Monday, November 03, 2008

Get Out the Vote

Howdy all you roaming gnomes!

Its been a busy year for this Roaming Gnome...

But, first and foremost I wanted to encourage everyone to GET OUT THE VOTE on election day. As we prepare to bid farewell to a marathon 21 months of campaigning, SNL parodies, and rock star rallies its time to make your voice heard! Even while roaming, this wee gnome took the time to both register to vote in her home state of Washington and mail in her absentee ballot. If I can do it, you can do it. What better way to exercise your freedom and democracy than to fill in a ballot? 'Nough said.

Anywho, as I was saying its been a busy year at Gnome Central... I thought I'd create a snapshot map of some of the places I've been while sorting through the photographs and stories as well as warping young minds here in Edinburgh. With any luck, a few more stories will appear (although with 60 papers to grade this week it is doubtfully in the next few days) before the years out. I've made it my mission to get up to date with my travels over the holiday break so December should be a real treat for all of you with itchy feet. Until then, I leave you with this map highlighting some of my travels over the past 12 months. Best wishes, and keep warm as the weather draws in.

View Larger Map

Thursday, June 26, 2008


After spending all weekend indoors at Crieff Hydro learning to think 'creatively,' I opted to ramble and spied...


Company arrives tomorrow to help me celebrate a long awaited achievement and roam around bonnie wee Scotland.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

In the g-know...

So, way way way back in April, my dear Macbook started to get grumpy. She made the most atrocious noise at start-up - I wouldn't say 'death curl' but not far from it. After panic backing up the hard drive to an external I turned her off and lovingly whispered, "I hope you start-up when I get back from Greece."

A month later she did wake up, but she was suffering. Several expensive phone calls to Apple later and she was away for repair. First the CD/DVD drive was replaced. Then a second CD/DVD drive was installed only to throw up a faulty logic board. Basically the entire computer has been rebuilt. And who says buying an extended warranty is for wimps! At the moment I am awaiting a new battery and installation disks (because they were scratched by the faulty CD drive). Hopefully, the photography will be back up and running in about a week to ten days. In desperation, a new-old Powerbook has been enlisted; but I'm just getting up to speed on this one. =)

This has all been rubbish news for the world of 'gnome-travelogue' because sans computer means no photo editing. But, there have been a few new projects on the go to keep me occupied in the absence of suitable binary. Sadly, one of those included not being short-listed for the travel writing contest I had entered with my story of Indiana Joness adventures on Crete. Ah well, next time!

Last weekend I was in Crieff (Perthshire) for a conference/training with the ever so snappy title "Biotech Entrepreneurship Summer School." First and foremost, I can not recommend Crieff more highly. Perthshire is my patch of Scotland - it reminds me of home. And, at a close second, the summer school, although exhausting was very inspiring. For anyone who has recently entered the dreary world of unemployment and the merry-go-round of job hunting this was a welcomed window into a world of exciting ideas which is thriving while big pharma and industry falters.

On a personal note, being an ex-pat is an interesting experience - often exciting and lively; but news from home is often slow to trickle down, as was the case this past weekend. As many will know, I am a long time supporter and watcher of "Meet the Press" with Tim Russert. (To be honest, if he and Tom Brokaw hadn't made the 2000 presidental election so exciting, I may have passed biochemistry the first time around.) However, unlike the majority of the United States, I missed the announcement of his untimely death on Friday last. Late Sunday evening I downloaded the latest podcast only to learn the sad news. Since then I have been following the story online and been struck by the outpouring of sympathy of my fellow countrymen for a man we knew simply because of Sunday mornings. I suggest, if you never had the opportunity to watch his broadcasts, checkout the "Meet the Press" homepage. I think you'll find Mr Russert was one of those rare and genuine souls who worked hard to make this world a little bit better without forgetting where he came from (Buffalo!) and lived every day to its fullest. Something to strive for.

Right, the family arrives in a weeks time for a rather large celebration.

Wednesday, May 07, 2008

Roaming Sans Computers

Actually, sounds like it should be an international aid organization, but, the Gnome went roaming in Greece without one and returned to civilization only to send her's for surgery and start a new job. Sadly for the readership, this means you've not been treated to fun stories. Happily for me, I got some rest.

Never fear - I've sorted out an interim solution and the navigational portion of my travelog will conclude later this week with the journey from Rethymnon into the Selinos before returning to Athens. Thereafter, you can expect a weekly adventure from Crete (as there were some good ones) and more photos.

Until then, stay tuned and start thinking about where the Gnome should head next.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

A Day In...


The churchbells chime a melody calling the faithful to prayer in the sultry wee hours of the morning. (Greek Orthodox Easter is on 27 April 2008. We are well and truly into Lent.) In what seems like only minutes the bells chime 8 and this Gnome slowly wakes in hopes of a warm shower...

Days in Rethynmom are leisurely. After a meandering morning routine including coffee with Ivan (the assistant manager of Rethymnon Youth Hostel) and a breakfast of yoghurt with honey while chatting with my fellow travelers about their plans, the Gnome is off (around 10.30). Based in Rethymnon, my daily explorations ranged from chatting with archeologists and conservationists, to driving in the hills of the Amari Valley, to visiting a monestary, or hiking to a freshwater lake. Covered in dust, I'd return to Rethymnon in the early evening to dance around the kitchen making pasta and vegetables to the sounds of 80s/90s/today pop tunes. During dinner, the intrepid band of travelers shared their stories of the good and the great before plotting the next days exploits.

Fortress Rethymnon looking towards the Lefka Ori

After a week or so of doddling around the prefect, I pushed South-Southwest over the Lefka Ori (White Mountains) into the scenic interior of Crete - the Selinos region... a land without internet.

(NB: Each adventure is a fantastic story waiting for photo-editing so stay tuned in May for the updates.)

Monday, April 21, 2008


Greetings from the Selinos region of Crete!

Sorry for the delay (and equally information-less post). When I struck out from Rethymnon, I headed south-southwest where the internet is slow to reach. I'm actually using the managers computer at a bar called the Lotus to post to you - hence the brevity!

Apparently, I'm on the edge of being a hippie based on my holiday destinations... but more on that another evening. I'm catching a ferry shortly and should have a post or two for you tomorrow while I'm doing some rather boring chores.

Sunday, April 13, 2008

Winds from the SouthWest

Kali mera! (Or, "Good day" to those speaking Latin based languages.)

As much fun as paying €23 a night to stay in the port city of Iraklion, while freezing under 5 blankets, was I've pushed west into the prefect of Rethymnon. Departing at 2100, the last bus of the day wound its way around the cliff-top curves of the northern shore towards western Crete. Thankfully, a skilled driver was at the helm and it was dark - at one point I could see the sea at the bottom of the cliff and nothing else. Scary!

Rethymnon is the third largest town in Crete, and home to Crete's only university. Overrun with cars, scooters, and motorcycles around the edges, it feels surprisingly provincial with its jumble of Venetian, Turkish, and dilapidated facades painted in cream and pastel hues. This is a place for wandering alleys, browsing specialty shops (each store sells one item - fruit, veg, sweets, breads, herbs, etc.) which close for a siesta and cease to trade on Sundays, or trying to avoid the touristy cafes and tavernas where waiters follow you down the sidewalk with a menu... With only an archeology museum adjacent to its Venetian fort, this is a place for chilling.

Rethymnon harbour, Crete

The wind has arrived from the southwest bringing heat, humidity, and sand from Libya and the Sahara creating a swealtering heat and low canary haze. I reckon this is what the deep South feels like in high summer. Weather for surfing the net in an air conditioned cafe, listening to Greek pop tunes, and reading magazines rather than rambling...

Anyway, after a busy travel week in Athens and Iraklion, I decided to use Rethynmom as a base for exploring the prefect - and so four wheels were hired...

Tuesday, April 08, 2008

Indiana Jones(-ess)...

... And the Mythical KTEL Buses.

NB: You get two for the price of one today... Don't miss the previous post on Knossos.

Let down by Knossos, I decided to take an adventure south towards Festos Palace the second most important Minoan site. Easy peasy, right?

Dressed in my khakies, boots and expedition hat I walked to the Iraklion bus station and purchased a ticket for the 0900 to Festos. Shortly after 0915, a bus arrived with an announcement in Greek followed up by "Festos, second bus." That announcement must have been specifically for me. After checking my ticket with the driver, he waved me on board leading me to believe the bus went directly to Festos. Greek bus travel is an experience, in luxury. This teal beast, complete with high backed seats and air conditioning, speed south over narrow mountains roads, through olive orchards, towards the coast stopping at Mires for the Matala bus change. I'd certainly be freaked if I saw this monster headed towards me on a cliff-top one way road. After 2 hours, for a journey which should take 90 minutes at most, I asked the driver when we would get to Festos. He said, "That was back about 20 minutes. Get off here, cross the road, and another bus will be along in about 20 minutes."

A bit worried, I got off the bus (because it was clear he wasn't going to take me any further) and waited by the side of the road in literally the middle of nowhere in the mid-day sun. An hour and a half later, the return bus approached only to deliver me back at Mires where I learned I had missed all buses to Festos. I could have used that bull-whip... Forty-five minutes later, a southbound bus arrived, the attendent ran out, said something to the driver, then came and got me. Apparently, she convinced this driver to drop me off at Festos despite it not being on the route. Lucky me! The driver was careful to make sure I understood that the bus back to Iraklion was at 1730 and there was no other means to get back if I missed it... Should I have taken that as a hint?

Festos Palace was discovered and excavated by Federico Halberr (Italian) around the same time as Knossos. Unlike Evans, Halberr opted to excavate and conserve which made a world of difference. Although created on a smaller scale than Knossos, Festos made use of alabaster and gympsum which remains in-situ.

Festos Palace over Messara Plain, Crete

A Canadian and Australian couple tagged along as I wandered around a practically deserted ruin overlooking the Messara Plain. I was the only one with an expedition notebook - a.k.a a well dog-eared copy of the Rough Guide to Crete, 2004. After their impromtu 'guide,' they offered to drive me 3km up the hill to the 'Summer Palace' of Ayia Triadha overlooking the Gulf of Messara. Again, completely deserted this was truly a hidden gem.
Ayia Triadha over the Gulf of Messara, Crete

A 45-minute stroll back down the hill, dropped me at Festos around 1645. The bus ambled up at 1745 and arrived back in Iraklion, happily, 90 minutes later.

Despite taking over 4.5 hours to reach, it was worth the adventure - I felt, and looked, a bit like Indiana Jones(-ess) discovering these beautifully sited ruins for the first time. Given that some of the most significant Minoan artifacts were discovered on these sites it was amazing to see than without the clutter of tour groups and guides.

Having seen what I came to see, I caught the last bus from Iraklion west to Rethymnon... I pick up the hire car in the morning for some off-the-beaten-track adventures. More to come...


Iraklion is the third largest city in Greece, and the largest of Crete, with a population of around 120,000 souls (before the cruise ships dock). I arrived on a cold and wet Saturday and was... well... less than impressed. I've tried to come up with something positive to say about the city, but haven't been able to find anything, sadly. For the first time in all my years of roaming, I actually found myself freezing at a crepery, lost, with no sense of direction and little hope of discovering my location on the map without divine intervention as over 90% of the town in covered in scaffolding. Not the greatest start. After wandering through the Iraklion Archeology museum, which has been reduced to the highlights while the original structure undergoes a major renovation, I was set to track down some Minoan ruins.

Day 2 started crisply with clear skies as I booked it onto a KTEL No.2 towards Knossos. Despite lying 5 km south of the city, I was hard pressed to find the city limits as the bus ambled under the over 40m thick Venetian walls which protected the city in days gone by. Knossos was discovered in the late 1870s, before being excavated by Sir Arthur Evans at the turn of the century, effectively bringing the legends of King Minos, the Minotaur and labyrinth to life.

According to the Evans school of thought, excavation was accompanied by reconstruction rather than conservation... Something, which has created a bit of a farce. Situated on a lovely site, the ruins appear as a jumbled warren chambers, hence the legends. Due to Evans' recreation and predictions, sadly the site comes across a bit 'Disney-fied' for my liking. In my opinion, ruins should either be left as-is or recreated whole-hog, not the middle ground which Knossos represents.

Surprisingly, I had the place almost to myself (unheard of due to its fame) but the caretakers were keen that all tourists were escorted from the premises promptly at 1430 rather than the advertized 1500. (Note to self: Just because the sign says so, doesn't mean it is so.)

Dissatisfied for the second time in under a week (I'll get back to the Acropolis in Athens later in the trip), I decided to adventure further afield...

Saturday, April 05, 2008

Greecian Spring?

Live from Iraklion (Crete)... Its Saturaday night!

Having chosen not to travel with technology (save my camera which is expensive enough) I've left the laptop at home. Good thing too... It started making a rather pathetic noise as I turned it off on Tuesday morning and needs to visit the Apple clinic urgently. =( As I am paying for the priviledge of posting to you these next few posts will be short, sweet, and contain only one image each which represents the past few day (besides each image is huge without Photoshop web-optimization). Longer stories will follow upon my return to the grind of modern Western civilization.

After a mad dash to the airport, my flights were delayed and turbulanced all the way to Athens arriving at the slightly delayed hour of 3AM. Not to worry - bed, bath and breakfast were readily available from Athens Backpackers so all is great! Doesn't take much to keep this Gnome happy. Sadly, the weather has been less than fantastic with cool temperatures and drizzle.

Parthenon (Acropolis, Athens) from Filopappau Hill

The majority of Athens can be seen in 2 days, but after 4 days of waiting for the weather to clear I opted to move along. I'll be back at the end of the month anyway. One overnight trip on the Minoan ferry Festos Palace, imagine the QE II crossed with a smokey casino, I arrived in Iraklion, Crete... To cold weather and serious rain. Never one to miss an opportunity, I stocked up on magazines and novels at duty free before I left Edinburgh and have been happily curled up watching the world go-by in this strange industrial cum land-time-tried-to-forget-city.

Regardless, I'm off in search of Minoan settlement tomorrow and Monday in the form of Knossos and Festos, respectively.

Tuesday, April 01, 2008

Its All Greek To Me

Time seems to have been at a premium these past few days... As some will recall from the fall, my aunt and uncle hit the road and explored some of the 'Big Sky' states in the US. Seems they are off again, this time destined for the deep South. For a bit of Americana, check out: On The Road Again.

Happily, I'm off to practice one of my favorite phrases while pondering huge piles of of rocks (I mean, ruins), wild flowers, and beaches. I hope this map will serve as a taster of my destination(s) over the next few weeks.

View Larger Map

Sadly, Aberdeenshire and London-town piccies will have to wait until I return.

Next stop - Athens.

Thursday, March 27, 2008

Map - Friend or Foe?

I love my maps these days. Having recently been introduced to Google Earth, I thought it might be time to chart some adventures on a map...

View Larger Map

If all is working correctly, you should be able to enlarge, navigate, and click on the tacks for 'Fast Facts' although you may have to zoom for this to work. In this trial for my trip to Amsterdam last May, I've linked the blog entries.

What do we think... friend or foe? Might try to develop a tab functionality...?

Monday, March 24, 2008

Easter Monday

To my mind, Easter came earlier than usual this year. Somehow I even managed to miss out on my favorite chocolate treat - Cadbury cream eggs.

After some investigation, I learned that Easter is based on the cycles of the moon - about 14 days after the first full moon closest to the vernal equinox, to be exact. Strictly speaking this can be anywhere between 22 March and 25 April in Western Christianity. Confused yet? This year the first full moon was 21 March, with the vernal equinox the previous day. So, Easter was the following Sunday, 23 March. The last time Easter was this early was 1913... And it won't be repeated for a whopping 220 years - 23 March 2228. So a bit of history in the making. For those of you living in the New World - Easter Monday is an official holiday in the UK!

A few more fun factoids for this Easter Monday evening...
1) The traditional act of painting eggs is called Pysanka.
2) The word Easter comes from Eostre - an Anglo-Saxon goddess of the dawn.
3) The first chocolate egg was made in 1873 by Fry's.
4) About 90 million chocolate bunnies are produced annually. Apparently, 76% of us prefer to eat the ears first.

I'll leave you with two Easter egg pictures (follow the links) from my good foodie friend, NamiNami in Estonia. She has created the most beautiful colored eggs with natural dyes:
Happy Easter
Marbled Eggs

Those of you watching the passport saga, hold on to your knickers. While I was in London, it appears the Home Office decided to return my precious. The Royal Mail have subsequently misplaced the package... Blue gnome became red gnome in a hurry on Saturday morning. Stay tuned - the district manager is going to be listening to a rather irate customer tomorrow morning.

Monday, March 17, 2008

Ides of March

Traditionally, the Ides of March is 15 March and synonymous with impending doom (a la Julius Caesers' assassination). Well, it hasn't been all that bad... Thus far March has come in like a lion, though. After days of damp and hail, the skies opened to present this breathtaking scene. Can you spot the double rainbow?

The Roaming Gnome has been on a PR charm offensive over the past few weeks visiting exotic locals ranging from the dreik 'Athens of the North' to the foggy 'Merchant City' and the steely 'Granite City' (Edinburgh, Glasgow, and Aberdeen, respectively.). Aberdeen piccies should be forthcoming. =)

Tomorrow sees me off to London on my quasi-annual arts get-away. The last time I visited (2005), I arrived just as the Underground was being bombed for a second time, so understandably a little put off by the experience. I remember the remarkable resolve of those Londoners I spoke with about their experiences of terrorism and find myself wondering about the new security measures of our age and George Orwell's predictions in 1984.

For the readership, there have been a few upgrades to The Roaming GnoME over the past few weeks hopefully making it easier to track my adventures. Now that the kinks have been worked out, I am proud to announce the introduction of a subscription service! If you follow the link on the right just under the About Me box you'll receive a wee note whenever I update my blog. It seems to be working well so go ahead, give it a go! =)

Right-ey oh. Best get those train tickets booked before the price goes up anymore. Catch you at the weekend.

Monday, March 03, 2008

What Am I Reading?

As it seems this gnome is stuck in rubber cement, I'm living vicariously for the moment through a few new found friends. I thought I'd take the opportunity to introduce you to their travels until mine resume in a few months time.

1) Euros Ate My Dollars
Meet Ben and Brittany, two 25-year-olds from Virginia. (Oh, to be 25 again... Wait a minute, that wasn't a good year!?!?) They left the good ole US of A on 5 September 2007 for Europe. After wintering with horrible exchange rates they have recently landed in SE Asia. Their blog is full of funny stories, interesting factoids, pictures, and VIDEOS. They are doing a fabulous job of documenting the highs and lows of youngens travel. My favorite bit is the map page. So often I find myself surfing the web with one window reading a blog and another with an atlas. Ben and Brittany have kindly charted their journey round to help you out.

2) TravelBlog: D MJ Binkley
Friends of my dear mum, Dave and Merry Jo quit their jobs, sold their house, and took off on 16 September 2007. (Gotta love the wanderlust.) After a 'great American road trip' they headed to SE Asia, New Zealand, and are currently in Australia. Their blogs are information packed and touching (although I doubt I could afford to stay in hotels like they can). I loved the 'vacation from a vacation' story as I remember feeling that a few years ago when I was Eurailing through Switzerland and Austria (sometimes you have to be still to take it all in). And, like Ben and Brittany they have a map function.

3) Scotfoto
Looking for views of Scotland on a daily basis (and to find more reasons why I've been so enchanted by it over the past 6+ years)? Check out Scotfoto. He is a wonderful photographer working in Edinburgh and environs publishing new image almost daily. Great with a morning cuppa!

4) Vagabonding
And last, but certainly not least, is Mike Pugh's Vagabonding. Although his trip occurred in 2002/2003 I have been fascinated by his stories of Africa.

The great thing about all of these is they have subscribe features so you can have the URL e-mailed right to you when there is an update.

Interestingly, the stories I am following are from Americans. I was recently horrified when I read that less than 30% of the population of the United States have a passport. My spirits were raised significantly when I tumbled upon these stories of exploration-in-progress. Being an ex-pat myself, it is hard to imagine, and currently be, without my passport. I'm glad to see that new friends as well as my high school and college buddies are all taking the opportunity to live life to its fullest.

Update: In my previous post I mentioned heading to Greece. It is most certainly a go as soon as my papers return. I welcome any thoughts or recommendations...

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

My Little Black Book

My little black book is definitely overflowing with numbers. Although, I doubt randomly dialing them will lead to more than dead air on the other end.

In the end my opus contained 30,897 words over 226 pages and was submitted almost 7 years to the day I was offered this position in Edinburgh. Who knew I’d travel so many miles in magic shoes and funny hats?

What next? Well, if you ever wish to get a gnome blue, make them relinquish their passport to a government agency - which is exactly what happened on Monday afternoon. In my bid ‘to remain flexible in a competitive market’ I am applying for a new visa. At the moment, I can accurately sympathize with Paul Laurence Dunbar’s caged bird:

I know why the caged bird sings, ah me,
When his wing is bruised and his bosom sore,
When he beats his bars and would be free;
It is not a carol of joy or glee,
But a prayer that he sends from his heart's deep core,
But a plea, that upward to Heaven he flings -
I know why the caged bird sings. (Stanza 3)

Once my precious is back I’m off to Greece for three weeks – Athens, Santorini, and 2+ weeks on Crete; for a hard earned vacation. Until then I hope to tackle my adventures through Scotland over the past 8 months or so. I’ve got tons of pictures and stories jotted down just waiting for binary.

Roaming shall resume shortly. =)

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

There Be Dragons…

After less than 1 hour and 45 minutes, the University of Edinburgh as decided to award this Roaming Gnome a Doctorate of Philosophy.

I’d like to extend a huge thank you to all those adventurers who’ve supported this fanciful pursuit over the years.

Dr. M-

Saturday, January 19, 2008

The Roaming GnoME Returns!

Sincerest apologies for the delayed tales. As most will know I’ve been engaged in a spot of non-fiction writing these past few months. Although… at times a certain amount of creativity was required to prevent the tome from turning into fiction.

For those interested in stats and averages: My thesis was submitted on 2 November 2007 at about 13:15 GMT. It contained 221 pages, 29848 words, and 22 images. After near death, I am please to say I have survived and am almost thriving again.

The viva examination has been set for 23 January at 11:00 GMT. So, watch out world, Dr. M is on her way.

Tragically, for those vicarious adventurers, the reporting of my exploits has been a bit sparse but not for a lack of exploring the Scottish countryside. After long hours in front of a computer screen drafting and editing, all this little ‘gnome’ wanted to do in the evenings was NOT see another pixel. Despite having some lovely stories and photos to share, they have languished, unedited in binary for sometime. Once the corrections on my thesis are completed, I am please to report storytelling shall resume. Watch this space in early-February for more views of Scotland!

Until then, I can honestly say I'll never complain again when: