Friday, May 27, 2011

Bye to the 'Burgh

Today is my last day in Edinburgh for this academic year. Scotland has been reminding me why I love it this week: 70MPH winds, on and off downpour, buildings without elevators making move out all the more fun when you live on the third floor. The photo above is from Hilly's visit to Edinburgh in March when I nearly fell down Arthur's Seat (again), but minus the peacoat my outfits this week look almost the same. I never thought I would be wearing jeans when its almost June, but that's Scotland for you. It might surprise you as those silly tourism ads say.

Although I won't miss tripping over cobblestones for a few months, I will miss using the castle to orient myself on my way to discover the latest cafe, the burgers, beer, and banter at the pub, and my friends' caustic wit as we argue over the latest film we've seen at the Cameo. Edinburgh has made my junior/third year one I will never forget. Despite the alienating bagpipes, I've really come into my own in Scotland. I can't wait to learn more about myself and the city soon enough.
[Gratuitous photo of Gatsby taken by my dad.]

But for now it's time to say goodbye and board the plane back to Minnesota. I look forward to being attacked by 78lbs. of American bulldog when I get home and of course seeing my family. As soon as Gatsby calms down and I get over my jet-lag, I will update you on the enthralling life that exists in suburbia. I plan on keeping this blog going even when I'm nowhere near the Loch Ness that inspired the name of it. Look forward to more posts on travels, food, and quotidian happenings over the summer.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Playing With Fire is Playing With Power

A pretty woman with a bowlcut hovered by the merch table as my friend Poppy and I walked into Sneaky Pete's for the Sparrow and the Workshop gig last night. I barely noticed her and instead tried to push my way through the cramped Cowgate club to get a good view of the band. Little did I realize, that I already got my "good view" for that charming woman with the feminine cheekbones selling CDs and handmade paper skulls was Jill O'Sullivan, the frontwoman of Glaswegan Sparrow and the Workshop. Fittingly, the rest of the night was equally intimate, exhibiting the down to earth nature of a band I think will be very big in the future.

Sparrow and the Workshop is an apt name for the band given O'Sullivan's vocals warbling Emmylou-Harris-style like the bird the band is named after, but coupled with some rollicking drum and bass akin to the White Stripes. However no real musical comparison fits the band, who have been likened to Jefferson Airplane, Black Sabbath, Franz Ferdinand, The Ting Tings, Florence and the Machine, and many more acts that don't even sound similar. In short, S&W have their own unique sound. It's Chicagoan O'Sullivan's voice that can croon like a country singer and wail like a punkrocker that allows the band to transcend so many genres. Coupled with Scottish (the only true Scot in a group that originates from Glasgow) drummer Gregor Donaldon's vocals- S&W can sound like old school folk singers. But it's when Welsh bassman Nick Packer lets his guitar rip that the band cascades into the intense live show they put on for us last night.

Poppy and I lucked out to be at their second gig since they released their latest album "Spitting Daggers" on Monday. They had an enthusiastic stage presence and were ready to play their tight set for us, but the stage itself wasn't ready. After dodging two dead leads and multiple microphone problems, O'Sullivan led the audience through a brief rendition of "Always Look on the Brightside of Life" during these gaffes, keeping the crowd entertained and in good humor. Eventually she mused that her "lucky" peacock feathers were causing the bad juju in the room and passed them out to the crowd.Perhaps that did the trick because after they lost the feathers of another bird, the sparrow was able to really soar. Forgiving my cheesy metaphor, the band played a nice mix of ethereal folk ditties and rocking loud numbers during which you could almost feel the soundwaves pulsating through the cave-like venue.

I wasn't familiar with S&W before Poppy dragged me along to the gig, but by the end of the night I was dancing along. I'm a new fan, but one that's in for the long run. I hope to catch S&W whenever they're back in 'Burgh and given their residence is only a 50-minute train ride away from here, I hope that's sometime soon. In the meantime, get your hands on their albums. You'll thank me when they get the success they deserve.

UPDATE/EDIT: Posted this link to twitter and got a lovely response from the band itself! Definitely the nicest and most well mannered rock stars I've ever met.

[Sorry I'm too technologically illiterate to figure out how to link this]

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Swan Song

After writing about all of the adventures the protagonists went on from the novels I wrote about for exams, I realized I hadn't been on any adventures myself lately. So instead of spending the first day after exams traditionally oversleeping, my friend Caroline and I ventured out to Stockbridge.

Stockbridge once was a village outside of Edinburgh named for its timber bridge (which we somehow failed to find), but in the 19th Century it was incorporated into Edinburgh proper. Its a fitting metaphor for Caroline and I are both exchange students (from the US and Germany respectively), who have made Edinburgh our home this year. We've explored the city through cafes so naturally we cafe crawled through Stockbridge too. Above is a photo from the charming cafe/art gallery Bon Papillon in New Town where we stopped to refuel with some Earl Grey tea and delicious shortbread nibbles before heading off to Stockbridge. It was nice to finally have a conversation that had nothing to do with how stressed out over exams we were.

It started downpouring when we finally found Stockbridge so sadly I don't have any photos of the quaint little town full of delightful little pastry shops and boutiques. We didn't see one student in the area which was a refreshing change. Instead Stockbridge felt very family oriented with old women having lunch together and strollers running us off the streets instead of harried students trying to return library books before they are overdue.
[Sorry, the only evidence that Caroline was involved is her stirring her tea and reading the guidebook.]

We wandered over the one of Edinburgh's largest urban parks at 54 acres, Inverleith. In the 17th century it was a private estate owned by the Rocheid family, but the city acquired it in the 19th century and quickly turned it into a public park complete with ponds, playing fields, and eventually residential gardens. I mistakenly thought the rugby pitch was an American football field, but despite the cultural confusion it was still nice for a stroll. Caroline and I quickly discovered that it had one of the best views of the city we'd ever seen.
See Calton Hill in the background.
The large hill is Arthur's Seat.
And the Edinburgh Castle.

Here is the entire view. What once were imposing landmarks of the city are laid out flat like some corny tourist t-shirt of the city. It's easy to get sucked up into the grandeur and history when in Old Town, our regular stomping grounds, but from afar it made me realize just how small Edinburgh really is. Somehow we've managed to conquer quite a bit of it, which made me feel accomplished and like there was so purpose to all of my gorging on cakes and coffees throughout the city. After all, if we hadn't wanted to sample the cafes of Stockbridge we may never have made it all the way out there. It was a fitting last outing with Caroline.
We also made friends with the swans. Don't worry I didn't get too close to snap these photos because I've heard of some truly vicious swan stories, perhaps its because under British Common Law's Royal Perogative, the current monarch owns all of the open water swans. No need to irritate Her Majesty one week before I need to successfully leave the country.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

The 'Burgh in Bloom

The old saying "April showers bring May flowers" seems to be reversed in Edinburgh. Back in April it was sunny enough to inspire my many walks to various cafes to study. The sun also seemed to inspire the trees to beautifully blossom. Each week something new pushed its away up from the soil, one week pansies, the next daffodils, and one of the best surprises, cherry blossoms. I thought I had left D.C.'s cherry blossoms behind, but when I saw the friendly and familiar pink petals poking out from the branches I couldn't help but smile. They lined the Meadows like a royal canopy that made me feel like reading and revising was some higher duty. I took a break from my books and got the camera to capture it. Sorry for the delay in posting these, but I had to make sure you got see almost as much of Barcelona as I did.

There's a season for everything and unfortunately my beloved cherry blossoms were short-lived and to be replaced by the standard dandelion. With the weeds, came Edinburgh's charming 30MPH wind blowing my skirt up in a very un-Marilyn Monroe like moment and the pollen all around town. Now even a half open window requires me to reach for the Claritin. It reminds me of part in Howard's End when everyone has hayfever and you know some other conflicts transpiring. Even crueler, now that exams are over and I can finally enjoy the sun it rains on and off about four times a day. Guess Scotland is making sure I get all of its charm before I leave in over week.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Modern Day Still Life: Freedom

This is no ordinary cupcake. It may be a yellow cake with strawberry frosting, but it tastes of freedom. It was part of my post-exam meal (don't worry, Dad. I ate some real food in the form of curry beforehand) akin to a prisoner's final meal except with much happier results.

Just like the startling sugar rush that ensued from gobbling up icing in a shade of Barbie pink, I'm in shock that exams are finally over. Exams for you readers involved exciting posts about Barcelona, but for me it meant a sore back from lugging library books, a blister on my hand from furiously scribbling away in likely illegible handwriting during my three two hour exams, and more lattes consumed than Anna Wintour orders. I survived somehow though and now am at an utter loss of what to do with myself. I can watch a movie without feeling guilt-ridden? Even weirder, the concept of pleasure reading which I can't wait to rediscover as soon as my brain reboots. For now the most I can accomplish is eating cupcakes, no shame in that.

This particular cupcake comes from Artisan Roast in Edinbugh's New Town. I know the perfectly piped frosting is distracting, but you should really be paying attention to my mocha for as the name suggests, Artisan Roast is all about the art of espresso. Now wasn't that pompous turn of phrase "art of espresso," but they have the best latte I've had in this city (and I've tried 24 cafes, not that anyone's counting) if not ever. Rich almost buttery foamy bliss that needs no sugar. And that's not the only art form I've seen at the cafe. They are also experienced latte artists, not something you usually get if your coffee comes with a lid on it. Today's mocha was bittersweet (for definition hear Big Head Todd & the Monsters ridiculous song) in the best possible way. It gave me just the right jolt after that impending sugar coma.
[A bunny I got at a previous trip to Artisan Roast.]

If you're ever in Edinburgh make sure to stop by and get your latte poured by the barista with the mustache and then enjoy it under the lights made out of old mugs and french presses.

[Note: The Modern Day Still Life series is me trying to make ridiculous photos of my food into art. Bear with me here and expect a few more indulgent posts of this sort. There are a lot of cafes in Edinburgh.]

Monday, May 16, 2011

La Boqueria

Like any yuppy, I love farmers markets. Even better I love taking photos of food. So when I went to Mercat de Sant Josep de la Boqueria (la Boqueria for short) in Barcelona I was in heaven. The market has existed in some form since 1217 when it used to sell meat at the edge of the city. Throughout the centuries it expanded and by 1840 its current building was constructed. Today, La Boqueria is housed in a massive pavilion off of the most famous tourist (and therefore pickpocketing) street La Rambla. But once you get away from the street performers, you enter a foodie heaven with everything and anything you could ever want to eat...or not.
We mostly stuck in the fruit market and even that was overwhelming. It was sensory overload literally, neon colors you didn't believe actually existed in nature, some of the sweetest and juiciest fruit I've ever tasted, and the noisy hustle and bustle of the crowd searching for the perfect orange (there were many).

Even though it was difficult, I had to just go for it and pick my daily dose of vitamin C in some form so I went for the colorfully cute smoothies. My kiwi coconut juice concoction ran out too quickly and I can't help but think if kids were given these to slurp they'd have no problem getting their fruit and veggies in. I picked up an orange the size of a softball for our upcoming afternoon picnic too.

As a photographer, la Boqueria couldn't have been better set up for intriguing photographs. The juxtaposition of textures, colors, and tastes was almost too fun to snap and in the end I had to be dragged out of the market.This is my final Barcelona post. Despite the delay in posting, I hope you enjoyed them just as much as I enjoyed the trip. Barcelona was one of the most colorful and vivacious places I've had the pleasure to visit. Just being there activated all five senses: the taste of buttery ham and cheese croisssants- a Spanish specialty I couldn't get enough of, the smell of the sea while Hilly and I watched the fifth sailboat come in from the Barcelona World Race in the marina, the sight of tourists being mobbed by pigeons as they foolishly tried to feed them, the sound of the fountains plopping down water on the overheated tourists, and the ache in the arches of my foot as I climbed the steps of Tibi Diabo Cathedral to see the best view of Barcelona (sadly no photos of that adventure because my camera died at that point). In short, I'd recommend Barcelona for some welcome escapism for its a city that offers everything from delicious cuisine to mountains and beaches, what more could you ask for? Thanks again to the lovely and welcoming Hilly for hosting and making sure I tried the best churros in town while getting the lowdown the history to be found down every alleyway.

Only one more exam left. After tomorrow I'll be back to regular and hopefully timely posting!

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

A Mammoth of a Good Time

It has officially been a month since I left Barcelona and boarded the plane back to Edinburgh and exams (one of which I have the delight of sitting this afternoon), but these Barcelona posts are still going. And you guessed it, this one is about yet another park.

Parc de la Ciutadella was my favorite part of Barcelona. It was only a five minute walk away from my hostel, but when you enter through a line of palm trees and a Spanish version of the Arc de Triumf it's like another world. A world complete with your typical park pleasantries like fountains and gardens, but also mammoth statues (see my friend above) and even more Gaudi. In short, it's the perfect place for tourists with their cameras and sunbathing locals with their blankets to soak up a few minutes of relaxation during the busy day. It wasn't until I returned to Edinburgh and barely heard a peep on my street that I realized just how bustling Barcelona is. Parc de la Ciutadella is a necessary retreat and one that I definitely took advantage of a few times throughout my trip when I needed a break from my jam packed tourist itinerary.
[The greenhouses exploding with ferns on the inside]

[Spain is famous for its oranges, you could play softball with them!]
Parc de la Cuitadella was Barcelona's first park and therefore serves more function than just a nice place to take your dog for a walk. Besides strolling locals you can also find the Spanish Parliament, Barcelona Zoo, and the geology and zoology museums. Lions and politicians right next to each other? They probably have a few things in common.

This wouldn't be a post about Barcelona if they wasn't some reference to Gaudi and sure enough the most famous part of the park is the Cascada Fountain. You may notice that it doesn't have the mindboggling modernista architecture of Gaudi's typical designs, that's because it was a collaboration between Gaudi and Josep Fonstare. Gaudi was an unknown architecture student at the time, but the dripping cement is now a signature of his.

The fountain may not remind you of Gaudi, but how about Rome's Trevi Fountain? The design was based off of it, but unfortunately there's no running water because the Cascada is currently under-construction.

Nevertheless the fountain is still artistically relevant as you can see the modern dancers leaping around below.

My goal when traveling is not just to feel like some foreigner trying to capture an entire country on camera, but Parc de la Cuitadella had the rare ability to give me a few good photo opportunities and make me feel at home in the city. Being around all of the lounging locals, made it seem like I was really living and not just touristing in Barcelona. For that reason I'd say it's a must-see if you're visiting Barcelona and a regular routine if you're from there.

After this afternoon I'll only have one more exam and Barcelona post left. Start getting excited, I know I am.