Scotland Adventure: Day Five, A Busy Morning And Afternoon


Day five was a rather busy, filled with such amazing things that I couldn’t place it all in one post. Therefore, this post will have our adventures of the morning and afternoon, however I will post the evening activities very soon.

If there is one thing I will always remember about going to Scotland, it will have to be the amazing food. The most memorable were the breakfasts. This morning was no different. We walked into the Black Bull Inn restaurant for a Scottish breakfast and once it arrived I was not disappointed. The usual fried egg, Scottish bacon, two different sausages, a tattie scone/potato scone, a fried tomato and black pudding. However, this morning I was treated to a patty of Haggis with everything else. This was the first time I had Haggis and I have to say I liked it. I shouldn’t be too surprised, I love black pudding, which most people don’t and Haggis is not that from it.

The breakfast was rather large, yet we needed the extra energy because we were going to the Grey Mare’s Tail Natural Reserve. A rather steep hike up a small mountain, along side Grey Mare’s Tail Waterfall to a wonderful view of Loch Skeen. However, our drive to the reserve was met with sheets of rain and once there the rain was replaced with ice pellets and heavier rain. For safety reasons we all agreed not to do the climb, yet it did give us a wonderful opportunity to return to Moffat. We were not intending to go back to Moffat because we would make our way to Edinburgh after the hike. We wanted to visit some stores in town but by the time we were ready to leave everything was still closed. One major destination on our return into town was the Moffat Toffee Shop.

Rules are made to be eaten. The law is only a suggestion.

Sweets upon sweets, a great place to indulge your sweet tooth. I am not much of a sweet person but my traveling companions wanted to visit and bring something back to our colleagues. They make their own toffee on site and I took the opportunity to purchase some for my family back in Canada.
After treating ourselves, we made or way to Edinburgh, however we would be making a side trip to a very historical site, Rosslyn Chapel.   Situated on a small hill above Roslin Glen; Rosslyn Chapel was founded in the mid-15th century by William Sinclair, 1st Earl of Caithness as a Catholic collegiate church. The original was a large college to celebrate the Divine Office and to celebrate masses to the faithful and of course the Sinclair family. After the Scottish Reformation of 1560, Roman Catholic worship came to an end, even though the Sinclair family continued to be catholic until the early 18th century. It was closed to the public until 1861 when the Scottish Episcopal Church reopened it as a place of worship as a member of the Anglican Communion.  
In resent years, the chapel has been at the centre of much speculation and controversy with theories of connections to the Knights Templar, the Holy Grail and the Freemasons. You may remember it from the book by Dan Brown, The Da Vinci Code and the subsequent movie. Even though there is no basis for these theories in historical records and historians refute this claim, may people still want to believe in theses theories.
At first glance the chapel is not that impressive, yet once you get closer and see the artistry of the stone work, you begin to appreciate the time, effort and care that went into this remarkable landmark. The best examples are the pillars, especially the Master and Apprentice Pillars. The legend goes that the master mason received a model of a pillar of such eloquence and design that he did not want to proceed until he say the original for himself. The master journeyed to the original believing that his younger apprentice could not complete the task of carving the pillar as well as the master. However, in his absence the apprentice received a vision/dream that he finished the work therefore he began working on the pillar. On his return, the master mason seeing the competed pillar fell into a fit of jealous anger. He grabbed a mallet and struck the apprentice on the head, killing him. As a continued punishment, the master mason’s face was carved in the opposite corner so that he would forever look upon the apprentice’s pillar.
The pillar carvings were only a few of the thousands in the chapel that brought a certain majesty to the place. Knowing a bit of the history and talking to a wonderful tour guide, she help me appreciate it more. One such note is a referral to Ley Lines in Rosslyn Chapel. A phrase created in the 1920s by Alfred Watkins, which referred to the geographic and historical locations of ancient megaliths and monuments. The one passing through the chapel is the telluric lines traversing Scotland named the “Rose Line”. Popularized in Dan Brown’s The Da Vinci Code, the guide was able to show us were the line intersects with others in the chapel. I stood on it at the centre of the chapel and if you look up, you can see the main keystone, in the arched ceiling, was directly above it. For something built some 500 years ago and to have such a level of accuracy and connection to the natural world, this knowledge truly made me stop and think.

Our stay was quite memorable and in some ways I did not want to leave, however our adventures for the day was only beginning.

 

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Comic Strips: Anti-Virus Software


This month’s instalment of, The Craziest Things has less to do with the flu shot and more to do with talking in a language that the students’ understand. Whenever I am in a classroom and doing a lesson, the biggest issue I have as a teacher is if the students understand the concept that is being put forward to them. Whether it be math, language or even art; if the student does not understand, it is up to me to help them.

On many occasions I will present something and ask if they understand and I get blank looks, so I then ask how would you explain it to me? Or I would even use something totally different like sports or draw it out to try to help their understanding. That is where this cute like comic came out of. Many of the students where talking about the flu shot some time ago and I know that many take it because their parents told them to. However, I wondered how they relate the flu shot in a modern way and thought of the computer analogy.

I hope you enjoy the latest instalment of, The Craziest Things; Anti-Virus Software.

Scotland Adventure: Day Four


 

The previous night we arrived at the Isles of Glencoe hotel early to take advantage of the facilities at the hotel.   On the fourth day we woke up to a picturesque view from our room of Loch Leven. Even though we were greeted with typical Scottish weather, clouds and wind, it was still rather beautiful to behold.  The mountains stretching over the lake while a sail boat lay anchored right outside our bed room window.

After a wonderful Scottish breakfast, we made preparations to go into Glencoe and visit a nature park for a brisk morning hike. Called Glencoe Lochan Trail, we hiked up into the park to immerse ourselves in the Scottish woods of the highlands. A stunning park with several hiking trails we decided to venture up along the less challenging hiking trails. More because we only had a limited amount of time before heading onto the road to our next destination, it still provided a wonderful view of the natural landscape.
I have been on many hikes back in Canada; mostly in Ontario, but for some reason this landscape still spoke to me. Yes this hike was a lot less challenging than those in Canada, yet simply walking along Glencoe Lochan and breathing in the fresh air was enough to transport my imagination to worlds within my own mind. The view of the lake with the mountains in the background took me back to when I went to Lake Louise in Banff National Park, in Alberta Canada. Those mountains were much higher that these ones and the elevation as well, yet for some reason this view reminded me of those scenes. In truth, if I did not know where I was I would think I was in British Columbia or Alberta.  

 

Once traversing around the hiking trails we made our way through Glencoe and began our trek to our next destination. However we stopped on a couple of occasions to take in the natural beauty of the region. One stop was at “The Meeting of the Three Waters” a natural waterfall, part of the Aonach Eagach Ridge and only about a 15 minute drive from Glencoe Lochan. A quaint little waterfall at the side of the road where many people would stop and take in the view. Yet it is not just the waterfall but also the scenic view behind it. Green moss, grass, grey and tanned stone surrounding the waterfall that is feed from the nearby mountains. Picture postcard.

My Macnuksuk at Glen Coe Valley View Point

Yet as picturesque a view this is we traveled down the road for about 2 – 3 kilometers to a place called the “Glen Coe Valley View Point”. It is a simple parking spot where you can take a few pictures and/or the scenic views. We of course stopped and posed for pictures yet the scenery had a bit of an effect on me. I looked upon the snow-covered mountains, valley and as I breathed in the air, my thoughts ran towards leaving a small marker that said that I was there.   I wanted it to say to the world ‘Hey, I was here.’ I couldn’t carve my name in the stone or would I want to. I wanted something that kind of came from the land but said “Some one was here.” Then it came to me. I looked around for some small stones and I built an Inuksuk.  
An Inuksuk is a man-made landmark by the Arctic Peoples of North America. They are most commonly built by placing one stone on top of another. On Baffin Island there are over 100 inuksuk and the site is designated a National Historical site of Canada. All-be-it mine may be temporary; it still felt great to leave something behind to say that some one, a Canadian was there. My friend loved the little inuksuk and we renamed it Macnuksuk for obvious reasons.

 

An old toilet made by the Crapper’s company. Funny!

Once done, we had a long drive ahead of us to Moffat. We passed through the Loch Lomond & The Trossachs National Park seeing some amazing sights but once through we made our way on a side trip to a very memorable stop, the Glengoyne Distillery. An amazing place full of history, including a toilet built by Crapper’s.  We were in for a rare treat. My fellow travelers and I were treated to a private tasting. Being the second driver I offered not to drink if the first driver wanted to have a few tastes, but he said he wanted me to try this place because in his own words, ‘This is the best tasting scotch.’ And you know what, he was right. I had a tasting of the 15, 18 and 21 year scotch as well as the Casket proof (57.1%) scotch. Wow! I like the taste of scotch and so when my other companions offered me their’s because they were not, I said sure. I must have had 4 – 5 shots of scotch that afternoon. I guess you can forgive me for being a bit of a ham in a couple of the pictures.

 

Surprisingly I remembered the drive south to Moffat, our final destination of the day. A sweet little inn called the Black Bull hotel and restaurant. After a long day of traveling and sight seeing we had a restful night enjoying the local cuisine and a few rounds of euchre before calling it a day.  

 

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Comic Strips: Tap, Tap, Tap.


 

I was unable to post last months instalment of, The Craziest Things do to my busy schedule outside the country, therefore I will post last months this week and April’s next week.

In this comic I explore the growing trend of this generation of students using more and more technology instead of traditional media, such as EBooks instead of real books. Mind you many of the students today use books but surprisingly I have actually seen this with the some students. I would imagine it would be the same for me if the past generation gave me a slide rule to calculate math problems, where I am use to a calculator.

This is a funny take on technology and how much it has progressed and entered every aspect of our lives. But in some ways it is a reflection on who we are. If we only look forward and forget where we came from what does mean for us as a society. I remember a quote …

Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it. George Santayana

With this in mind, I hope you enjoy the latest instalment of, The Craziest Things; Tap, Tap, Tap.

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Scotland Adventure: Day Three


We had a wonderful night and we were beginning to relax and enjoy our vacation. We went to bed a little later than normal, but still after my normal six to seven hours of sleep, I was the first of our group to wake up with the sun. I did not want to disturb my friends so I quietly got up, dressed and I decided to take a look around. What I saw as I walked outside the inn was nothing less than breathtaking.

As I stated in the previous post we arrived in the pitch black with only the car’s and the inn’s lights to illuminate the darkness. I had no idea what to expect when I walked outside. Almost immediately I was taken aback by the view. A brilliant blue sky provided a backdrop to splendid snow caped mountains that flowed effortlessly into a greenish-brown valley, as far as the eye can see. We were staying at the Cluanie Inn but as I looked around the area, I could see that this was the only building or signs of civilization for hundreds of kilometres. The inn was slightly higher than the valley floor and I simply stood there marvelling at the sheer natural beauty before me. It looked unspoiled by the presence of man, a lesson that nature has been here billions of years before us and will continue well after. I walked around the inn for what seemed like hours but in truth, 20 -30 minutes passed while I was busy taking picture after picture.
Soon my stomach reminded me that it was time for breakfast, so I went back to the room and we all made our way to experience my first Scottish breakfast. The previous day I had breakfast that was very similar to what I would get back in Canada, however this morning I got a pleasant surprise. I ordered a Scottish breakfast, which included a fried egg, Scottish bacon (similar to pea meal bacon, only better), sausage, a tattie scone/potato scone (potato pancake), a fried tomato and black pudding. I was familiar with everything on the plate except the tattie scone, yet it was delicious. However, what caught my eye was the black pudding. I have not had black pudding in what seems years. Black pudding, if you are not aware if it, is a type of blood sausage that is common to Great Britain, Ireland and many parts of Europe. It is made of pork, beef blood and oatmeal and then fried. I grew up eating this in Malta and my mom would make it occasionally. I was pleasantly surprised to have it for breakfast and it tasted like I was eating a bit of home. Its sounds like a rather large breakfast but what we had planned for the rest of the day, it was just enough to fuel my next little adventure.

At Eilean Donan Castle

Afterwards we packed up the car and made our way to our next destination, Eilean Donan Castle. If you are not aware of this historical landmark, Eilean Donan, which simply means “island of Donnán”, is a small tidal island where three sea lochs meet in the western Highlands of Scotland. It is one of the most recognized Scottish landmarks that appear in photographs, television and in film (Highlander, 1986; The World Is Not Enough, 1999; Elizabeth, The Golden Age, 2007). It is a magnificent castle with a rich history of the MacRae clan. There was even a Canadian connection to John McCrae the writer of “In Flanders’s Fields”. Many people think that he is related to the MacRae clan but he is not. Yet there are a few artefacts that are related to the poem. The Clan MacRae Roll of Honour outside has a few lines from the poem.
The majesty and picturesque castle was one of the major stops that we had to see. We spent several hours here and took quite a lot of pictures. For me, I spent the entire time observing taking photos and coming up with several ideas for many art projects I can do when I get home. The more time I spent here the more inspirational ideas came to me. They say sometimes a place speaks to you, well Eilean Donan Castle was speaking so much that I had to stop on several occasions to take it all in and not feel overwhelmed.
As amazing as Eilean Donan Castle was, we had to move on to our next destination. Along the way we took in the amazing landscapes and we stopped a few times for some photos and the occasional mountain goat. It was a rather long journey but in the end we made it to our next stop in Glencoe. There we enjoyed the accommodations and rested up for the next day’s adventure.

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Art Inspiration: Imagine The Impossible: Final Portrait 02


 

‘The aim of art is to represent not the outward appearance of things, but their inward significance.’ Aristotle

‘Imagination is more important than knowledge.’ Albert Einstein

 

Inspiration and Imagination, something every artist needs and is elusive as an island of tranquility in a sea of chaos. Many people have told me that I inspire the children and people in general with what I do. Whether creating art, playing baseball or trying to improve my life, people say that I have inspired others to try new things and look inside themselves. I have always found this interesting because I get my inspiration from these very people.

A prime example is when I drew the staff at my school as cartoon characters or caricatures for their Christmas Cards. It took quit a while to create the caricatures but once the staff received them they loved the cards and caricatures. In the next few weeks I will be posting a few of the characters from the cards because these people inspired me to create these characters. Hopefully they can spur imagination and inspire others.

 

Final Portrait 02

In the Final Portrait 01, I gathered all the caricatures for a staff portrait. Those were people whom I worked with in the after school program. In this second portrait I collected all the staff I worked with during school hours. I created two of the caricatures around Christmas at the same time as I created the other caricatures, yet the three others standing closest to my caricature; I decided to create as part of their graduation celebration. They were the teachers of the graduating class and I thought a nice gesture to create a Steampunk caricature to commemorate the occasion.

Instead of creating a new background I thought it was fitting to use the original I used for the other portrait. I found a great scene of some buildings along the River Seine and I drew a metal platform with stairs that you would use to get onto a ship. I have always loved ships and I was thinking that this group might be going a voyage. I am the Captain after all and what is a captain without a ship to command. Yet I did not want to use any ship, no. In the Steampunk style I imagined us waiting to board a dirigible. An airship with a massive balloon carrying an old sailing Man-o-War, like the HMS Victory. If you look in the upper left hand corner of the image you can see one flying into view.

I added the caricatures standing on the platform waiting for the ship to arrive to start our adventure. I placed my caricature at the front of the group to show that I was leading the way to board my ship. I added the soft-feathered frame and then I placed my personal logo ‘Paul G” to the lower right, but I was not sure what to call the portrait. I then thought of the graduation and came up with another name, yet with this second creation I went back to the original portrait’s name.   I wanted the portrait to inspire imagination, to believe that the impossible is possible. Therefore the title came out to be “Imagine the Impossible.”

With these people I did give them a portrait but not with all six of us in it. There were two different portraits but I decided to combine these caricatures into one portrait. They all loved their final portraits and I hope will enjoy this Final Portrait 02 of “Imagine the Impossible”.

Imagine the Impossible – Final Portrait 02

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Scotland Adventure: Day Two


We arrived at The Hilton inside the Cairngorms National Park near Aviemore at night. We could not see too much of the park because we arrived after dark, yet I knew we were in the middle of nature from the smell of the air. I took a few deep breaths and it smelt … clean and crisp. I expected this but it has been a long time since I smelt fresh natural air out in the wilderness. The hotel was great with great food and a pool that we took advantage of. We used this time to plan out the next day’s activity and to rest up from the jet lag.

After breakfast we went to our first destination. We drove into the park to the Cairngorm Reindeer Centre, where we would have a short-guided hike up into the hills/mountains were we would see some wild reindeer. The hike was only about 30 minutes but it had snowed in the area and the hiking path was at times about 40 cm wide and we were walking up some pretty steep hills about 200 – 350 meters high. But at the top we were rewarded with some amazing landscapes and of course the reindeer. We learned that the Cairngorm Reindeer Herd is Britain’s only free-ranging reindeer herd, found in the Cairngorm Mountains. They told us that these creatures are very tame and use to people coming up to see and feed them. They currently have about 150 reindeer in two locations. The ones with us in the Cairngorm Mountains were the females and the fawns, the males were about 30 miles away in a different area.

What interested me was the fact that they were quite tame and we were able to feed and pet them. They do not bite because they mostly gulp down their food and then regurgitate it later like a cow. I was able to feed a few and pet them. Their coats were very soft something familiar to a dogs coat but more soft and with no shedding. As great as feeding the reindeers were, the view of the Cairngorm Mountains was incredible. I took a lot of pictures and panoramic photos of the region before we finally made our way back down the mountain to our car.

Our next stop was to a whisky distillery called Tomatin. Yet before getting there I had my first opportunity to drive in Scotland. I did drive on the left side before when I was in Malta, but that was awhile back and I for one enjoy driving. We were fortunate to be driving an E-class Mercedes and the ride was great. Mind you it felt like driving my father’s Buick. Both had a smooth ride and plenty of power, but driving a Mercedes is still fun to say.

After a great drive in the country we made it to Tomatin Distillery where we were able to take in a tour and of course a Scotch whisky tasting. It was quite interesting and I noticed that the process is very similar to making wine. They use barley grown in the highlands and then they smoke the barley with a peat grown in Scotland. It is peat moss and this is what makes Scotch different from other whiskies.

The process is interesting and rather lengthy. I am not going into the full details of the process but what I found interesting is what happens after you boil it. The malted barley ferments and then they boil the contents called wash. The wash is mostly alcohol and since alcohol boils at a lower temperature than water, the alcohol vapours are trapped at the top of the pot still. After it cools, it returns to a liquid form. This liquid is cooled and then collected to be later placed in oak barrels. They said that the first 15% called the head and the tail or final 15% has low alcohol levels and are mixed with another batch. The main 70% of the batch is what you use. They said it is about +94% alcohol or Ethanol. You cannot drink this because is almost pour alcohol. They then place it in oak barrels and let it age to allow they oaky taste to go into the Scotch. The longer you let it stay in the barrel, the more range of tastes you get.

I did taste the 12 and 18 year (they were in the barrels for that long) and you can taste the difference in each of them. The 12-year is a stronger has a harsher taste where the 18-year is a smoother tasting scotch.

I had a few tastings and because of this I did not drive to our next stop, the Culloden Battlefield. The Battle of Culloden was the last major confrontation of the Jacobite uprising. On April 16, 1746 the loyalist/government forces decisively defeated the Jacobite forces. From what I understand the Jacobites were mainly Highlanders, led by Charles Edward Stuart, “Bonnie Prince Charlie”, the grandson of the exiled King James VII of Scotland and II of England. Their objective was to restore the King to the British throne. The Jacobite army consisted largely of Highlanders, plus a number of Lowland Scots, a small detachment of Englishmen from the Manchester Regiment, French and Irish units loyal to France.

Charles Edward Stuart’s cousin, William Augustus Duke of Cumberland, commanded the government army. He was the younger son of George II, loyal to the British throne. The government force were mostly English, plus a significant number of Scottish Lowlanders and Highlanders, a battalion of Ulster men from Ireland, and a small number of Hessians from Germany and Austrians.

Jacobites were seeking to restore the Stuart monarchy to the British throne. They gathered at the Culloden Moor to fight the Duke of Cumberland’s government troops. It was the last pitched battle on British soil and, in less than an hour, around 1,500 men were slain – more than 1,000 of them Jacobites. When I look at this battle my military background kicked in and right away I say the colossal mistake taken by the Jacobites.   You never fight a battle on your enemies terms. They let the government forces determine where the battle was to be taken and when that happened the battle was already lost.

It was a solemn place especially considering it was a battlefield cemetery where 1500 Jacobites died to only about 60 – 200 loyalists, the enormity of the slaughter cannot be understated. From this place we made our peace and set off for the Cluanie Inn. However we did stop at Loch Ness to take a few photos of the ruins of Urquhart Castle in the dark. Yet the one thing that got me is that there were very few streetlights. I expected this in the countryside but you are never ready for the shear blackness as you drive to your destination. I too drove to the Inn and I could not see beyond the headlights. When we finally made it to the inn we could not see the countryside. We would just have to wait until the morning to take in the magnificent views that would await us.

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