Saturday, August 25, 2007

Edinburgh, Scotland

Time for pictures!

I'm in Edinburgh now, in the middle of the festival period, which means that the city is packed! But it also means that there's lots of shows to see.

So far I've seen a show about a couple of florists who don't have any flowers; a comedy reenactment of the first 6 Harry Potter books in one hour; and a strange performance-art meditation on the strange origins of Christianity by the guy who did MacHomer. They've all been entertaining, although the HP show was clearly the best so far.

Anyway, as I said, pictures! There are tons of castles sprinkled across Scotland, and I've had a lot of fun exploring them. Here's a few:

Doune Castle, the main castle used in Monty Python and the Holy Grail:

Castle Stalker, another castle featured in the movie:

Dunollie Castle, a decaying castle perched on a hill overlooking Oban:

Here's the view that I had from Gartmore House, the first place that I stayed in Scotland. There were tons of sheep grazing in the fields below, and I could hear them bleating every once in a while from my room:

Here's another awesome place that I stayed, right next to Smoo Cave. The cave is a sea cave that has a river running out of it now; there's a sinkhole off to the left where the river drops down into the cave, forming a dramatic waterfall that generates tons of spray. Unfortunately, that makes the waterfall hard to photograph, but it was really cool. The hostel that I stayed in is in those brown and green buildings in the background.

This is a pedestrian bridge in Glasgow, near the convention centre. When it was built, it was probably nice, but the windows are made of plexiglass, so they've become scratched and cloudy with time. Still makes for a cool picture, though.

And finally, a great view of Edinburgh from the top of Arthur's Seat, the 800-foot hill that rises up over the city, right behind the Scottish Parliament building.

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Glasgow, Scotland

I've been in Glasgow for the past couple of days now, and it's been a lot of fun. I'm staying in a dorm room at the Glasgow School of Art, which is really convenient since it's within easy walking distance of everything you'd want to see downtown.

Supposedly, this is a 2-star hostel, but if that's true, then I don't really understand the rating system here. Here I get my own quiet room, with my own (albeit small) bathroom. I stayed at a "4-star" hostel in Inverness, and it was much worse. Of course, I was sharing a room with 5 other guys, and the bathrooms were shared, that's to be expected---but the walls were incredibly thin and you could hear things going on in the rooms next door and above and below. I really don't see why it should be rated higher than this one. Oh well!

As I was saying, Glasgow has been pretty cool---lots of neat museums, lots of good places to eat. I ate at a noodle bar called Wagamama last night, and really enjoyed it. Okay, I'll admit, it's actually a chain, they're all over the UK and even have a couple of locations in Boston. Doesn't change the fact that my noodles were excellent.

I ran across a really great exhibit today by an artist named David Rokeby. It's the first "new media" exhibit that I've seen that I really enjoyed. (Normally I cringe whenever I see a piece of "video art.") His works are all computer-driven, and they're usually interactive in some way, usually through a camera somewhere. One piece is an "interactive audio environment" that responds to your movements. Another has a camera that automatically follows people around inside the room and projects their image up onto a large wall; sometimes it mixes it up by showing a random assortment of people who have been in the exhibit recently; sometimes it even starts putting random adjectives under people's photos. Whatever it's doing, it really draws you into the exhibit. The other pieces are probably best described by the show website. Anyway, it was cool, I really liked it. And it's only a couple of blocks from where I'm staying.

In current events, Elise pointed out to me that there was a protest in Myanmar today... Hopefully that won't cause any problems for our trip. I'm certainly not going to try to join any protests while I'm there!

And finally: rant alert: Normally I don't like to rant about our president. Yeah, I think he and his administration have done some awful things to this country, but I feel powerless to change that right now, so I don't see the point in complaining. I'm basically just waiting it out, knowing that I'll get a choice next year, and that we only have to suffer through another year and a half until he's gone.

But sometimes---the nerve! Claiming that it was a mistake to withdraw from Vietnam, and using that to justify not withdrawing from Iraq? If only it were that simple! If only I could believe that Iraq would settle down to be a peaceful nation if we withdrew our troops! W's ignorance of history and the situation in Iraq really astounds me sometimes. Of course, if he knew anything about those topics, then we wouldn't be in this situation in the first place... Sigh.

Friday, August 17, 2007

Ullapool, Highland, Scotland

So far, so good! I arrived in Scotland on Monday, and the trip has been great so far.

I'm driving around in a manual, which is a blast when you're driving on the left. Everything's fine as long as I'm driving forward, but I still want to look over my right shoulder when backing up...

I find it kind of amusing that they have signs all over Scotland reminding you that you're supposed to drive on the left. Even up here in the Highlands---you'd think that everyone would have figured it out by the time they made it up here!

The highlight of the trip so far has been a hike that I took in Glen Nevis, a valley at the base of Ben Nevis, the tallest mountain in the British Isles. Unfortunately, I couldn't see Ben Nevis, since it was obscured by clouds, but the hike took me up through a narrow gorge to an open valley with a beautiful waterfall at one end---not to mention the numerous small waterfalls that I passed on my way up. I'll need to post pictures of this soon.

Another great sight was Doune Castle, which is where many of the castle scenes were shot for "Monty Python and the Holy Grail." The exterior looked familiar from the opening scene in the movie, but Doune was used for many different castles in the movie---I really need to go back and rewatch the movie now so I can pick up on all of them.

Tonight I'm staying in the Achininver hostel, which is apparently a 300m walk from the nearest road---sounds like it should be cool!