July 12, 2006


I got to Orkney on Friday night, and left Sunday, which only gave me a day and a half to explore the island. But I soon discovered that Neolithic Orkney is a World Heritage Site, and with good reason. I had a fantastic time, and really wished I could have stayed there longer.

Friday, June 30

The ferry to Stromness got me in at 8:30. I'd already eaten dinner, so, since it was so light out, I decided to go for a drive after checking into my hotel. When I saw the signs for the Standing Stones of Stenness, I decided to see if they were still accessible.

Standing Stones of Stenness

They were! The stones are in the middle of a farmer's land, and there were actually sheep grazing around the stones.

The light was fantastic, and as the sun began to set, the sky had fantastic colors. I'm sure the short daylight hours in the winter are pretty harsh, but the long summer evenings should make up for it in spades!

Continue reading "Orkney" »

No, I haven't forgotten about you...

...my five (ish) wonderful readers. I have a lot of stuff to put up about the rest of the Scotland portion of my trip (and some pretty good pictures, if I say so myself).

But with all this writing, something really wierd happened. As the sign says (btw, isn't that the best sign ever? Found it in a village outside Eilean Doonan castle. I think I want to get it blown up really big and framed), my priorities have sorta shifted. A bit.

As I wrote before, the big goal of this sabbatical was to focus on writing, and see if I could stick it through and write my novel. Well, it's been going super well, with the side effect that I've become a wee bit obsessed. As in, I'm not reading any other fiction at all. Yeah. The Crow came out on July 3. I picked up my copy at Waterstone's as soon as I could. And I haven't read it. Haven't even opened it up. Which is really wierd for me, especially for books that I've been craving for months. I track book releases like some movie releases.

As my three readers can attest (have I mentioned how much you guys rock yet? Cuz you do!), this book has taken over my life. But it's a good thing, and it's just what I wanted.

So I have updates and pictures and stuff that will be coming soon. I promise. I have to work on my pitch for the PNWA Conference today, but hope to get some of my other updates out of my head and onto the site.

Pirates! Yar!

I went to see Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest on opening night in Edinburgh. I've been looking forward to this movie for ages and was so so so excited. And it was fun (even though, in true British cinema style, I had to sit through 30 minutes of obnoxious commercials after the supposed "start time." The previews were good, though). It had good fight scenes, plenty of funny bits, and I thought the plot was interesting. A few of the stunts were a little over the top, but that's really just a quibble.

But here's the thing, when you see it, don't expect it to have a proper ending. It's really more like a tv season-end cliffhanger. You know, like when Picard was captured and had just introduced himself as Locutus of Borg. Riker looks at the screen and says "Mr. Worf, fire," and then we get the music and the cruel cruel cruel "To be continued" appears on the screen. And now you had to spend the entire summer waiting to find out how what happens. That's how Pirates 2 ends.

So go, have fun, but know that you'll pause in the middle of the movie, and have to wait until next year to finish the saga. Of course, I don't think this is any worse than the way The Empire Strikes Back ended. At least this time we know when the conclusion will come out.

Drink up, me hearty's. Yo ho!

June 27, 2006

The Luxury of Time

Today was the perfect day. Really.

I slept in, and woke up when I was ready. I had a lovely lunch at the Fruitmarket Gallery Cafe (cheap, too), then wandered down to Princes Street.

It was a beautiful day. Clouds rolling through the sky. Warm, but not hot, and with a light breeze. I wandered in a new direction, down George Street. I found an adorable modern jewellry gallery, and got a pair of earrings. And then I found the good Waterstone's.

The Waterstone's on Princes Street was small and didn't have what I was looking for. But this Waterstones, on George Street, had everything. I picked up a big Scotland Road Atlas (for tomorrow's adventure), and found a new Moleskine Large Ruled Reporters Notebook. (Aside on the Moleskine: its the perfect writing notebook. Good quality paper that's thick enough to write on both sides. Because the binding is at the top, my hand doesn't cramp at the edges orf the paper, and no space is wasted. Thick cover, with an elastic band that keeps it from flopping about. Plus, it's small enough to stick in my purse and leave plenty of room for everything else.). This was the fifth store I'd gone in looking for a new notebook, as I'm almost finished with the two I brought with me from home. And this was the first store that had what I needed.

The Good Waterstone's has a cafe inside, where I got what might be the world's largest cappucino. It was a very comfortable cafe, with a good vibe, so I pulled out my notebook and wrote a bit.

When the world's largest cappucino had been drained, I got to do one of my favorite things, wander through a bookstore. The shelves beckoned to me, but I remained relatively restrained. And I had them reserve a copy of The Crow for me, so I wouldn't have to worry about finding it when it comes out on July 3. After the bookstore, I wandered some more, and found a Starbucks with outdoor seating.

And today, Starbucks came through. Like a champ. First, I was finally able to purchase lemonade! For some reason, lemonade appears to be a code word for "Sprite" in Europe. And I love lemonade - not sprite - lemonade. Just lemons, water, and sugar. This lemonade had some lime juice in it as well, but it's as close as I've had in weeks. And it was wonderful. The second way Starbucks came through was that this was my view when I paused in my writing and looked up.

I came home to drop everything off, then headed back to the Grain Store for dinner. When I walked in, they greeted me like an old friend, even though I've only been there once before. I got my "usual" table, and kind of felt like I'd just walked into Cheers. I had a nice leisurely meal, enjoyed the atmosphere of the stone walls, candlelight, and wooden tables, and wrote more. I had soup, and venison (mmm. bambi.), a strawberry ice-cream-like dessert, and coffee. As we were chatting before I left, the owner, Paul, confirmed that Ullapool and Orkney were good choices, which was, of course, a nice confirmation to hear.

This one day was exactly what I'd envisioned when I planned my trip. Relaxed. Writing a lot, but having it flow naturally, and finding that it reads well when I go back through it. Calm. And fun.

So now you know what I was looking for. It was so nice for that ideal to actually come true.

Highland and Island Adventures

I decided it was time to get out and see a little of the countryside, so last weekend, I went into a planning frenzy. I almost went with one of these tours, but, ultimately, the siren call of the ruins on Orkney (which my dad turned me onto) were too powerful to resist.

I've rented a car, and leave tomorrow for a fun little adventure (yes, manual transmission on the other side of the road does fall into my definition of fun). Here's the plan:

Day One
Edinburgh to Ullapool. Staying at the Ceilidh Place (apparently, it's pronounced "kay-lee." No, really).

Day Two
Hanging in Ullapool and Wester Ross.

Day Three
Ullapool to Scrabster. Ferry to Stromness, Orkney. Staying at the Orca Hotel (pronounced as it looks).

Day Four
Ruins, ruins, ruins and a cathedral on Orkney.

Day Five
Ferry back to Scrabster. Scrabster to Aberdeen. Long drive. Saying at the Thistle Aberdeen Caledonian.

Day Six
Aberdeen to Edinburgh. Stop at Dunnnottar Castle. One good castle ruin is worth 100 ho-hum ones. The pictures remind me a bit of Dunluce Castle.

Should be fun, no?

June 18, 2006

Edinburgh Restaurant Report - Week One

Since I know a few people planning trips to Edinburgh, I promised to keep track of where I ate and how it was. I didn't eat out much this week, so it'll be brief, and everything was within walking distance of my flat.

Without much further ado, here's the first in a series of four restaurant reports.

Petit Paris
38-40 Grassmarket (map)
Old Town
0131 226 2442
Cost: Moderate. £25 for soup, main, dessert, and coffe.
Thoughts: This was a charming, very Parisian cafe. I had the beef bourginon, which was good, though the souce was a little stronger than it ought to have been. The leek and potato soup needed a little more seasoning, but the chocolate tarte was quite good. The restaurant itself felt a little crowded - all the tables were rather close together, but it still had a congenial atmosphere.

15 Jeffrey Street (map)
Old Town
Tel No. (0131) 557 8184
Cost: Expensive. ~ £40 for an appetizer, main, dessert, and coffee.
Thoughts: I ended up here when it turned out the restaurant I had intended to go to was no longer in business. It was late, I was hungry, and Iggs looked reasonable. The scallop and jamon appetizer and blackberry sponge cake dessert were both fantastic, but the filet of Scottish beef was just okay, and had too much gristle. Also, though the wine list was very extensive (focused on Spanish wines), they didn't have any dinner wines by the glass. The restaurant atmosphere was very nice, trying for refined, and the service was polite, if a bit slow. If you go, stick with the seafood.

City Cafe
19 Blair Street (map)
Old Town
0131 220 0125
Cost: Very Reasonable. £8 for a large brunch and two cups of coffee.
Thoughts: I had a great brunch here. The atmosphere is laid back and casual, definitely a place where you could sit and relax for a while without having anyone bother you to move along. Plus, when I asked for water they brough ice tap water with lemon (exactly what I wanted), rather than having to do the bottled still vs. mineral dance that you seem to have to do everywhere else. The tap water is great! I got the french toast with crispy bacon, and it was the perfect size for a Sunday brunch. City Cafe is definitely worth checking out.

North Bridge Brasserie
20 North Bridge (map)
Old Town
0131 622 2900
Cost: High Moderate. £30 for an appetizer, main, dessert, and coffee. Wine available by the glass or half bottle, as well as full bottles.
Thoughts: I loved North Bridge, and fully intend to go back. It was the best meal I've had on my trip, and the setting was spectacular - it's in the Scotsman Hotel, an old building with exquisite detailing and lovely views. I had the tomato salad, crispy sea bass, and chocolate fondue, and they were all perfectly done. The service was lovely, everyone was friendly, and I want to go back just to sit in the window seats in the bar. I also got a flyer advertising 2 course lunches for £12, which sounds like a great deal.

June 17, 2006

The Beeb

Travelling on my own has given me the chance to experience all sorts of British television, and it's been an interesting experience. When I was in Paris and sick, the only english channels were CNN and BBC World. I tried to watch MTV France for a while, but it took some concentrating (as an aside, they actually played music videos on MTV France in the morning. What a novel concept!). And, of course, in England, the BBC (and ITV) are the only options I seem to have. My report thus far:

These shows are worth checking out (or bittorrenting, as the case may be):
Dr. Who. So, yeah, maybe I'm the last person on the planet to realize that the new series of Dr. Who is worth checking out. I just found the old series disturbing when I was younger and it prejudiced me. I was wrong (there - I said it).
Manchild. I only saw one episode, but it was kind of like Sex and the City. For guys.
Sugar Rush. Teenage girl in Brighton dealing with coming out and finding love. It's poppy and fun and the episodes I saw had a great soundtrack.

I'm a bit embarrassed to admit this...
But I've become totlly sucked in to a show called Raven. So yeah. It's a kid's reality game show. Set in a classic knight fantasy kingdom. The host has feathers in his hair. And a cape of raven feathers. And a Scottish brogue. And he says things like "Let the challenge... begin!" and "May the luck of the Raven's Eye be with you." And the production values are just this side of cheesy. But I love it. It's totally the kind of show I would have loved to have been on when I was a kid.

Why, why, why do I let myself get sucked in?
Big Brother is like this ginormous train wreck. Every person in that house is a self-absorbed spoiled prat (and one or two of them may be clinically insane). And yet I keep letting myself zone out with it on. I just don't get it.

June 15, 2006

I Heart Sainsburys

So, I have an apartment in Edinburgh for a month (woo!), and part of the reason for getting the apartment was the whole "self catering" idea. You know, cook some of my meals at home and the like. And the kitchen in the apartment is very cute and efficient.

On Monday night, I stopped at the local convenience store to get breakfast supplies. But a convenience store isn't exactly the best place to get filling sustenance, right? On Tuesday afternoon, I grabbed my purse and started walking to find a local grocery.

Well, I walked. And I walked. And I walked. In fact, I ended up walking all the way around Edinburgh castle. (For reference, this is where I'm staying. The green bit below Princes street is the castle outcropping). And I found the following: loads of cool buildings, Boots, H&M, many many many bars, but NO GROCERY STORES.

I did find a cheesemonger by my apartment, where I was able to pick up some cheese and bread, and next to them was a liquid deli, where I bought some port and two different whiskys to try (hey, when in Rome..). But cheese and alcohol won't really suffice for the entire month's food supply.

Even better, when I asked "where could I get some fresh fruit and vegetables around here?" the answer I got was a sad smile and "Sorry, luv. You're in a bad part of town for that. The best you'll do is Tesco."

Tesco? That does NOT sound like a fresh fruit sort of place, and the way he said it made me even more hesitant.

So I brought my cheese and liquor home and went onto the handy internet. Sure enough, no grocery stores around here at all. I had heard where a Sainsburys was, but it was going to be a bit of a hike. And then the power of the internet really came through...

On a lark, I went to http://sainsburys.co.uk and discovered that, oh yes! you can order your grocerys online and have them deliered to your home. And they had an open delivery spot on Wednesday afternoon!

Angels sung. And I spent an hour going through and getting all the staples, and lots of heavy stuff that I wouldn't want to drag back to the apartment on my own. And the Sainsburys man came today, on time, with loads and loads of bags. And the produce was lovely (really - these might be the best bell peppers I've ever had). And I had something to eat other than cheese, bread, or cornflakes today. And they gave me a free sample of some sort of chocolate candybar.

So now I feel free to go browse at the grocery store and know I won't feel compelled to buy anything in particular, so I can just grab whatever catches my fancy. Which is, of course, why I Heart Sainsburys.

June 14, 2006


I got into Hay-On-Wye around 5 on Saturday afternoon, and left Monday morning, so I really only had Sunday to explore the shops.

Hay-on-Wye BooksellerdThere were certainly books everywhere, but, despite having what seemed like a not-too-esoteric list, there were some authors I had a lot of difficulty finding. In some of the shops, there was a mustiness, and the haphazard way the books were piled was a little hard for me to take. What's more, as an aspiring author, being where so many books have come to die was a little sad. It makes the whole goal of being published seem like a little less of an accomplishment.

Fortunately, I discovered that this melancholy was due in large part to the shops I happened to wander into first. As soon as I found the right shops, my whole day truned around and I started having a much better time hunting for treasure.

Hay-on-Wye is a great town to wander - with a partly ruined castle in the center of town surrounded by old stone buildings, it doesn't lack for character. The non-book shops are also very browseable, though I had to be very careful since I lacked space in my luggage

I stayed at The Old Black Lion Inn for my two nights in Hay-On-Wye. It was a charming inn, which I would absolutely recommend. I had a single room, which was small, but clean and comfortable. The only problem I encountered, which is to be expected in any 17th century building, was that I am rather a bit taller than the peope for whom the building was originally built, so there was a lot of watching my head and ducking through doorways. I survived relatively unscathed - the nasty bump I got on the first day served as a reminder to mind my head for the rest of the trip.

The Old Black Lion is a DB&B on Saturday nights. My dinner Saturday was so good that I ended up eating in the restaurant again on Sunday night as well. The halibut from the main menu is fantastic, as were the cider and dessert wine. All of the staff were very warm and friendly. Since I got done shopping early, and it was a beutiful day out, I sat out on the patio in back, had a cider, and read for a few hours.