not the original, but we were disappointed to find out that Glasgow’s beloved painting is on loan to Paris and then Florida.
Big bummer.
We left Kelvingrove and wandered along the very pretty River Kelvin, through part of the University of Glasgow and finally made our way to one of the stations for Glasgow’s small subway system. The train literally runs in one circle under the city and you choose the inner counter (anti) clockwise circle or the outer clockwise circle. We rode the long way around to our stop, chatting with James and his grandmother who were out just for a little joyride. They’d chosen the Glasgow subway because Grandma didn’t want to end up in Edinburgh and run into Fringe Festival traffic!! We chatted about Glasgow and growing up there and  how things have changed. She was a very cool lady!

Glasgow's subway--James is just visible on the left!
We spent some time in Glasgow’s huge pedestrian shopping district—Buchanan and Sauchiehall Streeta, visiting shops and the huge Buchanan Shops mall. We ate at a little chain restaurant called Pret A Manger, and then the
afternoon found us wandering several miles to the Merchant City section of  Glasgow and the Glasgow Cathedral, built in the late 12th Century. Glasgow’s patron saint St. Mungo, who died in 614 and is almost a figure of myth and legend, is entombed there. It is still an active church but is no longer officially a cathedral because a) there’s been no bishop seated there since 1690 and b) it’s now a Church of Scotland.We also walked the Necropolis cemetery where hundreds of very ancient prominent Glaswegians are buried. It’s a weirdly interesting place—decrepit and ostentatious. It was built as one of the first places to bury the dead in a more hygienic way than was previously the case. 
Glasgow's Necropolis-a cemetery on a hill.

The Glasgow Cathedral, aka St. Mungo's Cathedral.

Beautiful unusual blue stained glass windows.

 Glasgow is full of building murals, too. We found quite a few examples.

Back in Glasgow city center we ate at Jamie Oliver’s Italian restaurant. Jamie, a popular British chef, is well known to Food Channel fans. The food was inexpensive and delicious.

Jamie Oliver's classic old restaurant building
To wrap up the night we walked to the River Clyde that divides the city into upper and lower halves. There are approximately 13 or 14 bridges across the Clyde. We only had time to walk four of them, but it was lovely to see the city from that perspective. We even came to one bridge closed off to all traffic while police stopped a potential jumper. We saw him being led from the bridge and placed in an ambulance. No big fuss or bother—they took down their crime scene tape and life went on!
Lovely pedestrian bridge over  The Clyde

Glasgow from the riverfront
Jan on the bridge our would-be jumper tried to leap off of.
Sunset on The River Clyde
Back at Malmaison we sat at the posh little bar and drank beer and mojitos—free from the hotel—and felt very ritzy indeed! Then it was bed to get ready for another bucket list item in the morning:  a trip to a genuine Scotch distillery!

Glasgow's slogan "People Make Glasgow" is everywhere--even the buildings.