World Clock

Monday, 18 May 2009

a quick catch up (part ein)

Trying to fit 3 months' worth of events into one blog post is pretty impossible for me.. Hell, I find it difficult fitting one day in sometimes.. So I'll have to split this one up and try miss out any unnecessary details (wish me luck)!

The Medical: I finished my medical trial. After a few incidents of accidental blood squirting and inability to find my arteries (and an uncanny ability to find my nerves instead) I survived unscathed: no scars - physical or otherwise. My nurses, Vanessa and Debbie, were very friendly and made the time go quickly during those long hours laying still, strapped to uncountable and ceaselessly beeping machines. Plus I got myself a nice fat £400 cheque at the end of it...

The Music: I managed to play a few more Open Mic nights at Whistle Binkies and got to know Alan, the sound technician, fairly well - an acquaintance that would prove to be quite helpful a little later on down the track. My guitaring skills are still a bit hit and miss at the moment but, hey, that's what practise is all about... I haven't hit Whistle's in over a month now and don't intend to do so any time soon, I'm just a little too busy plus my humble abode is now situated across town!

Some Friends: For one night only! That should be the subtitle to the evening of Saturday the 28th of February, when an old school friend, Jimmy Marin and his girlfriend Amanda popped over to see Lee and I. We checked out a very messy club called Why Not, which somehow seemed to maintain the illusion of poshness about it (probably because it's situated on "posh street" otherwise known as George Street). Free jugs of vodka/redbull greeted us at the door and I managed to embarassingly and unintentionally score a pash from the most drunk (yet still ridiculously posh) girl on the dancefloor. A night to remember.... Good or bad...

The Flat: After a few weeks of work and 2 months of couch surfing in Edinburgh I decided it was a good time to get out of Lee's hair (well, her lounge room anyway) and find myself my own accommodation. I used Gumtree to post a "Looking for" ad. Within 24 hours I had about 10 phone calls.. One of those callers was Carolyne, living in the west end and looking for someone to move into her spare room to offset some of the costs of owning a house. I checked the place out and just couldn't say no. I moved in by the weekend.
But the phone calls, texts and emails didn't stop there. For the next 2 weeks I was getting about 5 or 6 missed calls a day. I stopped checking my voicemail. Probably not such a good thing since one of the calls was from Debbie (one of the nurses from the medical trial) telling me that they were concerned that my white blood cell count was bouncing between normal levels and extremely low. To this day I still don't know the cause of this but they suggested a good multi-vitamin and healthy diet as a good way to try and regulate it. I would like to say I've taken their advice on board fully, but that would be a lie - I put it down to saving money...


in the bathtub with some stoned friends...


a mishap at the hospital

putting NZ on the map!

the various machines i had the pleasure of being hooked upto..

Tuesday, 24 February 2009

playing and philosophies

My first day of work went by quite seamlessly, except for the fact that I worked from 10am to 8pm having a break for "lunch" only at 6pm. Those of you that know me well, know that I eat.. a lot.. and so an eight hour shift with no break doesn't sit too well with me. Oh well, I guess I'll just have to take it like a man and stop my whingeing because with the number of staff on each day and the busyness of the place that is likely to be a regular occurrence.
The following day was extremely interesting for two reasons: The first was due to the hospital (described in my previous post) and the second was due to my music. John and I got ourselves a prime spot (at 12:15am) on Monday night/Tuesday morning at a pub called Whistle Binkies for their open mic. We played a selection of 80's hits. Well, not really, we were limited to three songs, and none of them from the eighties: "Summertime" by George Gershwin; "Got None" by Robert Post; and, "A Stranger" by A Perfect Circle. Also, not one of those songs was known perfectly by both of us at the same time. So there were mistakes, especially since it was my first time playing guitar live - pretty damn nerve racking. The crowd seemed to like it though, and now that we've got a taste for it I think we'll be trying to play as many open mic's as possible.
Saturday night, and Hughesy's girlfriend, Megan, was enjoying birthday celebrations back at Whistle Binkies. It was just one of those laughs-a-plenty nights where your sides hurt and your mandible feels as though it's about to fall off. Like most drunken nights, this one ended in deep philosophical discussions including what we would do in situations similar to the one portrayed in the Nazi-era movie, Sophie's Choice.
I only got a couple of hours sleep that night and somehow slept through my alarm (I never do that) and woke up at 9:30am when my shift was supposed to start at 9. Not good...

ET-3 and vasodilators

I didn't explain exactly what the clinical trial was for in my last post. The study title is, "Characterisation of the role of ETA and ETB receptors in regulating plasma ET-1 and the vasodilator response to ET-3 in man." A mouthful, yes. Pretty much what I am doing is taking 3 rounds of different medications spaced 3 weeks apart, and they do blood tests to see if the drugs are doing what they expect. One of the rounds is a placebo and the other two are already marketed drugs used for regulating blood flow in people that suffer from hypertension.
In some hypertension patients, especially with any kind of exertion, the vessels in the lungs contract making it more difficult for the heart to pump blood around the body, causing the right side of the heart to work harder. This in turn can lead to right-heart failure (heart attacks) and even death. The medications I am taking (apart from the placebo, of course) are designed to reopen or enlarge blood vessels, thereby reducing the amount of work the heart has to do and potentially saving the person's life.

The PhD student, whose nickname is Bean, running the study has found that these medications might also have positive effects on other organs (the liver or kidneys) and so is studying these effects on healthy patients - which is where I come in.
Monday was particularly intensive in that I had finished my week course of medication and they now needed to test the effects on a small test area of my body. They chose the forearm. They strapped diameter-sensitive mercury-filled bands around my forearm (to accurately test blood flow which meant I had to lie completely still for 2 hours) and pressure bands around my wrists and upper arm, inflating the wrist bands to the point that they cut off the circulation to my hands for upto 13 minutes at a time - I completely lost feeling in them during the intermittent testing over the course of the 2 hours. They then stuck (or tried to unsuccesfully a number of times) a needle in my artery to pump the ET-3 drug into my forearm. (ET-3 is a chemical that first causes a contraction of the blood vessels and then rewidens them.) During one of the unsuccessful attempts, they had already started testing when the needle was pushed out of the artery but remained in my arm - I have some damn strong arteries - so they were pumping this chemical into arm with it having nowhere to go, that was quite uncomfortable... Plus it meant they had to start again from scratch using my other arm, extending my hospital visit from 4 to 6 hours.
It wasn't long before the testing was over and I was glad to have the feeling and use of my hands back. Now I have a 2 week break and we start the whole procedure again with another medication. After the third round I get a nice little thankyou note with a few words and the number "£400." Another good thing about it is that I'm getting really used to seeing needles and my own blood coming out of my arm so to any more hospital visits I say, "Bring 'em on!"

Saturday, 14 February 2009

The Start Of An Amazing Adventure!

I am now officially part of the Airag Addicts. Kevin, Lee's mate from Ghana who we met up with in Japan, introduced me to the Mongol Rally - an annual charity drive from London, UK to Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia in July - because he said that Lee and I were the only one's crazy enough to do it. He was right. A group of 7 of his friends (or friends of friends) from America formed a team called the Airag Addicts and needed an extra person. I jumped at the opportunity and it wasn't long before I became the 8th Addict. As well as being a crazy adventure at the time, we will be raising lots of money up until July for donating to the charity MercyCorps, along with buying the 3 cars we will need to get there, visas, food, bribes for Kazakh militants, etc. The cars will be donated to the charity once we reach Mongolia for local communities to use. I've put up a link in the right column to our site where you can see what we're getting upto, link to the various associated websites including the Mongol Rally and MercyCorps, take a squiz at our planned route and, of course, donate! Wish me luck!

Friday, 13 February 2009

letters from a guinea pig

Along with all my jobs and potential jobs over the past weeks I have taken on a slightly risky moneymaking venture in something that a lot of people would consider only as an absolute last resort, or probably would not consider at all: a medical trial. Now there was that particular case several years back in the UK where a bunch of volunteers participated in a study which went horribly wrong, causing the near-death of most of them and requiring several amputations, etc.
That study is the one often referred to when convincing someone not to take part in clinical trials. The positives are almost always overlooked, however. For one, you get paid a fair amount of money for very little effort and often very little inconvenience (as most can work somewhat around work schedules.) The other obvious positive (and the reason behind the study in the first place) is that the data obtained from your participation could actually help improve the lives of others through new or improved drug treatments for their ailments. You can choose which trials you participate in, including those that are simply measuring the effects of already tried and tested drugs on ailments other than the ones the medication is marketed for. Furthermore, once you are involved you can pull out at any time, no obligation, no questions asked.

The way I see it is that millions of people around the world are pumping an inordinate amount of drugs and pathogens into their bodies daily, knowing fully their long-term detrimental effects on their own health and the health of others, and with no possible overall positive outcome for themselves or, heaven forbid, improvement to society, but still somehow do so willingly because they are generally happy to live selfishly in the moment - or denial - without consideration to their future (whether that be 50 years, 20 years, 5 years, 1 year or 25 minutes away.) So why not do something that could also possibly (though very unlikely) have an unfavourable long-term effect on my own health but that could potentially benefit others down the track whilst admittedly serving my own selfish short-term interests in earning money for it?
I know of many people who regularly smoke, take multitudes of drugs (recreational or medicinal or both), do not exercise, eat disgusting amounts of fast food (especially here in Scotland with their even proud application of the deep frier to almost any food imaginable, including mars bars, burgers and pizzas!), etc. - and spend lots of money doing so - who would be repulsed by the idea of participating in such a study because of the risks to their health. I also know of many people who, for instance, drive recklessly, have expensive cosmetic surgeries, get surburnt, and listen to music too loud because it is not in their immediate interest to consider the negative possibilities or ramifications, yet would still object to a medical trial.
I agree that volunteering your body to science is somewhat stigmatised and considered a bit crazy, but considering the other foolish, senseless and downright stupid (coincidentally, also a definition of "crazy") things that we do, is it really that bad?

finding nemo (a.k.a. work)

It didn't take long for me to find a few opportunities for work once I reached Edinburgh again. Gumtree again being my medium of choice, I managed to track down a job running a guest house for which I was interviewed and subsequently turned down due to lack of experience (although I thought I did provide a strong case with my "housekeeping and restaurant management" experience.)
Then I came across an odd request from a man wanting a driver for a few hours a week for 3 weeks for his mother and butler whilst his mother went shopping, paying £750. Sounded like a good offer. The problem was that it was payable only by cheque. I tried proposing other less risky forms of payment - including one which involved me setting up a PayPal account - but these suggestions didn't sit well with him and he quickly found himself another candidate. Who knows, it might have been all above board but I wasn't prepared to take the risk.
I eventually managed to land myself 2 jobs: one at the café that my sister works in, Kilimanjaro Coffee; and the other as a script writer for an educational DVD series. The DVD series essentially sets out to teach the entire UK school curriculum of English and Maths from reception to year 12 (in Australian schooling terms.) I am employed to work on the maths side of things. I essentially write the entire script for each lesson (eg. multiplication or fractions) which an actor will then reproduce on screen with props and visuals. How did I land that? Gumtree again... They needed people with maths and teaching experience - my degree and my tutoring stint in London seemed to suffice (although I didn't mention that I only ended up with one student.) I start at Kilimanjaro fulltime tomorrow.

The Ed

The first weekend of my return to Edinburgh was quite action packed starting off with Dan's birthday party (Dan is one of Lee's housemate) where the requirement for entry was being dressed either as an old person - Dan was easily the winner there - or as a ned (a Scottish term for the similar category of peoples to English chavs and Aussie bogans/wiggas.)
The 25th was our official Australia Day (as it was a Sunday and it was being celebrated in Australia that evening with the time difference) and we certainly made a day of it. The 25th also corresponded to Robert Burns evening (the famous Scottish poet) and so we had a bit of a mishmash of cultures. We invited a whole bunch of Aussie and Kiwi friends around and Lee and Susie again came up with the idea for lunch: a traditional Scottish feast of haggis, neeps and tatties (turnips and potatoes) along with TimTams and the Scottish equivalent, Penguins, and of course a whole bunch of Aussie music - everyone singing Farnsie's "You're The Voice" at the top of their lungs was the highlight!
Feeling insanely full of food we all painted our faces with green and yellow and pushed off in the early evening for the surprisingly quiet Oz Bar for a Pale Ale and where we could watch replays of AFL bumps, biffs and brawls and listen to the Triple J hottest 100. Good times! Especially with the fact that we had a celebrity in our midst: Hughesy! Well, not really, but this guy would have to be his long-lost twin brother or something - he looks, speaks and acts exactly like the man himself.... Funny bastard too...
The next night was the real Oz Day and the celebrations picked up considerably in the city's only Walkabout (that messy Australian bar chain in the UK), it was going off! The majority of our clan met up again and had a bit of a bum wiggle while they played that song with the lyrics, "Am I ever gonna see your face again?" to which everyone in the bar classily shouted in reply, "No way! Get fucked! Fuck off!" Hadn't heard that one in years...
A few days later I got to spend a little time again with Malin and her friend Therese when she came up from Dublin for a short trip. We ate Mexican. Shortly after, I was treated to the second snowfall I had seen on this trip so far - hard to believe since it was technically over 2/3 of the way through the "season" of winter. The meadows, an expansive park-like setting, was completely and beautifully white, the footpaths were dangerously slippery and the temperature was sub-zero, yet women still found the necessity for high heels. They are an odd breed... It has since snowed a number of times and I find it so much fun every time it does - the meadows and Arthur's peak turn white along with my clothes, people build snowmen and throw snowballs, and the photographers come out in force.
I met John by chance in Burger King while we were both there using their free wifi, we got to talking and turns out we're both quite into music. We have caught up a few times since jamming about, including the meadows in the snow (a bad idea), and are planning to take part in an open mic night some time soon. That's exciting.
More recently, Dan, his mates, and Meg (the newest South Clerk housemate) managed to convince me to come out to a house party in what is commonly known as "the caves" - part of an underground city that stretches all the way to the Edinburgh castle - on the night after Lee and Susie left for Morocco for Lee's birthday. Stopping first at The Jazz Bar, which is in fact a jazz bar, to watch a few bands we soon found this subcity fortress which is actually a flat but looks more like some sort of WWII bunker for one crazy party with DJs, all the alcohol you could ever want, holes in and graffiti on the walls and the constant struggle in order to move just 5 metres. That place was packed to the brim against some sort of fire regulation, I'm sure.


Susie and I as neds, well, she is...

Lee as an Aussie on Aussie Day


Pizza Shapes!


only in the UK - everything you can think of wrapped in plastic... even single eggplants (aubergines)

crazy women

partying with Meg in the caves

the castle under snow

this little house is right in the centre of the city

yup, even labourers still have to work when it's snowing

off to work through the meadows

tobogganing under Arthur's seat

Thursday, 12 February 2009

The Curious Case Of Just Too Much London

London. What can I say. This is the fourth time I have come through the city of 8 million, give or take a few million, on this trip so far. And somehow I'm finding that the more I see of it, the less I like it. Don't get me wrong, it is a wonderful city in so many ways: the cultural events that never cease, the galleries and music venues that constantly find new ways of bringing the arts to life, the convenient (but expensive) tube network, the famous and lively Piccadilly Circus, Westminster, Leicester Square, South Bank, Covent Gardens, etc. But, at the risk of overgeneralising and overstating, anything outside of those areas is simply utter shit.
The monotonous "suburban areas" of, say, Clapham, Richmond and White City (just to name a few) are virtually identical in the look of the streets, in the repetitive rows of 2- and 3-storey colourless UK-style-façade housing, and in the chain stores that pollute the already dreary identity of the area - exacerbated by 52% of days in a year being overcast. Sure, there may be the odd uninspired green park nearby but the endless landscape of kebab shops, Tesco, H&M, Argos, Ladbrokes, The Carphone Warehouse, Boots, Sainsbury's, TopShop, Costcutter, William Hill bookkeepers (and the list goes on...) certainly make for a dull and tiring stroll through any of these areas. Too big. Too tedious.
I stayed with 4 people over 6 nights this time around. The first 2 were with Saskia in her tiny room in White City, the home of the BBC. I had my interview for the French job during this time and found out the next day that they wouldn't hire me because of my piercings. Turns out the guy running the estate is an ex-Army Major and does not tolerate any piercings except for normal earrings on females. A case of discrimination? Maybe, especially since I would have been working solely as a groundskeeper, but I somehow don't think I would have had a case. Meh, c'est la vie.
The next night was spent ripping it up with Tom and John at their flat on Guitar Hero. I was somewhere else the next night again, this time with the Aussie Davie whom Lee and I met in the first couple of days of our trip, nearly a year ago, on Vietnam's Mekong Delta. We enjoyed a night out with his girlfriend and a bunch of their friends for a birthday, following up with a very relaxed Saturday hanging around the house and then going on a bit of a trip to the local hardware store for some wood for a bookshelf Davie was building. The final two nights were spent with someone I hadn't seen in even longer: Lauren from NZ, who I hadn't seen since.. NZ. We caught up for some reminiscing at her flat in Clapham Junction (conveniently located near Britain's busiest train station of the same name - but oddly some distance from the nearest tube station.)
All this excitement of not getting my job and being back in London made me want to get the hell out of there as quickly as possible, so it wasn't long and I was back on an overnight bus up to Edinburgh to put some serious efforts into job hunting.


the healthy options on offer at a roadstop en route to London

Saskia's pad, i'm squeezed in under the bed there..

a small sample of the BBC buildings in and around White City

Lauren and I

Monday, 9 February 2009


The day before I left Edinburgh, a Friday, I received an email from a London agency I had been in contact with since July. They wanted me to come in for an interview the following Wednesday for a job in an enormous private chateau south of Paris, owned by an Arabian prince and his family. Why would I pass up that opportunity? The quandary before me was that I had just booked tickets to see friends in Glasgow and Aberdeen over the ensuing week: Job interview and wasting my tickets, or visiting friends I might not get the chance to see again and wasting a fantastic opportunity to work in France? Tough one. I considered my options carefully over the next few days.
That last day I also checked out a nice little raw food café in the city's north called Red Sugar. Yep, everything raw, nothing cooked over 47.7°C (that's apparently when enzymes in the food start breaking down.) There appears to be a whole subculture of people enjoying this lifestyle - I had admittedly never heard of it before - and although I like the idea, I don't know if I could be a faithful follower (it would be virtually impossible whilst travelling anyway.)
I shot off early, well what felt early due to the sun not having shown itself yet but what was actually 8:30am, for the bus station. About 2 hours later I was standing in the bus terminal of Glasgow admiring the bronze sculpture of a heartwarming reunion between two lovers. I was there to visit Brian, my Scottish mate who I worked with at the Open Polytech in NZ, but first I wanted to see what the city was all about.
This metropolis of old and new is the largest city in Scotland and offers a huge array of activities including museums, art galleries and an unrivalled nightlife. They also love their clocks... After wandering around the city's main shopping areas, and having my hat blown off my head about 10 times due to the strong winds, my first stop was the place that held the most interest for me, the St. Mungo's Museum of Religious Life & Art. This is a fantastic museum showcasing, without bias, the main world religions and other minor faiths/belief systems through descriptions, artifacts, photos, paintings and personal accounts of peoples' own experiences. I think if a wider audience went to that museum it would certainly bring a greater tolerance and understanding of the differences between peoples. I gave a donation.
I walked briefly out into the heavy rain towards the beautiful cathedral around which the city was built. The Cathedral Church of St. Mungo is a masterfully constructed building from the 12th century (the date of the first stone building that replaced the early wooden church) dedicated to the patron saint of Glasgow (whose real name was actually St. Kentigern). If the name St. Mungo rings a bell, it is because the charity I worked for in London was named for this fellow by the Glaswegian who founded it several decades ago. Mungo's bones are actually buried underneath this church and it was nice seeing where he was laid to rest.
Out into the rain again I went as I walked back towards the city centre. The rain didn't subside when I reached it and so I decided to duck into the Gallery of Modern Art for my weekly art fix. I met Brian that evening and we went out with one of his mates to a pub situated next to a classy club known as Nice 'N Sleazy.
It bucketed down for the entire next day which was a write off. This was the day that I made my decision to forfeit my already-bought tickets and instead purchase a ticket back down to London. I had wanted the job in France since I first heard about it 6 months before and I knew I would regret it if I missed this chance.
I went to see the People's Palace and gardens on the day before my 13 hour trip back down south, while Brian was at work. The gardens house the world's largest terracotta fountain dedicated to the four British colonies, Canada, South Africa, India and Australia, each with their own statues of people in distinctive local dress and the queen sitting prominently atop the central column.


in the Glasgow bus terminal

St. Mungo's Cathedral


the site of a plastics factory explosion in 2004 where 7 died, near Brian's house

the largest terracotta fountain in the world (the Aussie side)

ah the Scottish

who needs it?

the Tardis: i never quite understood what a police box is...

Pasta Hut

a very common sight in Scotland - kilt shop

i was tired... Brian and I

Saturday, 31 January 2009

Away in the Highlands

And then it was the new year. A whole year had passed in what seemed a blink of an eye. Ten months of travels completed. Nearly half-way through... "How did that happen?"
Day one, January 1st, turned out to be not very indicative of what this following year will hopefully hold for me - I stayed inside rugged up on the couch all day and watched 3 movies and an entire season of the British comedy The In-Betweeners, stepping outside only once to get Indian food from down the road at 9pm. Lee had worked all day. She worked the following day as well whilst Susie, her friend Annie and I went ice skating in the Winter Wonderland. I hadn't been ice skating in years and years and I just did not want to stop. Annie, on the other hand, was not quite willing to let go of the wall. Once they managed to drag me off the ice, Susie took us to see one of her friends in Portobello, a seaside suburb of Edinburgh, and we had a bit of a stroll along the beach in the middle of the Scottish winter - I couldn't help thinking that there was something not right about that....
Lee and I decided to hire a car for 3 days to see some of the Scottish countryside. We left a little later on Sunday morning than we had planned and headed north towards a university city called St. Andrews, famous for its historic connections with the game of golf. The city is also famous for its enormous, all-but-collapsed church, and a virtually unrecognisable castle ruin. It was raining and we decided to push on, especially since we were in the approximate vicinity of the shortest day of the year and we suspected our sunlight wouldn't last for long. We were right. We still had a couple of hours left of driving to reach our destination and the huge lochs we were passing already had started to blend into the mountains and sky as one big dark, yet slightly phosphorus blue-hued blur, like some sort of luminescent deep-sea creature spotted at a distance of 10 metres.
Finally we arrived. Inveraray: the small loch-side town near the west coast where my cousin and his wife had spent the majority of their 2 years abroad. And what a lovely town it is, and very typical of the old towns we were to come across along our route. Every building square and whitewashed. It was now pitch-black outside and we decided to pop into the George (the pub where they worked) for some dinner. We got to meet Donald and a few of the rest of the gang and they were extremely friendly and hospitable. Donald even bought us a round of drinks for new years. Now, we had planned on spending as little as possible on this road trip so we had brought sleeping bags and a large duvet to rug up in the car, but they wouldn't have a bar of it. They instead insisted we could just stay in one of their lovely hotel rooms. Awesome! After an early rising and a long day of driving we were buggered and so hit the sack about 10:30pm, awakening early the next morning ready to do it all again.
We packed up our bags and stepped outside about 0730hr into the dark and into the minus 4 degree temperature. The road was sleeted, our car was iced up and the windscreen washers had frozen over. As dawn broke we stood in front of the majestic Inveraray Castle, which I could imagine having been taken directly out of a fairy tale, before taking a very mountainous scenic route up north. Keeping an eye on our in-car temperature gauge, we noticed the outside temperature fluctuating throughout the day between zero and minus 8.5 degrees. That fact was evident in the lakes, rivers and waterfalls that we came across - all frozen - including huge stalactitic ice formations sheeting the carved out rock to either side of the road. Along the way we also spotted some of Scotland's rugged up hairy cows ("herry-coos") going about their business amongst a multitude of lochs and bens (lakes and peaks).
As we approached the largest city of the north, Inverness, we drove along the shore of the UK's largest and most famous lake, Loch Ness. Did we see the great beast that I have dubbed "Nelly"? We thought so.. But then realised it was just a small cutout of a marine dinosaur stuck to the car window. It was very convincing though...... honestly... After a quick visit to Inverness we made our way up to the seaside town of Ullapool by nightfall, which is the closest to the North Pole we've ever been. Again, the architecture was in the typical Scottish style and the harbour was lovely. We ate some fish and chips in the car (it was way too cold to be standing outside) before bunking down early also in the car. I woke up about 4:30am due to discomfort and the cold, and before I knew it the sun was rising and it was time for breakfast and to start heading back south again.
We decided to take an even more scenic route through the central highlands (as if it wasn't scenic enough) on more local roads. This took us through the Cairngorms National Park and the Grampian Mountains, ski fields, icy pastures, the lovely but quiet town of Braemar and then onto the town of Scone and Perth city. We decided we had to stop in Perth (1) because I've never been to Perth in Australia, and (2) because it has some stunning architecture. Then it was back onto Edinburgh, and our short but remarkable tour had come to its conclusion, with about 30 miles to spare from our 750 mile limit.


Lee at the entrance to the church in St. Andrews

us @ the George with Donald

Inveraray castle

Inveraray town centre

and its loch, Loch Fyne

herry coos!

standing on an iced over river - the water was still flowing underneath

frozen waterfall


fancy a swim?

in Braemar

our car


Boxing-boxing day was Saskia's last in Edinburgh before heading back to London, so we did a bit of exploring. My first real day of exploring since I had arrived 5 days earlier. The weather was very kind and the sun was very bright, although not really warming in any way. The famous Royal Mile featured quite highly on our list.
Lee had a day off on the 29th and we spent a good few hours of it walking around the highest point in Edinburgh, Arthur's Seat and the Craigs (pronounced crags). Again the weather was very kind and we could see for miles. This particular hill, I found, was pretty deceptive somehow. From Lee's street, South Clerk St, it looks as if it's about 4km away and exceedingly tall - a mountain. But it's not. It's so close to the city, about a 15 minute walk and only takes about half and hour to walk up. Very misleading.
The 29th is also an important day for the Scots in Edinburgh (or the Scotch, if you're American). It is a day celebrating the nearing of Hogmanay and is kicked off with one of the coolest torch processions I've ever seen. Lee, Rory (Lee's Scottish fellow), Susie and I took our places among the thousands gathering in the cold along the Royal Mile at about 6pm. We collected our "torches" - essentially metre-long beeswax candles - and waited for the slow wave of lit candles to arrive from the front of the pack. It took about an hour. Once they were lit by the people in front of us we started our march, bagpipes playing as we walked, an electric feeling in the air. It was all very exciting and all very pretty, a sea of torches rolling through the old streets of this beautiful city. Small kids who probably shouldn't have been holding these lit candles were sword fighting each other. As were we. The alliance took a right turn onto Princes Street and started filing past the Wonderland, people on the ferris wheel taking photos of what I imagine would have been an amazing view of the rippling effect of the thousands of moving and flickering candles beneath them.
I say "alliance" as we were all focussed on one goal: reaching the top of Carlton Hill to set a Viking ship ablaze. It has been a tradition for many years around the north of Scotland, but was only revived in Edinburgh around a decade ago. The weather was still on our side and it was getting colder. People were rugged up as they held their torches high - some with a sense of pride, others with a sense of trying not to set the woman's hair on fire in front of them. The streets had been closed off for this event and oddly although there were thousands of people crowding them, the traffic lights as they ineffectually changed from green to red and back again somehow made the streets seemed barren. A man, crazy or just entertaining - can't quite decide which - lit green flares and waved them as he ran up and back along the top of a nearby wall.
Eventually the crowd became a mush of people and we slowly made our way up the narrow path to the top of Carlton Hill. By the time we had arrived the Viking ship was already well and truly on fire, quite spectacular really as the flames engulfed the huge silhouette of an emblem of a dragon. Some speccy fireworks erupted from the Acropolis to top off the already fantastic evening. So much fun!

Two days later and the night that everyone cannot wait for, but rarely seems to enjoy, New Years Eve, came to town. The Edinburgh street party is one of the most popular NYE parties in Europe. The streets are again blocked off, stages are set up for the bands (including Glasvegas and Groove Armada this year), the fireworks are ready and waiting somewhere in the Edinburgh castle, bringing your own drinks is allowed. What more could you want? Well, dancing of course! Susie managed to score us free tickets (as she works at the council) to check out and have a crack at some traditional Ceilidh ("kay-lee") dancing. Think a thousand people and the simplicity and repetitiveness of the "hokey-pokey" - or the "hokey-cokey" as they call it in the UK, weird people - but with cool Scottish music and lots of men in skirts. Classic! We manage to get ourselves in trouble for doing the conga line in the Spiegel tent as it "could have been" distracting to the chilled out band on the stage. We were having fun, that's all I can say. A Japanese girl even joined in. That's how crazy things got, man!
Finally it was time for the old fireworks, well, there was about an hour to go but we decided to try and find ourselves a spot with a good view of the castle. It paid off. Anticipation filled the air until the fast-growing sound of thousands of people counting down from 10 to 1 took over, then all that was left was excitement. I'd say they would have to be up there with some of the most awe-inspiring, emotion-stirring and best-executed fireworks ever - though I admit I have not spent a new years in Sydney yet. Even once the fireworks had finished and the reality of the new year set in, the street party still had an hour to go (they like closing up shop early over here). Susie's friend, Kate, and I decided to go find some music as we hadn't seen a single band that evening and we unintentionally stumbled across one of the most entertaining groups around. Moishe's Bagel are born and raised in Edinburgh and their music is described as a mix of folk, jazz and Balkan. We danced the night away. Check it out.


down the Royal Mile

part of the Edinburgh Castle

Winter Wonderland

Arthur's seat

lighting of the torches

all very exciting!

the sea of fire

that poor Viking ship!

Lee and I

Happy New Year!

Princes Street celebrations