Friday, July 20, 2018

Scotland Part 1: The People Make Glasgow

I am reviving this defunct blog to share details on an amazing trip to Scotland.

As a life-long anglophile, I assumed that my first trip to the UK would be to England. Scotland wasn't really on my radar. I thought it would certainly be nice to visit, but it wasn't the main trip I was dreaming of.

However, an unexpected opportunity to visit Scotland dropped into my lap, along with a ridiculously low-priced airline ticket, a place to stay, and the chance to travel with a friend who had lived there. So I went. And now, I have advice for all of you: GO TO SCOTLAND. It is amazing, beautiful, fascinating, quirky and profound.

An autumn afternoon in Glasgow

I will be posting some re-caps, in several parts:

Part 1: Glasgow
Part 2: Edinburgh
Part 3: Inner Hebrides: Oban & the Isle of Mull
Part 4: St. Andrew

There are many other beautiful places I didn't get to visit, especially the Highlands & the Isle of Skye. I probably could have squeezed one or two more things in, but I was happy to see some real highlights without burning out. I gave myself space to breathe, relax, discover, meet new friends. And it was one of the best trips I've ever taken.

I did about half of my touring alone. While I definitely want to travel there again with family, I really enjoyed the opportunity to do several days of this trip solo. There is a freedom to explore and relax at the same time. To set the pace, then push forward when you want to and stop when you need to rest. It was amusing & instructive to observe the people around me.


View from the Necropolis, Glasgow

Glasgow makes a great base for exploring Scotland and it's a wonderful city to explore in its own right. Plus, the Glaswegians (and Welsh, English, Irish, and South African) I met were wonderfully friendly. From the train conductor who put me on the right train after I'd missed my stop (and gone about 30 min beyond) to the cab driver who brought back my friend's cell phone to her when she left it in his cab, the people in Glasgow were friendly and helpful.

Out of the week I had in Scotland, I spent two afternoon and evenings focused on touring Glasgow. Here are 5 activities and/or places of Glasgow that I explored and highly recommend. You could easily see all of these places in one full day.

1. Walking the City Centre

If you love walking the streets of cities just because of the impressive and interesting architecture, the feeling of grandeur all around you, then Glasgow City Centre is that in spades.

I met my traveling companion and some of her friends at The Butterfly and the Pig for a meal as delicious as the name is charming. Plus it has the perfect oldy-worldy feel that you're looking for in a city that was around in the 1500s.

Glasgow was once a major ship-building center of the UK and a prosperous Victorian city. Its downtown streets are lined with stunning, ornate architecture. After lunch, I began my exploration near St. George's Square, the heart of Victorian Glasgow.

City Hall, St. George's Square
If you want to see some beautiful mosaic tile, step inside the atrium of City Hall, Glasgow

Nearby, streets lined with impressive, ornately carved Victorian buildings, reflect Glasgow's confident and prosperous history.

"People Make Glasgow"

As we walked farther away from City Centre, the architecture changed. It's ornate Victorian buildings gave way to the cleaner lines and more restrained elegance of the Edwardian period. The shift in architecture was marked, at least on this day, by a shift in noise as well. The city centre was boisterous and loud. Congested traffic, horns and sirens were amplified by the tunnel-like soundscape that the imposing buildings in a natural valley create. But as we climbed higher, we walked down quiet residential streets, with a more open feel.

We came to a the crest of a hill, to a lovely square of simple, honey-colored stone buildings surrounding a private garden.

From there, we walked passed streets of townhomes that reminded me of the East End in New York City.  In Scotland these townhomes are called tenement housing---the Victorian version of housimg developments or projects. There were both high-end and low-end tenement housing, and everything in between.

Tenement Homes, Glasgow

A beautiful front garden, Glasgow

A few crab apples hanging on to the final days of autumn, Glasgow.

2. The Tenement House Museum

I didn't visit many museums during this trip, but the one I did visit was fascinating. The Tenement House is a middle-class Glasgow time-capsule that has been preserved nearly exactly as it was at the turn of the 20th century. The Visit Scotland Website explains, 

"Experience early 20th-century Glasgow life in this ‘time capsule’ of a tenement house. Miss Agnes Toward lived here from 1911 until 1965, and looked after her furniture and possessions with love and care. Marvel at the coal-fired kitchen range and see how many household items from bygone decades you recognise – can you spot the jar of jam from 1929?"

Oops, I meant to take off the flash, but forgot to! A Victorian parlor.
The one bedroom, rented out by the lady and her mother who lived here.
The kitchen was the most fascinating room, and unfortunately I didn't get good photos of it. Apparently the owner basically lived in the kitchen, which included an original cast iron coal stove.

There are many other museums worth visiting in Glasgow, including the gorgeous baroque-style bulding that houses the free (!) Kelvingrove Art Gallery If I get a next time, that will definitely be on my list.

3. Glasgow Botanic Gardens

At the intersection of Byres Road and Great Western Road, sits the Glasgow Botanic Gardens. I spent the remaining afternoon and evening wandering down both of these wide avenues lined with all kinds of shops, cafes and restaurants. As dusk approached (around 4pm at that time of year!), I came to the Glasgow Botanic Gardens. 

Gates of the Glasgow Botanic Garden, looking onto Great Western Road

I spent a quarter hour strolling down its winding paths and peaceful lawns, enjoying quiet autumn beauty in the middle of a noisy city.

The gardens themselves were well into their autumnal decline, but the textures and warm browns and yellows of the fading vegetation against bright green grass were still beautiful and interesting to look at.

The Herb Garden in October, Glasgow Botanic Garden
Dusk at the Glasgow Botanic Gardens
 Leaving the garden (just before they locked the gates!), I walked down Byres Road and stopped in Waterstones Bookstore. I know it's a chain, but as it was my first time there, I was completely charmed. I browsed the bookshelves, contemplating how I might manage to pack an additional half-dozen books in my suitcase, sipped a mocha at the cafe and talked to my family back home.

The bookstore was preparing for an after-hours gathering---apparently a Scottish author who had written on New Orleans & Jazz music was going to read from his latest book. A lady sat down at my table and enthusiastically pitched the author & book to me.  Apparently this was her second or third time to attend one of his book signings. I briefly considered it because, you know, the irony of traveling to Glasgow to learn about New Orleans Jazz :-)---but decided to forge on ahead.

If the time had allowed, I would have gone on from there to the University of Glasgow (founded in 1451) and Kelvingrove Gallery. As it is, I'll have to wait for the next trip to Scotland! I ended up with a late supper at Kember & Jones , a charming cafe & bakery.

4. Glasgow Cathedral & Necropolis

On a Sunday afternoon I walked from the City Centre to Glasgow Cathedral. This stunning medieval church was built between the 13th and 15th centuries. 

Glasgow Cathedral

Glasgow Cathedral

Unfortunately I arrived just as a service was beginning, so I was unable to see the inside. But on such a lovely afternoon, I didn't mind. Instead I made my way across the Bridge of Sighs, which runs parellel to the Cathedral and provides stunning views of it all along the way.

This bridge runs across a ravine and connects to the Glasgow Necropolis.

View from the Necropolis back across the Bridge of Sighs

And what, you might ask, is a Necropolis???

In short, it is a cemetery, "designed as a botanic and sculpture garden" (see below).

I find the purpose "to improve the morals and tastes of Glaswegians" quite fascinating! Indeed, as King Solomon says, "It is better to go to a house of mourning than to go to a house of feasting, for death is the destiny of everyone; the living should take this to heart" (Eccl  7:2). 

Glasgow Necropolis
The views across the city on this nearly cloudless day were spectacular. The Necropolis was quite full of people walking around the paths, some in little clumps listening to a tour guide, others just out with the dogs for a glorious afternoon. During my Sunday afternoon promenade among these sculptural tombs I felt curiously connected to the Victorians who probably would have been doing the same thing!

The sun setting over Glasgow, taken from the Necropolis.

View of Glasgow Cathedral from the Necropolis 

5. Provand's Lordship House & Garden

Not far from the Cathedral,is the Provand's Lordship House, the oldest house in Glasgow.

Provand Lordship's House
A medieval house built in 1471, with rumors that  Mary, Queen of Scots may have stayed here, it's a fun little house that gives a real feel for how a 15th century medieval house looked and felt. Beware of the tiny doors, though! I almost didn't fit through one of them.

Behind the house there is a lovely courtyard with a physic (medicinal) herb garden.

The herbs are planted in groups based on the ailments they are used to treat. As I have a slightly obsessive fascniation with herbs, I loved this peaceful garden even at the end of the growing season.

As the sun sets on this Sunday evening stroll, this post comes to a close as well. Glasgow is a city of contrasts: energizing, bustling, friendly-city chaos interspersed with quiet peaceful moments. I loved that, and I hope you do to!

The next installment will cover my day in Edinburgh. It is an amazing city---not to be missed!

All photos and text belong to me. Do not copy or reproduce without asking. Thanks! :-) 

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Pride & Prejudice Discussion, Chapters 49-55

Well, our story is beginning to wind down. Austen begins to tie up some of the narrative strands, resolving some of  the conflicts. Of course, the key resolution has yet to take place, but I have to say that after the stress and drama of the previous chapters, it's really nice to see the happy endings coming together.

So first, Lydia.
It is hard to call this a truly "happy ending" for Lydia. As Elizabeth points out,"in looking forward, neither rational happiness nor worldly prosperity could be justly expected for her sister." But Lydia herself is happy--selfishly happy--or at least has no regrets about her situation.

And of course, Mrs. Bennet is beside herself with joy:  "no sentiment of shame gave a damp to her triumph. The marriage of a daughter, which had been the first object of her wishes since Jane was sixteen, was now on the point of accomplishment..."

Though the elopement has been an excruciating trial for the family, Lydia is as flippant and heartless as she ever was before. In some ways this is satisfying in that she stays the "bad" character. We never have to feel bad that she is not going to have a truly happy marriage or any "worldly prosperity."  Of course, Austen has not done anything in the narrative to make really us care about Lydia. (As a side note, in the modern adaptation of this story in the Lizzie Bennet Diaries,  I find the Lydia arc quite interesting. The writers actually make you care about Lydia in the beginning, and thus if they had kept Austen's ending for Lydia, it would have been very unsatisfying. I actually quite like what they did with the story, and in some respects, I think they actually improved on Austen )

If the outcome of Lydia's elopement is a somewhat dubious happy ending for her, it is very much a happy ending for Elizabeth and the rest of the Bennet family! I just love reading Mrs. Gardiner's description of all that Darcy did: ...he had found out where your sister and Mr. Wickham were, and that he had seen and talked with them both -- Wickham repeatedly, Lydia once....You know pretty well, I suppose, what has been done for the young people. His debts are to be paid, amounting, I believe, to considerably more than a thousand pounds, another thousand in addition to her own settled upon her, and his commission purchased. The reason why all this was to be done by him alone was such as I have given above....

The contrast between Darcy's strong sense of responsibility and Mr. Bennet's lackadaisical parenting always strikes me very forcibly here---especially where he tells Elizabeth before Lydia goes to Brighten, "Lydia will never be easy till she has exposed herself in some public place or other, and we can never expect her to do it with so little expense or inconvenience to her family as under the present circumstances."

Darcy, on the other hand, refuses to allow anyone else to take responsibility even though it's possible, considering how foolish both Lydia & Wickham are and how lazy a parent Mr. Bennet is, that it might have happened even if they had known about Wickham's true character:
The motive professed was his conviction of its being owing to himself that Wickham's worthlessness had not been so well known as to make it impossible for any young woman of character to love or confide in him. He generously imputed the whole to his mistaken pride, and confessed that he had before thought it beneath him to lay his private actions open to the world. His character was to speak for itself. He called it, therefore, his duty to step forward, and endeavour to remedy an evil which had been brought on by himself. I just love that someone like this has fallen for Elizabeth!

I am SO happy for Jane. Every time I read this, I feel like laughing and crying because I'm so happy for her. And sometimes I even do. Jane has consistently been loving, gentle, strong, caring, giving throughout the entire story. I know this kind of goodness grates on some people's nerves, but I just love her for it. She has suffered quietly, patiently yet intensely. In this respect, she reminds me a little bit of Elinor in Sense and Sensibility. If anyone deserves a happy ending, it is most definitely Jane. Elizabeth, as we have been pointing out for the last few weeks, has clearly made mistakes and is suffering for those. It's possible to say to some degree that she "deserves" some of her anguish over Darcy, or at the least, needs to go through it for a kind of penance. But Jane, unlike most of the characters, has not made any of those mistakes. She suffers because of other people's pride and mistaken judgment. Which is why her first words to Elizabeth after her engagement are so ironic, but in a kind of sweet way:
"'Tis too much!" she added -- "by far too much. I do not deserve it. Oh! why is not everybody as happy!" 

Jane is one of those characters (Miss Bates in Emma is another) who has learned that happiness comes through giving. And her own personal happiness is doubled because she is also giving joy to those around her: "I must go instantly to my mother," she cried; "I would not on any account trifle with her affectionate solicitude; or allow her to hear it from any one but myself. He is gone to my father already. Oh! Lizzy, to know that what I have to relate will give such pleasure to all my dear family! how shall I bear so much happiness!"

Well, one more week of reading! Thank you to all of you who have participated. If you've gotten behind but still want to comment on previous posts, please do. I am happy to continue the discussion at any time....even after the book discussion is over. :)

Saturday, December 7, 2013

Pumpkin Chocolate Chip Cookies

I know Thanksgiving is over and we are very much into the Christmas season. However, in case you have some leftover pumpkin puree in the fridge or you succumbed to the after-Thanksgiving markdowns of all the ingredients you needed before Thanksgiving, here's a delicious cookie recipe that will not disappoint.

My mom gave me the recipe and she probably got it from someone else, so it's certainly not an original with us. But I thought I'd share it since I've never seen a cookie recipe get such rave reviews. Even people who don't normally get that terribly excited for cookies or desserts (and, yes, as strange as that sounds, there are actually a few people like that in the world. I happen to be married to one of them. I have no idea how that happened....;-) actually love these. They were one of my most popular recipes when I lived in Mexico too.

As with most of my well-loved recipes, this is what it actually looks like. Barely readable, scribbled down on the only scrap of paper I could find while getting the recipe from Mom over the phone. And now covered with splotches of flour, sugar, butter, cinnamon and pumpkin. :)

Don't worry, I'll give you a clearer version of the recipe.

As with most cookie recipes, combine dry ingredients in one bowl, butter and sugars in another:

Cream the butter and sugar, then add the egg and vanilla.

Stir flour mixture into the creamed mixture, a little bit at a time, alternating it with the pumpkin puree. This is to help incorporate the ingredients well but also to avoid dusting your entire kitchen and yourself in a cloud of flour and cinnamon.

Make sure you use pumpkin puree and not pumpkin pie mix.

Yum! Only one more thing to add to this deliciousness....

Gently stir in chocolate chips, then scoop the dough onto a GREASED cookie sheet.

Bake for 12-15 minutes in a 350 degree oven.

Allow to cool, and enjoy.

I have to say, though they are delicious right out of the oven, they are actually even better tasting a day or two later. Like other kinds of baked goods with fruit puree, they get richer and moister the longer they sit.

If you can keep sneaky fingers off the plate that long. And yes, those are my fingers. ;-)

Pumpkin Chocolate Chip Cookies

2 cups all-purpose flour
1 cup quick oatmeal
1 tsp baking soda
1 tsp cinnamon
1 cup butter
3/4 cup brown sugar
3/4 c. sugar
1 egg
1 tsp vanilla
1 cup pumpkin puree
1 1/2 cups chocolate chips

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  

Combine flour, oatmeal, baking soda and cinnamon in a bowl. Set aside

Cream butter and sugars until fluffy. Beat in egg and vanilla until combined.

Add flour mixture to creamed butter mixture a little bit at a time, alternating with pumpkin puree. Mix well between each addition.

Fold in chocolate chops.

Drop by rounded teaspoons onto a GREASED cookie sheet. Bake for 12-15 minutes. Makes 2-3 dozen cookies.