2014 in review

The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2014 annual report for this blog.

Here’s an excerpt:

A San Francisco cable car holds 60 people. This blog was viewed about 1,500 times in 2014. If it were a cable car, it would take about 25 trips to carry that many people.

Click here to see the complete report.


Life really does seem to be getting in the way of a good blog post doesn’t it? It’s been full steam ahead in recent months, mostly in an effort to stave off winter depression that I was pretty sure I’d get during my first Scottish winter. And it’s only now as I head to Gatwick airport after a joint work and personal sojourn that I’ve had the time to open WordPress and reopen the line of communication with you all.


It was a rather stunning winter’s day in London on Saturday so have a nice collection of photos that I will include in this blog.







North next

From Doune we headed north toward Oban skirting around the edges of Loch Lomond.  Can I be a bad tourist and admit that I’d never actually been to Lock Lomond, and therefore had no idea about how bonnie its banks were… But I have quite gladly rectified that situation and can report back that they are very bonnie indeed!  We may a short stop in the bonnie village of Luss, on the western banks of the loch.


And from there we headed north, into the mist and the rain and proper Scotland….


Rabbit, that’s what!

What comes to mind when you hear this – “I don’t want to talk to you no more, you empty-headed animal food trough wiper! I fart in your general direction! Your mother was a hamster and your father smelt of elderberries!”


If you had a similar upbringing to mine then you are transported directly to castle battlements where John Cleese can be seen hurling insults at King Arthur below.  This scene, and indeed many others, took place in Doune Castle.   The castle is located near the village of Doune, hence the name, just west of Stirling in central Scotland.  The earliest identifiable work in the castle precinct dates back to the thirteenth century, but reached its present form during the late 14th and early 15th century.  It’s a very well preserved castle and the majority of the main structure is still evident, a lot of which is thanks to commencing restoration works as early as the 1880s.  a vast majority of this is available to the public as well, so two or three hours can easily be spent in and around the castle.  Especially if you fork out for the audio guide.


This is when things start to get interesting.  As I mentioned earlier many scenes from Monty Python and The Holy Grail were in fact shot in and around Doune Castle.  Terry Jones takes you on a guided romp around the castle pointing out which scenes were filmed where and generally reminiscing about what a gay old time was had!

Scenes featuring Doune Castle include:[21]

  • At the start of the film, King Arthur and Patsy approach the east wall of Doune Castle and argue with soldiers of the garrison.


  • The song and dance routine “Knights of the Round Table” at “Camelot” was filmed in the Great Hall.
  • The servery and kitchen appear as “Castle Anthrax”, where Sir Galahad the Chaste is chased by seductive girls.


  • The wedding disrupted by Sir Lancelot was filmed in the courtyard and Great Hall.


  • The Trojan Rabbit scene was filmed in the entryway and into the courtyard.


We really did manage to turn this in to a bit of a Monty Python pilgrimage for we were heading to the west coast next to the famous “Castle Aaaaaaarrrrrrggggghhhh”!

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAIt’s an absolute gem of a castle, very well preserved.  Though the filming probably has something to do with that! There is so much to explore and the audioguided tour goes on and on, into so many little nooks and crannies.  Loads of history about the castle itself and those who made it home.  I would highly recommend that anyone in the central Scotland region takes time out to visit Doune Castle.

Bridging the Gap

So here’s an old post that I never published last year!! Completely forgot that I hadn’t published any of my Italian blogs last year…. Could be something to get you, and me!, through the autumn and winter.  So seems like a plan to publish them now and then and revel in the December sun and an Italian holiday or two!

Florence….. It really was a machine!

I can’t stress enough that you should really put in the effort and climb both the Duomo and the adjacent Bell Tower.  The Bell Tower obviously gives you a view of the Duomo that cannot be beaten, and the view from the Duomo is second to none…. Except maybe that of the Bell Tower 😛  Engineer Sarah was very, very excited to be seeing the Duomo with it’s dome engineered by Brunelleschi and completed in 1436 which was until the development of modern building materials the largest structure of its kind in the world!  There’s a great episode of Big, Bigger, Biggest that the Duomo features in which is worth a view.  In fact, if you like the odd bit of engineering porn the whole series is worth a look.  As is The History Channel’s Engineering an Empire, which highlights the engineering advances that enable ancient civilisations to develop and proser.

But that’s not why we’re here.  We’re here to talk about what is still the largest brick dome to ever be constructed.



The cathedral consists of an inner and outer dome.  The inner dome was thick enough for a circle of bricks to be embedded in every ‘level’, which would eventually hold the dome up.  Meanwhile the thinner outer dome at less than 60cm in thickness was strengthened by nine masonry rings that can be seen as you make your way to the top.  It is unbelievable to think that you are actually walking between the two dome to make it to the top!!



After my parents left I didn’t have to wait long till my next adventure, for the very next week I was off to Germany for work! Germany is one of my favourite places, for the main reason that I know enough German to be hilarious and can spend my time rattling off great phrases like ‘pinkelpause’ and ‘mein kopf tut weh!’ that I picked up either from high school German lessons or some good German friends.  Once you break that slightly tough exterior Germans are likeable, helpful and you always know where you stand with them.  Or maybe that’s just the ones that I have met in the west and south.  I’ve spent some time in Nord-Rhein Westfalen, Berlin and Munich, but this time I was heading to the idyllic Black Forest or Schwarzwald!


My hotel was in the lovely village of Kirnbach, just south of Wolfach on the river Kinzig.  Those of have either been to the Black Forest region, or ever dreamt of it, may be familiar with the funny large brimmed hats covered in giant red pom-poms that the women wear.  They seem to have become an all-encompassing symbol for the region.  It was not until I did a bit of research however that I found out these Bollenhuts were only ever traditionally worn in three small communities – Gutach, Hornberg-Reichenbach and Wolfach-Kirnbach!  I had come to the home of the red fluffy hats! Time to give Santa a run for his money…

The hats themselves are these days very valuable items, and are still handmade by an ever decreasing number of seamstresses and milliners.  Hats were worn by women once they reached marriageable age (read early teens) and red indicated the wearer of the hat was unmarried, while black indicated the wearer was married.  Not so subtle symbolism anyone?!

The region is also famous for Mineralienhalde Grube Clara, which is marketed as somewhere you can ‘Experience the exciting world of minerals’.  Basically the nearby underground mine has about 300 different minerals and is therefore one of the most mineral rich mines in the world.  Ore is transported down the mountains from the mine to the processing plant in the valley, and approximately a truck load is made available to the public daily.  Amateur collectors can come during the opening times to sift through the stockpiles for the likes of barite, malachite, fluorite, silver and quartz.


Wolfach itself can be traced back to the early 1100s and is quite your stereotypical Bavarian town.



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On top of these wonderful attractions, it is also a very picturesque part of the world with many hours to be wiled away walking through the forest and along valleys.  So if you’re looking for a Black Forest getaway that is only a few hours from Munich and Freiburg then I would highly recommend Wolfach.  Watch out for the chicken baron though!

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1-Star Yelp Reviews of National Parks

Good advice for those of us who use other people’s reviews to assist in travel planning


Mashable’s Max Knoblauch compiled a funny series of 1-star Yelp reviews of famous US National Parks, turning the best snippets into image macros. If you’ve used online reviews to help make travel decisions you already know people’s experience of the same place can be wildly different.

The lesson? Take individual reviews (especially those on extreme ends of the spectrum) with a grain of salt and look for an overall pattern or sentiment instead. Happy travels!

[Mashable via GallowBoob]

1. Yosemite National Park

1 star yelp reviews of national parks (8)

One-Star Review by Bill G. | Photograph by John Lemieux
Image macro by Mashable

2. Yellowstone National Park

1 star yelp reviews of national parks (7)

One-Star Review by Mike M. | Photograph by For the Rock
Image macro by Mashable

3. Joshua Tree National Park

1 star yelp reviews of national parks (5)

One-Star Review by David W. | Photograph by Milo & Sylvia in the World
Image macro by Mashable

4. Crater Lake National Park

1 star yelp reviews of national parks (2)

One-Star Review by D L.

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Handmade Perfection

Over a month ago now my parents came across from France for a bit of a flying visit.  So I had three days to show off the best that Edinburgh could muster.  We were off to a pretty good start with a visit to the session at my local on the Thursday night.  There was much walking around town to be had and Mum took great delight in the charity shops, or opp shops as they’re known back home.  I think the local economy is definitely better off for Mum’s visit.

I had organised a hire car for the Saturday and we headed north to Pitlochry.  Just north-east of town is a little distillery called Edradour, also known as Scotland’s smallest distillery.  We were lucky enough to get on a guided tour around the establishment and had a very knowledgeable young lad guide us through the only remaining commercially available hand made single malt whisky in Scotland.  Thanks in advance to Dad for the photos in this post, haven’t managed to upload my own yet.


You are guided through the very hands on process, from the cask warehouse to the still house.  Everything is noticeably on a much smaller scale than other distillery’s that I have visited.  Our guide told us they produce in a year the same volume the larger distillery’s produce in 3 days.

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It was such a pity I was driving! Still managed to leave with the wallet a little lighter after getting my hands on their slightly peated expression that had been matured in Bordeaux casks.  Quite a drop!! After this and some well deserved lunch we headed west to Kinloch Rannoch, which had been a Barker holiday spot back in the day.  I’d like to say that Dad shared some of his local knowledge with us, but he basically just told me to keep driving till he said stop!  We weren’t disappointed though with some truly beautiful, isolated Scottish views meeting us at every bend in the road.

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Our final full day was to consist of a quick trip to the Botanics, a Father’s Day brunch at a local farm shop cafe and then tunes at the Black Cat in Rose St.  Tunes happen here every sunday from 4pm till 7pm run by our good friend Paul.  If you’re ever in Edinburgh on a Sunday afternoon it’s definitely worth a stop, even if just for the selection of over 200 single malts!  Phew, another weekend done and back to work with me!

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