Alternating our Current Path*

*Note:  The title refers to Šibenik, Croatia, being the first city in the world illuminated exclusively by hydroelectric power.  Croatia’s most famous favorite son, Nikola Tesla, invented the alternating current generator now used in power generating plants throughout the world.

*Note: The title refers to Šibenik, Croatia, being the first city in the world illuminated exclusively by hydroelectric power. Croatia’s most famous favorite son, Nikola Tesla, invented the alternating current generator now used in power generating plants throughout the world. This statue of Tesla sitting outside his childhood home near Smiljan, Croatia, is nearly life-sized –  he was 6’4″ tall.

As we prepare to move to Šibenik (SHE beh neek), Croatia, several followers have commented things like, ‘You guys are The 6 Monthers.  Are you going to change your name to The 3 Monthers?’  No, we are not going to change our name.  Our plans have always been flexible and six months in a country is a guideline, not a rule. 

The Botanical Gardens in Glasgow, Scotland

The Botanical Gardens in Glasgow, Scotland

Coming to Europe our original destination was Ireland.  When the people we attempted to connect with for housing did not respond, we expanded our search to include Scotland.  The same thing occurred as we were leaving Panama last January.  Originally, we were going to move to Costa Rica.  No one responded to our inquiries about an apartment there, so we expanded our search to include Mexico.  Our decision to move there is one that we never regretted. 

 

Rosslyn Chapel, just south of Edinburgh, Scotland

Rosslyn Chapel, just south of Edinburgh, Scotland

Florence had visited Ireland on her first trip abroad thirty years ago.  Scotland represented an opportunity to explore someplace new for both of us.  We had an amazing summer in the land of bagpipes, Scotch whisky, kilts and castles.  We attended the Royal Edinburgh Military Tattoo at the Edinburgh Festival.  Among the many churches we visited on the ABC Tour, we saw Rosslyn Chapel, the 500 year old church made famous in Dan Brown’s The DaVinci Code where some of the movie was filmed.

A glimpse of the Dalmatian Coast from the nearby hills

A glimpse of the Dalmatian Coast from the nearby hills

The offer to visit Croatia as journalists in September was an unexpected opportunity.   We knew almost nothing about Croatia except that they and Romania were the newest members of the European Union.  We discovered a country more beautiful than anything we could have imagined.  We met people with smiling faces and open hearts that welcomed us.  We made friends that could hardly wait to see us again. 

When we returned to Scotland at the end of September the rain was regular. The days were colder and the nights were longer.  Popular attractions were closing for the winter.  When the opportunity came to finish out our current six months back in Croatia, it was a no-brainer.  The days are 20° warmer than Scotland, and we will save nearly half on our monthly expenses compared to the cost of living in Scotland. 

 

We made new friends in Croatia.

We made new friends in Croatia.

We had a great time in Scotland, and someday we hope to return to see some of the attractions we missed.  This weekend we are headed back to lower latitudes on the lovely Dalmatian Coast.  We will visit more of Croatia’s incredible sights.   We will party with new friends.  Then it is on to Spain in January where The 6 Monthers return to our regularly scheduled program to live in a new country every six months.  At least that is the plan.

100 Stories and We Have Only Just Begun

Entering Plitvička Lakes National Park, Croatia

On our September, 2013 trip near the entrance to Plitvička Lakes National Park, Croatia

This is my 100th post in the year plus since I started this blog.  Out of curiosity I went back over all of my previous stories to see which were the most popular.  I discovered the top five most-viewed posts dealt with some aspect of how we travel, how we budget, how we decide where to live and how we adapt to our living arrangements. 

Touring the islands of Lake Nicaragua - Granada, Nicaragua

Touring the islands of Lake Nicaragua
Granada, Nicaragua

As much as I would love to think readers wish to see our pretty pictures and learn about different places in various countries, it turns out what is most popular is to learn about the process of traveling.  This realization made me think perhaps I should use fewer words discussing ‘what’ and dedicate more effort discussing ‘how.’  I will keep that in mind.

If there is one thing I have learned, it is that there are thousands, if not millions, of travel blogs.  I am a relative newcomer to the world of travel and the blog scene.  While I would dearly love to do distinguish myself in that realm, I have barely scratched the surface.  I feel fortunate to have several things in my favor.

Altar of the feathered serpent Xochicalco, Mexico

Altar of the feathered serpent
Xochicalco, Mexico

First, The 6 Monthers concept is fairly unique.  There are other travelers who choose a variety of destinations and stay for extended lengths of time.  However, I have not discovered anyone else taking our six-months-at-a-time approach, which is why we purchased the web domain.  Our challenge now is to increase our visibility beyond the few thousand people that have heard of us. 

Mike: 'What's that sound?' Florence: 'My teeth chattering.' Torres del Paine NP, Chile

Mike: ‘What’s that sound?’
Florence: ‘My teeth chattering.’
Torres del Paine NP, Chile

Second, I retired a couple of years ago and I now have time to pursue with a passion both travel and writing.  With Florence’s social media and photography expertise, we leveraged our skills to earn an invitation to travel for three-and-a-half weeks in Croatia as the guests of Dhar Media and Touristar.tv to help promote tourism in their country.  That was cool!  Our ambition now is to carry our experience forward to other countries to help bolster their tourism industry while saving on expenses.  Sharing those kinds of experiences would dovetail nicely with writing more about the ‘How to’ of travel.

On the main island of Antigua - Leeward Islands, Caribbean Sea

On the main island of Antigua
Leeward Islands, Caribbean Sea

Finally, I want to someday point back to something meaningful to say, “I created that.”  Perhaps it will be a book.  We have published one children’s book, and we have a dozen more waiting in the wings.  We would love to score a publishing deal so we could get our books illustrated for young readers.  We would love to teach children about the people and animals and cultures from around the world.  And we would love to build our name, The 6 Monthers, which might one day be worthwhile to the next generation of travelers.

We have our work cut out for us.  Every great idea that amounted to something required perseverance, creativity, and passion, things we think we have.  We now look ahead as we pursue our journey and continue our travels down as yet unexplored roads.  As always, I hope you will accept my invitation to join us and share your thoughts along the way.

Dunfermline, Scotland – Birthplace of Andrew Carnegie

Andrew Carnegie statue in Pittencrieff Park Photo credit: wikicommons.org

Andrew Carnegie statue erected in 1914 in Pittencrieff Park, Dunfermline
Photo credit: commons.wikimedia.org

While visiting Dunfermline we discovered the Andrew Carnegie Museum which was built around the humble cottage where Carnegie was born. The story of his youth makes his rise to become the richest man in the world* all the more intriguing.

The Carnegie's occupied the top floor, left half of this cottage.

The Carnegie’s shared the top floor of this cottage with another family.

In addition to telling the life story of Andrew Carnegie, the museum preserved the humble one room loft apartment where he was born and where his family cooked, ate and slept. Another family occupied the room across the hall. The first floor space was taken up by hand looms. Andrew’s mother, Margaret Carnegie, worked to hand weave towels and linens. Once textile factories mechanized the weaving process, the Carnegies fell on hard times.

Andrew Carnegie was born in this room, beds on the right, dining table to the left.

Andrew Carnegie was born in this room, beds on the right, dining table to the left, no kitchen, no bathroom. Cooking was done at the fireplace.

Against the wishes of Andrew’s father, Margaret decided they should emigrate to Allegheny County, Pennsylvania where she had a sister. Andrew was 12 years old when they made the journey. Although education was not mandatory, Andrew had voluntarily attended school starting at the age of 8 and learned the basics. He put his sharp mind to use on his first job at age 15. He earned $1.20/week as a telegraph operator where he became invaluable by being able to translate Morse code messages by ear without having to write down the words.

Two of these hand looms occupied the cottage's first floor.

Two of these hand looms occupied the cottage’s first floor.

Carnegie was hired as a personal secretary at $4.00/week at the age of 18 by Thomas A. Scott, owner of the Pennsylvania Railroad Company, one of the largest railroads in the country. Carnegie quickly rose to the role of superintendent of the Pittsburgh office. Carnegie’s relationship with Scott made possible an investment in Adams Express, which carried messages to corporate offices as they came in by telegraph. Margaret had to mortgage their house for $500 against its $700 value to make the payment. The investment paid off. Adams Express later grew to become American Express with Carnegie getting in on the ground floor.

The Carnegie steel mill at Homestead, PA, 1905 Photo credit: documentarist.com

The Carnegie steel mill at Homestead, PA, 1905
Photo credit: documentarist.com

The outbreak of the American Civil War called for rapid, large scale expansion of the railroads. Carnegie did not invest in railroads. He invested in the companies who supplied railcars, locomotives and parts to the railroads. Carnegie used money from his investments to open a steel plant using state-of-the-art technology to sell rails to the railroads. He also invested in iron mines, shipping and refineries. Eventually, Carnegie’s expanding steel empire threatened the future of other steel producers because he now owned the entire supply chain as well as the finished goods.

The library at Homestead, PA included a swimming pool, a 1,000 seat theater and a bowling alley as free facilities for employees.  Photo credit: Explorepahistory.com

The library at Homestead, PA includes a swimming pool, a 1,000 seat theater and a bowling alley free for employees.
Photo credit: Explorepahistory.com

In order to stop him from overtaking the industry, the steel producers needed an investor who had the funds to buy him out. John Pierpont Morgan envisioned an integrated steel industry with efficiencies based on consolidation and minimizing waste. In 1901, Carnegie was 66 years old and ready to retire, so he accepted the largest corporate buyout in history.  J.P. Morgan paid Carnegie $480 million ($13.2 billion today) and U. S. Steel was born. Carnegie spent the next twenty years of his life funding public works including the building of over 2,800 public libraries. He endowed the Universities of Scotland with $10 million including scholarships for boys who could otherwise not afford a university education. The Carnegie Trust continues to endow numerous universities.

The World Court at The Hague, The Netherlands Photo credit: muntr.org

The World Court at The Hague, The Netherlands
Photo credit: muntr.org

As a pacifist, Carnegie had the Peace Palace built at The Hague in The Netherlands, which today houses the International Court of Justice (The World Court), and is still managed by the Carnegie Trust. The Trust also supported the Children’s Television Workshop. The Carnegie Museum displays Bert and Ernie puppets to commemorate the Trust’s support for the production of Sesame Street, now in its 44th year and broadcast in 140 countries.

Growing up in Dunfermline, Carnegie was excluded from entering the nearby private Pittencrieff Estate. In 1902, Carnegie purchased the 76 acre estate and gifted it to the people of Dunfermline. Today, as we depart Dunfermline, we pass Pittencrieff Park where now stands a statue of Andrew Carnegie, a self-made business mogul and philanthropist, a famous American and a favorite son of Scotland.

*Note: Using CPI cost-of-living statistics, Carnegie’s net worth would have been $13 billion today. Using GDP figures to determine the costs of goods and services at the turn of the century, Carnegie’s purchasing power would be comparable to $165 billion today.

Expat Scotland

Stanley Mills – 200 Years of Textile Production

We entered the Stanley Mills site on the same path used by employees for two centuries.

We entered the Stanley Mills site on the same path used by employees for two centuries.

Just seven miles north of Perth is the village of Stanley, a town that was originally built to house mill workers in the late 1700’s. At the dawn of the Industrial Revolution, workers were drawn from farm labor to factory work. It was often the women and children who took the factory jobs at Stanley Mills to supplement their meager farm income, at least at first. Less than 400 workers were needed in the first years of flax weaving. However, over 2,000 workers were needed at the height of cotton weaving production.

Carding tons of cotton was a huge job requiring big machines.

Carding tons of cotton required big machines.

Some of the buildings had been vandalized and one building was lost to fire – perhaps arson. Historic Scotland took possession of the mills to preserve them for posterity. Interpretive displays and period carding and spinning machines are exhibited to help visitors picture what the textile workers’ daily lives were like. Much of the work was mind-numbingly tedious, like placing spools on spindles and threading looms. Factory noise must have been nerve wracking given the number of machines at work.

Giant troughs housed waterwheels large enough to power the factory.

Giant troughs housed waterwheels large enough to power the factory.

The mills increased production capabilities based on technological advances throughout the Industrial Revolution. At first, a giant water wheel turned belts connected to drive shafts on all four factory floors, each with its respective task. As cotton became the most profitable fabric, one floor was for carding the fibers, cleaning out impurities. Another floor began the spinning process to make threads of various thicknesses. The top floor was for weaving fabric on huge looms. The factory also produced continuous belts of various sized loops and thicknesses to ship to other factories for use as drive belts for their own machines. Cigarette factories were important customers for drive belts from Stanley Mills.

Stanley Mill condos now overlook the Tay River.

Stanley Mills condos now overlook the Tay River.

The water from the Tay River provided the mill with the energy required. Water tunnels were eventually built from upriver because the water level ebbed and flowed with the changing seasons. The water wheels were replaced with water powered turbines for a more efficient energy source, and in the 20th century the turbines drove generators that provided hydroelectric power.

The mills went through several cycles of expansion and shutdowns based on fluctuations in the economy. When India gained its independence, they began their own cotton production and imposed tariffs on British cotton that cost Stanley Mills a huge market for their goods.

Women wove belts on these machines. Skilled hands sewed the belts into continuous loops.

Women wove belts on these machines. Skilled hands sewed the belts into continuous loops.

Eventually, cotton was displaced by synthetic fibers as the favorite materials in the marketplace. Stanley Mills made the conversion to synthetic weaving to keep the factory operating. Cotton made a comeback as a desirable fabric in the 1980’s, but the mill could not afford the cost of retro-fitting and Stanley Mills ceased operations in 1989.

Country living at stylish Stanley Mills

Country living at stylish Stanley Mills

Today, some of the buildings have been refurbished to provide housing. The condominium units overlooking the river now sell for £125,000 GBP, about $193,000 USD, plus grounds maintenance fees. There are still units available for anyone who might like to live in this historic pastoral site overlooking the Tay River.

Picturesque Pitlochry, or How Scotch is Made

The castle-like house marks the entry to the 5 star Athol Palace Hotel.

This castle-like house marks the entry to the 5 star Atholl Palace Hotel.

An hour long bus ride from Perth took us through scenic farmland, villages and towns on the road to Pitlochry at the foot of the Northern Highlands. We were seeking out Edradour, the smallest distillery in Scotland. However, the two mile trek through fields and forests to get there convinced us to take the more accessible tour of Blair Atholl Distillery instead.

Courtyard entrance to the distillery - no cameras allowed inside.

Courtyard entrance to the distillery – no cameras allowed inside.

As we arrived we were quickly slipped ahead of a bus tour group into a private tour with an English couple as we began to learn how Scotch is made. So as not to bore you with a lot of details, here are a few high points:

  1. 1. A 69,000 liter vat of mountain spring water is mixed with over eight tons of malted barley and fermented to make a ‘barley beer’ with 9% alcohol. After siphoning off the beer the remaining mash is sold as feed to dairy farmers.
    2. The first distillation comes out of the condenser with a 25% alcohol level. The liquid is then diverted to a spirit still where it comes out as a clear liquid at or near 70% alcohol.
    3. The amber color of Scotch comes from aging barrels of American Oak previously used to age bourbon whiskey. After four years aging Scotch takes on a pale yellow hue. After eight years it is a darker yellow, and twelve years later Scotch attains its classic amber color.
    4. Scotch aged longer than twelve years is not necessarily a superior product. Evaporation takes place during aging which alters the composition and thus, the taste of the whisky.
    5. Most Scotches are blends of up to 35 varieties to achieve a smoother taste. Blair Atholl, a relatively small distillery, produces 3 million liters/year of single malt Scotch, about 1% of the world market.
Pitlochry is a popular vacation destination and tour stop.

Pitlochry is a popular vacation destination and tour stop.

We sampled a dram of twelve year old Scotch with instructions on how to maximize the experience. For example, a single malt Scotch should be stored at or below room temperature. Never chill good Scotch over ice, or you might as well get the cheap stuff and add soda pop. You can enjoy a milder taste by adding a little cold water of the purest quality available. Warm a small serving of whisky by cradling the glass in your hands. Breathe the vapors as you would a fine wine. Then sip and let the liquid move slowly over your palate before swallowing. We enjoyed the experience. However, the flavor of Scotch is still not one of my favorites, and I certainly would not pay over $50 for a bottle of single malt.

The countryside outside of Pitlochry is lush and scenic.

The countryside outside of Pitlochry is lush and scenic.

After the tour we walked up the road into the town of Pitlochry and found out it is a major stopping point for tours. We saw busloads of Russians, Germans and Swedes during our walk through town. A drive through the outskirts showed that B&B’s, hotels and guest houses were numerous.

The town is bordered on the north by a huge national park, so the surrounding scenery is captivating. It is not difficult to see why it is so popular a destination. If we were to continue north from Pitlochry, the road would take us past Loch Ness to the northern city of Inverness, but that is a story for another day.

The Most Influential Blogger Award

Who won an award? Seriously?

You won an award?  Well, congratulations.  No, seriously.
Photo credit: Matt Pereira

My first blog award was such an important affirmation that somebody was actually reading something I posted. Within a few months, I began to feel like I was part of a community – the blogosphere. Another award or two came in and I soon found myself preoccupied with acknowledgements and questionnaires.

I stopped posting stories like ‘Look, I got an award!’ I am not one to hang certificates or wear lapel pins that announce accomplishments, although I posted the awards on my About page. I also did not know enough bloggers to pass the award forward to ten or fifteen people according to the rules of the awards. It began to feel like I was posting an electronic chain letter. Remember those? Now Facebook does stuff like ‘share this if you love your mother.’  So what, people do not love their mothers if they do not share a link?

most-influential-bloggerNevertheless, I like this award. I like the questions in the ‘Tell us something about yourself’ portion. I like Robin and her blog Witless Dating After Fifty who sent me this award. And I like some deserving writers out there, especially the newbies that are worthy of recognition. If you do not see your name on the list below it may be because I recognized you recently. Or if you just want another cool award, email me and I will add you along with some nice words. You know who you are.

Here is the questionnaire:

If you could create your own planet what would it look like?
I am quite fond of the planet we are on, although I would add more trees and fresh water, and perhaps a few more glaciated peaks with lots of waterfalls – big waterfalls!

If you could visit one nation you have never visited before, what nation would that be?
This is funny since I am embarking on a mission to accomplish exactly this – to visit lots of nations I have never visited. Instead, I will say my favorite nation so far is Chile because right now, if I were asked to choose one place to live it would be Chile. Or maybe Canada. Or Germany. Or Italy? Or…

Have you ever taken a long distance train trip?
Yes – in 1973 my fiancé and I reserved a Pullman sleeper compartment for a 48 hour trip from Chicago to Seattle.

What is something you would collectively change about humanity?
I would make bartering the only standard payment so that people would be rewarded for how hard they work at whatever skill they chose. I think I would also require term limits for every politician and appointee.

Huey LewisWhat is your favorite song?
I occasionally change my favorite song. After my divorce it was The Eagles’ Already Gone. I am in a wonderful relationship now, so my favorite song is Some Kind of Wonderful co-written by Gerry Goffin and Carole King and first released in 1961 by The Drifters. I prefer the versions by Huey Lewis and the News and Grand Funk Railroad, which are quite similar. And I love anything a cappella.

Chris Berman, ESPN Commentator Extraordinaire

Chris Berman, ESPN Commentator Extraordinaire

If you could meet one person who is still alive who would you choose to meet?
I would pick someone with whom I could talk sports for hours. That would have to be Chris Berman, one of ESPN’s original announcers. He still does “The Fastest Two Minutes in Football” during the Monday Night Football halftime show, with his iconic saying, ‘He – could – go – all – the – way!’

otterIf you could choose one symbol to represent you, what would that symbol be and why?
I would be represented by an animal – the river otter. They are adorable creatures who know how to play and have fun, have beautiful fur coats, and they are incredible swimmers. Throw in some fresh fish and life is good!

Blogs I wish to acknowledge in alphabetical order:

Aja’s Northwest Life  – Aja’s stories and photos make me to think about my home.

A Lifetime’s Exploration – Sarah Ryan makes me appreciate how much she has traveled at such a young age.

Cô Kerri – Kerri makes me think about her profession as a teacher who chose to teach English in Viet Nam. My mother was a teacher. Enough said.

I’ve Got Some ‘Spaining To Do – Nancy makes me to think about living in different cultural settings.

Gallivance – James and Terri have already won every conceivable award and I hope my blog will one day be as successful. I also mention them because they have been many places I hope to go, and they are damn good writers.

Honk If You’re Vegan – Celeste is a friend and she has influenced how I eat. I cannot imagine a greater influence in one’s life.

Tales From The Motherland – My list of influential bloggers would be incomplete without my friend, Dawn, who reminds me about parenting, the Pacific Northwest and lots of other stuff.

The High Cost of Living in Scotland

Scone Palace near Perth, Scotland

Scone Palace near Perth, Scotland

Back in February I posted a story spelling out our finances for living in a new country every six months. Our plan is still to live on a budget of $1,500/month. That was not a challenge in Panama or Mexico. In Scotland, however, the cost of living is greater and so is the challenge to stay within our budget.

The Tay River and downtown Perth, Scotland

The Tay River and downtown Perth, Scotland

Showing both British Pounds and U.S. dollars, our budget breaks down as follows:

• Rent £495/month – $770/month
• Utilities £60/month (electricity, internet, phone) – $95/month
• Everything else £400/month (food, clothing, entertainment, transportation) – $625/month

We are able to manage within our budget during our six months in Scotland, but it is a tight budget. We do not have much flexibility for extras, especially if anything unexpected should arise like medical expenses. In fact, the cost of living in Perth, Scotland, is close to what it would cost in similar size cities in the United States.

The City of Edinburgh from Edinburgh Castle

The City of Edinburgh from Edinburgh Castle

We will not have much of a budget surplus once we factor in the cost of our next move. Fortunately, our next destination of Spain is not that far to travel compared to our recent transcontinental move. The travel distance from Edinburgh to Madrid is about 1,100 miles, about the same as the distance from Vancouver, Canada, to Los Angeles. And flying is not only the fastest, but also the cheapest means to get to Spain.

Inside St. John's Kirk, the burgh church of Perth

Inside St. John’s Kirk, the burgh church of Perth

Lessons learned on this leg of our journey:
1.  Line up housing in advance. We thought we could find an apartment more easily than we did. Although we do not regret the sightseeing we did, we spent more than we wanted in order to wait to get into the apartment we found.
2.  Confirm broadband internet service in advance. We could not get a contract for internet service without setting up a direct debit account in the UK, something we were unable to do as non-residents. We would have paid the extra expense to have the landlord set this up for us if we had known. The dongles (USB plug-and-play appliances that provide internet access via T-Mobile’s cell phone system) are on a 3G network. That is not broadband, and it will not support Skype.

We have no complaints about Scotland. The water is good, the air is clean, the country is beautiful, and the people here are friendly. Plus, Florence and I are delighted that everyone here speaks English, although they do speak with quite an interesting accent.

Checking Out Huntingtower Castle

The architecture of Huntingtower Castle is unusual with two separate tower houses side by side.

The architecture of Huntingtower Castle is unusual with two separate tower houses side by side.

One thing you figure out quickly in Scotland is that there are dozens of castles throughout the country, and in many cases one need not travel far in order to reach them. Our first week in Scotland we signed up to become members of Historic Scotland for which we are granted free admission to many of the castles. Today, we took a local bus just five miles out of our home city of Perth to the site of Huntingtower Castle.

The gap between the two towers has been closed in.  The walkbridge is just for tourists.

The gap between the two towers has been closed in. The walkbridge is just for tourists.

The uniqueness of this castle is that it was built with two tower houses side by side but separated by a gap of a few feet. More recent renovations had the two towers joined into a single structure. The oldest part of the castle as it stands today dates back to the 1400’s. Prior to 1600 the castle was known as the Place of Ruthven. In 1480 the two sons of William, the First Lord Ruthven, were each granted letters of legitimacy, thus giving both heirs a rightful claim to the estate. This rare occurrence may explain the building of two tower houses so close together – one for each son.

A floor once divided this room into two stories. The first floor was for cooking and cleaning. The upper floor was for dining.

A floor once divided this room into two stories. The first floor was for cooking and cleaning. The 2nd floor was for dining and receiving guests.

The reign of King James VI was an unstable time politically. Even though the king made the Fourth Lord Ruthven the Earl of Gowrie in 1581, a year later the earl captured the young king and held him for ten months as a prisoner in what became known as the ‘Ruthven Raid’. The dispute was settled and the king forgave his earl.

More political intrigue followed, and in 1600 the Ruthven brothers, John and Alexander, were implicated in a plot to murder King James. The king had them executed and their families were forced to forfeit their land. The king took possession of the castle and estate and renamed it Huntingtower. In 1643 he awarded the land and the earldom to the Murrays of Tullibardine.

The top floor was the earl's bedroom. A four poster bed sat along the left wall.

The top floor was the earl’s bedroom. A four poster bed sat along the left wall.

The last of the family to reside in the castle was Lady Mary Ross, widow of John Murray, the First Duke of Atholl, whose realm included parts of what is now Perth. She died in 1767 and the castle fell into disrepair. Farm laborers occasionally used the site for shelter. Nowadays, the castle has become a popular site for weddings. The castle is now in the care of Historic Scotland and is open to visitors all year round.

The most important historic feature of the castle is this medieval ceiling painted with pigments from the 15th century.

The most important historic feature of the castle is this medieval ceiling painted with pigments from the 15th century.

The ubiquitous cross of St. Andrew on the flag of Scotland flies over the ramparts.

These days the cross of St. Andrew on the flag of Scotland flies over the ramparts.

The Royal Edinburgh Military Tattoo

Scotland's legendary Black Watch Regimental Pipe Band enters the arena from Edinburgh Castle.

Scotland’s legendary Black Watch Regimental Pipe Band enters the arena from Edinburgh Castle.

The original meaning of ‘military tattoo’ was a military drum performance. The term dates back to the 16th century in Holland. The Dutch Army was staffed mostly by mercenaries from England, Scotland, Germany and Switzerland with a Dutch commanding officer. Drummers were sent out each evening at 9:30 p.m. to inform soldiers it was time to return to their barracks. The process was known as a ‘Tap Toe’, a signal to innkeepers to shut off their taps and stop serving beer to the soldiers.

The boys' precision motorcycle team from England warmed up the crowd.

The boys’ precision motorcycle team from England warmed up the crowd.

Nowadays, a tattoo is a performance by military bands for entertainment, and one of the  world’s most prestigious tattoos is held outside the entrance to Edinburgh Castle every August as part of the festival known simply as Fringe, which we attended. The show featured groups from Korea, Mongolia, Mexico, New Zealand, South Africa, Canada, Australia, England and of course, Scotland.

The massed band opened the tattoo with stirring pipe and drum numbers.

The massed band opened the tattoo with stirring pipe and drum numbers.

The show opened with the massed pipe bands marching out from the castle onto the escalade while playing the bagpipes in unison. The collective musical force of fifty drummers and a hundred pipers is thrilling. It got the crowd fired up more than a Super Bowl halftime show! Following the pipers were the drum and bugle corps massed bands. There is nothing like marching bands in their dress uniforms to get the spectators energized.

From Mariachi to fiesta dancing, the Mexico band livened up the show.

From Mariachi to fiesta dancing, the Mexico band livened up the show.

The Mexican group opened with an Aztec-style fire dance followed by a musical fiesta featuring dancers in traditional bright colored dresses. The Mongolian band had the most impressive uniforms and their dancers performed a tribute to the great Genghis Khan, complete with period costumes and replica spears and arrows.

The performers from South Korea contrasted with the power of the brass and pipe bands with a delicate dance with silk scarves and ballet-like choreography. Their presentation built to a crescendo of synchronized drumming that brought roars of appreciation from the capacity crowd of 8,600.

The Kiwis go Gangnam Style.

The Kiwis go Gangnam Style.

The New Zealanders stole the show with their energy. They started their presentation with the classic Maori haka or war chant. After a classic march they performed a drinking song where they staggered while playing, which drew laughs and cheers from the audience. They followed with the final movement of the classic Sousa march, Stars and Stripes Forever with six piccolo soloists. However, they completely won the hearts of the crowd when the trombone players set down their horns and danced Gangnam Style complete with sunglasses.

The Mongolian uniforms were the most colorful.

The Mongolian uniforms were the most colorful.

As if that were not enough, the women’s drill team joined the band. Their precision movements culminated in a double file crisscross performed marching backwards. I have seen some amazing dance and drill routines, but I had never seen that before! It was one thing keeping their lines perfect, but they did so while blind to the movements of their teammates while marching in reverse. No wonder the Kiwis won over the crowd so completely on this night.

The Tattoo Grand Finale complete with fireworks

The Tattoo Grand Finale complete with fireworks launched from Edinburgh Castle.

As exciting as the tattoo was, my words are inadequate to describe how stirring the performances were to see in person. If you ever learn of a military tattoo in your area, I urge you to experience it firsthand. You will not be disappointed.

A Big Weekend in Perth, Scotland

The Kilt Run kicked off a weekend of fun in Perth. This is kind of an 'Anything Goes' event.

The Kilt Run kicked off a weekend of fun in Perth. This is kind of an anything goes event.

The Kilt Run

No Perth event would be complete without the local pipe and drum corps to kick things off.

No Perth event would be complete without the local pipe and drum corps to kick things off.

Saturday was the 5k Kilt Run. This annual event has two requirements: 1) you must pay an entry fee, and 2) all runners must wear a kilt. There were close to 3,000 participants in this year’s event – men, women, old and young, wheelchair bound, athletic and not. Many local businesses fielded teams, and it was all for the great cause of raising money for charitable works.

The UK Tug o’ War Championships were also taking place at the park. I noticed not all the participants were big, burly men as I would have expected. I asked the coach of the English team whether there were weight limits. Since his lads had just defeated the Scottish team, he was delighted to talk about the rules with me.

Weight classes for the eight member teams collectively range from 480 kilos (1,056 lbs.) for junior women up to 760 kilos (1,762 lbs.) for men plus an unlimited class. The first team that pulls the mid-point four meters in their direction wins. Few bouts last longer than a minute or so.

The Highland Games

Individual piping competition is one small part of the Highland Games.

Individual piping competition is one small part of the Highland Games.

Sunday brought the long-awaited Perth Highland Games. There were all kinds of competitions: pipe and drum bands, Scottish folk dancing, individual piping, drum majors, caber tossing, hammer throwing and bicycle and foot races. We counted twenty-four pipe bands. There were so many that the competition began at 10:00 a.m. in order to have time for everyone to compete.

The girls warm up for their turn next on stage before the judges.

The girls warm up for their turn next on stage.

The atmosphere was just like a county fair. There were rides for the kids, vendor booths, and lots of junk food (which we did not eat…except for some candy). There were good crowds although we never had difficulty seeing what we wanted to see. There are about 30 of these games throughout the summer in cities and towns all over Scotland. People come from miles around to hear the pipes and enjoy a day at the park.

We both love the pipe bands and the folk dancing. The other competitions are interesting, too. However, the folk traditions with the kilts and tartans and the music are hard to top. We both get goose bumps when we hear a bagpipe band play together. And we are relieved to be outdoors because the volume can get quite loud.

The occasional boy joins in the competition.  This handsome lad had no difficulty holding his own.

The occasional boy joins in the competition. This handsome lad had no difficulty holding his own.

I can imagine wartime when an army would wait near a battlefield. Then they would hear the inevitable bagpipes blaring in the distance as the Highlanders approached, the blare of the pipes shattering the stillness of the morning. The Scots’ reputation as fierce fighters preceded them, so there must have been times when the enemies of the Scots felt the chill of doubt creep into their consciousness. Those echoes from the past arise in us today as the pipers play.

Highland Games are at least as popular in the U.S. and Canada as they are in Scotland. If you have never been I suggest you check one out. It is fun for all children of every age.

Scone Palace near Perth, Scotland

The gateway to Scone Castle marks where the town used to border the castle grounds. When the castle was rebuilt in the 1800's, a new town was built two miles away and the old houses were knocked down.

The gateway to Scone Palace marks where the town used to border the palace grounds. When the castle was rebuilt in the 1800’s, a new town was built two miles away and the old houses were knocked down.

The local bus drops us at the driveway to Scone Palace about 10 minutes from town. (Scone rhymes with raccoon.)  After a 15 minute walk down the drive we come to the gate of the palace grounds.  Since a tour bus beats us to the door, we divert our attention to the expansive grounds which include a graveyard, gardens, and the Star Maze.

2000 beech trees, half copper and half green, were planted  to create a tartan effect.

2000 beech trees, half copper and half green, were planted to create a tartan effect.

The Star Maze is a five-pointed walk-through maze with eight foot tall hedges to prevent taking shortcuts or peeking over the tops of hedgerows to figure out the solution to finding the exit.  It is not recommended that people with poor spatial ability take on the maze challenge. People have gotten stuck in the maze which typically leads to a panic attack and cries for help.

Scone Chapel. displays a replica of the Stone of Scone visible in front of the chapel.

Scone Chapel. displays a replica of the Stone of Scone visible in front of the chapel.

Scone Palace fell into disrepair in the 1800’s, and it might have been left to crumble had not the then Earl of Mansfield realized the tourist value of the place. The castle was completely refurbished and now gets thousands of tourists every year. This site is where the coronation of kings took place dating back a thousand years to the time of Macbeth and Robert the Bruce.

The Stone of Scone, the ceremonial seat for coronations, was removed by Edward I in 1296 with the spoils of war and placed in Westminster Abbey. The stone was shelved under the royal throne to symbolize English monarchs sitting above the kings of Scotland. This never did sit well with the independent-minded Scots. There was talk of moving the stone back to Scotland in the 1300’s. However, riotous crowds prevented the moving of the stone from Westminster Abbey, and it remained in London for another 600 years.

Rob Roy Pipe Band from Kingston, Ontario, practiced for the Highland Games in Perth and the World Championship Pipe Band Competition next week in Glasgow to the delight of the tourists.

Rob Roy Pipe Band from Kingston, Ontario, practiced for the Highland Games in Perth and the World Championship Pipe Band Competition next week in Glasgow to the delight of the tourists.

On Christmas Day, 1950, group of four University of Glasgow students stole the stone from Westminster Abbey and braved roadblocks to return the stone to Scotland. They were not caught, but the stone was damaged during the heist and broke in two. Thinking the Church of Scotland would not allow the stone’s return, the students left the stone on the steps of Arbroath Abbey in April, 1951. When the British authorities were notified, they took possession of the stone and returned it to Westminster Abbey.

In 1996, in response to growing dissatisfaction among Scots with the British Parliament, Queen Elizabeth II had the stone moved to Edinburgh Castle, where it remains today. It is only moved to London for coronation ceremonies of which the Stone of Destiny as it has come to be known, has been a part for a thousand years.

The ABC Tour in Scotland

One thing you notice in the cities of Scotland is the abundance of steeples. Perth is no exception.

One thing you notice in the cities of Scotland is the abundance of steeples. Perth is no exception.

Dear reader, in case you are not familiar with the ABC Tour, this is the part of our travels when we visit Another Blessed Cathedral. The ABC Tour is a series of mini-tours we have been doing for over two years, and we have witnessed some of the most spectacular art, architecture and antiquities imaginable.

We can see the Perth Cathedral steeple from our flat.

We can see the Perth Cathedral steeple from our flat.

Florence, like all her ancestors, was raised Catholic. She even attended a Catholic boarding school, which accounts for her exceptional preparation for post-secondary school. Upon entering a cathedral, Florence observes reverent moments of contemplation and dutifully lights a candle in remembrance of those who are the subjects of her prayers and blessings.

The Perth Cathedral, St. Ninian's, up close

The Perth Cathedral, St. Ninian’s, up close

I also stand in awe of the size, scale and sophistication of the art and architecture of the sites we visit, albeit from a different perspective. The symbols of Christianity are not new to me. I learned enough in my Protestant upbringing to comprehend both New and Old Testament teachings, enough so that I can appreciate the imagery in all of its glory. I am awestruck by the creations of artists and craftsmen who designed and built these great cathedrals. One cannot help but be moved by the grandeur or the works.

The Gothic ceiling towers over the crucifix above the altar.

The Gothic ceiling towers over the altar.

There is so much history behind each cathedral we visit. For example, here in Scotland, the Catholic Church rivaled the great monarchs and land barons in its wealth and power. After The Reformation when the Anglican Church broke away from the Roman Catholic Church, the church still shared the power and wealth of the country. In order to have a place in the church, one had to purchase a seat in the congregation. So it was that the poor were left out.

The Perth Cathedral interior is spectacular.

The Perth Cathedral interior is spectacular.

During the period of The Enlightenment, when scientific thought supplanted ignorance and superstition, the common folks in society demanded a say in how they were governed in the wake of the French Revolution and the introduction of parliamentary rule. This was true also in the way people worshiped. In 1843, there was The Disruption, when over 400 ministers and their congregations broke away from The Church of Scotland. When these congregations had the means, they erected their own churches as The New Church of Scotland. By 1929, a compromise of sorts reunified the divided churches. However, neither church regained its former stature.

The North Church behind our flat is only open on Sunday.

The North Church behind our flat is only open on Sunday.

The Church of Scotland used to preach from the pulpit the principle of Sunday as a day of worship. However, the schism in the church led more and more people to find other things to do with their time. With the advent of radio, television, organized sports and even Sunday shopping, church attendance in Scotland continued its decline. Contributing to this decline was the fact that women formed the majority of church membership, and women were denied the right to be ordained until 1968.

Even though we are not able to enter every church, like the Church of the Nazarene, it is still an interesting building.

Not every church is open to us, like the Church of the Nazarene. Still, it is an interesting building.

The decline in church attendance is why you now see many church buildings in Scotland that have been sold to private businesses housing restaurants, night clubs and offices. I was surprised to learn that today in Scotland, the largest denomination of churchgoers is Roman Catholic. I have learned a lot of interesting history on the ABC Tour.

The Perth Saturday Market

Vendors set up awning covered booths for the Saturday Market.  Hundreds of people flock to King Edward Street to create a fair-like atmosphere.

Vendors set up awning covered booths for the Saturday Market. Hundreds of people flock to King Edward Street to contribute to a fair-like atmosphere.

Vendors from around the region set up booths just off High Street in Perth from 9:00 a.m. – 2:00 p.m. on the first Saturday of each month (and twice in December).  So we grabbed our re-usable grocery bags (which are needed here) and set out to beat the midday rush.  There are about 30 canopies along King Edward Street, few enough that we can stroll by each one and then go back to our favorites.  And that is just what we did.

Seafood

The seafood table had cooked lobster, crab, and fresh salmon. Haddock and sole were the top sellers. The was the busiest booth at the Market.

Jellies

This fellow’s apron reads ‘I Love Hot Pepper Jelly.’ As it turns out, so do I, so I got some. The back label reads ‘After opening store near your plate.’ I love that!

Beer

Paul, the beer guy from St. Andrews told us his company was owned by an American who came to St. Andrews to play golf.  When he asked what the local beer was, he was told there wasn’t any.  So he funded a brewery.  His name is Peter Coors.  After sampling a few I bought some to take home.

Breads

These breads were amazing.  We bought loaves of whole grain sourdough and hazelnut bran. We also got some scones and some of that cake you see in front.

Cheeses

Let’s see, we bought ginger cheddar, cranberry cheddar, grilled onion cheddar and cheddar with chives.  Do you see a pattern here?  She got us with the samples!

Berries

Fresh berries are still in season, so we got some raspberries.

Candyman

Homemade candies – what do you think?

Food Booth1

We could have eaten at the Market, but we had already purchased enough.  We saw much more, too.  The people were open and friendly.  They even seemed to like our “American accents.”  Hmm – I never knew I had an accent. 

There is Nothing Like Home Cooking

The historic Perth Theatre is just down the street from our flat.

The historic Perth Theatre is just down the street from our flat.

A look up the spiral staircase three stories to our apartment

A look up the spiral staircase three stories to our apartment entry

Now that we have our own kitchen, I have begun preparing meals at home. Celeste, if you read this, I want you to know that I am working on a plant-based diet, although I have not given up eggs and cheese. That may come as I find more sources where I can purchase the ingredients I need. I will also be reading the vegetarian and vegan blogs for more ideas. There are mouth watering recipes posted daily, and I look forward to trying lots of them.

A mixture of fresh vegetables served over a bed of basmati rice

A mixture of fresh vegetables served over a bed of basmati rice

Last night’s dinner was a stir fry. We found green, yellow and red bell peppers which added appealing color to the dish. I added zucchini, onion and snap peas plus a fresh mix that included bean sprouts. Stir-fry has to be the easiest veggie dish in the world, and it cooks quickly. The only thing missing was some cashews or sliced almonds to add some texture and flavor. You should not be surprised to learn I added some jalapeño peppers to my serving to spice it up.

Window Shopping

We good shoppers put together our own little library for under $20.

We good shoppers put together our own little library for under $20.

Our casual walks through Perth have revealed some treasures we overlooked previously. We found a frozen food store, Farm Foods, which also offers fresh foods during the growing season. We also found some used books bookstores. This is important to us since we do not have a television. We visited Thornton’s, a UK-based chocolatier, and we picked up a couple of handmade chocolate creams for 50 cents apiece. We checked out the Perth Theatre just down the block from us, the perfect venue for some live entertainment in the weeks ahead. We have a bit more exploring to do. There is supposedly a branch library within a couple of blocks of our apartment, and there is still the Performance Center and cinema to check out.

The historic steam train through Scotland's West Highlands Photo credit: visitscotland.com

The historic steam train through Scotland’s West Highlands
Photo credit: visitscotland.com

I am currently looking over the train schedules to plan our trip along the west coast aboard the historic steam train that goes over a picturesque bridge featured in the Harry Potter movies. Like everything in Perth, the train and bus stations are about six blocks away, and where the trains do not go, the buses do.  There is much yet to see and do.

I look forward to our daily walks.  I look forward to finishing another book and starting a new one.  And I look forward to writing whatever my next story will be.

Cheers from Scotland!

Living in Scotland – Continued

A rainy morning on High Street

A rainy morning on High Street

In the United States we like to think we are quite advanced, technologically speaking. In some cases we are way behind. For example, on my recent trip to the grocery store, I was asked to insert my debit card into the card reader at the checkout register. When I did nothing happened. The clerk took my card to look and said, “Your card does not have a chip in it. We cannot use this.” Fortunately, we had adequate cash on hand to pay the bill.

"Can I help you?"  Not today, thank you.  Just looking.

“Can I help you?” Not today, thank you. Just looking.

As I watched another customer or two who paid with debit cards, the transaction was nearly instantaneous. No PIN entry needed. No signature verification required. Everything that was required was on that chip embedded in the card. Obviously, if someone lost a card and called it in, the network would immediately flag that card and the chip would lock the account. How cool is that? I want one of those!

The only utility we pay is for electricity. There is a USB-type key that fits into our junction box, the Scottish equivalent of an electric meter. The digital screen on the meter tells us how much money is left on the key. At any time we can remove the key and take it to any number of locations where we can add money to the account. So far, after doing a week’s worth of laundry, heating water and cooking, we have consumed £4 (about $6) worth of electricity in four days. That works out to a $40/month electric bill. Not bad. Of course, that will increase in the winter.

This bakery next door to our supermarket is worth a second photo.  Those macaroni and cheese pies define 'comfort food.'

This bakery next door to our supermarket is worth a second photo. Those macaroni and cheese pies define ‘comfort food.’

One thing I have not mentioned about our apartment here in Perth. We do not have a television. It is interesting that we were avid followers of our favorite shows during our layover in Los Angeles, and with the DVR, we were able to catch up on a few shows, my favorites being Burn Notice and Justified. And we both love watching The Big Bang Theory, which I now believe will rival M*A*S*H, The Tim Allen Show, and I Love Lucy as among the greatest sitcoms ever. However, we do not miss having a television. Occasionally, I will rent a DVD to watch on my laptop. It is just that reading is at least as satisfying as television, and we are quite content without the distraction, however alien that must seem.

Okay, I will try one of those macaroni and cheese pies.

Okay, I will try one of those macaroni and cheese pies.

One frustration we have had is accessing our bank funds. We opened an account with HSBC because it is an international bank, and there is an HSBC here in Perth. However, HSBC USA is not the same company as HSBC UK. That was also true in Panama, but we were able to take out cash above the limit on our debit card there. Not so here. However, the fault is ours. We have debit or credit cards for four different banks, but we lost our record of our PIN’s. Having those records would have saved us some hassles. Oh well.

Note: It has been our good fortune that the rain we have experienced this week held off until we had moved into our wonderful apartment.

Expat Scotland