For Auld Lang Syne

While Mr BG does not like bagpipes, hates The Proclaimers and prefers Irish whiskey to Scotch, he proudly declares himself to be of Scottish heritage.

In 1851 Alexander Finlayson emigrated from the Isle of Skye off the West coast of Scotland and settled in Ascot, just outside of Ballarat, near Clunes. He married Isabella McKay another emigre from Skye and went on to have scores of descendants, one of whom was my Mr BG.

Needless to say we will be going to the For Auld Lang Syne: Images of Scottish Australia from First Fleet to Federation, which starts at the Art Gallery of Ballarat this Friday 11 April.

 John Isaac Richardson, Ben Cruachan, Highland cattle

John Isaac Richardson, Ben Cruachan, Highland cattle

This is an exhibition which brings together art and objects to tell the story of the Scots and their influence upon the cultural, social and politician life of Australia. Australia’s first Catholic saint, Mother Mary McKillop, is herself of Scottish parentage and learnt to speak Gaelic in her Fitzroy home as a child.

The exhibition is curated by Dr Alison Inglis, Associate Professor, Art History Program, University of Melbourne and Patricia Tryon Macdonald, curator, Exiles and Emigrants, Epic Journeys to Australia in the Victorian Era, National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne (2005-2006).

The exhibition will be accompanied by a comprehensive catalogue that will include essays by leading scholars on aspects of the Scottish presence in Australia.

There will also be a schedule of public and education programs. I am hoping for learning how to play the bagpipes, if only to tick off my husband…

For Auld Lang Syne: Images of Scottish Australia from First Fleet to Federation runs from Friday 11 April to Sunday 27 July 2014 at the Art Gallery of Ballarat, 40 Lydiard Street North, Ballarat. The Gallery is open from 10am-5pm daily.

The cost for this exhibition is Adults $15, Concession $10, Children free.

 

Bookgrrl’s 7 wonders of the world

This is my last Top 7 for NaBloPoMo. It took longer to complete, owing to a couple of days I didn’t post (oops!). I will still welcome requests for Top 7 lists (they have been popular!) when normal blogging resumes in December.

These are my 7 Wonders of the world. These are wonders I have seen and experienced, so they may not necessarily correspond to big things that people have built or nature has wrought. But they’re still pretty special to me.

1. Michelangelo- St Peter’s, the Pieta, David, the Bruges Madonna. His work truly moved me to tears. Seeing David for the first time at the end of the corridor in the was a wondrous experience.
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2. Montmartre in the morning, when there is no one about. Seeing Sacre Coeur in the morning light, with noone about, viewing the Eiffel Tower in the distance from the top of the hill, then buying some pain au chocolat for breakfast to eat in our apartment with freshly brewed coffee was one of the perfect Parisian moments.

view of Eiffel Tower from Montmartre

3. Going to bed at 10.30 at night in Northern Scotland on Lewis, in broad daylight, then waking up temporarily at 2am to find it was getting light. It nearly did my head in, but it was an unforgettable experience.
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4. I did my Masters in Information Architecture, with a baby, a preschooler and a husband. I squeezed it in between gym visits, working part-time, and doing family stuff. I wonder how how in heaven’s name I managed to do it, as well as start blogging, but there you go!

5. I have two very interesting little people, whose inventiveness in telling stories amazes me, whose ability to generate a mess astounds me, and no matter how many times I yell at them, still love me.

6. Being with Mr BG for the last 16 years, who still surprises me with little things like washing dishes and cleaning the stovetop. Despite his belief that farts are funny, he is a wonderful person.

7. You are reading this, and I am thankful for the wonders of the Internet, and the ease of WordPress making it easy to write. Thank you.

Trainspotting

The train ride between Glasgow and Edinburgh is 55 minutes, and not only do services to each destination run every half hour, but there is a tea lady who goes up and down the track selling snacks. I don’t think the tea lady really needs to be on a service that is similar to the Geelong-Melbourne service at home, but you have to love the frequency.

Overall, travelling by train with the family has been a far more pleasurable experience than I ever anticipated. We’re using a Britrail flexi-pass which allows us 8 days of travel over 2 months and have found most of the trains to be comfortable. Rather than arriving at an airport and having to bus or taxi into the centre of town, you arrive at a station which is already the town centre and any travel by public transport can be done in a far easier way.

Unless you’re arriving at Waverley Station in Edinburgh where there are extensive renovations underway, and it’s also in a hollow. Unless your apartment is in High Street, or The Royal Mile, and you have to go uphill, lugging your ever-increasingly heavy suitcases and holding the hand of a child who does not want to go uphill because they’re tired. Unless you have to lug said suitcases up 4 floors of a circular stairway to your apartment because there is no lift, and all you want to do is throw said suitcase off the side of Edinburgh Castle.
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Looking on the bright side, we’re on the Royal Mile in a totally cool apartment with character (for character, read rolling floors and windows that aren’t sound proof). The owners have placed mirrors here and there to reflect as much light as possible into the apartment. And not only was it not raining, it was sunny!
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Fears of being kept awake all night were allayed, as there wasn’t that much noise from the restaurants below that we weren’t used to from Florence (that seems like ages ago!)

It was sunny as we headed up the Royal Mile towards Edinburgh Castle. We did a slight double take at the price £16 for adults £9.20 for children 5-15, but luckily we didn’t have to wait too long at the ticket counter, about 15 minutes.
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The view is magnificent, the day was sunny and there wasn’t hordes of people. Sure, you had to queue to see the Scottish Crown Jewels, but there wasn’t too much of a queue. However, spending over £40 just to get in made me less inclined to spend any money on souvenirs.

I think it was also getting to the point where I was seriously over castles. There was only so much history, and art and architecture that my brain could absorb, and Edinburgh Castle was one castle too many. But having said that, we then went to the National Museum of Scotland.

Not so much the antidote to a history overload, but it was free. The kids got to have a play in the Science section, all in the name of education , and do some dressing up, and we saw the original Lewis Chessmen.
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Master BG was also quite taken with a trebuchet game that was quite reminiscent of Angry Birds 🙂
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Apart from that, the Museum was okay. While the collections were grouped in very broad ways (it’s the librarian in me who gets a bit obsessed about collections and classifications), there really wasn’t much of a narrative linking the artefacts. Objects were displayed with very little explanation or thought in presentation. Wooden mouldings where located up high on a wall, making them hard to view, and old jewellery was encased in steel sculptures as a way of interpreting how they would have been worn by people of yore. The only problem was, it was hard to see the Jewellery!

I think it would have been better had we not realised we missed an exhibition of Scottish railway ephemera and advertising artwork, dating back to the 1930s- by 2 days! There was an element of frustration we felt that coloured the rest of our visit at the Museum.

We ended the day with Italian, a few doors up from our apartment. It was truly a yummy meal, made all the better that it was about a 1 minute walk from our apartment. This of course did not include the walk upstairs with full tummies 🙂 .
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Some Angry Birds sweets we found in Scotland 🙂

Heading doon to Glasgow

It’s weird that Glasgow could be considered south, but we headed south to Glasgow following the same route in reverse. The south had experienced significant rainfall which could be seen streaming down the mountains while we were on the train.

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We also travelled over the ‘Harry Potter Bridge, which sadly does not appear as good as it does on the film. Honestly where is a green screen when you need it?

Happily Glasgow was drier when we arrived and stayed dry. Arriving from the relative peace and quiet of the highlands where all you could hear was sheep baaing, birds tweeting, and the kids playing outside, it was a bustling Saturday afternoon in Buchanan Street filled with shoppers, younger people and teenage punks. Asking Mr BG about this proliferation of Mohawks, piercings and leather jackets, he explained that Glaswegians tended to stay faithful to past musical and fashion trends of long ago. While this does tend to contribute to some great music coming out of Glasgow, there is also a time warp effect when you turn a corner.

Totally knackered, we opted for room service and went to bed early. Owing to being in a family room all in together, this meant the kids were asleep by 8pm and we followed around 8.30!

We had the option of spending £10 per person for breakfast in the hotel, or heading out to find brekkie. Heeding to Mr BG’s newly-found and cherished Scottish heritage, we headed oot and aboot to forage for breakfast. Considering that most shops and cafes don’t open until midday this proved to be a Herculean task. Desperate, we spotted a Maccas and had toasted bagels and coffee.

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Next we hopped on a bus and headed to Kelvingrove Gallery and Museum. Built at the turn of the 20th century, it is a compact museum filled with stuffed animals, wonderful paintings, and designs from the Glasgow School, of which Charles Rennie Mackintosh is one of the best known.

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The collection had been organised into 2 sections, Life and Expression. The descriptions and the way the collections had been arranged were aimed at a younger audience than usual. Artworks were hung lower to engage with littler people and on the observation that people stayed in from of pictures longer if they were able to see them. Artworks descriptions provided a explanation of what was happening in the picture. Still-lifes in the French art room were arranged together so you could see the progression from the Romantic period, through Impressionism, Post-Impressionism and Cubism.
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A beach scene by Raoul Dufy was placed at a level where children could sit and look at it. There was a computer screen nearby where the kids could read an interactive book about the painting. The story about the painting had the kids guessing what he would need to take with him to the seaside, what colours to use to paint the scene, and had them thoroughly engrossed in the artwork.

We then headed backed to the hotel, via the shopping precinct of Buchanan Street, then after resting with the TV on (thank God for CBBC), we got dressed up for our last night in Glasgow.

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The hotel restaurant and bar are tres swish with yummy dishes, desserts and cocktails. We can definitely attest to the sticky toffee pudding and warm chocolate fondant pudding 🙂 .

The following morning we headed out to breakfast at the Willow Tea Rooms, which had been designed by Charles Rennie Mackintosh. It was a real buzz to be there, but brekkie was okay. The tea was good, the pancakes were fluffy and filling according to everyone who had them, but my porridge was a bit odd- part runny, part lumpy,as if it hadn’t been stirred.

On checking out of the hotel, we mentioned to the staff our destination.’Oh Edinburgh,’ they sniffed derisively, ‘It isnae as good as Glasgow!’

Skye Adventures II- the sun always shines on TV

I had always thought that Melbourne’s weather was cheangeable, but it was nothing compared to a summer’s day in Skye. Our mountain outside our kitchen window changed from friendly to forbidding in an instant.

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It is a rare day when Mr BG proposes to go for a walk up a mountain. I think he was under the assumption that the walk wouldn’t be as strenuous as what it turned out to be. We climbed Storr (715m) to see the Old Man of Storr with the kids pretty much setting the pace. And what a pace it was! We overtook a couple of groups climbing up, even with our regular rest breaks for water and refreshments. It was a mad scramble on rocks at the top but the view from the top and the sense of achievement was definitely worth it. I am already planning my next shopping trip to get some good hiking boots our next trip to the Grampians for some more walks in the mountains when we get back home.
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We headed off the island again to Dornie where there is the castle off Eilean Donan. If it looks familiar, it’s probably because it’s one of the more popular castles to visit when you’re in the Highlands, and one which is likely to appear in photographs and tins of Scottish shortbread. It was one of the busier tourist spots we encountered with quite a few tour buses in the car park and tourists hailing from Spain, Italy, German, England, Ireland and us!
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The history of the castle was quite enlightening, initially a stronghold against the Vikings, later becoming a military post which was sacked by the locals. It was in ruins from the early 18th century until 1932, when it was rebuilt- not according to the last surveyed plans of the castle in 1714, but according to a dream. Additional features of gothic turrets were added, making it less an authentic castle and more a romantic idea of what Walter Scott and the subsequent tourists would have liked a castle to be like. Mr BG was a tad gutted, and a bit cheated.

And then suddenly, it was time to go. We said goodbye to our little house, to Daisy the black and white cat and to the sheep that flocked around the roadsides. A few tears may have been shed, and the kids both said ‘Bye Skye!’ totally unprompted as we boarded the ferry.
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Skye Adventures

Portree is the main town on Skye and one of the prettier harbour towns I have seen. There’s a good array of shops catering for locals and tourists alike, as well as heaps of inns, pubs and hotels offering yummy lunches and dinners, which for myself and Mr BG, involved a lot of seafood. The kids have become quite good at eating out, but I wish that their kid’s menus involved something more than chips.
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I had visited castles in Ireland that were ruined, or were now museums, but Dunvegan was my first castle where people actually lived and still lived! It is owned by the Macleod clan and had been in their hands for 800 years. The castle had on display many Jacobite relics from the Scottish patriot Flora MacDonald, whose daughter had married into the Macleods- somewhat ironic given the Macleods had not sent any men in support of Bonnie Prince Charlie. There was also on display relic and photographs of the people of St. Kilda, an island some 40 miles west of Lewis and Harris in the Outer Hebrides. St. Kilda had been under the jurisdiction of the Macleods when the islanders requested to be evacuated in the 1930s.
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The guides were very friendly and informative, and quite happy to chat. It wasn’t too busy so we were able to wander leisurely in the house and out in the extensive grounds. The gardens of the estate were beautiful, especially a walled garden which trapped the sun and kept out the brisk breezeimage

Balmeanach is where Mr BG’s maternal ancestors, the Finlaysons, used to live as crofters. It was a few minutes’ drive from where we stayed and we drove through it every day. We visited the beach there, and enjoyed a sunny afternoon watching the kids play on the sand and climb over the hills. We also spent a fair amount of time trying to avoid sheep poo, and failing…
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Glasgow to Skye

We left Glasgow on a very cold and rainy morning. Everyone we spoke to in Glasgow was quite apologetic about the weather, saying it was not always like this in the summertime. ‘The Scottish did invent the umbrella and the mackintosh’, was something that could have been mentioned to them, had I thought about it at the time.

Once again we were on the train and took in some spectacular scenery of mountains, sheep, lochs, sheep and trees obscuring the spectacular scenery just as we were about to take a photo. Oh well, there was always the return trip 🙂 .

There was a lot of musical chairs as we took turns sitting next to everyone, playing cards, reading, or looking outside and counting the numerous stations to Mallaig. Five hours and twenty minutes later, we arrive and head towards the ferry terminal – about 100 metres away. A very brisk walk, and a bumpy trip up the gangplank and  we’re on the  ferry!

Compared to the train trip, the ferry ride was quite short at 40 minutes. We arrive and with the exception of a very light rain, it’s considerably warmer then Glasgow, at least double figures (Ballarat winters do seem to hone your sensitivity to temperature fluctuations). We pick up our car and head for our accommodation.

The roads still take a lot of getting used to- the windiness of them, my unfamiliarity with them and the car means I’m driving slowly, so the distances between towns seem all the greater. The final stretch of road to our little house is one lane, with passing lanes every 100 metres or so. A road which is about 8km takes me 15 minutes to drive. Apart from the occasional passing car, there is also sheep grazing by the side of the road, and rabbits!

The owner Stuart is there to greet us and we take in the beautiful little house and surroundings. Outside our windows we can see the beautiful garden, the hills dotted with grazing sheep, the sea and distant mountains, at least those which aren’t obscured by low lying cloud.

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