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!

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.

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Day 4: Haggis, Museums, Bobby Dog & Good-bye

Scottish Breakfast:  Bacon under the knife, tomato, egg, sausage, a potato scone (their term for what's more like naan or pita) and haggis is the small brown/gray meatball left of the fork!

This morning we started off with one thing on the Scottish bucket list—trying haggis! Anyone who knows what that is has an immediate averse reaction to it, and quite a few people told us they’d never eat ground up organ meat wrapped in sheeps’ stomach! But nowadays, the filling is almost always wrapped in normal sausage casing, and the meat mixture itself is like a finely ground, spiced hash. We actually quite liked it!
The rest of a full Scottish breakfast—which every B&B and hotel offers—includes your choices from: bacon (more like ham—not “streaky bacon like we eat in the US), sausage, beans, tomatoes (grilled & warm), mushrooms, black pudding, toast (white, dark or a mix), eggs (poached, scrambled, or fried) and porridge (oatmeal). You can order any or all of the items, and it’s definitely energy producing when you’re heading out to walk all day!
The Filling Station
After breakfast we headed out to the Royal Mile again to locate “The Filling Station” – a pub/restaurant where son-in-law Ben worked years ago when he spent time living in Edinburgh. Once we knew where to look, it was easy to find, and we put it on the agenda as our lunch stop for later.
We wandered through several tourist shops and down a few side streets until we found ourselves at the Scottish National Museum. Since every museum in Scotland has free admission, we popped in and looked at several different displays—the animals of the world section and the science and technology exhibits. As with any great museum, we could have spen many hours instead of just one!
The great hall at the National Museum of Scotland
Three floors of the animals and nature section. So cool!
Outside again, across from the museum, we found a small statue of a little Skye terrier named
Greyfriar's Bobby
Lucky nose rub for me!
Greyfriar’s Bobby. His story is bittersweet and Disney even made a movie of it. Bobby’s master (a doctor) died and the dog followed his coffin to the graveyard. For fourteen years he kept watch over it—adopted by the townspeople and sleeping with temporary caretakers. People now stand in line to pat Bobby’s nose—making it shiny. It’s as if now everyone is keeping watch over the faithful dog!

Back on the Royal Mile we had reservations for one more touristy interaction—a tour called “The Real Mary King’s Close.” In the very early days of Edinburgh, people lived in narrow lanes off of High Street called closes. Mary King was a very rare woman of high enough stature to have a close named for her. Over time, more and more buildings were built around and over the closes, until there was a hierarchy with the very poor living at the bottom levels and the wealthier in the pleasant middle floors, and poor again at the top. Touring the lower level housing at this excavated site was both entertaining and sobering. It wasn’t very pleasant way to live—with no indoor plumbing or heating or much space. It was a super educational tour.
The entrance to The Real Mary King's close
Mary King's Close--the actual original street.

Cool thing in the UK--all credit card transactions done at the table!
Jan gets to pet Bobby's nose too.
Chocolate souffle--divided by two. Yum!
We finished the tour and then ate chicken fajitas for lunch at The Filling Station, where we  discovered a glitch in my phone camera that meant I’d lost all the pictures from that morning. Luckily we were doubling up on most things—Jan with his Nikon and me with my Samsung—but I’d lost his photo with Bobby, so we zipped back to the statue, retook the picture and then went to a funky little bohemian-like restaurant called Lovecrumbs for dessert. A chocolate soufflĂ© was the perfect thing to make up for technological issues.

By this time our last day in Edinburgh had come to a close. We hopped into one last shop and then collected our suitcases from Kuan at Amar Agua. Smart now, we grabbed a bus to the train station and caught our train for Glasgow. It was sad to say goodbye to Scotland’s capital—we know it’ll be a long time until we return. I wish we’d had more time!

A Side Blog: The "Fringe" of Edinburgh

One of the strangest and still truly fun things about our timing for this trip was the fact that for three weeks in August Edinburgh hosts an international Arts Festival. So many wonderful plays, music performances, and artists come to participate. But in addition, the city also plays host to the Edinburgh Fringe Festival. While you have to plan your visits to more classic performances, Fringe artists are loud and present everywhere you go! The shoulder-to-shoulder crowds on the Royal Mile rival any I've ever been in (including the Minnesota State Fair!) and the hawkers and street performers are wild, wonderful, and entertaining. They lie "dead" in the street, wear outlandish costumes, and hand out postcards inviting you to come to their performances. Seriously, where else could you go to a musical about Typhoid Mary? I thought you'd enjoy some of the pictures showing the Fringe side of Edinburgh in August!

Typhoid is funny--anyone?
A Blue Meanie? We have NO idea--lol.
Jan says the whole kilt-love is a girl thing. It's true--I though even this comic and his balloons was cute.
An Edinburgh trash bin. Pretty to the point.
These performers were advertising their slow show. They were walking in total slow motion.
Deluxe balloon animals.
"Brexit The Musical."
Pick your show! Naked magicians? If I'd had time...
 I think this lady was one of my favorites. If you put a coin in her box, out came her whistle and up went her skirt. She actually showed her underpanties--but the camera, believe it or not, wasn't ready!!