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Published: October 23rd 2012
In just a short 3 days...
the murky, heavy dampness of a grey Glasgow has penetrated deep into our bones. Temperatures around 5C or so, the persistent hard rains are followed by misty cloud-like dew that settles lightly, pleasantly, on your face as you walk along. Then once again, the downpour begins. And for a few moments here or there, there is no falling or drifting moisture and it feels out of place...strange. Give the umbrella a short, well deserved nap. As an American vice-presidential candidate might say in a debate,
I KNEW Barcelona, Glasgow...You Sir are NO Barcelona"
The smiles and warmth of the people we've encountered has taken away some of the "coolth" and sting of the dramatic weather shift from Barcelona to Scotland. Scots, like the stereotypical Canadian (at least of old!) are unfailingly polite, sometimes a wee bit stiff, but always filled with please's
In 1979 I last visited Scotland and remember clearly the feeling of delight at the sound of the slightly more musical, distinct accent of the north country versus that of their southern cousins in London. Then, in my youth, I would order an extra pint in the neighbourhood Scottish pub just to hear the charming
TRISTE (Sad!)-Final class day in Barcelona
With Deniz(Germany),Maureen, Elsa(Sweden), Louise (Norway), Sina(Switzerland), Raquel (our Barcelona instructor), and Larry
lilt of the lass serving suds. That light-hearted feeling returned quickly when we stepped off the "sardine can of the sky
" they call Ryanair
. Put a penny in the pot and climb aboard. Ridiculously low airfares for the cost of shoehorning into a non-movable, first-come-first-serve seat with none of the remaining few frills that other airlines typically provide these days. Wal Mart
of the skies, the Ryanair "trolley dollies"
slide happily up and down the aisles peddling food, drink, jewellery and perfumes, their credit card machines ringing up the sales that fill the airline coffers. For 2 hours in the air, it's a fair exchange...anything longer, like 2 and a half hours?...well...not so much!
The world of 2012 revolves around the maelstrom of fusion most places you go...Scotland is a dominant mix of tartans and turbans...fish & chips and curry. Some of the better known restaurants in Glasgow beyond the "chippies" are the Indian Curry Houses. Last night, 6 of us, Maureen, Larry, Will and 3 other Canadian architecture students (Neal, Miranda, and Ben) dined in the "Kama Sutra
" Curry restaurant, highly recommended to the students.
Despite its...provocative, and some may even think sleazy name,
Curry Night in Glasgow
Will's architecture group from Canada...Maureen, Miranda, Will, Ben, Neil
the interior and food were tasteful AND tasty. We all sampled the fusion side of the menu with an appetizer of "Haggis Pakoras
". It was a pleasant, crunchy deep-fried outside breading enclosing a soft haggis mince inside. Great?? Hmmm, not bad...may not catch on like pizza or sushi worldwide, but then again, who knows!? Anyway, the companionship of Will and his cohorts in architecture was a fun way to spend a rainy evening out in Glasgow...just 6 of us sharing a large upright Glasgow cab was an adventure itself.
And even more haggis!
I had eaten up a hefty helping of haggis layered over baked potato for lunch and so by the end of the day all I needed was a good thimble of Glenfiddich to make me a true honorary Scot. All of this on top of a full Scottish breakfast prepared by Thomas, the Tony Blair (former UK Prime Minister) look-alike owner of the B&B where we stayed: poached egg, back bacon, Lorne sausage, potato scone, baked beans, and of course hot tea, that had prepared us for the raw outdoors that lay ahead.
• Aside: In the snack section of the WH
Smith bookstores in the UK airports, alongside the candy and chip packages are small cans of easy open Heinz baked beans...what could be better or more British than that?
• One more aside? Why not! During our last 3 days in Barcelona when William arrived, we parked ourselves in a charming old apartment B&B in the central area of the city where we experienced some good old European freedom of expression. Owned by an enthusiastic young French-Catalan lady named Fleur, the B&B had 4 bedrooms and a total of 8 guests while we were in residence. One set of those staying was a middle-aged couple from Berlin- the genial husband spoke English in addition to German, his wife only German. As Maureen, Will and I left our room early one morning headed for breakfast in the dining room at one end of the long hallway, the friendly German husband emerged from one of the B&B's 2 shared bathrooms, post-shower. He greeted us with a confident, cheery Good Morning, a towel over his left shoulder...and... nothing else. If you've seen the movie Notting Hill featuring Hugh Grant and Julia Roberts, you might remember the gangly roommate of Hugh
Grant's who hangs about the apartment in his skimpy underwear. This fellow was a slightly older near twin to the British fellow (at least his face was similar, lower down I couldn't be certain!), his impish grin was disarming as we timidly said our Good mornings in return without casting our eyes southward.
But back to Scotland. Viewing the historic sites of Glasgow was a challenge as the low rim of our umbrellas made anything other than a straight ahead vista difficult to see. In retrospect, it makes me wonder why the early inhabitants wouldn't have restricted the height of all buildings to 2 or 3 storeys high for the viewing ease of waterlogged tourists! Glasgow, in its past, has had and continues to have, its struggles with poverty. Self-declared as the poorest city in Europe, it seems to have made some strides forward but there still appears to be ongoing issues of unhealthy housing and unhealthy feeding of its impoverished.
On a rainy day there is a dank industrial Dickens-era feel about the city. I wouldn't have been totally surprised to have encountered characters from a Sir Arthur Conan Doyle
detective story on the misty
Roommates Teodora (USA), Pilar (Barcelona), and Maureen (Canada)
evening while walking past the Necropolis (grandiose old graveyard of Glasgow with its "skyscraper" tombstones- City of the Dead
). Elementary, my dear Watson!
Of course, Glasgow, like Vancouver, is not all rain and grey, but it does have more rainfall on average than most might be accustomed...therefore, inside activities are a great bonus. The immense Glasgow Cathedral and the huge glassed-in Winter Palace and Gardens make wonderful tourist spots for evading rain. A big plus about Glasgow is that most of its historic and cultural spots are totally free.
Our quickie tour of the Scot city was over before we realized it- haggis and fish & chips consumed- and so we said hasta luego
to Will leaving him to discover and design within the historic backdrop of Europe while we carried on to London.
A nice addition to our trip itinerary was an overnight stopoff in London to visit with Maureen's cousins (actually 1st cousins-once-removed for the more technically-minded) Margaret and Johnny, a charming and gracious couple housed in a small community called Biggin Hill, just south of London. Their generous hospitality had us motoring over the very narrow, yet busy rural backroads to places like Charles
Pavlova Night in Biggin Hill, England
With Maureen's cousin Margaret and her great dessert
Darwin's family estate home and the Biggin Hill Airbase that was a large site for Allied aircraft used in the Battle of Britain in 1940.
Able to sample fish and chips in each of Glasgow and London, I have to declare a tie between the fare in each centre. Glasgow's fish was a haddock, beautifully white, firm and flaky with a very thin and crispy batter. The meal was served in a miniature wire deep-fryer basket lined with newspaper...very charming.
The seafood (who's name I don't recall) in London was coated in a slightly thicker but equally tasty batter served in a more conventional style. Washed down with some white wine, and with some fine English companionship, it was a good finish to our many European evening meals. The final piece-de-resistance
was a superb homemade-by-Margaret Pavlova with fresh strawberries and raspberries.
we transit through in the world these days are pretty similar looking. This past year,(just to name drop modestly, he said) we've been in airports in Penticton, Vancouver, Toronto, Shanghai, Xian, Beijing, Wuhan, Chongqing, Barcelona, Glasgow (both Prestwick and the Glasgow International), and London Gatwick. They're all quite large (other than Penticton!)
and yet not really distinct in most ways from each other. Over a short period of time, each airport blends in the mind into a homogenous mix of waiting in this line, then the next line, and maybe 1 or 2 more before you climb aboard the silver bird that zips you to another world.
They all have the bookstores with chips and chocolate bars and newspapers of the world. They most often have coffee shops and McDonalds and a few restaurants serving high-priced samplings of local cuisine. The waiting lounges are filled with grey- or blue-cushioned seats that have armrests which, in most cases, would be great except if you've just had a 10 hour flight and have to wait 5 hours for the next flight and would like to lay down across 2 or 3 seats. The stroll from the security area to your departure gate is usually about 7 miles
and is covered with a variety of covered walkways, escalators up and down then up again, and mezzanines with moving sidewalks to make the walk feel like only 6 miles!
One of the notable differences between airports comes in the security area that barely existed
anywhere 25 years ago. A major source of delay and frustration for most of us now, the process of preparation and selection, detection, and rejection for our protection (with thanks to Arlo Guthrie's Alice's Restaurant
) varies at each stop in the world. Do I remove my watch, my belt, my shoes...computer in or out of the bag, glasses off or on, coins in or out of pockets, passport now or later?...boarding pass, sure! Trying to make a fun game of it works pretty well so long as you don't let slip any words like bomb, annihilation, or nail clippers
but I have to go back here. I wanted to tell you in the last blog post about the great Christmas traditions of the Catalonia region of Spain. Sometimes I lose track of ideas or I'm rushed for time and it slips past before I realize, so please excuse my rear-view mirror reflecting back in time. Close your eyes and travel back to warm Barcelona with me.
There is a Christmas tradition in the Catalonia region in which Barcelona is situated that was explained to us in fully acted-out detail by our instructor Raquel. It
involves "el cago tio
" or "the shit log" (Tio
also means uncle in Spanish, but in this case refers to the log on the floor, not the drunk one laying on the sofa!).
Parents take a 2 foot-long hollowed-out log that they have cut or purchased, draw a face on one end, and prop it up on 2 legs.The idea is that Cago Tio
is “looked after” by the kids from the 8th of December to Christmas Eve. They cover his rear end with a blanket to keep him warm and feed him Turron and Orange peel every evening. The more they feed him, the more Christmas presents he will “poo-out” for Christmas.
As if this isn’t absurd enough, they also have to sing a song….
avellanes i mató,
si no cagues bé
et daré un cop de bastó.
hazelnuts and cottage cheese,
if you don't poop well,
I’ll hit you with a stick,
Once they sing the song and beat Cago Tio with the stick (this results in
General Wolfe in Westerham
He looks more like Mozart than a defender on the Plains of Abraham in Quebec...battle takes rhythm?
the log dropping a log, so to speak), the kids look under the blanket which has been keeping Cago Tio
warm for the last few weeks, to find their Christmas presents.
Raquel claims that much of the 200 year-old tradition was actually strengthened as a result of its repression by dictator Franco. Supermarkets and department stores in Barcelona now sell scads of the shit log to make every child's face bright on Christmas--charming, isn't it!
our Catalan journey- with a side-dish of Britain
- journey ends here as we return to our cool, but dry Okanagan home. All of the challenges of learning and interacting in Spanish, navigating Barcelona's Metro system, smiling while eating new, occasionally unpalatable foods are over for now. We're quite a bit better and confident with our Spanish, and maybe even a wee bit more worldly than a month ago.
Who could ask for anything more?
Well, if only Penelope Cruz and Scarlett Johansson had met us at the Barcelona airport 😉
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