28 August 2007

And the insanity begins to wind down

So, I've been pulling double-shifts so to speak, trying to get my thesis done and handed in. I'm hoping to get this sucker printed off tomorrow and mailed away. My brain is completely mush right now... so there be incoherent trains of thought and grammatical errors. You have been warned.

Right now, Mom, Meghan and I are finishing up our dinner, and we're going out to sit by the harbour later on to watch the world go by. They flew out here on Sunday (Mom's first plane ride!!), and have been enjoying the sites.

We're all headed home by train on Friday. We'll be back in Minden in the afternoon on Saturday. This has been a great placement overall, but I am looking forward to being home again for a little while.

I'll be back in Halifax later in September to do some presentations. Unfortunately, I don't think I will be returning to Scotland in October... I would rather save my pennies and do a proper trip over with a guest or two to see everything again - and/or visit my new friends in their respective countries.

So, Minden here I come! It will be nice to see you again. :)

04 August 2007

Natal Day Fireworks

Monday is Natal Day in Halifax and Dartmouth, celebrating the founding of the two cities. Part of the celebrations is a huge fireworks display on the Angus L. MacDonald Bridge. It's really quite impressive, and a perfect venue for a fireworks display. The unfortunate bit is that the fog was low enough that many of the explosions were lost - though they did make pretty coloured fog. :-)

Anyway, here are some pictures. They are captures from video (because that is the only way my camera will "see" fireworks), so a bit grainy.

See... pretty coloured fog....

Red lights coming off the deck of the bridge with explosions in the air.

Curtain of light coming off the deck of the bridge. This was my favourite... very effective!

Otherwise, I'm kicking it into high gear to get this project finished. This is me panicking. Wish me luck!!

15 July 2007

Look at all the boats!

It's tall ships weekend in Halifax, and while I'm not all that taken by the tall ships themselves, it is neat to see the harbour so full of sailboats, tour boats, etc. I went to see Harry Potter: Order of the Phoenix, and then decided to walk over the Angus L. MacDonald Bridge rather than ride the bus over it. The day was so nice, I decided to snap a few pictures.

It's foggy again today, and supposed to be rainy for the next couple of days. Not much new on the project front... just pressing on.

12 July 2007

Lost in a Fog

If you get the chance today, click on one of the webcams to the right and you'll see... well... you won't see much. The harbour - and most of Halifax really - is shrouded in thick misty blanket of suspended water vapor. The fog horns were blaring at 5 o'clock this morning. Going over the bridge this morning was quite spooky... it was like the bridge to nowhere. The tall ships, which I'm told are supposed to me making their entrance today, will be doing so under the cover of fog... if this were back in the old days, this would be a perfect time for pirates to strike!

I've been working a great deal on my project, but have been hampered by some tummy trouble. Got 6 tubes of blood taken today to try and nail down the problem. Otherwise, things are going fine, though I do feel a bit behind. I've been on CBC radio twice, and am going to be in the Chronicle Herald in an attempt to drum up volunteers. The coverage is also good for Saint Mary's University, and lets the people know what neat stuff is happening here.

02 July 2007

140 Years

Yesterday I spent my day taking in the Canada Day festivities in Halifax. The ferry was absolutely packed on the trip over to Halifax, and I imagine it was all day. The ferry usually only runs from 10-6 or so on Sundays, but yesterday extended its service until midnight. The ferry captain was clearly enthusiastic about the busy day, wishing everyone a happy Canada Day over the intercom.

My first stop was Citadel Hill in downtown Halifax to watch the Tattoo Parade. The parade consisted of the acts from the Royal Nova Scotia International Tattoo, which I will come to later.

After the parade, I headed down to Pier 21 - place I've been meaning to go since I've been here. Two Christmases ago, I discovered the ship on which my Grandpa Weisz came over from Yugoslavia through the Canadian Genealogy Centre. All of these ships passed at some point through Pier 21, and the museum there houses photographs of just about all of them. So, I ordered a photo of the Koln (also spelled Koeln) from them and gave it to Mom as a Christmas present. So, being in Halifax, the home of Pier 21, it was on the top of my list of places to visit.

Pier 21 was recently named one of the 7 Wonders of Canada. From 1928 to the early 1970s, Pier 21 was the main immigration point into Canada. Ships carrying passengers leaving the only life they knew - often with only a single trunk (or less still, a suitcase) full of belongings - would land at Pier 21 to begin their new life in a strange but welcoming new country. Pier 21 is now a museum, complete with interpretive exhibits about the immigrant experience, and a resource centre with ship photos, immigration records, and friendly researchers to help you out.

Included in the admission is a guided tour through the exhibit hall, and a 25 minute multimedia presentation about the pier. The multimedia presentation is visually impressive, consisting of 2 scrims with a set behind. Characters are projected onto the scrim, giving them the appearance of interacting with the set. It gives a very ghostly impression, drawing you into a sort of fly-on-the-wall look at the past. The presentation goes through all the different types of immigrants that came into Canada, concentrating on post-WWII immigrants, troops returning, war brides, Jewish children, and other refugees.

During the tour we were able to see the original doors through which the immigrants would have gone through coming off the ship that they called home for 10 or more days. We heard one harrowing story Canada's first refugees who that came over on a ship called the Walnut. The Walnut was only meant to hold 40, but was home for 3 long and seasick weeks to over 300 refugees from Latvia and Lithuania. When they arrived, the Canadian government had never had to deal with refugees before - they all lacked any sort of official paperwork or documentation, there was no warning that these people were coming. They were housed at Pier 21's detention centre for 6 months before the decision was made to let them stay. No doubt they were treated well, but 6 months of waiting for a decision about your fate must have been gut wrenching.

Of course, not all voyages were so harrowing. On the larger ships of immigrants there are stories of being extremely comfortable and well fed - though often times very seasick.

After the tour, I decided to check out the resource centre - for some reason 2 years ago I thought that finding Grandpa's ship was sort of the end of that genealogical road. Since my Grandpa and his family came to Canada from a war-torn country, there is very little information from that side of the family. My Grandpa died almost 20 years ago, and the last one of his immediate family left is his younger sister who was born in Canada - so there really isn't much oral history to go on. But, I thought perhaps I could find something of interest.

An extremely helpful researcher was on hand immediately, and before I knew it I wasn't just looking at my Grandpa's immigration record, but my Great-Grandpa's immigration record. Probably a better way to finish off this story is to tie it into what I already know of my Great-Grandpa Weisz (or as it was spelled back then, Weiss).

My Great-Grandpa, Georg Weiss, was a Yugoslavian German from a town called Cib (pron: chabe) and fought in WWI for the Germans. He was captured by the Russians, and was a prisoner of war, working for a doctor as a gardener. During that time he bribed the doctor to falsify his medical records - if you weren't healthy you were let go. He was then released. On May 3rd, 1926 he left on the S.S. Yorck from Bremen, Germany for Halifax, Nova Scotia where he arrived on May 12 with $30 in his pocket. He was sponsored as a farmhand by a man named Dan. H. Johnson from Winnipeg. He was listed as being able to read German - which probably meant that he did not know much English, if any.

Three years later, my Great-Gramma, Great-Uncle, and Grandpa followed - landing in Quebec City on the Koln (also spelled Koeln). They had only $15 between them, and were listed as being sponsored by my Great-Grandpa who at that time resided in Tecumseh, Ontario. Again, they are listed as being able to read German, so likely didn't know any English. My Grandpa was only 7 at the time. It seems to be at this point that the last name changed from Weiss to Weisz - not sure why though.

I was extremely excited to see these records and left Pier 21 with copies both immigration records and a picture of the Yorck. Pier 21 charges a fee for these services, but in my mind it was well worth it. While I may never know what my family's life was like in Yugoslavia, I at least now have a better idea of what the beginning of their life here in Canada was like. Seems very appropriate spending your country's birthday finding out how you got there.

After Pier 21 I had a dinner of fish n' chips and then went to the Royal Nova Scotia International Tattoo. Words fail to describe the experience. The Tattoo consists of military bands from all over the world, as well as some acrobatic acts, singers, and dancers. It's a variety show that provides everything from pop music, to marching, to opera. It really is quite the spectacle, and if you ever have the opportunity to go, do so. I think my favourite parts were the navy vs. army obstacle course (they entered from the catwalks of the convention centre down ropes as if they were coming down from a helecopter), the flying grandpa's (an acrobatic act from Germany which featured a hapless "Halifax Regional police officer"), the Norwegian drill team, and - of course - the Scottish pipe bands.

So, there you have it. For me, Canada entered its 140th year on a high note.

25 June 2007

The USS Wasp

Last week, the USS Wasp pulled into Halifax Harbour to help with a joint hostage-taking simulation exercise with the Canadian Navy, RCMP, and other Canadian and US government agencies. The exercise started yesterday, with (according to the understandably few details in the local paper) the RCMP getting a call in about an off-shore hostage taking. The whole thing is supposed to take place in both national and international waters.

Since the whole thing is out at sea, there is really nothing to see here. However, I was keen to see the Wasp actually leave, seeing as I didn't see it come in. People who know me know that I am a total nerd when it comes to big moving things (after a few fraidy-cat false starts when I was a wee one). I don't mind being stuck at a rail crossing when a train goes by - I just think it's cool to be seeing the train, I look up when a plane or a helicopter goes over (living so close to the hospital helicopter pad in Minden is a constant source of joy for me), and big boats have now made it onto my list of cool things to watch.

So Sunday I decided to take the day and spend it in the park overlooking the harbour with my book, waiting for the USS Wasp to truck out, heading off to rescue some "hostages". Not much happened on Sunday, and the 250 metre tall Wasp stayed in it's spot, dwarfing everything else in the harbour. But, I enjoyed the sun, breeze, and reading so much that I easily spent most of the day outside.

Unfortunately I forgot to put on sunscreen, so I now have a very red face.

Cool stuff did happen on Sunday though. Every so often when the wind was right you could hear announcements made over at the Naval Base. And at one point when I though I might go and leave, 3 Canada Coast Guard helicopters came flying over the park and landed on the Wasp, followed by 2 more half-an-hour later. (EDIT: My friend Aaron tells me that they were actually US Coast Guard helicopters, not Canadian... and upon closer inspection I agree. I didn't realize that the US Coast Guard colours were also red and white.)

I was a bit glum that I might have missed the Wasp's grand exit from Halifax Harbour, but started to think it might sneak out under the cover of darkness or something equally James Bond-ish.

However today as I made my way down to the ferry terminal, I saw that the big yellow line snaking around the ship had been removed, and the tug boat was in place ready to pull the ship out. When the ship sounded it's horn, you could feel it in your toes. The Wasp and a number of Canadian Naval ships headed out, and were seen off by none other than Theodore the Tug Boat - how funny is that.

I've added links (to the right) to two webcams at Halifax Harbour for you to enjoy. The one facing south (out of the harbour) is a little more interesting. It is on the Dartmouth side, and the little triangular form at the bottom left is the World Peace Pavilion. The one facing north isn't quite as interesting, but a nice view with a light house nonetheless.

17 June 2007

Sydney "not Australia" Nova Scotia (Cape Breton)

This week I took a quick trip out to Sydney, Cape Breton to sit in on a meeting with the Membertou (First Nations) community and my supervisor for her 3-D facial reconstruction project. It's a project that I may be helping out with, so it was good to be able to see the some of the development that is behind a project of this magnitude. It was also interesting to see the cultural nuances that are much different from our own regarding these types of projects. The meeting was very interesting, and the people were all very friendly. I got to see some artwork done by some of the primary school children in the community, and was absolutely blown away by the level of skill exhibited by kids so young.

After the meeting we went to a restaurant and I had seafood penne... they do really good seafood over here. We didn't do much else in Sydney, since the meeting was the main mission. It's also a 4-4.5 hour drive out there, so it's a long journey.

I did get to see the Big Ceilidh Fiddle at the visitor info centre. It's a giant 17 m 8 ton steel fiddle with a loud speaker in it that plays the same song over and over and over again. I could see how that could get annoying after awhile.

Yesterday I took the time to go out to the farmers markets in both Dartmouth and Halifax. Both are very good. The one in Halifax is in the indoor courtyard of the historic Alexander Keith's Brewery building, so is slightly more impressive than Dartmouth's which is in the same complex as the ferry terminal. However, content wise both are about on par, with the one in Halifax having the added bonus of a wine and spirits room. I bought myself a reasonably priced bottle of Nova Scotia wine in Halifax, and some bread and spinach in Dartmouth. Both markets are definitely dominated by artisans, selling everything from handmade beaded jewelery, to wood carvings, to tea cosies made from the Nova Scotia tartan.

The Scottish and Irish influences are definitely present in Nova Scotia, as well as some French from the Acadian culture. On my walk from the ferry terminal to SMU (short for Saint Mary's University) there is a Robbie Burns statue, I've seen hotel workers in the downtown wearing kilts, and there is a big Highland Games and Tattoo here in the beginning of July (which I am definitely going to attend).

Thursday night I went out to a pub across the harbour called The Lower Deck to hear some live music. The girls I went with said the band wasn't the best one there, but if they were the worst of them than the rest must be great because I thought they were pretty good! The pub is in one of a group of historic buildings on the Halifax side of the harbour which contain shops, restaurants and pubs. I had great fun, and since the pub is located right next to the ferry terminal, it was easy to get back to Dartmouth (though unfortunately I had to leave only halfway through the set). Also along the Halifax side of the harbour are a number of tourist attractions including a museum, tourist info booth, souvenir shops (pirates and lobsters are a bit theme), boat tours, fish n' chips stands, and a giant Theodore the Tug Boat where kids can look around and then sit on the dock for story time.

That's all that fit to print for now. Next weekend I'm hoping for warmer (if not drier) weather so that I can go down to Pier 21 and check out their genealogical records, and take in a few more of the harbour-side attractions.

08 June 2007

Halifax Harbour

This is what I get to see just about every day. This is Halifax Harbour from the Dartmouth side. I take the ferry across to Halifax. It's just $2.00 a ride, even less since I bought a transit pass. Riding the ferry is nicer than taking the bus across the bridge, though I will take the bus back to Dartmouth if I want to go to the mall or grocery store before heading back to my place.

The harbour smells like being at the beach. A nice little quip on Wikipedia says:

"Landlubbers say it smells like the ocean, sailors say it smells like the land; both are correct as the smell comes from decomposing seaweed on the beach."

I wouldn't say it smells bad down there. I'd rather the very slight smell of Halifax Harbour over the smog of Toronto.

06 June 2007

Out of the Old and Into the New

On Tuesday, May 22nd I hopped a plane back to Canada to start my placement in Halifax, Nova Scotia (which is Latin for New Scotland dontchaknow). The flight between Glasgow and Amsterdam made me want to take a boat home, but the flight from Amsterdam to Toronto was loads better.

I first took 10 days to visit Minden. The flowering crabs were in full bloom and smelled beautiful! But the blossoms were soon falling like snow, and then hydro came along and cut one of them back because it was interfering with the hydro lines.

I flew out to Halifax on June 1st. I'm living in Dartmouth right now in a bachelor apartment. I get to take the ferry across to Halifax where I have the option of working at St. Mary's University, Dartmouth, or the Medical Examiner's Office. I have yet to get full ethics approval for my project due to circumstances beyond anyone's control, so I'm concentrating on the literature review part of my dissertation and getting generally settled in.

You might have noticed the massive update I just did... school got so busy in Scotland that I neglected my blog. I took full advantage of my tv-less and internet-less weekend to catch up on writing. Enjoy the extra reading material, and I hope that my spelling isn't too bad!

And the Wrap-up

Last Supper

15 May 2007

We had a party the Tuesday before the exam which we dubbed “The Last Supper”. We had a great time taking goofy pictures and whatnot. It was a great way to end off my time in Flat A-13. I’m definitely going to miss the girls… they are the best possible roommates that I could have wished for.


19 May 2007

So this is what has put me so behind on my blogging. Well, that and the multitude of essays foisted upon us this semester! I think the exam went well. Again, it was 3 hours of straight writing, but this time I think I managed my time better. I stuck as close as I could to what I viewed the salient points to be, and did not stray. So much so that I wound up with an extra half an hour at the end to fuss over a question that in retrospect I probably should have passed over for another. I went through both my special left-handed pens, and another on top of that. After the exam the class went out to the Chinese Buffet for dinner, and a great time was had by all!

West End Capers – Botanic Gardens

20 May 2007

The day after the exam Lesley, Cheyenne and I took the tube to the West End to see the Botanic Gardens and to mail a postcard to the oldest pillar post box in Scotland at the Museum of Transport.

The Botanic Gardens are beautiful and smell wonderful. The greenhouses have all sorts of interesting plants including orchids, tropical trees, and carnivorous plants. Outside there is an herb garden, rose garden (unfortunately not in bloom when we went), various interesting trees, and heirloom flowers.

After the Botanic Gardens we had a leisurely brunch at a church-turned-restaurant and then headed through Kelvingrove Park to the Museum of Transport where we bought and mailed our postcards using the oldest pillar post box in Scotland. I sent my postcards to Dad and James… and I beat them home!

Farewell Strathclyde – for now

22 May 2007

Monday there was a farewell tea for the class in our common room, and we spent some time running around the Royal College Building taking pictures. Then a bunch of classmates and staff went out to a pub for a drink. Then it was off to dinner with my flatmates for one last beer and a burger.

Isle of Bute - Rothesay Castle

5 May 2007

The weekend after Edinburgh we decided that another trip was in order and this time Lesley, Eleanna and I went to the Isle of Bute to see Rothesay Castle. The islands are extremely easy to get to – the ferry and trains all connect, so only one ticket is needed. We left from Central Station early in the morning to catch the train to Wemyss Bay (pronounced: “weems” bay), and then the ferry to Rothesay. Bute is a much more industrial feeling island than Arran (which I went to in September), and seems to have a, if not larger, more congested population. We arrived in Rothesay right in the middle of a jazz festival, and got to see a number of very interesting umbrellas getting ready to march.

Rothesay Castle is all of two minutes from the ferry, and the town of Rothesay has grown up tight against it. Rothesay Castle - built in the 1200s - is another castle in ruins, but this time it has the odd designation of being a round castle, and having a moat. Another thing about Rothesay Castle is that it is home to a massive amount of seagulls, all of whom appear sinister and mean. I wanted to walk along the whole moat, so I managed to walk behind the castle steering as clear as I could of the many nests. The seagulls, however, must be used to people walking about because they only gave me the evil eye as I passed. I still felt as though I was in a certain Alfred Hitchcock movie.

After the seagull ridden Rothesay Castle, we hiked

our way up Canada Hill. Canada Hill is so named (I

am told) because it was the place from which family members could watch the ships departing for North America for the longest before they disappeared on the horizon. Back in those days it may have been the last sort of contact they ever had with those loved-ones.

After hiking up and back down Canada Hill (we never did find the top… it’s a residential neighborhood and we didn’t want to risk trespassing on private property), we decided to grab a drink and then take an open air bus tour of the island. The bus tour was nice, but since Bute is mostly farmland, that was what most of the tour consisted of.

It is not often that stopping for a bathroom break becomes a notable mention of a journey, but Bute distinguishes itself in that regard. At the pier are the Victorian Toilets, for 20p (which is the going rate at most high volume toilets… 20p to pee) you may enter the very clean and nicely decorated washrooms. The women’s toilets are pretty simple, but across the hall you can catch a glimpse of the green marble of the men’s toilets, apparently visited by Prince Charles. For a fee you can take a tour of the men’s as well, but we opted not to.

One Last Edinburgh Trip – Pre-exam stress buster!

3 May 2007

On May 3rd, Lesley and I decided to head over to Edinburgh again and tour around. Our first stop was at the plaque for Sir Arthur Conan Doyle again, where I took a rubbing of the plaque for my sister. Then we did the Royal Mile, looking for kilts for Lesley’s husband and sons. We made our way up to the Castle, and had lunch. Then we saw the 1 o’clock gun. I had hoped to get a picture, but I jumped when the gun went off and didn’t get a great shot.

After the castle we headed down to the bottom of the Royal Mile to Arthur’s Seat. We hiked up Arthur’s seat, which is a good half hour of a steep incline. Once we got to the top and round the bend, we were greeted by the sight of a handful of people either lazing about or having a snooze. From Arthur’s Seat you can see most of Edinburgh, and the harbour. The hill is amazingly solid, and it is no wonder there were people up there sleeping – it feels very peaceful and quiet. We spent some time resting at the top of Arthur’s Seat, enjoying the sunny breezy day before descending and heading to the park by the train station. Lesley needed to do a security interview for her placement, so I was left to my own devices and at her advice decided to climb the Sir Walter Scott Monument.

Sir Walter Scott was the poet who wrote The Lady of the Lake, a character of Arthurian legend whom he transplanted to Loch Katrine in the Scottish Trossachs. The Sir Walter Scott Monument is in Edinburgh right by Waverly Station. It is a tall gothic looking thing made of porous stone, and as such has been stained black in places giving it an even more gothic appearance. The structure sits on four posts, one of which you enter to pay your ₤3 admission. You go up a tight spiral staircase to the first level where there is an interpretive exhibit detailing the monument and Sir Walter Scott. After that, the remaining stairs of the monument’s whopping 287 stair total is straight up in a single ever-narrowing spiral staircase.

There are another 2 levels at which to stop before you get to the top, which make for a good rest if you are so inclined. As you go up the already small staircase gets smaller and smaller – I am surprised that people larger than I could manage. Once you get to the top you squeeze out of the, at this point, almost too tight stairwell onto a very small top platform with (thankfully) plenty of rails to hang onto. The view, unfortunately, isn’t great, and is dominated by Waverly Station. But the fact that you are so high up and on such a narrow precipice, makes it very impressive. After going back down I found Lesley in the park and, since she was still on the phone doing her interview, I decided to lay on the grass and have a snooze… I felt the need to be in direct contact with the planet for a little while.

After the interview we did the Royal Mile again, this time stopping for dinner at the Deacon Brodie Pub (across from the Deacon Brodie Café). After dinner, we walked leisurely back to Waverly Station and went back to Glasgow to continue studying for our exams.

Hot Pot!

I finally went out with Kate, the girls and Andre (who was tricked into coming with all us girls because he thought our other friend James was going to go) for Chinese Hot Pot!

Hot pot is like a really big, and slightly more involved, fondue. You get a big pot of simmering broth in front of you with spices in it, a plethora of weird and wonderful raw foods, and a dipping sauce made up of sesame, soy and other stronger flavours, and you sit down and make your meal. You drop your food into the broth and let it cook, cooking and eating as you go. I enjoyed the thinly sliced meats such as pork and beef, but stayed away from the lamb (which I've discovered I don't like that much). I also liked the squid and fish ball, but stayed away from the prawns (which in the UK still have their eyes... so creepy). I was especially fond of the leafy green veggies.

I even attempted to eat with chopsticks. Kate was quite impressed with my l33t chopstick wielding skillz. Especially handling them with my left hand (which looks harder than it is when being viewed by a righty).

Easter Break Rundown Pt. 2

Easter Break – Trip to the Highlands Pt. 2

I pretty much jumped at the chance to go to the Highlands again. I went with Andre (from Brazil), Lili, and their friend Carolina (from Spain, but with a Scottish accent… how cool is that!!?) splitting on car rental, gas, hostel stay, etc. It took us around an hour to find our way out of Glasgow, but once we were on the road, navigation between myself and Lili was pretty straightforward, and Andre made driving on the opposite side of the road seem easy.

Our first stop was Loch Lomond, but I didn’t see any Canadian tourists this time around. We then went up through Glencoe, making an unintentional detour into Argyll Forest. This time it was a breezy sunny day, and we stopped in a couple of places to enjoy the views.

Up around Fort William, we visited Inverlochy Castle. The castle is in ruins, and accessible by a rather narrow road off the highway. It’s one of those iconic four turret castles, and you’re free to just go on site and wander around. The really fun part about the ruined castles is seeing the remnants of the normal everyday things like windows and staircases. You can’t help but try to imagine where that staircase went to, and who climbed up it every day. Another interesting bit about Inverlochy Castle was the pieces of timber stuck in with the stonework – not sure if those were original (seems unlikely in Scotland’s wet climate), part of an old attempted restoration, or modern.

By the time we got up to Loch Ness and Urquhart Castle, it was fairly late and we decided to just head right up to Inverness for supper. We stopped at a tapas restaurant, and then walked along the River Ness which winds its way to Loch Ness. Inverness is a very clean and pretty city, still small enough to be (it seems) pretty close knit, but big enough to have all the conveniences.

Before the sun got too low on the horizon, we left Inverness for Carbisdale Castle. This castle is now used as a youth hostel, though when we stayed there the main guests were families. This seems to be a result of its remote location, though it is only a distance from the train station. As hostels go, this could be considered the Ritz, but without the price hike. Tall ceilings, statues, art, and a massive reading room all make it feel very high-end. But, everything still has that run-down hostel feel to it. Still, you can’t beat sleeping for the night in a castle!

In the morning we headed out bright and early north to Dunrobin Castle. So early, that we were there a good 45 minutes before it was due to open. So to kill some time we headed up to Brora, where there is a beach and golf course. The golf course is a public golf course, meaning that all you need is you and your clubs, no green fees. To get to the beach you need to actually walk across the golf course, so watch out for airborne golf balls. The beach is on the North Sea, which when we were there was FREEZING cold… as Lili exclaimed “It hurts my bones!!”. After hanging around Brora for a short while, we went back down to Dunrobin Castle.

I think I’ve mentioned before on this blog that I’m not too keen on the castles owned by the Scottish Trust. They are all pretty modern (late Victorian and early Edwardian), as families actually lived in them up until it became unaffordable. However, Dunrobin is proof of the old real estate adage “Location, location, location.” It is on the sea, with expansive back gardens. Inside looks pretty much the same as most of the Trust castles, but with more rooms open to the public (and I think one in the process of being discovered if my eavesdropping on the staff is interpreted correctly). As well, the castle is home to a falconry exhibit, where a number of rescued, and offspring of rescued, birds of prey are kept.

The falconry demonstration was the most fun I think I’ve had. Our falconer was extremely knowledgeable, and clearly enjoys his birds. He first introduced us to Plop, the white barn owl. Our first sight of Plop was on the perch in front of us, with the realization that he had gotten there by swooping over our heads, completely unheard. He demonstrated how owls are silent flyers, swallow their prey whole, etc. All stuff you learn in school or out of National Geographic, but way cooler when you see it in action. He let the children in the audience hold Plop… never have I wished so much to be a 10 year old again!!

He then showed us a 14 year old female gyr falcon and demonstrated how they feed and how good their eyesight is, as well as pointing out the challenges that face a falcon’s survival outside those that man imposes upon them. He then showed us a younger male gyr falcon, and demonstrated how they can catch their food in the air. Unfortunately, this poor falcon hadn’t quite worked out how to transfer his food to his mouth on wing, and swooped up to the castle with it. It turned out to be a bad choice of dining area, as there were a ton of other birds up there vying for his snack. The falconer spent a good 10 minutes trying to coax him back with the lure. When he got his next snack, he took it to a quieter perch on the garden wall.

After Dunrobin Castle, we went to Findhorn. At Findhorn there is a big beach that seems to stretch on forever, with a windfarm. The tide was out, so there were lots of seashells again to be had. Unfortunately my seashells got crushed on their way home in a packaged marked FRAGILE (a clear indication that post office personnel do not actually read those warnings), and were thrown in the garbage when they got to Minden. L Also in Findhorn there is a hippy commune which the public can visit. Unfortunately it was closed when we got there, but we did get to see some of the groovy signage and the grass growing on the roof.

Then we went back down to Loch Ness so that Lili and Carolina could take the boat tour. I had already been on the boat (albeit in much less hospitable weather) and Andre didn’t have very good sea-legs, so we stayed behind and had a coffee at the Clansman Hotel. It really struck home again, what a tourist trap Loch Ness is. But at the same time it is still one of those things that you just have to go to if only to say that you did.

We went back into Inverness to check into another youth hostel. The youth hostel in Inverness is probably the best hostel I’ve been in. There are only 6 people per room, with lockers and hangers for your things. The showers were very nice (though lacked privacy), and the whole place was very clean and new looking. We then went out for a quick supper (a burger at a curry joint), and then went to hear some traditional Scottish music at a pub called the Hootenanny.

The next day we were at a bit of a loss of what to do, or which way to head home. In the end we decided to go via Perth and Pitlochery, and to just veer off wherever we fancied. Our first stop of the day was Queens View which overlooks Loch Tummel. It’s a very pretty area, and quite remote on a little narrow windy road.

We then went to Edradour Distillery, the smallest distillery in Scotland. As it was explained to us, what major distilleries make in a week, takes Edradour a year to produce because they do everything by hand. There we got a free tour, and a free sample of their cream liqueur which was very nice. During the tour, to my complete dismay, my cows laying down myth was finally put to rest (are you reading this, Mom?). The spent grains leftover from the distiliation process are spread on the fields as fertilizer or fed to the cows. So, in Scotland anyway, the cows aren’t laying down because it is going to rain, they are laying down because they are all tanked. Oh, and the picture? I promise those weren't all mine - though I did sample a very interesting unchilled filtered scotch which I actually (to my surprise) liked.

After Edradour we went to Doune Castle. The castle is another castle in ruins, but with one very special difference – it is where they filmed a great deal of Monty Python and the Holy Grail. The only thing that I’d wished I had done before visiting Doune Castle was to re-watch the Holy Grail again and pay attention to the scenery, because as it turns out they used a lot of the castle interior and exterior. For instance, I actually walked down the same staircase that Sir Lancelot (John Cleese) ran up during his killing spree when he got “a little carried away.” (Not the same stairs in the picture). Doune is neat because even though it is in ruins, many of the rooms are still largely intact, including a couple of loos and some gigantic fireplaces.

After Doune we went to Loch Katrine – which I’d been to in December, and then Aberfoyle. By then it was getting late and all the attractions were starting to roll up, so we headed back to Glasgow. What a great trip!

Easter Break Rundown Pt. 1

Easter Break – Trip to Edinburgh #2

In April we got a week off for Easter, so I took the opportunity to catch up on some work, cleaning, and a little traveling. I took a quick half-day trip to Edinburgh with my classmate Cheyenne and flatmate Lili. Lili needed to get a visa to go to Norway to visit one of her classmates – he had fallen ill and the doctors found out he had a brain tumor. He went straight home and had it operated on. He’s doing very well now, walking and everything, but has a little short-term memory loss. Scary situation nonetheless – to be in a foreign country and have a serious medical emergency.

Edinburgh is a beautiful city in good weather (recall back in November I went on a very rainy day and probably spent the time hypothermic). There is no shortage of green space in which to stretch out and relax. Cheyenne and I went to the art gallery but, neither of us being artistically inclined, didn’t really get all that into it. The pictures that spoke to me the most were the ones by the Scottish artists – in particular a painting which depicted an Irish man at a harbour in Scotland waiting to board the boat to North America. Couldn’t help but imagine one of my Irish ancestors in his place.

After Lili rejoined us by the art gallery, we went over to Edinburgh University and I took a picture of the plaque dedicated to Sir Arthur Conan Doyle – creator of Sherlock Holmes (for which I have a gradually expanding collection of strange memorabilia). Afterwords we walked up the Royal Mile and checked out the stores. Lili had to run off early because she had so much work to do, and Cheyenne and I went to the Deacon Brodie Café. The café is in what is believed to be the work shop of Deacon Brodie, a deacon of carpentry who was the inspiration for Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. By day he was a gifted carpenter, and by night he was a notorious thief and gambler, in the end hanged by the very gallows he designed.

After lunch Cheyenne and I walked around the base of the rocky hill/cliff one which Edinburgh Castle stands, and made our way back to the train station. It was a short but nice visit to Edinburgh.

Easter Break – Wii!!

Not much to say here except that Ice (classmate) and I went over to Doug’s (another classmate) and had some fun playing with the Nintendo Wii. Very cool console. Generally spent the sunny day playing the Wii and watching Pulp Fiction. I seem to be better at tennis on the Wii than I am in real life... stands to reason if my golfing skillz are anything to go by.

18 May 2007

Highland Trip Pt. 1

Ah, the semester is finally over. I just finished my exam, indulged in some Chinese Buffet goodness with my classmates, and drank wine while watching Peep Show (a British Comedy... not an actual "peep show"). Now it's time for the MASSIVE HUGE and GIGANTIC update which school has torn me away from for so long. So, here's a whistle-stop tour of my March, April and May. I figure a post or two a day should get me through it before I leave the country... then you might notice a few changes to the ol' blog... stay tuned!

Highland Trip Pt. 1

In March (my God! March??) Lesley's son, Eric, came over from Colorado for his spring break. I tagged along with them for a trip up to the Highlands. It was only a day trip up to Inverness, which made for a whole lot of breathtaking views of inside the tour bus... but the driver was fun, and we basically received a running commentary of each leg of the journey for a good 4 hours there and back.

First we stopped at Loch Lomond, billed as one of the prettiest lochs (not lakes!) in Scotland. It is very pretty, with Ben Lomond towering over it. After seeing so many Lochs on the Loch Tay trip, however, Loch Lomond seemed to me to be just like any other loch.

However, we did learn some interesting history while we were there. The song "The Bonnie Banks O' Loch Lomond" with the often sung chorus "O ye’ll tak’ the high road and I’ll tak’ the low road/ And I’ll be in Scotland afore ye/ But me and my true love will never meet again/ On the bonnie, bonnie banks o’ Loch Lomond." May actually be attributed to two prisoners, a young man and old man, who are charged with the task of determining who should be executed and who shall go free. The old man lays down his life for the young man telling him to take the high road, while he takes the low road of death.

While at Loch Lomond, I ran into a couple of tourists from back home.

One of the big legs of the journey was through Glencoe, the site of the Glencoe Massacre of 1692, where the Campbells in the ultimate betrayal of Highland hospitality murdered the MacDonalds at the behest of William of Orange. Glencoe is another breathtaking glen, with a feeling as remote as Glen Lyon, which I had seen in December. Glencoe seems somehow bigger though, cutting through huge hills and dales. Standing in Glencoe you get the feel of being in a wide open space, while somehow being closed-in.

Glencoe was dusted with snow when we went through, and we were able to catch glimpses of deer feeing on the bits of grass sticking through. Every-so-often we'd drive through a flurry, which of course made me feel a bit more at home.

Once through Glencoe we were on the home stretch for Urquhart Castle and Loch Ness, home to Ogopogo's distant cousin, the Loch Ness Monster (or as they more sensitively call her these days, the Creature). Legend has it the creature was first spotted at Urquhart Castle by Saint Columba in 565 AD. Loch Ness is a huge tourist trap, with tours of the Loch by boat which aren't all that impressive - unless you like listening to a recording while you ride the choppy waves. Mind you, the unsettled water of Loch Ness certainly makes you understand why they think there could be a monster down there...

Urquhart Castle is worth the trip though. It is an impressive set of ruins, which on a good day would be fun to climb all over. However, by the time we got to Loch Ness, the weather had taken a turn from peacefully snowy to cold and windy. But, the weather only served to make the castle more atmospheric.
After our tour around Loch Ness and Urquhart Castle, we made our way back to Glasgow. Thankfully, I was soon going to get another - and somewhat more complete - taste of the Highlands.

25 April 2007

I've been here how long?

I do have a number of things to post about... a couple of trips up to the Highlands, school, and all that jazz. Right now if time could be bottled and sold, I'd be in queque to buy a couple of litres. But, it isn't, so I can't. So you're just going to have to settle for a little bit of whimsy for now. ;-)

It's amazing the stuff you see when you're not looking. I was standing in the kitchen with my flatmate, Isabel, and we were talking about me leaving in less than a month. It's one of those weird situations where I'm excited to be going back home, but at the same time I'm sad to be leaving some really wonderful friends. It's a strange thing to share your life with a group of people for 9 months, and then suddenly leave them with the full knowledge that there will be oceans and borders aplenty between you.

So I was looking out the window as I was talking to her, stretching myself out of the chair shape I've gotten my back into and contemplating how to reconcile these seemingly irreconcilable feelings, when I see these in the distance:

I've been here for 8 months, and I have not once noticed those windmills. Not once. It's had to have been too hazy to see that far, but then again I also looked out the kitchen window for a good 3 months before I realized I could see Glasgow Green too. Maybe I just saw them because I wasn't looking.

Anyway, that's your "moment of Zen" for today (please don't sue me, John).

03 March 2007

1 in a Quintillion

A couple of weeks ago our lab exercise was to extract and profile our own DNA. Part of DNA profiling is determining how frequent your particular profile - which is only looking at a small segment of your very large genome - occurs in the population at large. Since it is impossible to profile every person in the world, his is done using databases of volunteers who have had their DNA profiled.

I calculated my frequency using the RCMP database, and it turns out that my profile turns up 1 in 1.7 quintillion. That is, the probability of anyone else having my DNA profile is 1 in 1.7 quintillion - or that out of 1.7 quintillion people my profile will turn up only once. Even though this number sounds insanely large (and it is... wanna know what 1 quintillion looks like in pennies? My classmate put me onto this), it does not seem uncommon to be that "unique". Odds are, my sister and brother with whom I share half of my DNA, are also that "unique". My flatmate is also 1 in a quintillion, and my other classmate is 1 in a quadrillion.

So now, when someone says to me "Erin, you're one in a million." I can prove just how much of a geek I am and say "Actually, I'm one in a quintillion."

Hrm, just doesn't seem to have the same ring to it. ;-)

02 March 2007

HMA v. Gates and Brown

So, back in December we did the Stepps exercise, in which we were given a mock crime scene out in the elements to process from start to finish in two weeks. Thursday night we had to perform our final duties for this case by presenting evidence in a mock court of law.

I've never been big on public speaking. I get the jitters, especially leading up to a presentation or the odd amateur play, but once I'm up there I tend to be able to calm myself and get comfy in front of an audience. This, however, was thoroughly uncomfortable. Something about not quite knowing what nuanced questions are going to get thrown at you is very off-putting. Then, the added knowledge that exactly how you answer those questions will have a profound impact on one or more people's life - even in this pretend scenario - makes it even more off-putting.

The whole experience was an interesting one. In the evening we walked down to the Sheriff's Court across the Clyde. From there, the expert witnesses were shuffled off to the witness room, to be called one at a time by the lawyers (very And Then There Were None). Of course in this situation the expert witnesses were the forensic science students, and the lawyers were law students. Any forensic science students who weren't giving evidence were cast as jury, accused, clerk and macer.

In the witness room we were briefed on proper courtroom procedure: call the Sheriff (a real Sheriff's Court Judge) "My Lord", stand in the witness box, receive the question from the lawyer and address the jury with the answer, and then exit once instructed to do so via the gate by the dock and sit behind. Whether the gate was a push or a pull was something we made sure to clarify, to the point where we all filed out of the witness room and tested it ourselves.

It was a pull.

And this is very important to know.

When you've just been released from an adrenaline producing experience and you're eager to release your wobbly legs from their duty of keeping you standing, the last thing you want is an I Love Lucy moment flipping over a closed gate because your momentum realized too late that is was a pull rather than a push.

I was second from last to give my evidence, and was only up for half-an-hour (which was the maximum time for a 3hr mock trial with 6 witnesses, crown, and two defense teams). My nerves actually worked in my favour and forced me to consider each question carefully and ask for clarification or time to think. Despite how nervous I felt I've been told that I seemed very calm and collected.

At the end, I was surprised at some of the things the defense said about my testimony during their closing statements. They brought up evidence in my report that they had not questioned me on, and they actually said "Miss Kernohan said that..." and proceeded to say something that I did not say. But, at the end when the Sheriff addressed the jury, without mentioning specifics, that no matter what the lawyers said the evidence is what they heard the witness say. It was amusing to see the lawyers tripped up by the composition of the jury. The reflex seems to be to say "Ladies and gentlemen of the jury." The jury was all ladies so the sentence came out more like "Ladies a... of the jury."

One of the defense lawyers was very smooth with words, opening his closing statement with "Mr. Brown sits here an innocent man." That was the only moment that it sounded like a Law and Order Episode.

In Scots law, a jury can issue a verdict of not guilty, guilty or not proven. In our case the verdict was not proven. At the end the Sheriff addressed all of us and said, in particular to the women in my group, that we handled ourselves well.

So, the experience has been a good one. Every Thursday for the next three weeks we're headed down to the same court so that the other groups can have their mock trials. Even though going first was tough, it's nice to have this not hanging over my head.

14 February 2007

True Romance

So, thought I'd just post some random stuff for Valentine's Day.

The picture to the left is a pretty risque carte-de-visite probably from the late Victorian era. This is actually a scanned image from an original one that I cataloged at the museum.

Originally I wanted to post a link to Miss Piggy singing "Never Before, Never Again" from the Muppet Movie - a great song for Valentine's Day. But, no one seems to have put a video up of it anywhere. C'est la vie. Ah well, read the lyrics and just picture Miss Piggy singing that at the top of her lungs.

Seriously, if that doesn't get you into the Valentine's Day spirit, I don't know what will!

However, I did find something for the lonely souls out there.

And, for those who are in the pursuit of Valentine's Day knowledge, take the Valentine's Day Quiz! Or, if you're more studious, read the Valentines' Day Wikipedia entry.

It's also interesting to find out if people on Valentine's Day are really searching for love and passion... or are they looking for something else?

And nothing says luvin' like making sure your true love can give you a pint when you really need it.

Happy Valentine's Day everyone! ;-)

10 February 2007

Hey Look! It's February.

It's been awhile since I last updated, so the following is going to be a mishmash of seemingly miscellaneous stuff.

School, Schule, and more School.

Our exam marks came in the wee hours of Thursday morning, and I passed first semester. Yay! I managed a solid 63 on my exam, which over here is "with merit". Above 70 is "with distinction". Before the exam I was aiming for my usual 70+, however right after the exam those expectations plummeted to only hoping for a pass. I was completely overwhelmed by the 4 essay questions, something I had never encountered before in an exam. So, I am happy with my 63, and in conversations with others I find myself firmly within the middle of the pack, which is a good place to be.

Looking back at previous posts, I notice I really don't talk that much about what I'm doing at school... and there really is a very good reason for this. School is not interesting. Now, don't get me wrong, I love my course and I'm really really enjoying it. But I guarantee you that me rambling on about court reports, PCR reaction mixtures, and acid phosphatase, is only good for putting you into a deep slumber from which you may never recover. But, since most of what's happening on this side of the pond is school, I realize I'm going to have to inject some sort of educational commentary into this blog. At any rate, you've been warned. ;-)

Second semester started with bloodstain pattern analysis, the highlights of which found me spitting into a beaker, and decked out in a scene-suit covered in cow's blood. Spitting into a beaker was to test saliva and blood mixtures to see if the presence of one confounded the test for another. The cow's blood thing was more interesting. We got to go upstairs to the (freezing cold) reconstruction room and spray, drip, and kick around cow's blood to see what kind of patterns we got. One exercise involved donning a tyvek suit, visor, and gloves and punching into a sponge soaked in blood, and then kicking it, to simulate what might happen if someone is severely beaten. It was pretty fun, and instructive, though kind of gruesome - but, it was only cow's blood... the same stuff they make blood pudding out of... though I have to admit the thought of blood pudding puts my stomach off way more than the exercise did.

Now we're doing DNA, which is pretty dry. But I'm finding myself very well equipped from what little I retained from my undergrad. Myself, and a couple of other girls, find ourselves tutoring some of our classmates with a chemistry background (who came over to the dark side of biology, mwah ha ha ha ha). This has been a huge benefit to me because it is helping me remember information and concepts which I thought I had lost, and bouncing stuff off of those who have a similar background as myself is also helping to solidify concepts which were iffy for me to begin with. I am coming to the realization that my undergrad may have been an unusually difficult one for what we're doing there. When I tell people that I have a Molecular Biology and Biotechnology Specialization degree, the response is usually "Oh dear God, why?" And quite honestly I can't give all that great an answer to the question aside from that I really do enjoy it, despite it being an insanely exacting and frustrating science. Hrm... I think there is a word for people like me... or several. ;-)

The DNA module finally caused me to buckle down and buy some textbooks. I have come to the interesting realization that the more gorey pictures found in a forensic science textbook the less useful it seems to be. This became readily apparent during the bloodstain pattern module when the book that was least informative had really icky pictures of people with their heads missing (for a variety of reasons), and the book that was most informative had zero gorey pictures. Leads me to believe that academia is not immune to sensationalizing. The really good bloodstain pattern book had neat-o time lapse photos of blood drops hitting surfaces so that you could see what the drop actually does to make the pattern you wind up seeing. Anyway, that's all a bit of a tangent because I didn't get a bloodstain book. I wound up getting a couple of general criminalistics books, and a big heavy DNA one... since DNA is mainly what I'm interested in doing.

DNA's been pretty fun. We're analyzing our own DNA, taking samples from buccal swabs, drinking cups, chewing gum, cigarette filters (sans cigarette) and blood. For the blood we used lancets that diabetics usually use to test their blood. OwA! I would not want to do that every day >.<. Last week we checked if the samples we extracted from actually had usable DNA in them, and so far 2 of mine do - the chewing gum and the swab. But I haven't gotten my blood sample results back. It's fun looking at your own DNA :-).

Haus eines Kunstfreundes

Last Saturday I went out with Glasgow Friends International to House for an Art Lover. Unfortunately, it was rather dark in there, so I didn't take many pictures - and quite honestly the pictures would not do justice to the house. The concept of the house is an interesting one. It was designed by Charles Rennie Mackintosh and his wife, Margaret MacDonald for a contest run by a German design magazine in 1901. The entry had a number of technical problems with it, including being late and having one or two drawings short. However, the judges loved it so much, that they awarded Mackintosh a non-placing prize for his entry, and refused to award a 1st prize to any other entry. Although Mackintosh gets the most credit for the design of this house, his wife's contribution is unmistakably equal to his own. Many of her signature art pieces are immediately associated with Mackintosh's name.

The house was built in 1996, based on Mackintosh's entry, in Bellahousten Park in Glasgow. The park is in the west end, south of the Clyde. In the park there is also a small ski-hill with artificial snow, a walled flower garden with some spiffy looking trees, and a rather large foot sculpture, among other oddities.


It's the coldest here that it's been since I came over. For the first time I have my heater on full, and am wearing more than just a t-shirt and cardigan. We're sitting at around 2C with a windchill around -3C. With the dampness it probably feels a little more akin to -7C. The buildings here are very poorly insulated, with my curtains rustling every time the wind blows against my closed window. My bathroom, because it is bordered by the elevator shaft (which has almost full exposure to the elements), and outer wall, could at this point be used to store chilled beverages. Given our lack of fridge space, this may not be a bad idea.

But really, it still isn't that cold here. Especially in light of the stupidly cold weather that Ontario has been getting of late. -3C, even in the damp weather of Glasgow, is not -43C (with windchill). Nonetheless, I am making sure to keep warm.

Miscellaneous Fun Stuff

Given my friendship with my Alaskan flatmate, I couldn't resist passing this Penny-Arcade comic around.

Class moral seems to be pretty good. Recently we had a Biologists v. Chemists football match (I just supported... football is very much not my game). Chemists won 8-6, which wasn't too bad... considering the biology side didn't have enough players and needed to recruit some informatics students. Not sure what the next challenge is going to be, but I've heard through the grapevine it might be bowling. I could handle that. Last night we had a pub night which turned out good (considering I planned it, and hate planning things in general).

Well, that's really all that's fit to print for now! No new flickr pictures yet, but I'm sure I'll have more before long.