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.