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Monthly Archives: December 2012

A whistle stop tour through the Scottish Highlands

“Give me but one hour of Scotland,
Let me see it ere I die”
~ William Edmondstoune Aytoun

On Wednesday, the 19th of December, I set off for a trip to the Highlands of Scotland and Loch Ness.  I wanted to see a bit more than just Edinburgh and booked the trip on the internet.  I would have preferred to do an overnight tour but choices are fairly limited this time of the year.  But what a lovely experience…

(Note: The pictures taken in this post are amateur pictures taken with a Sony Cybershot ‘mik en druk‘ and are not meant to pose as professional photo’s.  One day I will buy myself a proper camera, but for now, feel free to share them and reprint them on postcards to all your family and friends. Yeah right!)

I was fairly tired on Tuesday night, after travelling 18 hours to reach my destination in Edinburgh, so was not too excited about getting a really early start on Wednesday morning.  I set the alarm for 6:30 as the trip was starting at 8:00 and I still had to go and find the starting point.  And after getting lost the night before, I made pretty sure that I knew where it was, only a 15 minute walk from my hotel, per the trusted Google maps.  I arrived at the starting point, the offices of Scotline Tours on 87 High Street with time to spare, and the first thing I heard was some fellow travellers speaking Afrikaans, which of course was the tell-tale sign that they were from South Africa.  They were in Edinburgh for only a couple of days, stopping en route to Iceland to go and see the Northern Lights (another add-on to my bucket list).

Shortly after 8:00 our coach arrived and 10 of us got onto the huge bus for our day trip.  Other than the 2 South Africans, there were a few Chinese, Germans and someone from Brazil.  Paul, our retired-architect tour guide, introduced himself, and we were on our way.  It was quite dark when we left and since we were travelling on a bus and could not stop too often for photo stops, the pictures I took were mainly when we entered the Highlands, but will give you some idea of the beauty of this landscape. The disadvantage of travelling to Scotland in the midst of winter is that your days are short and it is wet and cold (I have not seen the sun since I arrived), but the advantage is that there are far fewer people on the road, which means longer, and less crowded stops.

We travelled east out of Edinburgh along the road towards Stirling.  We passed the towns of Linlithgow and Stirling, crossing the river Forth at Craigforth and then passed Blair Drummond and Doune Castle along the way, both places recommended for future visits by Paul.  Doune Castle, by the way, was apparently where most of the scenes from Monty Python and the Holy Grail was filmed, a favourite of mine.

Our first stop was at Kilmahog, about an hour and a half into the trip.

The Woollen Mill at Kilmahog

The Woollen Mill at Kilmahog

We then travelled on through Rob Roy MacGregor country on the way to Glencoe. We were now in the Highlands and the scenery changed dramatically.  The mountainous passes are magnificent.  We stopped at the Black Mound, just before Glencoe for a photo stop.  Outside, the icy wind cut right through your bones, but it was the beautiful views that took my breath away!

Views at the Black Mound just before Glencoe

Views at the Black Mound just before Glencoe

The icy lakes leading into Glencoe were magical. The pictures were taken from the moving coach…

Frozen lakes, Glencoe

Frozen lakes, Glencoe

More frozen lakes, Glencoe

More frozen lakes, Glencoe

The weeping Glen of Glencoe, site of the 1692 Massacre of the MacDonald clan

The weeping Glen of Glencoe, site of the 1692 Massacre of the MacDonald clan

We now turned towards Ford William and Inverness.  We stopped for lunch at Spean Bridge and then carried on towards Loch Ness.  Ben Nevis, the highest mountain in the UK loomed above us, the tips of the mountain covered with clouds.  Spean Bridge even had a whiskey room (whisky like the Scots spell it…) and a wee bit of tasting was in order.

Ben Nevis, highest mountain in British Isles, hidden behind the clouds (trust me)

Ben Nevis, highest mountain in British Isles, hidden behind the clouds (trust me)

From here onwards we started moving along the many lochs that make up the area, starting with Loch Lochy, Loch Oich and finally arriving at Loch Ness, crisscrossing the lochs several times.  The views were all spectacular, but nothing could prepare me for the sight of Loch Ness.  For some reason of another, the only thing I really knew about Loch Ness was that a mythical monster has been (allegedly) spotted there many times.  I had no idea of the size of this mass of water.  It spans over a distance of 37 kilometres and is the largest loch (by volume) in Scotland.  The tour guide informed us that it contains more water than all the lakes and rivers in the whole of England and Wales combined (a fact confirmed by Wikipedia, so it must be true..:-)).

The ruins of Urquhart Castle with Loch Ness in the background

The ruins of Urquhart Castle with Loch Ness in the background

We stopped for an optional visit at Urquhart Castle, combined with a 30 minute cruise or alternatively an hour cruise on Loch Ness.  I am very happy that I chose to go and see the Castle, which was destroyed by the Jacobites in 1692. We arrived just before sunset and I had the castle all to myself.  Absolutely breathtaking views. This is when I thanked my lucky stars that I did this visit in December as the castle apparently has up to 400 visitors at a time during the summer holidays.  And you really have the most breathtaking views of Loch Ness from the castle.

Urquhart Castle as you will never see it in summer, all to myself!

Urquhart Castle as you will never see it in summer, all to myself!

From here onwards we travelled through Inverness back to Edinburgh via Perth. Unfortunately, it was dark by now, so we could see little, but the tour guide carried on with his little quirky tales about the area.  We finally stopped for a brief while in the Grampian Mountains, before finishing the last leg of our tour, crossing the river Forth, with spectacular views of the Forth Rail Bridge, the first major steel bridge ever constructed and completed in 1890.

We finally ended the tour at the Waverley station at 8:30pm and I walked the 500 odd meters back to my hotel in awe.

This was certainly a day I will not forget soon, and I would love to go back one day and spend more time in the Highlands, with its spectacular mountains and awesome lochs.

So like the Scots will say “See ye efter!

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Posted by on December 21, 2012 in Travel

 

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Hello Edinburgh!

Wow! What a few crazy days I have had. On the one hand I just want to go out and explore some more, but on the other hand I am worried that I am going to start forgetting some of my experiences, so since the weather is not too inviting outside, and I have a hot coffee and free wifi access at hand, sitting in the very cool reception area of my hotel, I thought I would jot down a few notes so long.

I left Joburg on the evening of the 17th of December and (as always) travelling and airports proved to not be my friend. I always have all these intentions to ‘travel lightly’, pack everything and that one day I will look like one of those seasoned travellers that I always spot at the airport, ever so organised and prepared. I am the one who always look like I am moving cities, dragging a suitcase half my size and almost a third of my weight with me. The fact that I am barely 5 ft doesn’t help much.

For starters, I had some gifts and a bottle of Shiraz and a bottle of Cap de Classique in my suitcase and a couple of kilograms of biltong for friends (that is dried, salted meat for those who don’t know and a South African delicacy, and probably illegal to transport to the UK).  So, my suitcase was pretty heavy and when I weighed it on my bathroom scale at home, just over 23kg.  I managed to get through the South African check-in but had to remove something of ‘at least 1kg’ at my connecting flight check-in at Heathrow to avoid paying a £40 overweight charge.  For that sort of money I would have worn my jeans as a scarf, but managed to cram a pair of jeans and a denim jacket into my already full hand luggage.  After taking off my shoes, belt, removing all electronic equipment and my liquids in a clear bag from my hand luggage, and spending 5 minutes on the other side to get dressed again, I finally managed to get through the check-in intact.

Our connecting flight was delayed and we sat on the aeroplane for an hour before take off.  Thank goodness I had my trusted iPad with me so I could carry on reading my book.  When we finally touched down at Edinburgh, I was very relieved and managed to get someone to help me get down my 5 ton carry-on suitcase down from the overhead locker, thereby avoiding any potential hazard from luggage that ‘might have shifted during the landing’.  Rushing off the aeroplane and savouring the relief that we were at the domestic terminal, so no necessity for passport control again, I was in a hurry to get a taxi to my hotel in old Edinburgh.  The taxi drive was an experience and I had long conversations with the taxi driver (I love taxi drivers…they know so much about places to go to and this one used to manage some pubs in his heyday!).  We finally got to the hotel and after checking in, I managed to get all my suitcases up to my room (no small feat).  In my room, I decided it was time to update the world via my iPad of my arrival in Edinburgh and the beautiful views from my room of the old city. Which is when it hit me that I left my iPad in the seat pocket of the aeroplane. Duh!

A room with a view

A room with a view

I frantically phoned the airport and was told it wasn’t there, but that I should check later as the cleaning ladies might only bring lost property down ‘after their shift’. Being from South Africa, I didn’t have high hopes for a recovery and disconnected the 3G card.

Anyway, luckily I have my MacBook Air with me, else there would have been no updates and I am still phoning the airport to see if some soul took pity on me and handed in my iPad.  I am not telling you how many times I have left stuff on aeroplanes, buses and trains, it is too embarrassing.  What I can tell you is that I am super impressed with the hotel I am staying at. It is centrally located and in a beautiful location.  With little touches that really impress me, like an iPod player in the room (with speakers in the shower), these delicious complimentary milk chocolate marshmallow biscuit thingies and fantastic decor.  The one wall is decorated with old comic book covers and the one entire wall has a map of Edinburgh.

I set out exploring the city on the afternoon I arrived (and I had to find pyjamas, as I discovered that I never packed any…).  After getting a wee bit lost, I stumbled across a German Christmas market in Princess street gardens. It was a bit full but I managed to get a pork steak roll and hot chocolate to fill the tummy and a pair of comfortable pj’s at BHS.  I decided to get an early night  as I had a tour booked to the Highlands the next day which started bright and early!

The Dome, Edinburgh

The Dome, Edinburgh

I will tell you about my trip (yesterday) and share some pictures in a separate post, but in the meanwhile, I can update you that I phoned the airport today and my iPad was there. So, I took the bus to the airport to collect it.  And afterwards I went to The Club Room at The Dome (thanks to my taxi driver for the recce) for a wee bit of lunch to  celebrate my good fortune :-).  I even tried the local delicacy Haggis in filo pastry and it wasn’t half bad!

Cheers!

 
6 Comments

Posted by on December 20, 2012 in Travel

 

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The final countdown

I don’t particularly feel like writing at the moment. Maybe that is because my mind is filled with everything that I still need to do and buy and close and clean and pack before my flight leaves in less than two days time.

(In case you missed my awesome blog post about my year of firsts, I will remind you that I am off to the United Kingdom on Monday evening. I am flying to Scotland, spending five days there and then returning via London. Yayness!)

procrastination-hear494Being a bit of a procrastinator, I have of course left several things to the last minute. Like I realised that my driver’s license card is expiring and left it to the last working day in the country to apply. And as I was approaching the building that houses the licensing department on Friday morning (bright and early at 7:45am), and getting ready for the queues (prepared with a book or two on my iPad), my phone made a ping noise, which is when I realised I had a meeting on the other side of town in 15 minutes. With my boss. Lovely.

I did consider calling in and saying I cannot make it, but instead I jumped in my car and phoned in late, and travelled the 30kms plus trip at a speed that would put Felix Baumgartner to shame, with intentions of returning to the license department before they close at 3pm. Which I did, of course. But when I arrived at their offices just before 1pm, I found out that they called it an early Friday afternoon, it being a long weekend and all. And, arriving on the 30th of December (a Saturday) from my UK trip, we are planning to drive down to Cape Town for another few days, so technically I am not spending another working day in Johannesburg before the 10th of January, and my license is expiring on the 7th of January. Damn, I will have to leave Cape Town at the crack of dawn, and adhere to the speed limit all 1 500 plus kilometres to avoid being pulled over by a traffic cop. Why did I decide to drive down again?

Today, I spent my day doing all those important things that a gal has to do before she leaves on a trip over Christmas, like going for a facial, and a pedicure (don’t know who is going to see my feet in the UK though, but it looks very nice), and doing some final Christmas shopping. And fitting in a movie (which incidentally was a fireworks display ala James Bond). I have loads of time to pack on Monday! And tomorrow I am meeting a friend for lunch, the gardener is coming in and we have to go and buy some garden essentials like that cord stuff you put in the hedge trimmer. Because you have to do all that stuff before you go on a trip. And, of course, I have to leave the house in an acceptable going-away-condition. One never knows when something happens to you and other people come into your house and see the state you left it in. That is definitely a no-no.

female trying to close her suitcaseI do intend making a list of everything I need to pack tomorrow though…definitely! Like my iPad and charger, my iPod and charger, my phone and its charger, my camera and its charger (damn, I wanted to get a spare battery today…), my Macbook and its charger, hairdryer. And that connector thingie to download pictures so I can blog about my trip en route. And goodness knows how I am going to fit my shoes and warm clothes in. I always pack with all the intentions in the world of travelling ‘light’, but somehow I can guess from the fact that half my suitcase normally comes back clean that I am not very successful in my quest. And of course, I need to leave some space to shopping??

So, let me go to bed now.  If I do wake up in the middle of the night in a cold sweat, remembering ANOTHER thing I have to do, I fully intend to write it down immediately, and forget about it!

Over-and-out!

 
4 Comments

Posted by on December 15, 2012 in Stupidity

 

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It’s a kind of magic

You come in off the street, through the doors of the theater. You sit down. The lights go down and the curtain goes up. And you’re in another world. ~ Robert Caro

TheatreI believe in the magic of the theatre. Maybe it has something to do with the fact that it is real, not like in a real-life story, but real, as in happening real time. There are no re-takes. Everything happens as you are watching, waiting, anticipating. At any moment someone can forget their words or make a mistake or trip over their own feet. This creates tension and suspense that can never be replicated in a movie or TV show.

My first real theatre experience (other than school concerts) was when I was 14 years old. At the time, we lived in Delmas, and a school friend invited me along on an outing to Johannesburg with her family, to go and see Romeo and Juliet, the ballet. Of course I have heard of Romeo and Juliet, but I did not know the full story. It was magical. I laughed, and I cried while I tried to read the story outline in the dark theatre. I was mesmerised by the costumes and the scene changes and the music and the orchestra. I will never forget that day for as long as I live.

This was in the midst of the Apartheid years in South Africa, and there was a cultural boycott against foreign arts, artists and theatre productions. Afrikaans theatre flourished, as government provided funding for performances, but there was little or no exposure to Broadway, musicals and the like.

Joseph_and_the_Amazing_Technicolor_DreamcoatFast forward a couple of years, and I found myself in Pretoria, living in the city at the age of 16. One of the highlights of the year on the Pretoria calendar was the Jacaranda Festival and live acts and performances at Church Square in the city centre, as the jacarandas go into bloom. We did not live far from the main centre of attraction and one late afternoon we ventured off to Church Square, just in time for a show to start. We secured our little spot and started watching Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat. I thought it was the most fantastic thing I have ever seen in my life.

The narrator was none other than the Guernsey-born Richard Loring who, in later years, established the Sound Stage in Midrand, one of the first dinner/theatre venues in South Africa. In a super religious South Africa of the day; where the constant fear of the antichrist and communists were being drilled down our throats on a regular basis; the play, with the Elvis Pharoah and his lustful wife in her tiger print outfit, made a permanent imprint on my mind. Over the next few days I went back twice to go and see the same show again, and a few years later I saw it in the Pretoria State Theatre.

I finished high school in 1989, and on 2 February 1990, the then State President of South Africa gave his landmark speech in Parliament, releasing Nelson Mandela from prison and lifting the ban on the ANC and other political organisations. It was the beginning of the end of the Apartheid regime and the start of a new era for the dramatic arts in South Africa.

The post-apartheid period has been a rebirth for drama and arts in South Africa. In the earlier years, with funding cut, people feared the end of the theatre in South Africa. The State Theatre in Pretoria closed down in 2000 and reopened again in 2001. But corporates and theatre lovers came to the party and today we live in one of the most fantastic times for theatre in South Africa, ever. The last ten years have seen the opening of several new commercial theatres, like the Barnyard Theatres, the Lyric theatre at Gold Reef City and the 1 800-seater Teatro at Montecasino, which opened its doors in 2007

We have seen some magnificent shows coming to our shores, from The Lion King (with a full South African cast), Mamma Mia, Chicago – the Musical, Lord of the Dance, Cats and many others!

And we love it. My daughters are totally at home in the theatre. And this year I took them to go and see the ballet that started it all for me, at the Joburg Theatre. The conclusion…”It is a very sad story, Mom.”

Some of the shows we've seen in 2012!

Some of the shows we’ve seen in 2012!

showsOver the last two weekends I took my girls to see two shows on the current run, Dirty Dancing and Potted Potter. Dirty Dancing had me speechless. The acting did not quite live up to Patrick Swayze and Jennifer Grey, but the music, the orchestra and the choreography and scene changes were magical. I could not help wiping a few tears from my eyes and remembering the very first time I cried in a theatre, way back in 1986.

Potted Potter was hilariously funny and a huge amount of magical fun with minimal stage fanfare, but interactive and entertaining, with even an audience ‘quidditch’ game and a dress-up snitch.

This coming weekend we are off to see the Janice Honeyman’s pantomime Jack and the Beanstalk and Noel & Gertie on Sunday.

The theatre line-up next year includes the Broadway smash hit, Jersey Boys, which I saw two years ago in New York City. And Starlight Express later in the year. It’s like Christmas all year round!

Prepare to be blown away by a magical theatrical journey :-).

 
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Posted by on December 7, 2012 in Passions

 

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Have you heard the story…?

EmbarrassedWe have all done some embarrassing things in our lives (audience cue: nod affirmatively).

Some people (like me) probably have a nack for getting into embarrassing situations often, and maybe we are just worst at hiding our stupidity. I think the reality is that some of us just laugh at ourselves easier than other. Which is really great, but the flipside is that sometimes you can become the butt of the story. Over and over again. Like a good party trick that never gets old or that one joke that will always get the crowd going.

Unfortunately, I have experienced a few of those embarrassing moments that I’ve had to relive time and time and time again. One particular story is very popular and was unfortunately witnessed by three current and one ex work colleague, one of whom was my boss.

I did tob a bit about hanging my dirty laundry out here for everyone to see, but I maybe I am hoping that one of two things will happen:

  1. You will say “Aah, that’s nothing! Guess what happened to me” or/and
  2. at some stage when one of these guys starts to tell the story, someone will peep up “That’s an old one!” (Yup, I am a dreamer)

Anyhoo! Let me tell you the Ice Bar story.

Two years ago I travelled with the aforementioned work colleagues to London. We were there for an audit committee meeting, from which you can assume these were all high-up-in-the-company-managers. Most of us were staying over in town on the Friday night and flying back to Joburg on the Saturday evening, fitting in a bi’ of shopping on the Saturday. So, we decided to ‘hang out’ on the Friday night.

The Ice Bar in London is located just off Regent Street and built out of ice, and is kept a chilly -5⁰C all year round. It operates in 40 minute slots and the entry fee includes one complementary drink. It is really quite awesome and if you ever go there you will spot the sign on the outside with a snapshot of me, listed as a patron that is not allowed back inside. Or that’s how the story goes, I have never been back.

Drinks anyone?When you arrive at the Ice Bar, you are given a thermal cape with hood and gloves to wear for your 40 minute session. Even the glasses that you get your complimentary drink in, is made of ice. The guys I was with decided, after the first drink was done, to try out some of the other cocktails and drinks. After all, we only had 40 minutes, and they were going to try and fit in as many drinks as possible. With names of drinks such as Suicide Blonde, Purple Rain and Tennessee Swizzle, they could have been entertained all night picking drinks, but of course we only had 40 minutes.

After around 25 minutes, we were already three drinks down (the glasses are tiny, so it is more like shots, and judging by the speed we drank, you can imagine that these drinks went down like shooters). I do not do shooters well. So after the third (or possibly fourth) drink, I firmly declined another one, but of course the guys were “Aah, come ooooon, just one more”. And since I did not want to be a spoil sport, I obliged. BIG mistake.

Now, another little thing about me you won’t know, is that I have a bad gag reflex. I am very sensitive and choke fairly easy. What happened next still feels surreal. I started chugging back the fourth (or fifth) drink and all of the sudden started choking. And instead of just spitting out the alcohol or swallowing it back or something (anything), I started hurling. I kid you not. I barfed, puked, threw up, whatever you want to call it. And then we all witnessed a very interesting chemical reaction taking place. The former-content-of-my-stomach solidified on the spot. There was to be no quick wiping up of my shame. Oh no, they had to scrape it up.

By now, my red face were nicely contrasted by the splatters of frozen vomit still stuck to the cape, so I left the Ice Bar and waited outside for the other guys to finish retelling the story to everyone inside.

It was not the end of the evening, (un)fortunately, as we still had a booking at Belgo’s where we had to sample beers of the world (and thankfully eat something), and then went on a bit of bar hopping in London, and you can imagine that by the end of the evening, the guys could tell the story with all the fanfare of well seasoned actors. The fact that one of the boys barfed in a bin on the side of the road somewhere late at night went by completely unnoticed. By the end of the evening, even I was laughing along at my shame.

If only it stopped there. In the last 6 months, I have heard the story being retold a staggering four times. We would be at a lunch or a function or something and all of the sudden one of the guys would start talking about going to London or being cold or any damned thing that could spark this memory and next thing I would hear is “Have you heard the story of the Ice Bar in London?”.

So next time, I am hoping, praying (or if not the next time, at some point in time in my future) that someone will come to my rescue and say the words I would love to hear “Aah, that’s an old story”and proceed to make fun of someone else.

Is that too much to ask for??

 
8 Comments

Posted by on December 5, 2012 in Stupidity

 

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