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Over the Sea to Scotland — Part 2

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From York, we were soon back on the train, this time for a brief stay in Edinburgh before an overnight trip out to Deeside. We were driven around by Your Tour Scotland (thanks very much, Don), so we were able to visit spots both on and off the beaten track, including on Day One a ruined abbey at Balmerino and another spectacular ruin, Dunnottar Castle (say duh-NOT-are) on the North Sea. Dunnottar is dramatic and windblown, so we followed our visit there right up with a warming lunch at the Marine Hotel in Stonehaven. Have you ever heard of salmon skink? I Here’s a recipe I found for salmon cullen skink, which is the same idea. Cullen skink is ubiquitous in Scotland, more or less a chowder made with cod. The Marine Hotel serves salmon skink in a bread bowl. Definitely one of the best meals I had on this whole trip!

Our post-lunch stops included romantic and mysterious Burn O’Vat and a ruined medieval church and churchyard, which was used until much later, at Tullich. We ended the day in Ballater, a lovely town with the River Dee running through it, overlooked by the Cairngorm Mountains.

Yes, it had been a bit cold and occasionally wet up to this point, but overnight the weather shifted and the morning brought both sunshine and warmer air. Yay! The scenery was beautifully on view for our Day Two drive along the river and visits to Crathie Kirk and churchyard near Balmoral (though not the castle), the villages of Balmoral and Braemar (home of the Highland Games, and the lovely, lyrically-named Linn O’Dee.

In more detail, the British royal family worships at Crathie Kirk when they are at their Scottish home, Balmoral Castle. One interesting person buried in this churchyard is John Brown, Queen Victoria’s faithful Scottish attendant brought to boisterous and rough-hewn life by Billy Connolly in the film Mrs. Brown, with Judi Dench as the queen.

Apparently, Queen Victoria herself was fond of the Linn O’Dee. Easy to see why, since the river flows rapidly through a picturesque rocky gorge at this point. In Scotland, a linn is exactly that —  where a watercourse has cut through a shelf of hard rock creating a narrow steep-sided cut through which the watercourse runs.

Braemar is another one of those appealing, higher-elevation towns with mountain air and a river (the Dee) running through it. We were not there long, but it was fun to note a tongue-in-cheek sign in the local butcher shop:

“locally caught” HAGGIS’s ‘sold here’ take One home!

For more about haggis, click here. It does actually taste better than it sounds.

Edinburgh

We arrived back in Edinburgh looking forward to a couple of  free days before our Best of Tour Scotland was due to start. We spent our first day in the city walking through Princes Street Gardens and exploring the Royal Mile. One of the very photogenic places on my to-see list was the Writer’s Museum just off the Royal Mile. The museum honors three great Scottish writers, Robert Burns, Sir Walter Scott, and Robert Louis Stevenson.

As a matter of interest, it is hard to overestimate the importance of Scott’s legacy just as it is hard to overestimate the importance of whisky to experiencing Scottish culture. (More about that in Part 3.) Just be aware that the Scott Monument in Edinburgh is the largest monument to a writer in the world. And he was a historical novelist. Just saying.

Shopping was also involved in getting to know Edinburgh, since Scotland features loads of tempting cashmere and wool items such as shawls, scarves, hats, and gloves. And I never stop looking at books. I often take photos of those that intrigue me because I know I can’t carry them home. I did buy a crime novel set in the Highlands, though — His Bloody Project by Graeme Macrae Burnet. I’m well into it now and it’s pretty bloody entertaining so far, too.

The next day we found time for an outing to Rosslyn Chapel, now widely known because it features in the ending of The Da Vinci Code, but nevertheless an important and unusual structure in its own right, and in the ownership of a single family since 1446. We had fun traveling to the village of Roslin and back by public bus, which allowed us to see more of the city as well as suburbs and countryside. In the evening, we took in another photo op in a stroll through Dean Village, finishing in time to meet up with our tour.

More about that in Part 3!

 

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Over the Sea to Scotland — Bookended by London with a Stop in York (Part 1)

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Loch Lomond

Travelogue time! Even though the UK had a late spring this year, it was a joy to spend three weeks on the other side of the pond, mostly in Scotland. To keep the narrative digestable, I’ll post about the trip in parts. First up, London and York.

London

I love London and was so happy to be back in my favorite area, Bloomsbury. I was able to check a few things off my to-do-this-time list. (I never get to all of them.)

On our one full day in London, we walked around St. Paul’s and across the Millennium Bridge to the Tate Modern. Later, after a pretty much obligatory pilgrimage to Foyle’s flagship store on Charing Cross Road, I dipped into the National Portrait Gallery. I had a particular reason for wanting to see works by Sir Thomas Lawrence, and then I just happened to stumble into a bust of him. Well, not literally.

By the way, during this trip I was reading Judith Flanders’ mysteries featuring Samantha Clair. They’re so engaging. Sam is a realistically rounded character — an accomplished introvert of a book editor who maintains a tangential, acidic, and astute inner monologue that I just love. I like her copper boyfriend Jake, too. Sadly, I finished the last current volume, A Cast of Vultures, on the plane home, but there’s a new installment coming soon. Pre-ordered.

York

OK, back to the travelogue. The next day, we took the train from Kings Cross to York. While waiting for our platform to be announced, we enjoyed watching youngsters and not-so-youngsters having their pictures taken as they pretended to board the Hogwarts Express at Platform 9¾. About two hours later, we were in the walled City of York. Since my first visit last year, York is one of my favorite places in Britain. Though it was cold, I was just glad not to be rained on so that it was possible to walk part way around the walls. York Minster dominates everywhere — which as one of the largest gothic cathedrals in Northern Europe, it is entitled to do. The interior is alternately fascinating and awe-inspiring, with overwhelmingly beautiful expanses of stained glass and a serene octagonal Chapter House. To top off coming back to York, I returned to the warmest of welcomes at the same place I stayed last year, the delightful Parisi Hotel.

Next up, Edinburgh and the Deeside. Watch this space!

 


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Have you ever wanted to be in two places at once?

I happened to receive a galley copy of Hedgebrook alumna  Kamy Wicoff‘s new novel Wishful Thinking and since I was invited to write a review, I did. It’s a delightful book. Here’s the review on Goodreads but I’m also posting the text of the review below. Please share!

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We’re all pretty much trying to do our best in this life, and Jennifer Sharpe, the hardworking single mother of two young boys, is no different. She’s got an unreasonably demanding public sector job, only a little bit of outside help, a feckless ex-husband, and not much money. She runs from one obligation to the next, shorts herself on sleep, and would give anything for a few more hours in the day. Then she loses her phone (her phone!) and it comes back to her with a strange new app already installed. Wishful Thinking, it’s called — An App for Women Who Need to Be in More Than One Place at the Same Time.

Jennifer’s first reaction is, of course, disbelief. But she’s also a little bit desperate. When she sees an opportunity to show up at her son Julien’s guitar recital and therefore not disappoint him for the umpteenth time, she decides to give it a try. On the one hand she’s in the middle of a critical business meeting, but on the other, she’s watching her son play his guitar only for her.

Once she meets Wishful Thinking’s brilliant and mysterious creator, Dr. Diane Sexton, Jennifer makes up her mind to use this enticing technology — under controlled conditions of course — just to keep her head above water. Her best friend Vinita, who happens to be a doctor, is more than skeptical of the enterprise, but everyone else in her life is delighted with her sudden transformation into Superwoman. Now, she even has time to develop a relationship with Julien’s intriguing guitar teacher, Owen. Just like that, all her troubles are over. Or are they?

Among the joys of Kamy Wickoff’s warm, funny, and touching novel are its gentle insights about motherhood, friendship, love, loss, being human, keeping secrets and living in the moment. I found myself often reading with a smile on my face and at a certain point I could no longer put it down. I had come to care very much about Jennifer, her bright and lively boys Jack and Julien, her tough loving friend Vinita, the imperfectly perfect Owen, Dr. Diane Sexton (the eccentric genius behind it all), and even her ex-husband Norman. Once the app’s abilities and all of Jennifer’s obligations and relationships began to converge, I had to know what was next.

Can Jennifer have it all? Can any of us? Wishful Thinking — the book, not the app — just might have the answer.