Solo Adventure: Scottish Highlands

Sunday, 28 September 2014

The best part about solo travelling is undoubtedly being your own boss — spending hours in bookstores, museums, and gift shops, knowing there's nobody wishing you'd hurry up. That said, sometimes it's nice to have others make the decisions — doing the planning and ushering you from place to place. That's why I booked a highland tour (called Full-Day Trip to Loch Ness and the Scottish Highlands) through Viator. It was a nice treat to not have to worry about train schedules and maps for a day. 

The day was so uncharacteristically clear for the Highlands, that we managed to spot the peak of Ben Nevis, something that is apparently quite rare. The winding roads beneath mountains and hills brought us from Edinburgh to Loch Ness (and back), stopping along the way to explore the moors, glens, and quaint villages along the way. I didn't spot Nessie, but I manged to snap dozens, maybe hundreds, of photos along the way. 

When I think of bus tours, I think of blue-haired ladies en route to Atlantic City, but this was anything but. Our tour guide was young and knowledgeable, musing about local politics and folklore, and playing Scottish indie songs by Camera Obscura and Paolo Nutini along the way. 

Solo Adventure: Edinburgh

Wednesday, 10 September 2014

“This is a city of shifting light, of changing skies, of sudden vistas. A city so beautiful it breaks the heart again and again.”
― Alexander McCall Smith

Oxford's definition of a blog is simple. A blog is "a regularly updated website or web page, typically one run by an individual or small group, that is written in an informal or conversational style." A blog is supposed to be casual and entertaining, but above all, it should be timely. This post is anything but timely. It's very very late.

I wrote about the first two days of my solo-trip to the UK back in April, with the next few posts expected to follow shortly after. Between buying a new house and Dad's quadruple bypass, I forgot about them until this post from Hamilton's Needlework reminded me.

I took an afternoon train from London to Edinburgh, rolling hills and newborn lambs dotting the journey. My book of choice was fitting, and a beloved favourite from childhood, The Secret Garden. ("Might I," quavered Mary. "Might I have a bit of Earth?") I arrived in Edinburgh to what I thought was the most stereotypical scene imaginable. An older, but not elderly, man playing the bag pipes in front of the Scott Monument. It wasn't until a week later, when my better half burst this bubble, as I bored him with all 1200 trip photos.

"Do you know what he's playing?"
"No, what is it?"
"The Star Wars theme."

For the next day and a half, I was a tourist, doing the things tourists do in Edinburgh. I started below the city, in The Real Mary King's Close, where the costumed guide took pity on me, snapping a photo of the two of us in a darkened alley that is no longer exposed to the world. The problem with travelling alone is you spend your entire time behind a camera, rarely, if ever, appearing in photos yourself. (Selfies aren't easy with a DSLR, unless you're after a close-up of your nose).

I found a wonderful tour guide in Tanya from 52 Books or Bust, a self-described "Canadian at heart" living in Edinburgh. We met at the tiny and hidden, but sweet, Writer's Museum, and then she took me on a tour of the town, where she indulged my need to stop every five steps to snap a photo. She showed me Edinburgh Castle and Greyfriar's Bobby, with stops along the way, eventually directing me to the National Museum of Scotland, which had a surprisingly thorough (and better than any I've ever seen in Canada) exhibit about Canada's Aboriginal people.

I spent the next few hours wandering Edinburgh Castle, until my camera's battery inevitably died. You could spend days just wandering the winding streets and buildings behind the walls of Edinburgh Castle. One day I'll go back and do just that, hopefully during the Edinburgh International Book Festival which is now firmly placed near the top of my bucket list.

There's something freeing about taking the train from city to city with only a backpack and a camera tethered to your body. You're creating your own stories. Ones that nobody else shares. I worried that the nights would be quiet and lonely, but in reality, after twelve hours of walking, the nights were non-existent. A quick pint (well, maybe two) at the hotel bar, and I was done. Another day of adventure awaited me (one that I promise I'll blog about sooner rather than later).

Photo Friday: The Cenotaph

Friday, 15 August 2014

Instead of welcoming people to commemorate this month’s World War I centennial, the cenotaph in Gore Park has been disassembled as part of the Gore Park Revitalization Project. The cenotaph has stood in Gore Park since its construction in 1922 and 1923. Most recently, it’s been in the news for the discovery of a mysterious artifact that is possibly a scroll or a time capsule.

The cenotaph was unveiled in May of 1923, and more than 5000 people were in attendance. Among them, was Governor General Lord Byng of Vimy.

Image courtesy of Hamilton Public Library's Local History and Archives PreVIEW database.

July Art Crawl

Wednesday, 30 July 2014

There's one more Hamilton Art Crawl before Supercrawl takes to the streets in September. August's Art Crawl happens on August 8th.

Hamilton Fringe Festival 2014: Jesters Incognito

Tuesday, 22 July 2014

In his one-man play Jesters Incognito, Hamilton’s Harrison Wheeler doesn’t just tell one story. He tells two. Part truth and part fiction, Wheeler juxtaposes his own personal story of coping with Bipolar disorder with his humorous tales about the lives of underground jesters, living, as the title of the play says, incognito, in a make-believe world where jesting isn’t allowed.

“Celebrate the madness, or die. That’s my motto,” said Wheeler, who is a cartoonist, author, comedian, and educator, during his close-to-sold-out performance at Hamilton Theatre, Inc. on Saturday afternoon. Funny and charming, Wheeler commanded the stage from the second he walked out (in full jester garb).

“Creativity can save your life,” boasts the play’s programme, and for Wheeler, it did. For twenty years, he has filled sketchbooks with words and drawings in an attempt to get his stories out of his head. It hasn’t been an easy journey. One week after he finished the draft of Jesters Incognito in novel form, he was in a coma — the result of an autoimmune disease. It took him six months to walk again. Wheeler also has more than eight years under his belt of recovery from substance abuse.

These things aren’t things to laugh about … obviously. Yet, Wheeler finds a way to laugh, and while he’s at it, to make everyone else laugh with him. “Sillyness is serious business,” he says.

Wheeler’s brand of physical comedy, commanding storytelling, and above all, his captivating imagination, are all reasons to go see Jesters Incognito at the Hamilton Fringe Festival. The festival, which is in its 11th year, runs until July 27th. There’s a lot to see this year with 45 shows at 12 different venues across the downtown core.

There are four more chances to check out Jesters Incognito at Hamilton Fringe. I’d definitely recommend it!

Jesters Incognito
Hamilton Theatre Inc.
140 Macnab St N

Show Times:

Thursday, July 24th 9PM

Fri July 25th 4:30PM

Sat July 26th 9:30PM

Sun July 27th 12:30PM

Canada Day at Crawford Lake

Sunday, 13 July 2014

One winter's day, more than 100 years ago, a horse-drawn sleigh plunged into Crawford Lake, dragging the horses into the icy waters with it. At least that’s what a ghost story, told to me more than twenty years ago, said. The horses still lie undisturbed at the bottom of the lake, so the story goes, but sometimes, at sunset, they awaken. Their red eyes glow beneath the clear waters of Crawford Lake.

This story haunted me as a child, and it still hung in the air last week when I spent my first non-Ottawa Canada Day in quite a few years rounding the boardwalk that encircles Crawford Lake.

Crawford Lake is a meromictic lake. According to Conservation Halton’s website, “because the lake’s basin is deeper than it’s surface area, the lowest levels of water are very rarely, if ever, disturbed by wind or temperature changes. Without an annual turnover of water, there is little oxygen present in its depths and minimal bacterial breakdown, which preserves the layers of sediment that have built up over time.” That doesn't mean much to my unscientific brain, but one doesn't need to fully understand why Crawford Lake is unique to enjoy it.

Crawford Lake is home to a reconstructed 15th-century Haudenosaunee village, which is currently undergoing changes called the Crawford Lake Village Improvement Project. 
The updated space will help the conservation area’s education programming which hosts more than 35,000 students every year. Hopefully the project, with its focus on adding a third reconstructed longhouse, will also update some of the outdated terminology and technology around the site. 

There's so much to explore at Crawford Lake, that even on a sunny holiday, it didn't seem crowded. I wish it hadn't taken me two decades to rediscover a favourite place from my childhood.

After our hike (and an unanticipated stop at the slot machines at Mohawk Raceway), we joined what felt like EVERY OTHER HAMILTONIAN at Bayfront Park for the fireworks. Like I said, I've grown used to spending my Canada Days in the thick of things in Ottawa, but the fireworks at Parliament Hill don't have anything on Hamilton's impressive display, which capped off a perfect day.

(A line-up won't stop Hamiltonians from getting their Gorilla Cheese on!)

(My long weekend read of choice was The Stag Head Spoke by Erina Harris, recently released from Hamilton's own publisher Wolsak and Wynn.)

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