Monday, August 19, 2013

Last Scotland Trip Update!

I loved, loved, loved Stirling Castle, one of the day trips that we took while we were in Edinburgh.  When Jim mentioned that he wanted to see it, I thought it sounded interesting because in my head castle = pretty blingy things!  But, yikes, I had no idea how terribly interesting that this place could be!  I am sure you can find all kinds of things about Stirling Castle online but here is history of it in a nutshell:  Built in the early 12th century, it became the home (real and symbolic) of Scotland's Kings and Queens.  I mean, the main parts of Scottish history are all here with connections to Mary Queen of Scots, William Wallace, and Robert the Bruce!  Before going any further, I should mention that there is a fantastic youtube video about this place which outlines the place after the huge renovation done in the past few years:

Here are some of the pictures that I took of the main hall and some of the bedrooms:

Now the Queen's Bedroom is where I had the most fun.  Lining the walls of the bedroom are the reproductions of the unicorn tapestries which are currently hanging in the MET in New York City.  I just fall in love with them -- to me, the unicorn just seemed out of place and I was mesmerized by the craftsmanship that has gone into the reproductions themselves. Long ago, these very sort of tapestries hung in castles in this area (perhaps Stirling).  The ones that these reproductions are based on were bought by an American collector in more modern times and then donated to the MET.  Weavers from Scotland have studied these tapestries and are currently making reproductions of this seven panel set on the grounds of Stirling Castle (I think they have 4 or 5 of them done at this point).  I guess I can't turn my teacher brain off because I had an epiphany while I was looking at these amazing tapestries -- because the "meaning" behind the series is debatable (religious story?  romantic tale? martyr message?  oppression?) couldn't these be a fantastic way of modeling inquiry to students? Perhaps this could be a great way to model inquiry with my students on the first day of a literature class!  Lead the discussion with some open-ended inquiry questions and then see what the students think.  I am hoping that using a visual text like this will encourage them to think the same way about many of the more difficult written texts that we will encounter this semester.

After Edinburgh, we went on more place before heading back to the States -- the Lake District in northern England.  I am not sure that we were smart in making these plans.  The area was super, super crowded, especially since this is a beautiful area that is popular with British folks vacationing.  But now that I have had time to think about it, here are a few reasons why I am glad that we included the Lake District in with our itinerary:

1.  Cat Bells:  We first heard about this hike via a Rick Steves PBS episode (the clip below also highlights the town we stayed at including "The Dog and Gun," one of the pubs we visited a few times:

And this view is the real deal!  After about an hour and half of hiking from the boat launch at the bottom of the climb. you too can make your own seat on the side of the mountain (like Rick Steves is doing!) and enjoy the view below.  Just saying this was spectacular is not enough -- it's just amazing (and even cooler when you see British military jets zooming by below you!).  Luckily, we had nice weather, met some cool folks, and enjoyed a boat ride as part of this adventure.  I thoroughly enjoyed this hike and hope we get to do something like this again soon!

2.  The Owl Sanctuary at Muncaster Castle.  I love, love, love owls!  Here are a few pictures that I took on a delightful day of touring a cool castle (Muncaster Castle has the most haunted castle in the UK apparently) and hanging out with owls!  The last picture are wild herons -- the castle feeds them everyday at 4 PM and that was pretty cool to watch!

3.  Seeing Dove Cottage, the home of Dorothy Wordsworth (oh, and her brother William!).  Amazing!  I wanted to see this the last time I went to the Lake District (many years ago) but I was a poor student and couldn't manage the entry.  This time I went in!  And there was a special exhibit going on of Dorothy's journals so I had a wonderful time (I think Jim was a little on the bored side, though!).

I know I will sound like a poetry geek when I say this but I was just so moved by the whole experience of being there, the very place where these two talented people "did their thang"!

Well, I guess those are the highlights of the trip!  Jim and I had a blast driving around Scotland and northern England and I will always think about this trip as a much needed break ... and we have already started thinking about our next adventure!

Thursday, August 15, 2013

Netflix for Clothes!

Before I finish blogging about our recent Scotland adventures, I want to make sure and review the box that came in the mail for me today!  I discovered "Gwynnie Bee" just before we left on our trip and knew that I would need to wait until we came back before I could try it.  The easiest way that I have heard people describe this service is "Netflix for Clothes"!  Here is how it works:  Gwynnie Bee includes hundreds of clothing items for women who are "curvy" at a size 10 and up.  You browse the web site and add items you like to your account (called your "closet" which is sorta cute!).  You pay a monthly fee for having a certain number of these clothing items out.  You can return any of these items any time you want and get something else in your "closet."  I am trying the "three items out of a time" option (and I am getting the first month free to try it out).

So over the weekend, I decided to commit to trying the whole idea out (I had already browsed the site without committing to a subscription -- you can look at stuff but you can't save to your closet without a subscription account).  So today my first shipment arrived and here is what I think!

First, I thought that the three items I chose were packaged nicely and I liked that someone actually wrote out a handwritten card thanking me for starting an account.  Perhaps this isn't a big deal but I think it was a nice touch!

So I chose three items for this first package -- two dresses and a peplum shirt.  First up -- dress number 1 (the one that had caught my eye the most on the web site!).  Here is how the Igigi dress looked on their web site:
And here is how it looked on me:

I do like the dress and I picked the size perfectly for me.  I am not super crazy about the little tie thingies hanging off the arms but I think it's cute.  Jim even said it looked good!  :D  This isn't something I would usually wear because your tummy is not hiding behind anything but the fabric helped my body look more slender, I think!

Dress number two looked much better on than when I took it out of the box.  It is a two piece -- a Jessica Howard polka dot dress.  I can't get the actual dress to copy over to my blog but it looks something like this:

Jessica Howard Scoopneck Polka Dot Dress, sizes 10-24W, on Cindy G via Facebook
And here is me posing with the dress and the shrug that came along with it.  The dress above and the dress I got are both Jessica Howard but my version is a little different.  Like I said, I didn't think I was going to like this.  I didn't use the fabric belt that came with it but as soon as I used one of my own wide belts (a brown one), I think the look came together.  I love the fabric and it feels girly.  Not as crazy about the shrug so I probably won't wear it with the dress.
Item number 3 is a peplum top.  I tried pairing it with a skirt but I think it looked the best with skinny jeans (the top is an Asos Curve).
So what is the verdict?!  I think I will try the two dresses out and even wear one to a work meeting tomorrow.  I don't super love either one but they both look nice and I think I will try them out for a spin!  The peplum shirt?  I am sending that one back tomorrow morning in one of the envelopes that Gwynnie Bee provides (free shipping both ways!).  I have already noted the return on the web site so the folks at Gwynnie Bee will be sending another item from my closet (just like Netflix!). If truth be told -- the Asos Curve web site was having a sale yesterday so I actually just ordered a peplum top just like this (but with an eyebrow print!) for something like $13 so I don't need to hang on to this one.  I am still not sure if I like the peplum look but I will see what I think when the shirt I bought comes in.

So .... I am definitely excited about trying even more clothes!  It was fun!  If you would like to try a free month, here is a link:  (and in the interest of being honest, I can get a free month if any of my friends try it!).  I will probably have more to say about this in a month but right now I think I will be trying until at least the end of the year.  I have a few weddings coming up and I like the idea of wearing a nice, new dress without having to buy one!  And it is always fun to have new clothes to wear!  And I would like to try more clothes that are unlike the kinds of things I try on in stores.  The BEST PART about this program is that I get to try the clothes on at my home with my accessories and things.  And if I really love something, you can actually purchase the item as well.  That won't be happening with this round of clothes but we will see what happens in the future!

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Sorry for the delay! Here is week 2 of Scotland!

Sorry for the delay in getting my notes together for the second week of our Scotland adventure -- I had to get materials ready for the semester (syllabi, schedules, etc) and before you knew it -- bam!  A week or two has gone by!

So let's pick up where we left off:  After we left Islay in the Hebrides, we took the ferry back to Kennacraig on the mainland of Scotland (south of Inveraray in the map below) and headed north straight up to the Highlands.  The car trip post-ferry was about 4 hours or so.  We stopped in Oban (a place we had seen in a Rick Steves video) but I wasn't too impressed.  It was terribly crowded and we basically just stayed long enough to eat some lunch and then got back on the road.  As you can see from this map below, we basically took a straight shot up BUT the roads were in no way, shape, or form anywhere near being "straight"!  I think it took us a long time to be even a little comfortable driving on narrow, winding roads (and maybe, if truth be told, we never got used to it!).

As you can see from this map, Fort Augustus -- our next home base -- is on the south end of Loch Ness (which I learned ihas more fresh water by volume that all the lakes in England and Wales combined!).  We rented a condo in a renovated monastery -- seriously!  Check this place out! ( never got a picture but the former church in the monastery had been converted into a pool, stained glass and all!)
And here is perhaps the best picture of all -- the monastery is on the lower center -- so check out the view we had for the entire week! (And, no, we did not see the Loch Ness monster!)

We had a lot of mini-adventures while we used Fort Augustus as our base camp for a week!  We spent one day driving to the Isle of Skye (and we stopped at Eilean Donan -- I posted a bunch of those pictures of Facebook so I won't post them here.  Eilean Donan is the MOST photographed castle in Scotland so Google for pictures if you have never seen it before!  Spectacular!)

We did a hike on Skye and here is the view as we walked up a very big hill to get to ...

... this!  This rock formation is called the Old Man of Storr.  What this picture doesn't show you is that it was super windy and pretty chilly (about the only time in our entire trip that I actually felt cold).  Jim and I were able to stay on Skye for just a few hours but I would definitely like to spend a week or more on Skye in a future trip.  This looks like the perfect place for folks who love outdoor adventures!

We spent another day up near Inverness and went to the Culloden Battlefield.  This was basically the end of Prince Bonnie Charlie, who lost this battle (as well as the lives of 5,000 Highland clansmen) in 1746 as he fought the British for his right to rule the empire.  Culloden was probably the coolest museum I have ever been to -- there was even a small room in which you stood in the center and a small section of the battle played out around you (the four walls all were screens).   
Charles Stuart <br>
So here is what I learned in a brief nut shell:  Prince Bonnie Charlie (the cute looking guy in the picture above) was born in Rome after his grandfather -- King James II -- was kicked out of England due to some royal fighting.  Charlie wanted the throne back so he secretly got into Scotland and raised his Standard (flag) in a place called Glenfinnan.  (I should mention that this location is south of Culloden by about two+ hours so we went to Glenfinnan and Culloden on two different days! -- but it was cool to visit two sites that represented the beginning and the end of a military adventure).  There is, of course, a lot more to these two sites and what they represented but I left Scotland knowing much more about the events surrounding Prince Bonnie Charlie and being annoyed at him for being yet one more rich guy who ended up not being accountable for his actions/ needs/ wants.
The picture above shows Jim with the Prince Bonnie Charlie memorial behind him.  By the way, Glenfinnan is also well known today because it was a location for the shooting of the Harry Potter films.  Recognize the bridge below?  (imagine a steam train on it!).

Anyhoo, it all  ended for Mr. Prince when he got to the moors of Culloden and his Highland clan army was pretty much slaughtered by the British.  He, of course, was chilling out in the back and escaped.  Idiot.  Side note:  Jim and I were both surprised by how often we heard allusion to a possible Scottish independence on the BBC.  Interesting that two hundred or so years later that this still a relevant topic.

The two pictures above are from a castle that we drove to because Jim knew someone at work who had a connection to the place via family.  This place was utterly beautiful.  On the drive there, we encountered hardly any traffic so we were somewhat surprised when -- just as we were nearing the castle -- we got stuck in a mini traffic jam when some guy was having trouble reversing his car (to let us through) on a one track road.  The parking lot had a bout a dozen cars but there were only a few folks walking around the ruins of this castle.  I have no idea where all those parked folks were but I was happy that they weren't at the ruins.  We basically had this spot all to ourselves.

Wasn't this place gorgeous?  This is a perfect example of the pictures not doing any justice to the actual place itself.  

I may end up finding more pictures from our trip to Fort Augustus to post later but after celebrating Jim's 50th birthday at a cute little restaurant overlooking Loch Ness, we left the next day to return the rental car in Glasgow and then hopped on a train to Edinburgh.  One of the first places that we visited was Edinburgh Castle, a place I had wanted to visit on a previous trip but I couldn't go in because the entry fee was too expensive for my student budget.  Here was the view overlooking Edinburgh from the castle walls:
Doesn't Jim look thoughful and pensive?

At one point, I leaned over and took a picture of the dog cenetary at the castle when ... presto!  I ran into Jan Zuke (and her husband Mark), a colleague from SWIC.  How crazy is that?!  And you have to understand that the castle was super crowded!

So the four of us decided to go to the tea room at the castle and had a nice little break together, sharing our travel stories!  We had a fun time!

Mark wanted to see the 1 PM cannon shot and so we braved the crowds and managed to see the whole procession pretty well!

One of our other Edinburgh adventures was checking out some museums including this one, the Museum of People.  I liked the weird wax figures like the one below -- I think it was supposed to be some 1980's Sex Pistols wannabe!
Jim and I spent one (hot) afternoon checking out Arthur's Seat (the huge hill that overlooks the city of Edinburgh).  We had a rough start because of the lack of correct signs but we finally made it to the top with everyone else.
The view, as you can see below, was simply breathtaking!
Next time I promise to talk about my favorite place that we visited -- Stirling Castle.  Here is a little teaser, though!  Check out the ceilings of this place -- so neat!

Friday, August 2, 2013

Islay, Part II

So, dear readers, when I last left you I had shared stories about our first few days in Scotland, particularly on the island of Islay.  We stayed on Islay almost a week and I can't tell you how much I loved, loved, loved this island.  I didn't think that I was going to like it as much as I did, mostly because all Jim had talked about pre-trip were the numerous whiskey distilleries on the island (and I don't like whiskey).  Well, I guess I have to eat my words because did encounter one whiskey that I like -- Laphroaig's Quarter Cask.
I discovered this whiskey when we did a "Water to Whiskey" experience at the Laphroaig Distillery.  Basically what happens here is that you start by going to the water source of the whiskey and end with the whiskey being taken out of the casks.  And the cool thing is that you get to participate in everything!  

So at the beginning of the day here we were (as group of 6) walking to the water source with our Laphroaig guide:


At the water source, we had a nicely packed picnic:
Later in the day, both Jim and I got the chance to cut some "peat," an important part of the whiskey process for Islay distilleries.  The peat gives the whiskey its unique earth-y taste.

I didn't get pictures of the whole experience because along the way we were also getting little drams of whiskey (and the peat field is where I realized that I liked the Quarter Cask and our guide was more than happy to keep filling my glass!).  We toured the distillery and got a close up look at the whole process of making whiskey culminating in us tasting three casks and then choosing one to fill up with our own bottle to take home!

So I guess the moral to the story here is that maybe you might up liking something that you never thought you would like!  (and there has certainly proven true in my recent appreciation of coffee!).

One more experience at Islay I need to metion -- Jim and I hiked the Mull of Oa (the "a" in this word is not pronounced).  Once home to over four hundred people who were eventually cleared of the land because sheep and cows were deemed more economically viable for the land (there is a whole story here), Oa is now home to the American Monument, a Washington-Memorial-like statue commermorating the 266 Americans who drowned when the HMS Tuscania  was torpedoed 7 miles off the coast of this penninsula in 1918.  It isn't the memorial itself which is so awe inspriuring (or the long mile uphill hike) -- the beauty is in the desolate beauty of seeing two coastlines on each side of you meet together.  Here are some professional shots:

Jim and I brought a picnic lunch with us and ate it at the steps of the memorial and then hung around for a bit and took pictures.  No one was there while we were in the area for a few hours.  I think that isolation adds something to the beauty (though as you can tell from the pictures above, I did have a little fear about falling -- keep in mind we were quite isolated with no chance of getting any help if one of us stumbled).

I tried to show the contrast of what Oa looked like in person versus the book but that didn't work -- note the cheeky photo below!
Jim walking around taking pictures while I sat on the grass so I wouldn't fall!
Oa is the one reason I would want to come back to Islay.  The pictures do no justice to this place -- it was just simply stunning (as in "I want to cry this is so beautiful").

We left Islay by ferry, arrived back in Kennacraig (where we had taken the ferry coming in to Islay), and then pointed our little Fiat rental towards Fort Augustus in the Scottish Highlands (on the southern tip of Loch Ness).  More about that adventure tomorrow ....

Cheers, Dianna