Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Oban Chocolate Company

I battled against the driving wind and rain, along Corran Esplanade, and entered beneath the inviting purple facade, looking a bit more windswept than interesting.  Walking into its cosy surroundings, on hard wood floors, the smell of chocolate immediately hit me and, despite resembling some wild eyed, messy haired, scary woman, I could feel myself starting to relax.   Also, after an epic 2.5 hour drive to get to Oban, I was in dire need of coffee.

Sunday, June 28, 2015

Slate, Steam Trains, Sand and Signs: My First Week in Wales

Courtesy of FreeDigitalImages.net
As the front door closed behind LT on Monday morning and he nervously made his way to his first day in a new job, I was wide awake, wondering what the hell I was going to do with the rest of my life.   A bit dramatic, I know, but I had just left behind my comfortable Scottish world and was on the brink of starting a new, decidedly Welsh one.  I opted to take the dragon by the horns and take a trip to see what North Wales had to offer.   I spent much of that week in Porthmadog looking for work, but also took some time out to explore my local town of Harlech.  These are the things I picked up during my first few days:

Slate in North wales

It’s everywhere.   And it’s fabulous.   Seriously, wherever I went, it was there in all its smoky grey glory.  Having spent years assessing important things, such as table appointment in guest houses, I was used to seeing a bit of slate in the higher end ones, where it was used as placemats.  Its weight and potential damage causing properties always made me extra careful about how I discreetly lifted it up to check it the second an owner left the room to fetch me some toast.  Brown, not white.  I hadn’t however seen quite so much slate randomly lying at the side of the road and being used to decorate the top of dry stone dykes.   As further investigation revealed, North Wales is famous for its slate mining.  There are several visitor attractions dedicated to it and even more slate quarries and caverns. I have already made a mental note to visit them all.    

Train sculpture in Blaenau
Steam Trains:
Ok, so they’re not quite as widely used as slate seems to be, but there do seem to be quite a few puffing around.  They’re also quite spectacular to watch.  During my seemingly endless trips back and forth to Porthmadog that first week, I was regularly stopped at the rail crossing lights to allow the Welsh Highland train to cross over the road and start its scenic journey through Snowdonia National Park.  As I soon discovered, it was not a lone train.  Just in my own region alone, I’ve counted at least another three.  While driving past an area of higher ground with LT at the end of the week, he pointed out of the car window and mused that there was a fire in the ditch below.  Smoke was billowing out and it looked quite nasty.  It took me a few seconds to realise that it wasn’t a fire at all; it was another train, with its tracks winding along the side of the road.  I do hope that if there really is a fire at some point, I don’t just laugh and shake my head knowingly, dismissing the whole thing as yet another train sighting while my house slowly burns to the ground.  

Harlech beach
Harlech Beach, or Traeth, if you will... 
I live near the beach.  Never thought I’d say that, to be honest.  I don’t really like the beach. Or rather, I like the idea of the beach, but I’m not so much a fan of sand.  It gets everywhere and you’ll find it expertly hidden away for weeks after a visit.  Anyway, my aversion to sand doesn’t change the fact that I live near some.  On my first foray around my town, I came across a sign for ‘Traeth Beach’.  With it being a little less than a mile from home, I wandered over for a look.  It was a cold but sunny day and the area was busy with holidaymakers and dog walkers who clearly knew nothing about the sandy horror that awaited them on returning home that evening.    

Just to highlight my stupidity
Since I’ve moved from Scotland, I’ve been uploading photos to fb so that my family can see what I’m getting up to.  I posted up a couple of shots of the beach under the heading “Traeth Beach,' and they all marvelled at how beautiful it was. I received a pm the following day from a cousin of mine, who also lives in North Wales, informing me that traeth is, in fact, the Welsh word for beach and not actually the name of the beach itself.  The fact that I’d uploaded my photos under the title “Beach Beach’ greatly amused my Welsh speaking family members.  Luckily for me, the majority of them had no idea what I’d done.  A few days later, while driving south, I glanced upon another traeth sign around ten miles from home.  Had I not been armed with this new information, there’s every chance I’d have spent the next few days wondering just how long bloody Traeth Beach actually was…  

It’s official: I’m stupid in two languages.    

P.S - I also saw about a million sheep, but I'm from Scotland, so it wasn't anything new.   

Friday, June 26, 2015

Free Fridays: Jedburgh

Jedburgh is a small market town in the Scottish Borders.  It lies just shy of 50 miles south of Edinburgh and only 10 miles north of the English border.  I've been lucky enough to visit on numerous occasions for work and always enjoy my time there.  It's steeped in history and has a host of great attractions to suit to a wide range of ages and interests.

Thursday, June 25, 2015

Diary of a Procrastinator

Some days, it amazes me that I get anything done.  Ok, that's not strictly true.  Some days it amazes me I get anything *useful* done.  I am a world class procrastinator and have decades (ok, maybe two) of experience of How To Avoid Doing Meaningful Stuff.   I'm not sure when it started, and I'm not even sure how it ballooned into the out of control problem it now is, but there is nothing I do better than not doing what I'm supposed to be doing.

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Meandering Through Madrid: Parque Del Retiro

El Retiro is the largest park in Madrid; covering 350 acres of land at the Western edge of the city.   There’s so much to do within the park that you could easily spend a full day exploring.  LT and I visited on a stunning summer day and found ourselves lost in the depths of the park, enjoying the views and taking in the atmosphere.   As well as being the largest green space in Madrid, the park has a million other things to see and do and hosts a variety of events throughout the year.  It’s a tranquil space, with many Madrilenos lying beneath the sun, reading books or chatting with friends. Children played happily in gardens and cyclists casually rode by on their journeys.  

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Kellie Castle

Kellie Castle is located in the region of Fife next to the beautiful town of Pittenweem.  The Castle dates back to the 14th Century and was sold to the National Trust for Scotland in 1970 by previous owner Huw Lorimer. In addition to the Castle, there is 6.5 acres of land, a walled garden, various woodland walks, a shop, and the ever pleasing sight of a tea room.  

Monday, June 22, 2015

My Essential Travel Reads: Part One

I love travel books.  Aside from my usual crime novels, they’re the only things I read.   I am a bit fussy, though.  Although I'm fond of travel books, I do like something with a sense of humour about it. Something dry and turgid just won’t do it for me.  I just can’t persuade myself to read anything that doesn’t grab me, which probably means I’ve missed out on masses of titles that other travel enthusiasts have devoured.   This is the first part of a list of the books in my library that I've pretty much read to death: 

Friday, June 19, 2015

Being Awkward...But Not On Purpose

I’m a pretty shy person.   In fact, I will actively avoid situations where I’m being introduced to new people because it makes me so anxious.  I’m one of those people who would rather sit at the back of a room and hope that no one notices me rather than nervously introduce myself to people.   This is how I’ve been for as long as I can recall.   

Due to my complete social awkwardness, I do tend to worry about upcoming events and spend days concerning myself about what might go wrong and what I might do and say that will make everyone hate me.  It hasn’t happened yet.  Well, not that I know of, anyway.

As an example:  after my partner and I had been together for a year or so, we headed down south to meet his father, brother, sister in law, and newborn niece.  Seriously: FOUR new people.   AT ONCE.   That’s three people more than I have the mental capacity to deal with.  

Added to that, the fact that they’re closely related to my partner, and it was more pressure than I could cope with.   I was such a wreck that, a few hours after meeting them, I randomly burst into tears and couldn’t stop.  And they were perfectly lovely.   But, then again, it’s not other people that are the problem: it’s me.  I understand that many people will find this completely bizarre, but living with severe anxiety is bloody knackering.  

The most stress-inducing situation, for me, is meeting new people.  This is compounded by the fact that, despite manically checking the Internet every day, no one has yet managed to develop the technology to bring you that cloak of invisibility you so desperately want.   Without it, you have to soldier on, counting down the hours until your ordeal is over and you can quietly return home and get on with all things you like to do that don’t involve Other People.   That’s what I do, anyway.      

It’s not that I don’t like people: I do.  I’m just scared of them.  This is, obviously, not true of everyone.  I have many friends and family that I love and that don’t cause me to lose sleep before meeting up with.    It’s the people I don’t know that I have problems with.  

I’m fine with checkout attendants and randomly saying hello to people I meet on the street; particularly those with dogs: I love them (the dogs, I mean, not the people), but put me in a room with strangers, as is done as training courses and other hellish situations, and I will almost definitely come across as rude and standoffish.

My Mum says I have a default face which screams “don’t even bother!’  (She was actually way less polite than that, but you get the general gist.)  She’s absolutely right, of course, but that’s just my resting face.  To walk around with a massive smile plastered on it would make me feel (and look) even less approachable.  

When I left my recent post in Scotland, one of my colleagues sent me a lovely email saying that he would miss various things about me, including ‘your complete indifference to most of your colleagues’…   He’s spot on.   Again, it’s not because I didn’t like them (I’ve met some lifelong friends), but I simply don’t know many of them well enough.  Because I don’t know them, I tend to keep out of their way.  By keeping out of their way, I’ll never know them.  It’s a vicious circle.  

Until I’m forced to work with people, I will avoid them like the plague because I’m so nervous.   Luckily, I had a fabulous Manager who, despite probably finding me decidedly odd and unfriendly, understood I wasn’t doing it intentionally and generally left me alone. 

Since leaving that post and moving to Wales, I have applied for a few jobs and wrote, when talking about my love of working as part of a team (lies, damn lies!!), that I was ‘a quiet person’.  I feel compelled to tell potential interviewers this so that they’re not surprised to find out that I am.    When they finally say: ‘I’m sorry, Ms. Gorman, we’re not actually in the market for a scowling mute at present' at least I know they’ve had fair warning and off I’ll toddle, avoiding everyone’s eyes as I pass them in the corridor, until I make it back to the safety of my car/house/nuclear bunker.   

Oddly, I’m more than happy to write this and post it online.  BUT, if you asked me directly, I’d panic a bit and then make a stupid joke to ease my nerves before totally changing the subject to something I’m more comfortable with — i.e. anything that’s not about me.  Shoes, dogs and football are my preferred subjects, should you ever find yourself in the unenviable position of being left chatting to me at a party I was forced to attend.

Suzanne x 

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Free Fridays: Dunfermline

Dunfermline is the largest town in Fife; situated in the west of the region.  It also used to serve as Scotland's capital city, a job now held by its close neighbour, Edinburgh.  Dunfermline is the birthplace of world famous philanthropist, Andrew Carnegie, who emigrated to the US from the town in 1848.

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

City Guides: How To Wear Out Your Shoes In Stockholm

Before I travelled to Sweden, these are the things I knew about it:

Its capital city is Stockholm;
It's cold in the winter;
It's horrendously expensive;
It produces fabulous crime writers;
It's where Freddie Ljungberg comes from;
It produces furniture that makes the roundabout close their Edinburgh store a nightmare to navigate at all times.   Seriously, it's always rammed.

Dark Tourism: Part 1

I’ve always been fascinated with death.   Yes, I know how that makes me sound. I rarely watch movies or TV that aren’t crime related and, with the exception of travel books, my reading list is a mixture of true and fictional crime titles.  When I’m endlessly reading news headlines I will automatically click on stories that report on someone having a less than stellar day after their dearly departed husband has been discovered, buried in a hole beneath the garden decking.     Given these odd tendencies it’s no surprise that, as a traveller, I’m drawn to similar visitor attractions.

Monday, June 15, 2015

Over The Borderline: A Tale of Two Cities

I’ve always loved travelling over state lines and getting unnaturally excited by the new signs at the side of the road.   One of my bucket list destinations is Four Corners, which is the point where Utah, Colorado, New Mexico and Arizona meet.  They’ve even got a monument marking the boundary lines.  What could be better than having limbs in four different states at one time??   I know, nothing, right?  

Anyway, since I haven’t quite made it to Four Corners yet, and, on this trip, I was travelling through Tennessee, I felt compelled to find a border city.    In this instance the chosen place turned out to be Bristol, Tennessee, and its twin city, Bristol, Virginia.    I’d visited both states before, but was powerless to resist the temptation to visit them both at the same time.

The twin cities share a state line, which runs along the aptly named ‘State Street’ in the shared Downtown district.   Luckily, there’s no time difference between the states, or that would just be too mind-blowing.   I imagine it’s confusing enough living in one state with all rules and regulations and then popping across the road to another state and finding things are a bit different, despite the fact that you’ve only taken ten steps.  

I imagine living in Virginia and leaving the house one day.   ‘Where you off to?’ LT would ask.   ‘Oh, we’re out of milk, so I’m just nipping over to Tennessee to get some…’ As you do.

Both cities look similar (obviously) and are joined by a fabulously massive overhead sign telling you that either one is a good place to live.    Bristol, VA is officially known for being the birthplace of country music as the first recordings were made here.  Bristol, TN boasts the world’s fastest half-mile track, which is in the local Speedway.   

Personally, I was relieved that they both had claims to fame as I imagined all kinds of petty jealousy caused by one being famous for tons of stuff while the other had missed out on everything simply by being a few yards further to the left of right.   That would be quite annoying for the local tourist board on the other side.    As it happens, this is not a problem as they clearly work well together to promote the fact that they’re both as similar as they are different. 

After arriving in the Tennessean City of Bristol, we had to stop by and check out the Speedway.   Bristol Motor Speedway is the 4th largest sports venue in the US and 8th largest in the world.  That’s a pretty impressive statistic and the venue can seat 160,000 people.   Parking must be a right headache when it’s busy.  It’s famous for hosting NASCAR events, amongst others.   I know virtually nothing about NASCAR, with the extent of my knowledge being I’m aware that Danica Patrick was the first female driver to win a pole in the Sprint Cup Series.  I only know this because she’s in a Miranda Lambert music video and I Googled her after seeing it   

Bristol Speedway is also famous for being used to shoot scenes for the Tom Cruise movie, ‘Days of Thunder’, as well as being the inspiration for the racing track in Disney Pixar’s ‘Cars’.   I loved one of those movies.   My nephews loved it, too.

Bristol Speedway

Bristol Speedway

Heading on from the track, we entered the Downtown area and parked in what may have been Tennessee, or possibly Virginia, but almost definitely one of the two.   The wonderful thing about Downtown Bristol is that it’s retained its old world charm and is a lovely collection of restaurants, bars and antique shops with gorgeous window displays and friendly natives.   It’s a great area to go for a walk and, should you get puckish, there’s an abundance of options to choose from.   

Never one to be far from hunger, LT spied Quaker Steak and Lube at 629 State and, with the tempting smell of baby back ribs in his nostrils, we ventured in.  At this point, he hadn’t eaten for, ooh, at least an hour and so ‘lunch time’ was declared.  

Quaker Steak and Lube

After filling up the tank, we wandered some more and realised that there was so much to do.   We stopped by the Paramount Theater and City Hall and generally enjoyed the sunshine and atmosphere before heading back to our Smoky Mountain camp. 

paramount Theater Bristol

Downtown Bristol