Monday, 22 July 2013

Mini-break Blog Post Extravaganza

Days 21-25:

Scotland Minibreak:

I headed off on my mini-break adventure on Thursday morning.  A fire in Edinburgh delayed my departure a bit because it backed up traffic so much that our taxi couldn’t make it through the middle of town to get to the train station and the rental car office.  Finally, I arrived at the rental car office and began the driving portion of my trip…on the “wrong” side of the road!  I had ordered a GPS for the car and bought an atlas, so I was doubly covered in case I got lost!! 
Driving on the opposite side of the road really wasn’t as unnerving as I expected it to be.  I upgraded to the automatic transmission (even though I can drive a manual transmission), so I didn’t have to deal with shifting gears with my left hand.  I made a few stops on the way across the country for food and to take pictures.

Once I got to Arisaig/Morar, I had to stop and ask for directions because my GPS said I had arrived, but I couldn’t find the bed and breakfast.  Eventually, I did find it, got checked in, and had a cup of tea and some shortbread.  I got settled in and took a brief nap before I headed out to Mallaig (a nearby town) for dinner.   My eyes were much larger than my stomach when I saw all the delicious options on the menu!  I ordered mussels, a tomato and mozzarella salad, and Cullen skink (smoked fish, potato, and leek) stew.  All of it was absolutely delicious, but it made me glad that I hadn’t really had much lunch!  
Mussels (top) and Cullen Skink Stew (bottom)

On the way back to my B&B, I decided to make an impromptu stop at the beach I had passed on the way in.  I couldn’t pass up a chance to put my toes in the sand!  It was only 18*C (64.4*F), so the sand was pretty cold.  The cold didn’t deter me from even testing out the water in the loch (which was even colder!). 
Nothing better than my toes in the sand!!
Loch Morar beach

*   *   *

The next day I headed off to the Isle of Skye, which meant another ferry ride.  I decided to drive for a while before I went to the Clan Donald Skye Center, so I headed up the coast toward Broadmoor and back.   During part of my drive, you could actually see the fog rolling in over the mountain.  It was really beautiful!  

View from ferry, looking back at Mallaig
Statue on the dock at Mallaig

While on this little journey, I realized that I should probably get gas if I was going to drive around since gas stations aren’t as prevalent in the UK as they are in the US.  I found one and pulled in, at which point I realized that I didn’t know which side the tank was on.  Thank goodness for a random conversation I had at the beach this year with my parents and my sister-in-law’s parents about most cars having an indicator on the dashboard that tells you where to find the gas tank.  I looked, and there it was a little triangle on the left side of the tank symbol!  Eureka! 

The Clan Donald Skye Center has a museum, library, gardens, castle, gift shops, and a restaurant.  There is also an area where you can participate in Highland games, but that part was closed the day I was there (too bad, I was really hoping to see how I did on some of those activities!!).  The museum has exhibits about clan and local history.  Although most of the items are specifically related to the family history of the McDonalds, there are some things that are more general in nature and would apply to general life in Scotland or the Isle of Skye at particular times in history.  The library has 7,000 books, mostly about history:  family, clan, local, naval, military, biography; although there are other books about geography and other subjects, too.  They also have maps, clan lists, genealogies, etc.  They have not digitized much, if any, of their collection; but they have some items on microfilm/microfiche.  

My dining companion for lunch

The center includes ruins of a laundry building and the Armadale castle, which is where the McDonald clan lived long ago.  Neither building currently has a roof, but the walls are still standing and the buildings are still beautiful.  I spent a little time wandering around the outside of the castle and taking pictures.  

Front of Armadale Castle (former home of Clan Donald)

It's tall!!
View through the ruin of Armadale Castle

View from Armadale Castle (basically the front yard)

Back of Armadale Castle

The gardens are tranquil and full of ponds and flowers.  They are a perfect place to sit and ponder the meaning of life or just sit and daydream for a while. 

Pond at Clan Donald Skye Gardens

At the end of my time on Skye, I took the ferry back to the mainland and wondered once again why ferries are always cold…no matter what the weather is on land!  I browsed through a shop or two in Mallaig before heading to a local inn for dinner.  

Driving is becoming easier and easier.  Parking…not so much!  For some reason, I am having difficulty parking from the opposite direction (which is strange, since I pull into parking spots on both sides in the US).  Who knew that parallel parking would ever be easier than parking in a traditional parking space?!

 *   *   *

The next day, I decided to explore the mainland a bit.  I drove and drove and drove.  I found beaches and lochs and coves and bays.  I made friends with sheep and lovely old Scottish gentlemen who talked my ears off about fishing and family and golf and Virginia.  I was being attacked by midgies (black flies), so he rooted around in his tackle box and gave me his extra bottle of “midgie cream” that he swore by…it was Avon Skin-So-Soft!  I’m not sure it really worked, because I still have bites but maybe they came from before.  He was such a sweet man, and I enjoyed talking with him.  Though, I did have some trouble understanding some of what he was saying, and I felt awful whenever I had to ask him to repeat himself.

Loch Morar

I couldn't resist wading in a bit

I continued driving around and finally got the picture of the waterfall that I had been seeing each time I went into Mallaig.  Then I headed into Mallaig for lunch and to look at some of the shops that had been closed when I had stopped in before.  

Once again, I headed to Mallaig to get food.  Before lunch, though, I decided to check out the Mallaig Heritage Center, which is a museum and archive about the history of the town.  It only took about fifteen or twenty minutes to look through, but it was interesting to see what they felt represented their town’s history.

After lunch, I went to Fort William (which is about an hour away) by way of Glenfinnan so I could try to see the viaduct made famous by the Harry Potter Hogwart’s Express movie scenes.  Unfortunately, there really isn’t a good view from the road, but I got the best picture that I could anyway.

Glenfinnan Viaduct

Another viaduct at the Prince's Cairn, but a better picture

I spent a little time in Fort William before heading back to the coast.  I decided to stop in Arisaig for dinner on the way and then headed back to the B&B for the night. 

*   *   *

On Sunday, I decided to relax and watch movies and read all day.  It was glorious!  I hadn’t had one of these days in weeks, so I enjoyed every bit of it!  I finally headed out into public for dinner and ended my Scotland trip with fish and chips.  Because it was National Ice Cream Day in the US, I also grabbed a Magnum bar at the Co-operative Grocery Store and ate it while sitting on the rocks near the shore listening to the waves hit the rocks below.  All in all, it was a wonderful end to my relaxing mini-break.

*   *   *

Monday morning, I woke up bright and early to get an early start on my trip so I could easily catch my 2:30 train back to London.   The trip from Morar to Edinburgh is only supposed to take 3 hours and 45 minutes, but I didn’t want to take any chances with traffic or getting lost.  I dropped off my rental car and got a cab to the train station to await my train back to the city.  My days of driving on the wrong side of the road are all over for now!  

The train trip back to London has been full of excitement over the Royal Baby’s impending arrival, excitement over my first class seat which gives me extra leg room and  other perks, and time and space to work on my blog!  I used the free wi-fi to blog and to watch Netflix, while enjoying my reclining seat and the complimentary orange and chocolate biscuits (or cookies)!

The baby boy was born just before 4:30pm today, and he weighed in at 8 lb. 6 oz.  Tonight was spent listening to the cheering and rejoicing in the streets and watching the BBC coverage on the television.  My vote for a name is Alexander, but I might be a little biased since that is my nephew's name!!

There Is Always a Story to Be Told

Day 20:

Today was a free day in Edinburgh.  We could use it for our research if we needed to, but we could also use it for travel or just to wander around a bit.  I decided to sleep late (yay!) and then do a little shopping in Edinburgh before I headed to the Storytelling Centre in Edinburgh to see what I could find out about their programs. 

Fortunately, I got really great deals on some clothes at Primark!  Unfortunately, the guy I talked to at the Scottish Storytelling Centre didn’t have too much extra information to share with me.  I told him that I was a graduate student doing research about storytelling and asked a few questions, and he told me that I would find all of the information I needed on the website and in the two brochures he gave me.  Their website is quite helpful, but I was hoping that going in person to talk to someone would give me more insight.  I bought my tickets for the ceilidh that night and browsed their gift shop.  I couldn’t even look around their cafe because there was a meeting of some type that I didn’t want to interrupt.  

I headed off to Starbucks to do a little work and enjoy some iced coffee before meeting up with my friends to head back to the storytelling ceilidh (gathering).  

Storytelling Centre for the Ceilidh

A storytelling ceilidh is a Scottish gathering that involves singing, dancing, and, in this case, storytelling.  The Scottish Storytelling Centre hosts a few each month, and we were lucky enough to be around for this one.  They feature one main teller who opens and closes each part of the evening and introduces the other tellers from the audience, almost as if he were an emcee.  It lasted almost two and a half hours and included stories, songs, and poems.  I really enjoyed the featured teller’s stories as well as the offerings from the guest tellers.  At the beginning, the featured teller passes a book around and audience members can sign up if they have something they wish to share.  Not everyone will be able to share on crowded nights (like this one was), but he tried to vary the line-up with stories and traditional Scottish songs, a lady playing the Celtic harp, and a woman reciting poetry.  I thoroughly enjoyed my time listening to the stories.  One man even combined storytelling with improv skills and asked for input from the audience about setting and plot points.  He then built the story around this input.  It was hilarious!

Featured Storyteller
One of the Guest Tellers
Celtic Harp

The centre, itself, is quite interesting with a story wall that showcases Scottish stories in dioramas for kids to interact with by opening and closing, sliding, etc.  



Interactive Stories
Exhibit that shows the importance and tradition of storytelling in Scotland

"Let There Be Light"

Day 19:

Inscription above the entrance to the Central Library
Our class began our library visits in Edinburgh today at the Central Library.  We had a presentation from the library workers who each told us about their departments, how the library system was set up, and what the Edinburgh Libraries had to offer its patrons.  The system is extremely impressive!  The system is divided into neighborhoods, which is similar to how many large systems in the United States divides into branches.  However, one major difference is that in Edinburgh the library often shares its space with the neighborhood offices, so community members can go to the library to take care of neighborhood issues.  This brings more traffic into the library, which is always a good thing!

The Central Library (as part of the Edinburgh Libraries) won the Bookseller Best Library Service Award in 2012 and was a finalist for the same award again in 2013.  They have hosted the EDGE conference for the past 4 years with great success.  The Edinburgh Libraries strive for a Gold Standard of customer service, and in search of the best possible customer experience they have enlisted the assistance of retail service and hospitality professionals to help them improve their customer relations.

The library system has developed programs such as Edinburgh Reads, which attracts up to 140 people on a regular basis by hosting authors, politicians, etc. as speakers.  Under this overall program (Edinburgh Reads), the libraries offer specific programming for all ages and circumstances:

Get Up and Go--for the over 50 crowd

Bookbug--a program including storytimes for birth to 3 year olds that is run by the Scotland Book Trust

Chatterbooks--a reading group for 8-11 year olds

Summer Reading Challenge--a challenge to read a certain number of books over the summer for school age kids

Reading Champion Project--a program geared towards kids in residential care (approximately 100 kids in 16 homes, aged 12-15) to have encouragement and a positive experience at the library

Glitz Lit--a program aimed toward girls that pairs books and beauty

In addition to all of the age-specific programming, the library system has a team of six people who work on their digital offerings.  They have a multiple websites that allow patrons 24/7 access to some of the library's services, eresources, events, social media, etc.  In fact, one of the team member's sole job is to be in charge of updating and maintaining the library's social media.  They are active on Facebook, You Tube, Flickr, Twitter (with 7,000 followers), RSS feeds, blogs, etc.  They are looking toward branching out onto Pinterest, Google +, and others.  They were the first library service in the UK to have a mobile app version of their Your Library website.

The library system offers ebooks, emagazines (through Zinio, which was the most popular eresource last year), Capital Collections (a heritage collection online that includes exhibitions and an image database), audiobooks, Library2Go, overdrive, etc.  The neighborhood libraries offer device classes for patrons if they need help with their Kindles or Nooks or other devices.

The coolest resource, in my opinion, is their newest resource, Our Town Stories.  This resource offers an online look at stories that are important to Edinburgh's local history and legend.  With these stories, the librarians gather information and images, which they then put into an online exhibition.  They offer "now and then" looks at streets and areas of the city.  Many of these stories are also featured in physical exhibits in the neighborhood libraries. 

All of this makes sense when you realize that Edinburgh has been recognized as a United Nations City of Literature, and in fact it was the first city recognized as such.  Just for trivia's sake, Melbourne, Australia, and Reykjavik, Iceland, are two other UN Cities of Literature.

Following the introduction to the library’s services, we had a tour (in which we got to go up on the gallery in the research room!!!) and saw the library’s treasures.  
Secret door to reach the gallery stairs
The gallery directly across from where I'm standing

During the treasures portion of our visit, we got to see 500 years’ worth of publishing history.  We saw a copy of a 1495 book by Aristotle that has a tooled leather cover (that was added later). It is written in Greek and includes very wide margins, which is a sign of very high quality since paper was at such a premium. 

We also saw a copy of a Bassandyne Bible, which is the first full Bible printed in Scotland.  It was printed in 1579, and every parish had to own a copy.  

Then we saw the McDonald family photograph album.  The family had traveled to India and hired photographer Samuel Bourne to take pictures for their album.  The book includes pictures of India and family photographs in the back. 

McDonald Family
Page from the McDonald Album

The next treasure we saw was the first portable atlas of Scotland from 1776.  It is long and narrow, so you would see what you needed to see in the first pane, then move on to the next pane. 

*   *   *

We took a quick break to have lunch and then headed to New College Library for our afternoon appointment.  The New College Library is an academic library that focuses primarily on the Divinity School.  It holds over 250,000 books in 5 floors.  They use two different classification systems:  Library of Congress for the more modern acquisitions and Union Theological Seminary Scheme Classification for the older items.  

View from just outside the New College Library

We took a tour of the stacks, including two that are open to the public and one that is usually only available to staff members.  The library has an Archive Room which holds archival items related to the maintenance of the library and a Bible Room which is full of Bibles.  There are 631 Bibles in one special collection of Bibles, but that is just a fraction of the total number of Bibles in the total collection at New College Library. 

In our trip through the stacks, we saw items such as a Torah, a Bible written in Sanskrit, the history of British America, a book by John Calvin, and more!



After our tour, the librarian told us about the history of the library.  The building used to be a church, and it still maintains much of the church’s decor.  The stained glass windows were completed in 1934, just as the congregation was moving out.  The church pews have been turned into library desks and shelves.  

We had the privilege of seeing some of their treasures, as well.  

Book of Common Prayer from 1636

Galileo's Dialogus de Systemate Mundi from 1663

The Holy Bible from 1611