Monday, December 24, 2007

Holidays the NORAD Way!

Happy Holidays!

Things at Gnome HQ have been very busy as of late... but more on that another afternoon. I wanted to wish all of those who have popped in for a visit over the past year a very merry Christmas wherever you may be roaming.

Curious how Santa is getting on with his deliveries? Check out NORAD (yes, the US spy satellites) who have been keeping a very watchful eye on our cheerful postman.

Best wishes for a happy and healthy holiday season with your loved ones!

Update: 25/12/2007. With Santa's mission complete, some of his exploits have been captured on video at YouTube.

http://youtube.com/view_play_list?p=26B9B2ACB4AAC849


Thursday, September 06, 2007

Cement Boots

It occurred to me the other evening that I've been busy busy busy with a number of projects and as such we're behind a story or two. The past few months have seen me sheparding my long-term baby to completion while moonlighting as a photographer and getting very little sleep. However, all this effort is paying dividends this fall. I have entered two photography contests, one of which I was shortlisted for. Very exciting, in deed. And, I'm happy to report that evenings are now a bit freer so service shall resume shortly.

I hope you'll take this opportunity to voice your opinion on which three of the following six images best immortalize travel photography to you. (Images are posted in order shot over the past 8 months, NOT my personal preference.) As you can see, I've stuck with Scotland as my destination and tried to choose one iconic image, one human interest image, and one landscape (although most know I excel at landscapes).

Edinburgh Castle after the Storm, February 2007

Speyside Steamer, Glenlivitt Distillery, May 2007

Steel Drummer from Edinburgh Military Tattoo, August 2007

Ben Lawers, Killin, August 2007

Gullane Point, East Lothian, August 2007

Eyemouth looking towards Coldingham and St. Abbs Head, August 2007

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Seven Wonders...

After all the hoopla this past weekend over the NEW Seven Wonders of the World, this itchy-footed gnome had to comment.

First, do you remember what the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World are?
The Great Pyramid of Giza
Hanging Gardens of Babylon
Temple of Artemis at Ephesus
Statue of Zeus at Olympia
Mausoleum of Maussollos at Halicarnassus
Colossus of Rhodes
Lighthouse of Alexandria
After consulting with Wiki, it occured to me that these Wonders were proposed by historians/philosophers and (with the exception of the Great Pyramid of Giza) no longer exist. Consequently, I was suprised to see The Great Pyramids of Giza included as one of the finalists for the New Wonders. (Should also note there is a seven wonders of the Middle Ages... of which a number of finalists are previously listed.)

Over the past decade, I’ve noticed an alarming trend in ‘tourism’ – once a place is “discovered”, and by that I mean Westernized and admission charged; it tends to be lost forever. A perfect example is Venice, Italy. As most will recall I was in Amsterdam, Holland back in May. One morning, over breakfast, I got to chatting with a couple who were over visiting their son and his wife. A very interesting discussion ensued because NONE of us had been to THE tourist attractions in town and had NO intention of visiting them either. I’d mentioned in passing that I’d hoped to re-visit Venice and Florence in the coming months. I feel they didn’t get a fair shake back in 1997 when I was jetlagged and whizzing by them on a tour bus. The husband, from Seattle to my surprise, explained, “Venice has died. Only tourists go there now. There is nothing left of Venetian or Tuscan culture unless McDonalds has suddenly changed ownership.” This actually broke my heart a bit.

Recently, Edinburgh, Scotland, my current base, has been discovered and it undergoing the growing pains associated with becoming a tourist centre 365-days a year. I’ve been horrified to learn of recent planning applications (a number of which have received approval) that will completely alter the face of the Old Town. There are even very heated discussions about if Edinburgh will remain on the UNESCO list once it is ‘gentrified.’

So, back to the ‘alarming trend’ I was commenting on a few paragraphs ago. Over the years I’ve travelled a fair bit in Western Europe. After a series of amazing ‘tourist trail’ experiences (let’s be honest, its very hard to get off the tourist trail in Western Europe), I’ve noted it is almost impossible to enjoy the experience due to the high volume of tourists whom are there simply to check off the local on a list and best their buddies. The dramatic increase in visitors, and their health and safety requirements, has ruined some beautiful experiences. Don’t get me started on my morning at the Musee d-Orsay in Paris. I thought it was me, being a bit critical, but a scan of a number of traveller’s sites last night highlighted the plight of Angkor Wot, Cambodia, for example.

I find myself a bit conflicted about this entire NEW Seven Wonders concept:
“... the express aim of documenting, maintaining, restoring and reconstructing world heritage under the motto: OUR HERITAGE IS OUR FUTURE.”

Obviously, it is fantastic that my contemporaries have the opportunities to expand their minds and horizons through travel. But, can the landmarks handle their growing popularity? Will their “15-minutes of fame” lead to their destruction? It is important to note that UNESCO has loudly distanced them from this campaign. Read their statement here.

Below is a list of the 21 finalists for the New Seven Wonders of the World competition; the winners are boldly italicized. I’ve also noted if the sites are on the UNESCO list and if so when they were recognized. These were chose from an initial group of 77 sites by a panel of leading architects. The final seven were arrived at through a highly un-democratic Internet voting system where by you are encouraged to vote as frequently as possible. (Wonder if the natives on Easter Island had an opportunity to vote?)
The Acropolis – UNESCO, 1987
Hagia Sofia – UNESCO, 1985
The Kremlin/St. Basils – UNESCO, 1990
The Colosseum
Neuschwanstein Castle
The Eiffel Tower
Stonehenge – UNESCO, 1986
The Alhambra – UNESCO, 1984/1994
The Great Wall of China – UNESCO, 1987
Kiyomizu Temple
The Sydney Opera House – UNESCO, 2007
Angkor – UNESCO, 1992
The Taj Majal – UNESCO, 1983
Timbuktu – UNESCO, 1988
Petra – UNESCO, 1985
The Pyramids of Giza – UNESCO, 1979
The Statue of Christ Redeemer
The Easter Island Statues – UNESCO, 1995
Machu Picchu – UNESCO, 1983
Chichen Itza – UNESCO, 1988

The Statue of Liberty – UNESCO, 1984
How would you have voted? (If you are curious, I've visited 3 of these to date. Will be seeing another 3 before the year is out, have plans to visit a further 3 in 2008, and 1 in 2010.)

I can’t claim to know how to resolve the problems associated with seeing the world, but as ever, I advocate responsible and culturally sensitive adventuring. (Lets not Westernize everything if possible.) I also whole heartedly support the work of UNESCO.

For more information:
  1. UNESCO
  2. The New Seven Wonders of the World

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Buried

Howdy faithful adventurers!

I've been beavering away on another project the past few weeks so time has been a bit scarce for assembling pictures. I'm hoping to get caught up over the weekend. Watch this space next week.

I'll be hitting the trail again 29 June to 2 July - thinking of heading south to avoid the dreaded midges. As ever, I welcome suggestions and/or company.

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

160-miles

25 May 2007

I was starting to think I'd never get out of town! When I picked up the hire car, I fully intended on stopping in Queensferry for a few pictures of the Forth Road and Rail bridges. Unfortunately, road rage and the 90 minutes to get out of town got the best of me - I hit the bridge with a lead foot! Get outta my way!

I headed north with nothing more than a mental map of Scotland. Once I passed Perth, the majority of the drive was along B-roads so I could take it all in and stop for a wander.
No trip is complete without Heamus and Seamus, the highland cattle. Did you know, originally they were black but, Queen Victoria preferred the ginger ones hence their modern abundance?
I stopped in Pitlochry to enquire about the weekend weather and distance to Aviemore before rejoining the highway. A few miles outside Bruar I found this wonderful vista – windswept and ever changing due to the impending hailstorm. What I wouldn’t give for a quiet retreat such as this.

After winding around the River Spey and over the steep Northern slopes of the Cairngorms I arrived in Tomintoul, exactly 160-miles from my front door, just in time for dinner. Hidden in the Cairngorms at an altitude of 354m (1160ft), it is the highest village in the Highlands - a tranquil, one-horse town perfect for exploring Speyside.

Wednesday, June 06, 2007

"Roads? . . .

Where we're going, we don't need roads."
-Doc Brown, Back to the Future (Amblin Entertainment, 1985)

Well, we might need roads, but burn the map!

In our fast paced, 24-7 global economy it can be hard to find stillness. Some find it behind a bolted front door, or a wee dram, or meditation. When I get a bit stir-crazy, I tend to head for the hills – fresh air, viridian landscapes, and vast cobalt skies. Nothing tops it for clearing the head and heart.

Over Memorial Day weekend (sorry to my Scots friends – the last weekend of May will forever be the start of summer and Memorial Day for me), Enterprise gladly handed me the keys to a brand new Ford Fiesta, black this time, and away I puttered. With only a mental map, and hopes of seeing dolphins at some point, I headed north on B-roads.

What follows is vintage Gnome… as soon as a couple of the panoramas are assembled. Needless to say, 567-miles and 4-days later, the trip was a fantastic success – cloths and trainers so dirty & smelly they could walk on their own, hoarse from singing with the radio/CD player, and some rather amusing antics in the wilds of Scotland...

Sunday, June 03, 2007

Amsterdam III - Gables

It just wouldn’t be right to leave Amsterdam without a few more pictures.
I stayed at a smoky, but quiet, hotel in the Southern Canal Belt. Every morning started with a quiet stroll along Reguliergracht, culminating with a look down the canal at the 15 bridges that cross it. Often, tourists rent pedal boats to tour the canals (look toward the mid-left to see one).

The ornate detailing and variety of canal house gables was amazing. To my surprise, it was rare to see a straight building – most were leaning towards the canals or supported by their neighbors. Certainly never to pass a survey in the States!

But, grandeur didn’t stop at the door. Often restored to their 17th century glory these old houses remain jaw-droppingly beautiful – dining room of the Geelvinch Hinlopen Huis, now a business centre (left); garden room in the Museum Van Loon (right).

Through a tiny and unadorned doorway one might stumble into an hofjes or almshouse. The Beijnhof is a typical almshouse built in the 14th century for the Begijntes many of whom were unmarried or widowed women. Rent was paid by caring for the sick or educating the poor and the residents were required to follow three rules – no hens, no dogs, no men. Its hard to believe this quiet oasis is still inhabited by Begijntes less than 20 feet from Amsterdam’s biggest shopping street.

No trip is complete without at least on ‘kirk.’ It is said that genuine Jordaaners were born within earshot of the Westerkerk. Incidentally, Anne Frank took refuge next door.

Finally, for SCH… Blissfully pink tulips.

If you’d like more information, to hear more stories, or see more pictures drop me a note.

Thursday, May 24, 2007

Amsterdam II - Tulips

When I think of Holland, two images come to mind – fields of crimson and buttercup tulips and Delft blue and white windmills. Don’t ask me why.


Traditionally, the first week of May is the perfect time for viewing ‘late’ tulips and bicycling along the Bloemen Route (flower route) between Haarlem and Lieden. However, as you’ll recall from my April adventures in Scotland, it seems spring came earlier setting temperature records through out Europe. As a result, the peak of the tulips (both in gardens and the fields) was around 10 April.


Thankfully, in Lisse (the heart of tulip country), the horticulturists have planted over 17-acres in the lovely Keukenhof Gardens to ensure that at least a few blooms persevere the eight week season.


On a very windy and ominous morning, I ventured out to see if any blooms remained…

Tulips were originally imported from Turkey in 1559. Over the following 70 years, their popularity and variety gained so much momentum that "Tulip Mania" swept the Netherlands in the 1630s. The rarest bulbs were auctioned for the equivalent of €4000 in today's money! Imagine the tech bubble of the late-1990s, only with flowers. Eventually, the bubble burst, and with it the fortunes of vast sways of the population.

Often the most outlandish shapes and variegated colors are the work of viruses.

I have never seen petals quite as curly as this (with the exception of another specimen called "Pink Panther").

Enough to make even the prettiest swan a wee bit jealous.

My favorite. I absolutely adore the soft pale 'blue' of these tulips. It reminds me of sterling roses... also a favorite.

There are, as ever, more images than space. But, I hope that gives you a flavor of the beauty and variety on show. Given that this is the closing weekend of the Chelsea flower show in London, I reckon these tulips could easily challenge any of the specimen plants on show.

Next up... some quirky gables and the likes from Amsterdam.

Monday, May 21, 2007

Amsterdam I – Canals

After calling Schiphol airport my second home for the best part of five years, it was time to leave the departures lounge and explore the Dutch capital. Better known for its vices, I strayed from the tourist trail of the Dam and Red Light district to find a genteel and tranquil beauty.

The Western and Southern Canal Belts are a walkers (and bicyclers) haven. Away from the tourist trade, the “Venice of the North” developed to house the growing wealth of 17th century merchants while the Jordaan became home to their artisans. (Even nosed around inside at the grandeur.) After watching Edinburgh develop into a thriving tourist hub, I was amazed at the quietness I found in Amsterdam and the fabulous local cafes. Even Queen Beatrix welcomed me. (Apparently in residence, I caught a glimpse of her on her way to a reception.)

I had the good fortune of meeting a local who was preparing for a visit from Canadian friends to show me around the Western Canal Belt and Jordaan one afternoon… canals and hidden almshouses… apple cake and coffee…


This is quite possibly the smallest doorway in Amsterdam at 1.8 meters, although it does open into a full 5-meter wide building behind. So what? Well, residents are taxed on the width of their property rather than the square meters. So, tall and lanky is all the rage! The only way to get your mattress up to the forth floor is via a hook and pulley conveniently placed on the gable. (Imagine trying to remove a bathtub from the fourth floor, as a few builders in the Jordaan were one sunny afternoon. Hysterical!)


Even floating homes have a bit of a giggle. (Although I’m dying to know how tall wooden ships with masts and sails manage to navigate the low clearance of some of the bridges.)

The world’s oldest floating flower market on the Singel.

I skipped most of the major museums (those are for rainy days or Friday nights when the Van Gogh Museum has live jazz and canap├ęs – absolutely fabulous way to see art, in my opinion) in favor of street markets on a lazy Sunday afternoon…

Chess on the Leidestraat (left); hide and seek at an homage to Rembrandt’s “The Night Watch” in Rembrandtplien (right).

I’ve never seen an instrument quite like that before – street theater at the Dam (left); Bourbon Street Bar just off Leidestraat (right).

But where are those illustrious tulips?

Friday, May 11, 2007

Flowers

Seems the spring blossoms have come and gone. Silly me missed them as I was working so hard on my thesis. =(

But, in honor of my annual anniversary I'm off to Amsterdam to track down some tulips. Pictures next week!

Wednesday, May 02, 2007

Ume

Close your eyes. Imagine a gentle breeze rustling the branches of a budding plum tree. Can you feel the breeze? How does it sound? What does it smell like?

Over the weekend, I wandered out of the office and away from the troublesome computers to discover ~in the field’s sublime installation piece, ume, tucked away in a stairwell at Stills (on Cockburn Street). In seconds flat I was transported from the confines of cosmopolitan Edinburgh to an emerging spring orchard.

In the artists statement they explain, “ume captures the precise moment of the cyclical transition from winter to spring... ume comprises self-contained revolving images of plum blossoms in the form of thaumatropes [a popular Victorian toy] powered by solar cells.” Each thaumatrope is connected to a solar cell on the roof of Stills and twirls independently to the changing light conditions.

I’d say I'm a bit of a traditionalist when it comes to art. I prefer it to occupy the space of a frame on my wall rather than an immersive experience. However, ~in the fields has managed to transcend my stalwart view with amazing success. My only regret is not finding it sooner – last Sunday was the final day of the exhibition. Definitely, one to watch!

For more information & movies of the exhibition:
http://www.in-the-fields.org/works.htm

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Melrose

After the traumas of hiring a car and getting out of town, we found ourselves in the rolling, green pastures south of Edinburgh known as the Scottish Borders. The stretch of the A72 between Peebles and Melrose is particularly pretty as it winds along the River Tweed in the warmth of early spring – buds just on the trees, little moos and bahs bouncing around the field, unwinding tourists like myself driving at 45 in a 60…

Melrose, one of the prettiest and best preserved market towns in the Borders, is both the birthplace of Rugby Sevens as well as home to one of the finest remaining abbeys in the region.

This red sandstone beauty was built by Cistercian monks in 1136 in their search for a tranquil setting to adapt the Benedictine order. I continue to find myself baffled by the ploy they used to “employ” local Scots – one meal a day in winter, two in summer, and a stone bed to sleep in. Since when are locals unable to survive off the land? With the turmoil of the 14th century, the abbey was burned down at least three times and later became the final resting place of Robert the Bruce’s heart.

And who says the Scots can't do buttresses? (Admittedly, the main stonemason was French.)

From the top of Melrose Abbey looking N/NE towards the Eildon Hills. (No this photo was not retouched in PS... it was really that pretty and blue.)

My mum spotted this delicate specimen stranded in the dark stairwell leading to that fabulous view. Struggling due to the coolness, I rescued him before he was trampled by rampaging kiddlings.

This is my first entry in find the bagpiping gargoyle quest... As you'll see in upcoming posts, they are everywhere in Scotland. Can you spot the bagpipes this piglet wields?

Despite the centuries of erosion, these carvings continue to maintain their awe as the shadows approach...

Saturday, April 21, 2007

The Malt Shovel

Fancy a dram? Need to surf the net? Give The Malt Shovel on Cockburn Street a try. Lovely green pub with a real homey sort of feel, great live music, and over 80 whiskies to sample its a fantastic place to update ones blog and catch up with friends. Or, if you're like the gnome, make new ones... I was waiting for a mate last night when a number of chaps asked if I could help them out. They were having a quiz night and needed the 13 footie teams with double names. What's a gal with WiFi to do?

Thursday, April 19, 2007

I said AUTOMATIC!!!

Where has the roaming gnome been roaming? Well, it seems my company from Western Washington were keen to see a bit of Scotland... via 4 wheels.

After reserving an automatic from Enterprise on the web, I was gun ho about driving on the wrong side of the road! But, in true gnome fashion, life threw us a curve. When I arrived at Enterprise, promptly at 9am, there was only one attendant and the office was swamped. An hour later reinforcements arrived, but my precious automatic drove off the lot as they printed my contract. Reluctantly, and a foot stomp later, I hired a manual Ford Fiesta (with the optional damage waiver and a 30% discount for the hassle) having never driven a manual before in my life. (As way of an explanation for my European cousins, Americans get a drivers license with which you can drive any type of vehicle – manual or automatic.)

Twenty minutes later, I managed to get the car started and out of the lot. We were off! I only killed the car a few dozen times in town that first day. Ten days later, the car still had a working clutch and even my mum was impressed with my skill!

We roamed quite a bit – over 710 miles to places like: Melrose and the abbeys, Borders in general, Fife & St. Andrews, Stirling/Killin/Loch Lomond, and Rosslyn chapel. These long days hopefully explain the delay in posts. My company was here from 1-15 April; I’ve spent the past week recuperating. Happily, all this roaming has provided a deep portfolio of photos for upcoming posts...

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Warm fuzzies

I'm starting to think it may be a universal truth that wherever I live I'll find the zoo... Pink flamingos for Dad.
Is that a small child?
20oC is to warm, turn down the heat!
Company's favorite critter.
My favorite critter.
Think monster trucks rumbling by... Wonder what got into these two besides the spring weather? Awe twitterpaited...
Last year Edinburgh sponsored the CowParade, a charity event. Around 100 'moos' were decorated and placed around town. After ten weeks, those still standing were auctioned and the funds donated to two charities - OneCity (local poverty group) and VetAide (animal health and welfare in the third world). Luckily, this marvel found his way home.

Tuesday, April 03, 2007

To market, to market...

As a present, my company arrived with the sun on Sunday!

















Once a month, Fredrick Street (Edinburgh, Scotland) becomes a traveling market. Barkers from Holland, Germany, Spain, and Southern France display their wares in hopes of impressing the punters… Makes for wonderful street theatre!