A Travellerspoint blog

Ben

Ben Hur, my faithful companion for the past 3 months (yes I only have two more months left, I don't know whether to be elated or horrified), has bid his goodbye.

Not that he's died or anything, I've just finished reading him that's all.

I actually got used to calling him 'him', because in my head I'd go, where's Ben? I should get Ben out now. so naturally the 'he' came as well.

So. Ben Hur, by Lew Wallace, is a toga-classic set in the 1st century, mostly in Rome. Most people will have heard about or seen the chariot race, and nothing much besides that. While the race was a major highlight of the book, it's really much more than the movie scene suggests. It's an interesting work, following the Jewish Ben son of Hur, a son of Judah (of the tribe of Judah) as he battles against his childhood-friend-turned-enemy Massala, as he searches for his long lost mother and sister, as he chooses between the sensual Iras and the innocent Esther, as he forms an army for what he thinks will be the future King.

An imposing book, to be sure, and one that I read in many sittings. I usually like my books fast and furious (ie. Book binge) but this is a peruse and ponder kind of book. Especially the middle part, it kind of gave me something to chew on. I chose this book for my travels because it was labelled as a book about journeys; the parallel journeys of Ben Hur and Jesus as they pursued their goals, and, in Ben's case, struggled, discovered, fought and triumphed. If you don't like slow books then don't read this. I think you'll put it down after the first two pages. But once you get in to it, the action is quite riveting.

What I liked most about it is Ben's thought-process and how he changed along the way. I mean, the action was awesome, I love action, but character study and coming-of-age-meets-quest-story is always great. Ben had many great qualities (Lew Wallace gifted him with superior body, brains, and beauty) but he was also a thick headed idiot. Iras was obviously evil. Dude. Stay away. (sorry, spoiler) Apart from that, he had a natural and relatable struggle to discover the Christ and His real purpose.

Forgot to mention that although volume-wise it doesn't say much about Jesus, it's pretty loaded with references to the bible and theology. I think I was surprised how much. I was actually pleasantly surprised also at how much of it I agreed with. I don't often agree with a lot of the values of the books I read, to be honest! So this was nice. (I mean, I didn't agree with all of it, but the percentage was much higher). One thing I was impressed with is how Lew Wallace chose as a main plot the Jewish people's desire for an earthly king to overthrow Roman rule. I don’t hear about that very often (maybe it's just me). But Ben was portrayed as deeply desiring this, and he believed that the Christ was going to be the future King of Rome, Jerusalem, and the world. Loaded with theology as it was, Balthasar the Egyptian wise man explained that no, Jesus will be the spiritual king. But okay, yeah, so I was impressed with that.

I shouldn't have gone full out with a book review here haha. But I wanted to pay tribute to the book of travels, one that I took from my shelf on which it'd lain for months haha. One that got a little dog-eared as it got jostled in the depths of my bag in Belgium, Paris, Spain, Portugal, Scotland, and here with me in Hamburg too. Wow. I actually feel a little sad. No matter. A journey's end is the beginning of another.

Peace be with you, dear brother.

“For know you, child, I have that faculty which is better than any one sense, better than a perfect body, better than courage and will, better than experience, ordinarily the best product of the longest lives—the faculty divinest of men, but which”—he stopped, and laughed again, not bitterly, but with real zest—“but which even the great do not sufficiently account, while with the herd it is a non-existent—the faculty of drawing men to my purpose and holding them faithfully to its achievement, by which, as against things to be done, I multiply myself into hundreds and thousands.” 

“For power, you know, is a fretful thing, and hath its wings always spread for flight.” 

“If thou dost think of me again, O tribune, let it not be lost in thy mind that I prayed thee only for word of my people - mother, sister.” 

“It was then I saw thy mother, and loved her, and took her away in my secret heart.” 

“For to-day I take or give; 
For to-day I drink and live; 
For to-day I beg or borrow; 
Who knows about the silent morrow?” 

“The race was on; the souls of the racers were in it; over them bent the myriads.” 

Posted by seaskimmer 15:02 Comments (0)

Wilderness Expedition

And that bus brought us back to Moffat where uncle and auntie were waiting for us. Had meringue outside in the sunshine for tea. Chilled outside talking and taking photos of the garden. Then a grand old dinner.

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Uncle sucking in his stomach 'for the camera' hahaha

First a salmon tourrine (?). Smoked salmon wrapped around creme fraiche with fresh salmon and chives, and with asparagus in the middle. Then
carrots cooked in orange juice, and
cabbage, and
thickly sliced baked potato, and - best of all -
steak and ale pie, still steaming in its ceramic bowl. After was
pudding, which just means dessert, and which in this case was raspberry cheesecake woah woah. Is that awesome or awesome??
Bulmer and
Stella Artois cider accompanied the crazy full meal.

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Sat and talked in front of the fire (which uncle lit purely because we liked it and we were slightly cold. I mean, it's practically summer, and they hate the heat haha) til later, and then t and I begged leave to pack. But we were very tired haha. Archie wasn't on our bed that night, but we left our door ajar in case he wanted to come in later.

True enough, Archie woke us up at 7 something, again by walking on us and licking my hand. Such a sweetie.

Hearty breakfast of some kind of fish rice. It was so good. You won't believe how good it was. Could have had 3 big bowls of it, I contented myself with 1 and a half normal bowls haha.

Went on a long drive through Scottish wilderness. It's really amazing, I wish I'd spent a week there hiking. Rough route was
Grey mare's tail waterfall
Loch Mary
Reservoir Lowe
Reservoir Talla

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Uncle photobombing the selfie
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Scottish ice cream. SO GOOD.
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Irn bru: Scotland's favourite drink (probably)

It was really cold day actually, with only the occasional drizzle, but with a freezing wind. We enjoyed ourselves immensely despite that, even had some ice cream! (Scottish brand) we saw a lot of sheep everywhere, mostly Scottish sheep which are white with black faces and black and white patterned legs. And some cows, rusty brown against that deep green. I finally got to see (or at least have the names told) pine, spruce, larch, fir, rowan, elderflower and several others I've already forgotten. What I won't forget is how gorgeous Scotland can be. It's harsh scrub out there, on a majestic glacial landscape.

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Light green tips of spruce can be eaten or used for cooking. initially sour, mostly green.

Nettle was finally pointed out to me. After spending my childhood reading about stinging nettle, I finally see it in real life! And dock leaf was also pointed out, it's an anti-histamine, therefore you rub it again a nettle sting to ease the pain. About an hour later, P and T just discovered some nettles, and I bent down to take a photo of it, carefully keeping my hands clear. And then my ankle brushed a bunch on the side sigh. Prickles of pain, I rushed over to the doc leaves nearby. It hurt for the next 15min, and then the pain disappeared. Not bad la, I can say that it was an interesting experience, but only because it didn’t' hurt that much haha. The whole scene felt pre-written though, with an introduction to the mechanism, and foretelling as well hahaha.

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Nettles
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Dock leaf

Got back, packed a bit, then were invited to tea by the neighbours! They're a lovely Nepalese family, who've been in Moffat for maybe ten years? And who own and singlehandedly run a huge garden and nursery. When I say huge I mean it, it's like 6 acres or something? And the parents run it all by themselves.

After tea and homemade raspberry cake with the two sisters (they seem to like raspberry here), we went out on a jaunt around it. They are so lucky, seriously they practically have a forest in the backyard, that they own, along with part of a river and a small waterfall! And a tree house on a totally climbable tree (apparently the brother did climb it a lot) but which I figured would be rude to climb lol.

I played with the dogs Ollie and Louie, they're not very smart haha. Worse than fristi. Terrible at seeing where the stick lands! Louie maybe can be excused cos he's like a century old but Ollie should know better. Anyway I tried to be kinder to Louie by almost passing him the stick, because Ollie would always see, run and grab the stick before Louie could even react.

Unfortunately that meant getting close to his teeth and yes I did get bitten haha. It was 5s where I just went woahhhh internally, while closing my eyes and just wondering when Louie would let go. And after that my finger remained depressed for about five minutes, throbbing, before the tissue began to expand. And then it got swollen and the blood leaked out a little. And then I got back in the house and washed it and got antiseptic and a plaster. I usually don't bother with that but hey, a dog that isn't very clean just bit me and there was some blood. I still want use of my fourth finger, how do I climb without it? Heh.

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Then basically we packed up and left. They drive us to the bus stop in Moffat. When the bus came it was with sadness that I bid farewell to the auntie and uncle, and Scotland.

Scotland is so gorgeous. The places that we visited were truly wild Scotland, with only sheep for company. Part of the Southern Upland Way. Need to go baaaaack.

Posted by seaskimmer 09:06 Archived in Scotland Tagged scotland moffat Comments (0)

Edinburgh

“The real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new landscapes, but in having new eyes.”
― Marcel Proust

Got up pretty early on Tuesday morning, had a yummy breakfast of oats, black pudding, sausages, eggs, some random cake. The oats were really good! Surprisingly actually, I usually don't like it. And I refuse to call it porridge. But this was good.

Hustled onto the bus to Edinburgh, spent most of the 2.5h bus ride there asleep haha. It's only 1.5 hour by car, but the bus stops in a few small towns on the way.

Got to Edinburgh, dumped our bags, walked down princes Street, attempted to attend the sandeman tour but the guy refused to let us on it because we were 5min late! I was SO mad. I mean, this has never happened to me before. What on earth. I was looking forward to it so much too. So we just walked up and down the royal mile looking at things.

Got our 5pm slot for the Mary King's Close tour. Very interesting, one of the world's first few skyscrapers existed in Edinburgh. The buildings went up to ten storeys high! And then later the government knocked off the top few levels and built on top of the bottom few. That left small streets like Mary King's Close deep underground. The tour was fun, but I felt it was a bit contrived like she was just blurting out the script she'd memorised (unlike sandeman tour guides who are always really passionate). Nonetheless it was really cool that we got to be so deep down in the age old streets. We could actually see, as we went down the royal mile, how lots of the closes from the main road itself went off downwards pretty deep! Because I suppose the royal Mile is much higher than the surrounding roads.

Had a really good dinner of mussels, pizzas and a lamb shoulder appetiser hehe.

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Then we tried to go up to Arthur's Seat. It's an extinct volcano just at the end of the mile. It's really gorgeous, green, and craggy, plus it provides a great view of the city. I was so excited, unfortunately t and p weren't so, due to the uphill and the cold haha. We went up a little way before the path we were on seemed not to go anywhere. And it was getting dark and we were hoping to avoid midges (worse versions of mosquitoes) so very regretfully we turned back. Later when we asked we realised we went down the wrong road. So we could have gotten there in time if not for that.

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Queen's residence in Scotland
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Checked in to our hostel, showered, and wanted to go out for a drink and (for me) to hear live Scottish music, but they fell asleep haha so I just turned out the lights and slept too. Yes, my quest for live Irish music remains unfulfilled. Scottish music could have been a substitute but the universe conspires against me.

I'd planned on getting up at 6 plus, having a quick (free) breakfast at 7 when the hostel breakfast bar opened, and then hotfooting it to Arthur's Seat. (time was short) To my immense disappointment, my phone malfunctioned or something so when I woke it was 7 plus and there wouldn't be enough time. I was very sad.

We had breakfast and went off to Edinburgh Castle where we were regaled by a military band. Okay, they were having some sort of parade. It was cool. Besides one or two military songs they also played Angel by Robbie Williams. And they were all kilted in green with white and black tassels hanging from the front, and white and black boots. And it was so funny, because they all wore bear hats (think British soldier) with really long hair, so half the time the wind was blowing and the hair was in their faces and they could barely see their scores lol.

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Dog cemetary
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Very impressed by the ceiling of the Great Hall. Original medieval work.

So we went into the castle, it was probably one of the most interesting castles I'd been to, they really make an effort. Every room had stuff to read. Went to the war prison, got to see the Scottish Crown jewels, had some history on the jewels, saw the Stone of Destiny!! Also a dog cemetery. I only wish I'd paid for the audio tour, but we didn't have much time. Considering how expensive the entrance already was though (16 pounds, there's no student discount), another 3.50 wouldn't have been much.

Going around the castle really fed my love of medieval lore! I've always loved reading about knights and castles and dragons. Since I've come to Europe, this has been the most exciting castle in that respect.

Bought a smoked salmon sandwich, mmmm. And then picked up bags from hostel, walked to princes street and berated ourselves for not having walked a further 5min to Waverley Bus station. Because we thought that the bus might come to that stop, it said so on the top sign but not at the bottom, and we waited close to 15 min after the bus was supposed to have left Waverley Station, but it didn't come. And then it did and we were so relieved and happy.

Edinburgh is probably one of my favourite places architecturally. I think most people are getting ready to hantam me hahaha after Paris and Bruges and whatever. It's not as purely pretty as Bruges and Ghent, and far from the poshness of Paris. What is has is a crazy old-world atmosphere that I'm so in love with. Brings me right back into the past, even more so than London!

Posted by seaskimmer 09:02 Archived in Scotland Tagged scotland edinburgh Comments (0)

Scotland

Scotland! Oh joyful land of my youth. Okay, lots of my 'literary youth' was based in the UK, and not much in Scotland actually haha.

Pre-impression: Scotland is the rougher hardier more solid cousin of Ireland. With the same celtic glory but with less of the whimsy and more of the forthrightness.

We took an overnight bus from Victoria station to Glasgow, arrived rather groggily at noon on Monday. (blasted bus that I hit my head 4 times in) Looked for P's aunt, lo and behold a little spitfire of a woman!

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Probably one of the best things that could have happened was staying with P's aunt and uncle. They live 2 hours by bus away from Edinburgh, in an ulu little area called Dumfries and Galloway, Moffat. It's so amazing, farmland everywhere. I absolutely love it! I wanted to do a farmstay while I was here but gave it up due to lack of time. So glad to stay with them, they have this gorgeous little cottage with 3 cats, 4 hens and the most gorgeous garden ever! A million different flowers and shrubs, all lovingly grown and tended to by the uncle. There are a multitude of bluebells, along with azaleas, rhododendrons, pine berries (look like strawberries, taste like pineapple), and deciduous and evergreen ____. That's not even half of it. And there's a vegetable garden too! Come autumn they will be almost self-sufficient with eggs, cabbage, long beans, rhubarb, carrots, potatoes, and quite a few other vegetables. M would love it here :)

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Aunt and uncle (I shall just call them that here) are so wonderful. Uncle showed us around the garden and patiently and proudly told me the names of most of the plants. And later he let me come with him to put the hens in bed!!! (which means making sure they're in the coop, and closing the door to it for the night) and he also showed me the swallow nests on the underside of the roof! Aunt is lovely, she's an amazing cook and made chicken and haggis, with broccoli and potatoes, and a rhubarb and cream dessert. That was dinner. Lunch was potato and fruit salad and chicken and tuna sandwiches, but like nothing I'd ever had before. And tea was SCONES hehehehe what a yummy fatty day.

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So anyway we got to their place just in time for lunch, then we all had a shower and p and I went for a walk while t was showering. Almost got some horses to say hi but they wouldn't come the final meter. I think it was the lack of food. And I baaaed to a lot of sheep and moooed to a lot of cows but yeah I'm not exactly Eliza Doolittle.

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Lunch, use wifi, tea, and then t and p were too tired so I went out on a jaunt myself before dinner! Love going on walks myself actually, leaves space to explore, jump over stuff, look at slugs and frogs. Can go dangerously close to edges without anyone yelling at me to get back hahahaha. Came back, talked to uncle about the swallows (newly arrived from Africa!) and then had a scrumptious dinner. Discussed what to do in Edinburgh the next day, went to sleep with Archie the ginger on my feet : )

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Posted by seaskimmer 08:53 Archived in Scotland Tagged scotland moffat Comments (1)

London

The English language is like London: proudly barbaric yet deeply civilised, too, common yet royal, vulgar yet processional, sacred yet profane. 

- Stephen Fry

First impression of London: inefficient. They overbooked the buses from Stansted to London! I ended up missing my 1pm tour sigh.

Beyond that, it's a very strange and interesting mix if old and new, even more so than in an other country I've been to. EG the guy had to print out and staple a ticket and a receipt (that he kept) when he was doing our oyster cards for us. I mean, if you're gonna be contactless and electronic why not go the whole way? And the City feels like that too, that cabs are slightly ancient looking (which I love) and the streets look old too, when the tarmac and cars are disregarded. I could almost see black beauty and ginger straining with their loads, and Oliver twist running away.

Finally met up with z and p. Met yz for Burger and lobster. Very yummy lobster, but paid 20 pounds for it sigh.

Went shopping, sort of at top shop and primark. Went back to shower and sleep. Did some research, created exco WhatsApp group.

Woke up early at 8 to shower, do more research. And wanted to have my free breakfast but thwarted. Sad. Angry. I wanted food. A lot of food. For free. Oh well.

So the plan for London second day was 11am sandeman, 2pm Bricklane, 4pm natural history museum, 6pm goldmine dinner, drinks after.

Here's what actually happened:

P and I went out to get breakfast (got the timing wrong and missed the free breakfast, I was very angry about that haha), ended up at a 5 pound 'English breakfast' that we sped through so that we could make the 11am sandeman. Made it, even a bit early, stared at the moleskin shop longingly while avoiding the customary group photo. Interesting tour as usual. Realised that there wouldn't be enough time to do all that we wanted and also we decided that we might want to do another (paid) tour.

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So we ended up taking a bus to Liverpool Street station, and walked a really long time in the hot (actually hot!) sun to Bricklane. And finally made it at 4pm lol. Bought a bunch of stuff for relatively low prices (jacket for two pounds hehehe) and then everything began closing (at 5pm) so we tapaoed dumplings and fried rice and teriyaki chicken for our early dinner. Then met t, z, and d at the green patch to hang and eat our dinner. Sun was still shining, someone was playing reggae, a million people hanging out on the grass. Nice.

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P and I rushed back off for our 6.30pm grim reaper tour. After some (more) detours we made it on time and rested our weary limbs for a mere 5 min before the tour started. Very interesting, it was about death in London, and that included plagues, hangings and murders (ie jack the ripper). Then back to the hostel where we'd left our bags, waited downstairs in the lounge for t to return, and watched 21 jump Street in the lounge while waiting for our 1am bus. Unfortunately we had to leave halfway. I need to finish it!

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Weary way to Victoria coach station, had my 7 chicken wings! The guy gave me an extra piece, don't know if it was by accident or he was just being nice :) or if he just had a lot of leftovers that he couldn't sell finish haha. But okay, a bit gluttonous, should have only gotten 3. Oh well, good supper. It was even spicy, haven't had chilli in ages.

London is a city I would actually return to. There's so much to do and see there! Unlike some other cities in can think of haha.

Posted by seaskimmer 08:47 Archived in England Tagged london uk Comments (0)

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