22/2/17 – Clarissa Eats… Everything

This one could also be subtitled, Clarissa didn’t actually do much of anything today. In my defense it’s because the weather totally tricked me. When I woke up and checked the forecast with visions of a nice cycle dancing in my head, I was greeted with doom and gloom and 40+ mph wind speeds. So I thought, “hmm, maybe not today.”

What did I get? Sun shining all day and hardly even a puff of wind–I trusted you, weather guy!! 

At least I shot off some applications eh?

So I’ll talk about my dining from the night before… because who doesn’t like hearing about other people’s meals, eh?

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Here’s a sundae I had the night prior with my gal-pal Krista. Notice there’s two: it’s a well-known fact that girls who eat ice cream together, stay pals forever. The sundae in question was procured from the cute wee pub called Woodland Creatures down Leith Walk.

This was of course after stuffing face at a really nice establishment called Punjabi Junction, whose mission is this: “Punjabi Junction is run by Sikh Sanjog for the community. Our vision is to inspire and empower Sikh and other Minority Ethnic women to advance their own life opportunities, through the building of skills, confidence and social inclusion.”

True enough the food was delicious and served by very lovely ladies. Not only that, it was cheap as chips! I can totally dig it. Would recommend if any random Edinburghians ever happen to stumble upon this blog.

 

21/2/17 – Clarissa on Corstorphine Hill

I think it’s official. I am a bit of a birder. It’s one thing to spend some time peering out the window at the birds in your garden… but it’s another entirely to go out on a cycle specifically to a destination you hope you’ll see more of them! Even worse, I learned about this place from a “bird walk” I went on a year or so ago. I guess I may as well hand off some bucks to the RSPB–because I am smitten!

My location of choice was Corstorphine Hill. One of the amazing bits of living in Edinburgh is just how much access there is to green space, particularly those in the form of big ol’ volcanic remnant hills like Arthur’s Seat and Blackford Hill, along with Corstorphine.

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Here’s a cheeky map used in something called the 7 Hills Run, which features all the various hills and crags around Edinburgh. My birding area is in upper left hand side right smack alongside the Edinburgh Zoo. You can actually hear the monkeys howling and peer through a bit of fencing inside where you can see wallabies and zebras. In my case though I just saw people lined up looking back at me–disappointing for all parties, really.

I did spot a tiny wren though. I love how diminutive they are and their wee stubby tails.

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It was a lovely day, if overcast and windy, and eventually as I traipsed up the hill I found myself at the place I’d seen loads of birds on my prior bird walk. It’s a stone wall overlooking a particularly stunning view of Arthur’s Seat.

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Look at those posh golfers. Psht. Just ignoring the beautiful scenery and punting balls around.

Just to maximize the loveliness of it all, there’s a bench for sittin’ and the birds are used to people bringing them snacks every day. I was disappointed to see that no one had left food out for them at my arrival, but as I’d brought a PB&J and some nuts, I generously decided to share.

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Here’s a nuthatch after enjoying some PBJ crumbs. Good tastes mate.

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And here’s a great tit spitting out a blurry piece of apple I also left out for them. Cheeky bugger. He liked the crumbled walnuts though, so it’s fine.

To finish here’s a wee robin as I was leaving who gave me what I’ve discovered is a “whisper song.” The robins at my nursery job were very curious and hung about as close as they could basically get without being stepped on. It was then that I noticed they would warble quietly to themselves from the bushes nearby. After some research I found other people had noticed some birds doing this as well, and many think it’s a sort of practice for their big gutsy songs that warn off competitors or attract the ladies.

Whatever the reason, I think it is absurdly adorable. I had a hard time catching any in the act–when they spotted me trying to record them they would inevitably stop and just give me the beady eyeball.

This one however gave me a little song! It’s less than a minute before he darts off to hunt for some worms, but at least I finally caught one in the act.

 

 

20/2/17 – The Importance of Eating Muffins

I started the day of with a muffin.

Not a good muffin though, like a blueberry muffin, which as Haitham insists is just a cupcake pretending to be breakfast food. I mean an English muffin. Which is okay. Sort of boring I guess. I tried to dress it up as best I could–and when I say that, I mean I added peanut butter. (And a banana.)

Have y’all ever seen the play The Importance of Being Earnest? It’s one of Haitham’s favorites, and I can see why. It’s a very quick-witted play about two men in the late Victorian era attempting to secure their love of their respective ladies. The hook is that both men attempt to do this under the pretense, strangely enough, that their names happen to be Ernest. Lots of hijinks and mistaken identities naturally follows. It’s honestly a great piece of work. I’d recommend the older version of it, not the ’90s movie with that Brit who’s in everything.

In whatever version you happen to see, there is a moment where the two “Ernests” are in up to their ears in trouble. One of the Ernests sits down and begins to stuff his face with muffins.

Classic British humor. I can actually highly relate to Algernon here though. I’m a total foodie at the best of times. But at the worst, I’d probably be tussling over muffins too!

Well! That was a long spiel about muffins wasn’t it?!

What can I say about my day? Not much really–it was nose-to-the-ground application sorting which means I sat on my rear inside most of the day typing away. I did manage to go for a quick wander. The weather has been milder, but still pretty gray unsurprisingly. But there were a few moments with some sun. Enough to make my window ornament shine!

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During my wander I started snapping photos of doors. Weird, I know… and yet I love all the quirky doors that can be found in Edinburgh flats and houses.

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Honestly I love them. I’m also a little disappointed mine and Haitham’s door is a boring ol’ white. Anyway, I just hope no one saw me snapping photos of their doors.

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29/2/17 – Copper Conversations

The first time I came to Scotland, going on 5 years ago now, Haitham and I traipsed up to Oban just off the northwestern coast for a few days. While there we visited my first ever whisky distillery. At the time, I could hardly say I’d even really tried whisky–sure, every American kid (especially from Tennessee like myself) can say they’ve had a Jack & Coke, but I couldn’t ever recollect having tried anything on its own, ya know, for the taste.

Needless to say Oban… well, it didn’t do it for me. Whereas before I’d been neutral, now I knew how just how yucky whisky was! Blegh!! Despite the informative distillery tour, the only real thing I remember is the face I pulled when a sample of cask-strength whisky was passed around, causing two chaps also on the tour with us to laugh. I also remember getting some candied ginger at the end which was lovely. I also remember our guide telling us how you could taste salt from the sea spray-filled air intermingling within the casks; I couldn’t taste dirt. Just fumes coursing down my burning throat.

Safe to say I was not a convert!

It was only years later after I’d settled down in Edinburgh and had friends Megan & Erik come to visit that things changed for me. Erik, being a bartender in an Irish-themed pub, knew his whiskys and fancied doing whisky-related things while visiting (and why not!). When we did a Whisky Walks tour around Edinburgh that allowed us to sit inside and try four different drams at the end, I found much to my surprise that I actually tasted something nice in one–that dram was from Auchentoshan, a distillery just outside Glasgow. Which is still probably my whisky of choice now. It’s honestly delicious.

Since then Haitham and I have gone to six total whisky distilleries together, and I’ve gone to one cheekily on a solo trip without him (there may be some resentment there!). It’s become a rather enjoyable hobby to both of us, as each distillery has something different to offer. Sure, you’d think something that literally only takes three different ingredients–water, barley, and yeast–to make would get boring in the explanations after a while, and yet here we are, still going at it.

Here’s where we’ve gone so far. And here’s where we still have yet to go (not including the multitude of distilleries on Islay, as well as those around Spey)!

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So when Sunday rolled around with the sun beaming down brightly, we decided to take the Panda Express out to the nearest distillery to Edinburgh, a wee establishment called Glenkinchie. Despite it being “the closest” it’s still a pretty good shake outside of town, and actually took us around 30 minutes by car to get there. (For any tourists who happen to stumble across this piece, there are shuttles available from town!) Despite us leaving at 10 AM like the whisky geeks that we are (seriously, 10 AM?!) when we arrived we were not the first people there and were joined in our tour by a gaggle of other folks ranging from Switzerland to Norway.

Glenkinchie was a lovely distillery to visit, which quite a lot of history to it. The old photos of the 40-odd men who used to work within (complete with a ratter dog) along with the sight of the old still just recently unearthed was really something to see. And our tour guide was a lovely chap. There’s lots of things to peruse in the exhibition rooms at the start, the most impressive to me being the scale model of the distillery itself–awesome!! Couple all that with two drams at the end, and we left feeling pretty good.

Also, I got to ring the historic, dram-summoning bell inside. Awesome. Thing was loud.

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Here’s Haitham scoping out the distillery model. Seriously, what a cool idea!

Afterwards we traipsed along a nearby walking path that surrounds an estate called Winton Castle. The walk itself was sort of boring actually–I was expecting a lot more snowdrops than there were, and we didn’t even find the castle while walking! At least there were lots of happy dogs carting gigantic sticks and eyes fixed on tennis balls and such. I saw a pack of bearded collies, one of whom was very happy to see me, the other two more worried about the border collie rapidly approaching from behind me, all of whom were owned by a guy who just bloody well wanted to be left alone! (Sorry, mate, I just really like dogs!)

 

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18/2/17 – Clarissa Joins a Bike Gang

Went on a group cycle today! Huzzah, huzzah!

It was my first time with a mixed group that I’ve been a member of for some months now, but never quite got the courage to go with before. Just a bit too much serious lycra-ing and mentions of MPH targets and sportive rides… it’s enough to make a girl wonder if she can keep up, or if she will embarrass herself and be left in the dust. Luckily for me, this cycle was targeted towards new faces, so I signed up a wee while ago, and come 10 AM I met up with my new group along the Union Canal.

Here’s the route we took. Despite MapMyRide zapping my battery only halfway through, someone else got this cool interactive map  here. Strava is a pretty nifty cycle app that I may switch to if nothing else than to see if it honks my battery quite as much as MMR.

At the end of the day a 29 mile ride with a new group is great, but I couldn’t help but unfavorably compare them with my group lady cycles (Belles on Bikes FTW!). They are so good at welcoming newbies and making others feel right at home. Not only that, but they pause frequently to allow folks stopping for photos or caught on the other side of busy road intersections to catch up, as well as pausing to explain what will be coming up ahead, what it’s called, etc. Also they have excellent road manners with constant bell-ringing, singling out on roads or busy cycle paths, etc. Sure, it makes for a slower pace at times, but they still fly up those hills with the best of them.

This ride was a bit… well, honestly a bit mental on that regard! They did stop to allow laggers catch up, but there were frequent times I thought, “Where the hell are we?!” or arrived with only half of the group somewhere, to have the other half of the group arrive minutes later from a different route. There was even a time when I asked one of the leaders post-lunch, “Where will we be heading after this?” in order to figure out where exactly I needed to head home from, and he cagily responded with a laugh, “Oh just wait and see!”

Uh, what?

Nevertheless it was a good strong ride (despite the gray drizzle and the wind), the ride attendees were super nice, and I kept up no problem, in no small part to getting my gears fixed a month or so back. We did pop a total of three different tubes along the way (Jesus Edi roads, why you so rough?!) and also had a small crash going downhill, but everyone made it in one piece!! *nervous laugh*

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I didn’t take too many photos as it was pretty drizzly, but here’s one during a moment’s pause while fixing our first tire. And below, our second–I snapped a quick photo of Arthur’s seat illuminated by sunshine, a bit cheeky really considering the lack of sun with us the entire day!

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When I came back to the flat much later than I originally expected, I convinced Haitham to pop out for a quick walk round Harrison Park where I’d noticed some excellent spring blooms making an appearance. Spring is finally on its way!
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The snowdrops are really going for it in the church nearby. Ugh, I adore them.

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And the crocuses in Harrison Park have been strategically planted to create this gorgeous blanket of blossoms. Even on grim days you can’t help but smile to see it.

17/2/17 – Clarissa Does Hardly Anything

A wise man once said, “Some days you ett da berr, some days da berr ett you.”

In modern times when applied to my own life this loosely translates to, “Some days Clarissa seizes the day. But other days the day drifts past with literally nothing to show for it. How embarrassing.”

I did clean my bike.

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(Too bad the following day I was booked on for a muddy group ride that instantly brought me back to pre-cleaned status.)

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And there are some wee daffs blooming in the garden. Early wee things! I’ve hardly seen any others around town in bloom yet, just producing blossoms. I can’t remember what variety these are–all I know is they were procured last year before leaving Pentland. They are quite small, so perhaps Tête á Tête? Either way, they’re lovely.

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And here’s my prized garden gnome giving his approving pointer finger to the sky. I think he’s sharing my happiness that I actually have some tulips emerging in the blue pot behind him. After the Squirrel Travesty of 2016, I was a’feared I’d never get any actual blossoms. Lucky for me, no dratted gray squirrels have made an appearance in the garden so far to dig up all my bulbs! (And I cleverly planted them with small plants atop!)

16/2/17 – Clarissa Explains… Birds

Do you know one of the things I love most about living in the UK? True story: the birds. I’ve always loved watching birds–must be a byproduct of all the giant bucket of sunflower seeds readily available by the door out to our woodsy porch growing up. Squirrels begging at the door for cracked pecans was the norm, as were the blue jays, cardinals, nuthatches, chickadees, and titmice coming and going at the feeders, artfully avoiding the cats sneaking about.

Scotland obviously has its own smattering of birds that make an appearance in the gardens and green spaces of Edinburgh. And… I LOVE THEM. Every time I spot a new feathery friend I am impressed. They’re just absurdly adorable.

Maybe it’s because, more often than not, they don’t have a neck. Instead, they’re just round balls of feathers with a beak slapped on. It’s GREAT.

For example:

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Here we have the cases of the Robins. Left, obviously, is the common American robin, who hilariously is also known as Turdus migratorius. Right is what is known as the European robin, or Erithacus rubecula.

Come on guys, there’s no contest here. Due to the cheeky European robin’s anatomy (or lack of it) and charming personality–these guys are insanely curious as well as people-friendly, and can be found practically underfoot looting for a crumb or just to see what exactly it is you’re up to–they win the adorable contest, hands-down. They also hang around all winter here, which makes them the perfect contestant to slap onto Christmas loot such as mugs, cards, and ornaments. Brits really love their little robins, and though it took me a while to understand why, now obviously I’m 100% a cheeky robin fan-girl.

The UK obviously has a smattering of other birds that I’ve had the pleasure of clapping eyes on, although some are still on the list. I’ve put up some bird feeders in my tiny wee garden and have had the pleasure of seeing some new faces as of the past day or so.

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Here we have a new favorite of mine, the long-tailed tit, or Aegithalos caudatus. Also missing its neck. What gives, UK birds?? Who took your necks away from you??

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Another frequent visitor is the blue tit, Cyanistes caeruleus, who often flit around hollering bossily to let the other berbs know they’re in the area, I guess. I still think they’re charming though.

Here’s some other UK birdies. Wood pigeons in particular I find hilarious. Maybe because they seem so big, dumb, and clumsy–they’re massive, at least they seem that way cause they’re often poofed up. Still charming in their own right.

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Anyway I did tear myself away from my little birds and leave the flat once whilst the sun was shining. I headed down to Princes Street on a tip from my gal Emma that she’d procured some half-price chocolates at M&S. Lo and behold, a treasure was finally had.

It wasn’t a bad-looking evening either, at least for the few minutes the sun was shining. Too bad I looked like a twat carrying my giant camera about like the forever-tourist that I am. (Worth it!)

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15/2/17 – Opticians, Floating Coffee Shops, and Boardies

What ho, fair weathered friends!

Edinburgh has over the last few days been rain-free and with a steadily climbing temperature… well, as much as temperatures can climb here, anyway! Today’s high was a whopping 9°C (48°F), and Saturday predicted at 11°C (52°F)! Positively tropical!!

First off I mustered up my energy and my courage and cycled my way down to a visit to the optometrist. Having living in Edinburgh for going on two and a half years, my last eye visit was at least 4 or 5 years ago in Murfreesboro. Couple that with my perusal of the RNIB volunteer leaflets regarding the different forms of sight loss, and I started to think it was mighty hypocritical of myself to be volunteering while also neglecting to keep tabs on my own vision.

However… I really don’t like going to the eye doctor. I’ve always found myself absurdly sensitive to bright lights, and them shining brilliant flashes in my eyes causes me to wince, shudder, and tense up, watery eyes flying all over the place. Ooh! It makes me nervous just thinking about it.

I totally feel your pain, Gizmo.

However luckily for me my optometrist was a really sweet, supremely patient angelic being. She explained to me what she was doing and even was kind enough to send me a photo of my eyeball after at my request (hey, it’s cool innit?! that’s the inside of my eye!). Even better, when I was done I just strolled out. No payment necessary–thank you, NHS!–and no hassling to get a new overpriced set of frames or contact prescription.

Needless to say that place has two thumbs up from this girl. And two thumbs up to the NHS which takes care of its own–a fact that to this day I still regard warily, waiting for my secret bills to show up in the mail.

Afterwards I was heading back via bike along the Union Canal, when I saw that the wee canal boat called Counter was open for business selling coffees and pastries. I can’t resist a good flat white, especially when it’s served from a boat, and didn’t I deserve a treat after my poor eyeballs’ poking and prodding?

So I got my coffee from the nice chap inside the boat and sat down in some chairs alongside, observing all the wee dogs, their people, and cyclists coming and going. Eventually in a quiet moment the barista and I struck up a conversation. Before I knew it we were discussing life, jobs, family, where we were from, all sorts. Turns out his name was Craig and he was from Australia, although his accent was quite hidden as he’d lived for many years in London.

Even better, he was nice enough to let me snap his photo. Seriously. What a good lad. I left thinking just how nice it is to have a conversation with a friendly stranger sometimes.

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What followed in my highly caffeinated state was a cycle all round the shops nearby our flat in a search for half-price Valentine’s Day chocolates.

I FOUND NOTHING.

Seriously folks, what the actual heck?! Even as I traipsed in at around 11 they were packing away the last of the cards. Chocolates were nowhere to be seen, already taken over by more Easter candies. Even after checking several other nearby shops–Aldi, M&S, and Poundsavers–nada.

Cue heartbroken Rissa. Shake my head, guys. I am disappoint.

Later that evening I made some dinner and shuttled off to weekly board games with some pals. We played game called Shadow Hunters which is just about as geeky as you can imagine; still good fun though. It’s all about secret identities and special win conditions; mine, as a Neutral character, was to just stay alive until someone else (a Hunter or a Shadow) character won, thereby allowing me to share the win as well. I should have played it cool, and not been too aggressive. However eventually I got my hands on a rather bloodthirsty attack card, and well, sort of got on everyone’s radar pretty quickly after that … whoops!!

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At least I wasn’t the first one out eh??

14/2/17 – My Excuse to Make Cookies

Valentine’s Day! Thankfully for me (and especially for Haitham) this is a holiday that neither of us really see much value in. Okay, correction, I do: in the 50% off chocolate section in stores the following day!!

Plus, I’d much rather get a cactus than a hothouse rose. One will live for an eternity on a few motes of dust and specks of water every year, the other, dead in days. (Just sayin’.)

However, considering the perfect timing of just receiving a new hand mixer the day before, well. What better time to whip up a batch of cookies and pretend they’re for the sake of the holiday?

AND SO I DID.

I followed this recipe I found online. It’s for Cookie Butter Chocolate Chip Cookies. I think that in the States cookie butter is a phenomenon that’s only just appearing in more rural areas–I did see Biscoff spread in the Murfreesboro Kroger before leaving, for example. Cookie butter, simply put, is a delicious, cinnamony spread that’s made–get this–FROM COOKIES.

What’s better than normal cookies you may ask? Cookies made out of other cookies.

Needless to say they turned out great, and I had eaten three by the time they came out the oven.

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Nom. I hope Haitham’s coworkers enjoy the fruits of my labor. Obviously two people alone can’t eat all 20-odd cookies (I mean, obviously they can, but should they?) so I sent the rest away with him the next morning.

The rest of my day was quiet enough with chores, but in the late afternoon when I saw that the sun was still making a rare appearance I thought I’d take my chances and go for a bike ride. I decided to go for the nearby Dean Village, which is a quaint, hidden wee gem within Edinburgh. It’s named well, because it does sit like a secret village nestled along the Waters of Leith, tucked into a wee crevice in Edinburgh’s midst.

However, just as I was around the corner from Dean Village, I spotted a cemetery. Haitham thinks my fascination with cemeteries is strange, but I’ve always liked them. They’re not only peaceful, but beautiful in their tradition: to honor the memory of friends and family. I think there’s something really amazing at seeing these odes to people and times gone by, in such a quiet, respectful environment.

This particular cemetery is aptly named Dean Cemetery. It was honestly lovely, with enormous statues and stonework, a wide path surrounded by old yews and enormous beeches, and the filtering sunset’s glow through the trees. I kept seeing an ornate building peeking through the winter branches nearby–lo and behold, it was the modern art museum!

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I guess I found it surprising to see such a lovingly attended cemetery in Edinburgh. I know they exist, but my perception of them has been warped by the two cemeteries nearby our flat. It seems here when young troublemakers have nothing better to do, they go to cemeteries and knock over headstones. It’s honestly such a shame. I’m sure it’s not just something that kiddos in the U.K. do, but I really had never heard of them doing that in Tennessee before! C’mon guys, have some respect!

Then again, when I looked up this cemetery I did see the following review: “did meth behind rocks good spot would recomend”

Say whaaa?

Even more surprising I found, of all things, a confederate flag in the grounds!!

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Well what do you know!

Anyway eventually I did finally make it down to Dean Village. I snapped this shot on the way down. I believe that’s St. Mary’s looming on the horizon, one of my favorite churches in Edi for sure.

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So that’s all folks. Sending Valentine’s day well-wishes out (and some of my excess calories from all those cookies) out your way!

13/2/17 – Stellar Stirling

I had my first interview today folks! The night before I sat with Haitham and he grilled me on some interview questions–this coming after I’d spent some time nosing through a book he also owns about tough interview questions and the best answers you can give. I felt pretty good after our practice; unsurprising considering that’s part of his actual job!

However, what I’ve discovered in my interviews for horti positions is that they are in a league of their own. H may have to grill and pick apart poor, innocent supsects, but horti people are chill. My first “interview” for a beloved job back in Tennessee started off with a written questionnaire. My interview here at Pentland was short, sweet, and ended with “Oh, thank god! We’ve gotten so many numpties up till now.”

My interview in Stirling was no different. Haitham was boggled when he discovered that it lasted about 20 minutes and even that involved some chat about how I liked living in Edinburgh. But to me, this is the norm. Maybe when you’re in the big leagues like H is, then you really need to dissect the nuances of a person’s delicately phrased answer looking for the hidden traps and secrets within. But in horti? Nahhh.

Anyway I think the interview went pretty well! And considering how short it was, I had loads of time to spend nosing about Stirling, lucky for me considering it was my first time in the area. First up though was finding some lunch. As I had the trusty Panda express with me, I shuttled off into what I hoped was the high street area to find a bistro or pub.

Lesson about Stirling #1: Old Cities = Confusing Roads

I’ve driven round several old Scottish towns since moving here, but Stirling nearly had the last laugh from me. I think I confused many a pedestrian as I tootled along the winding high street–but suddenly, seeing a different type of stone lying ahead, I pulled off to the side where cars were parked. I peered ahead uncertainly. The path ahead honestly looked like the bits of old cities that had once been a road but had been converted to pedestrian-only. As I stopped, butt of the Panda half-in, half-out of traffic, I saw a walker passing by peer at me quizzically. A few seconds later some cars slipped past me on the one way. Pshew! I hadn’t just driven into the heart of the city and made my own road in a pedi-only zone.

Eventually I gave up on my winding through the main streets as I also was perplexed by where exactly I could park (there sure were a lot of permit holders only zones!). When I discovered the museum I had wanted to see was (mainly for the resident museum cat to be found inside) I decided to head for the next best thing: the William Wallace monument.

And why not? I’d seen it looming over the hillsides many times while passing Stirling. Here’s what it looks like on a good day:

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Here’s what I got:

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Either my photography skills are lacking or it was a properly miserable day in Scotland. (Or more honestly perhaps a bit of both!)

Anywho I shelled out my pennies to walk up the numerous spiraling steps of the monument. (For those curious it costs a tenner, which I’d say is a little steeper than I’d like considering the Scott monument in Edi is half that!) Still, the long spiral is broken up on each floor to present a little museum to explain who the hell William Wallace even was, when the monument was built, yadda yadda.

However, I kinda blew past most of that (except the bit that said how he was ripped to shreds and had his balls cut off in the end), as to be honest I was more interested in the view than ol’ Wally.

I know. I’m a disgrace to my adopted country.

The view was worth it, even if the wind was absolutely screaming through the open columns at the very top.

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Not bad, Stirling… not bad!