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Posts from the ‘Travelling’ Category

Taxi dash to The New Alps

IMG_2962The champagne bottles had been drained by the time we sprang out of the taxi and in to the exhibition on the outskirts of Lyon. We were late and the party was clearly winding down.

It was Easyjet’s fault: the flight from Edinburgh had been delayed by four hours so we’d missed the speeches, the unveiling of the work and an “auld alliance”get together that had spilled outside to enjoy a warm, convivial French evening.

IMG_2976 But I hadn’t reckoned on us being V.I.P’s. (By association, only) That resulted in below-the-counter corks being discretely popped  and an exclusive viewing of the work by the artist (My Boy) himself.

The venue – a cave-room in an ancient French fort –  echoed and magnified the hissing, haunting, sound-light-movement installation. My photos don’t do it justice. It’s a powerful work and it made me reflect on the all-out turbinisation of our irreplaceable Scottish wilderness. There will soon be no view from any hilltop that isn’t sullied by windmills, pylons, dams or roads. I hope Robbie’s work can help influence a wider audience when it is on show in Glasgow in October.

There was more to explore in Lyon too. Flights of aerobic steps led forever upwards to the white basilica on the hill, while sculptures, graffiti and the new metallic monster museum graced the banks of the Rhōne and the Saōne. All of it art.

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When the yellow’s on the broom

P1060463There’s a popular Scottish song that tells of the travelling people who leave their stationary winter quarters to set off on the road  “when the yellow’s on the broom” at this time of year.

“We’ll meet up wi’ oor kinfolk

From a’ the country roon’

When the ganaboot folk tak’ the road

And the yellow’s on the broom”

I didn’t walk past any broom today, but for mile after dazzling mile the yellow was thick and heavily scented on the gorse; weak lemony pale on the daffodils; and the dandelions shone brightly, luring in the bees and butterflies from miles around. It was one long Mellow Yellow Scottish spring day.

I should have been working, of course. Or packing for The Big Move later in the week. Or cleaning. Or researching. But the sun was forcing its brightness around the black-out blinds when I opened my eyes this morning, and I couldn’t resist. I’ve been following Trepidatious Traveller Maggie’s adventures (http://magwood.me )  on her latest Spanish Camino these last few days and have been itching to get on the road myself, so on a whim I abandoned the world of work and set off on the first 12 miles of the long-distance West Highland Way.

And it all came rushing back: the satisfying crunch of boots on gravel; a pack strapped to my back; the adventure of the open road; sun shadows, random encounters and conversations with strangers.  I hummed the Yellow on the Broom tune as I walked towards the hills and reflected on my own nomadic experiences these past three years.

The rootless chapter of my recent life will close this week when I get the keys for my little fisherman’s house by the sea. The wandering years opened my eyes but I need a home again. Even when the countryside is yellow. P1060442

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Catch a hurricane by the tail…

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… and hitch an effortless ride on the swings.

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You’re never too old for a play park or climbing trees. Right?

Still following arrows

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The temperature in Sweden’s forests is sub zero, it’s slippery underfoot and thin ice is setting in swirling patterns on the lakes. There’s no scorching Meseta sun or cafe con leche around every corner and the paths are quiet and empty. Spain is thousands of miles away, yet the companionship of camino family and recalled memories of that pilgrimage to Santiago feels close.

Where next, yellow arrows?

Celebrating Santa Lucia in Stockholm

P1050682A crown of candles on a white-gowned girl brightens Sweden’s darkest days of winter and celebrates the early Christian martyr, Santa Lucia.

It’s not difficult to understand that during a long Scandinavian winter, the notion of light overcoming darkness and the promise of returning sunlight has been welcomed  for hundreds of years, and most likely in pagan times too. P1050678

Everyone in Sweden recognises 13 December as Santa Lucia day and listens to a Lucia and her attendants sing the customary song which describes how the Saint triumphed over the darkness and found light. Boys in white gowns carry little lanterns and wear tall paper cones on their heads and sometimes men dressed as chimney sweeps follow the procession, brushing away the darkness.

Lucia traditionally wears ‘light in her hair’, which is usually translated these days into a wreath of electric candles, but in one performance I watched a girl walking carefully while balancing the precarious ring of melting wax. Friends who have had the honour of being a Lucia describe the nightmare of removing melted wax from their long blonde hair for hours after their performance.

Other Lucia traditions include starting the day with rice porridge  – sprinkled with sugar and cinnamon –  and eating saffron buns and gingerbread.  It’s a happy day, a great warm-up to Christmas, and I’m still humming the Lucia song two days later.

Stepping into a Swedish winter wonderland

P1050520I’m living inside a candlelit Christmas fairytale on the outskirts of Stockholm, listening to carols, sipping mulled wine and absorbing the scents of cinnamon and cloves. If this is Christmas Hysteria (my friend Helen’s description of her “condition”), I’m happy to be infected!

Peace in the ruins

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We specialise in recycling stones in Scotland, as our ruined  churches, castles, cathedrals and crofts can testify. They each have their own unique atmosphere, some bleak and sad, others proud and magnificent even in stark destruction. But with our troubled history of battles and Clearances,  few ruins feel as peaceful as Deer Abbey. This ancient site was inhabited by monks for 340 years, until Protestant reformers did their utmost to remove all traces of Catholicism from the country in 1560.

So it too has been through troubled times and most of the stone was stolen  to build a mausoleum. And yet the vibes here are calm and tranquil. The monks may have been banished, but they left their mark.

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Reminiscing about the Ridge on a dreich Scottish day

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I never tire of looking up to sharp mountain ridges but I’m nervous of exposure so New Zealand’s Kepler Track is well outwith my comfort zone. But with a bit of brutal encouragement from my son, I did it. The memories – which we shared last night via Skype – will last a lifetime. And they brighten the bleakest of Scotland’s November days.

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Sounding out autumn on the Solway

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It’s quiet for now but the waves of Barnacles are close. Thousands of geese are migrating from the Arctic every day, settling on the Solway to escape the harsh Svalbard winter. The skeins speed overhead in a cacophonous cloud, swirling, unsettled, mad.  And when the deafening sky fades and the last outliers pass, an expectant stillness settles on the sands, fields and rivers. The next invasion is imminent and compulsively you scan the empty skies and listen for the elemental sounds of autumn. The long, languorous summer is over.

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Pilgrim breakfast in the Parador

P1050151The croissants were scrummy but Breakfast In The Parador wasn’t as grand an experience as you might imagine.

The splendid state hotel which now stands on one side of Santiago’s beautiful Cathedral Square was originally built in 1499 as a Hospital for pilgrims who travelled from all corners of Europe to pay homage to St James at the neighbouring Cathedral.

When they reached the end of their long journeys dirty, hungry and exhausted they were given food, drink, a bed for three days and – if they needed it – medical help. That tradition endured over the centuries but in the 1950s the hospital was converted to the swanky hotel that now attracts a prestigious clientele and fosters an air of indulgence and superiority.

Yet the custom of helping pilgrims who arrive in the city has been honoured in a token way by giving the frst 10 peregrinos who turn up each day P1050143a free breakfast, lunch or dinner. The rule is that you line up with your compostella as proof of your pilgrimage  (but minus your backpack) at the stable door  and wait to be led inside and manoeuvred swiftly through the smart quarters to a staff door which leads up a flight of stairs to the kitchens.

We stood in a humble line beside stacks of plates and trays of semi-prepared food as waiters whisked past balancing trays and  contemptuous sneers. I can’t imagine a British hotel kitchen allowing half a dozen random people to hang around near uncovered food, but it was a fascinating insight into continental hygiene standards.

It was also an insight into how it must feel to be on the receiving end of charity. We could all have afforded to go into the old town to buy our breakfasts at a cafe but chose to experience the medieval tradition as part of our camino. Maybe the staff are overworked or just tired of people turning up in their kitchens three times a day, but sadly the token “charity” wasn’t P1050152dispensed with speed, grace or even a smile.

Yet nothing was lost. The pastries and coffee were good and, as always on the camino, it was the multilingual conversation between strangers that was the memorable part of the half hour we spent in the Pilgrim’s Dining Room at the top of the back stairs of Santiago’s posh Parador.