Friday, July 29, 2016

The mystery of falling in love with Brora

Visiting the northern highlands of Scotland without a car isn't what most people would do - but I am not most people.  I love public transportation!  The Highland bus drivers were all friendly and helpful and I can't say enough good things about the locals.  So making my base in the seaside town of Golspie I took trains and buses all over the area.  In fact Irene, the hostess of my bed and breakfast commented that she had never had a guest get around and see so much on public transportation as me! So on May 12th after one of Irene's filling cooked breakfasts I walked to the bus stop in the town centre to hop one of the very few daily buses to Brora.  As I was waiting I noticed this old fashioned post box on the wall opposite.  I love stuff like this!

A short twenty minute ride later I arrived into the village - home to around 1300 people.  Brora, (don't you love that name...I love the way it rolls off my tongue) is just a 12 km coastal walk north of Golspie but alas I can no longer walk that far. Brora was once the industrial centre of Sutherland with a coal mine and quarry that provided stone for such buildings as nearby Dunrobin Castle, London Bridge and Liverpool Cathedral.  It also had a woolen mill, brickworks and distillery along with the traditional occupations of crofting and fishing. Today there is a distillery nearby and a bit of fishing but the main industry is tourism.

The first thing I saw when I stepped off the bus (well except for the bakery/ice cream shop that I naturally made a mental note of) was this drinking fountain dedicated to  Queen Victoria's Diamond Jubilee in 1897 in Fountain Square.

I then made my way over the bridge past the beautiful Clock Tower war memorial which was dedicated in 1922.

I then headed right towards the ocean (which I can never get enough of) but got waylaid along a short path...this was part of the Jubilee Walk that had been washed out I found out later.

Hmmm....where did the path go? At this point I was puzzled - "not much of a walk" I thought!  I had wanted to walk along the river to the sea but that obviously wasn't going to work out.

The Brora river meets the sea

And then as I headed back past the Clock Tower I found this..

I was so excited to see daffodils again - of course being north the season was a month or so behind the south of England.

The path wasn't that long so when I reached the end I started back and sat here for a while just enjoying the peace and quiet.

The River Brora with the Clock Tower peeking in on the top right hand side of the picture.

I picked up a walking guide to Brora in one of the shops - if only I had picked it up when I first got there as I only had a short time to follow it before the bus to Helmsdale was due.  Buses are so infrequent that staying on would have meant I missed seeing Helmsdale.   Luckily I had walked most of the route on my own but it would have been nice to read about what I was seeing as I walked.

I wish I could have had the time to walk along the beach...ah well I walked along a more awesome beach in Dornoch. (to come!)

One of the oldest parts of Brora.

Traditional Fisherman's Cottage - I want to live here!

Back at the bus stop and of course I had to have a famous Harry Gow ice cream.

As you can see it was rather cloudy.  The sun came out as I was leaving (of course!) and when the bus stopped in Brora on the way back I was sorely tempted to jump off except I knew I would be stranded there as it was the last bus of the day!  I know Brora is just an ordinary Highland Village but to me it was something special.  I felt such a connection to it and I know someday I will be back to spend a day there.   I still have to nail down the exact place my ancestors came from in Sutherland...could this be it?

Monday, July 25, 2016

Oh no - not another food post!

I still have so many stories to tell and pictures to share and I will!  I've been pet sitting and have spent the past week plus on vacation.  I fly home tonight but figured I had better get this post out  - it's been sitting waiting to go for a while...It's been kind of a crazy summer with another stint of pet sitting when I get back and then another trip - more details on that one later on.  So for now here are some of the fabulous meals I had while on my holiday this past Spring.  As you probably know I do love trying new food when I am traveling.  I think there is going to have to be a part two!  So keep a napkin by your side for the drooling and let's get started!

Cheese dumplings with mushrooms in a cream sauce.  Ljubljana, Slovenia.  This is considered more of an appetizer but I had it as my entree.  It was good but maybe too much of one thing...I should have had a salad with it. 

Bragoli in Vittoriosa, Malta.  This dish is called Beef Olives - but no olives in it (whew!)  Thin beef fillets stuffed with ground beef and an onion and herb mixture with tomato sauce on top...and obviously vegetables with this one as well.  Not shown:  the huge platter of lemon potatoes that came with it.  Needless to say I could barely finish half so two could share.  Very filling but good.

Now that's a burger!  Beef burger at the Railway Pub in Streatham with Claudia and Loraine. Those are huge onion rings sitting on a skewer.  Very good.  In my early days of traveling to the UK I would avoid "beef burgers" at all costs but they seem to have gotten the hang of it now.  Let's just say the food keeps getting better and better because it sure as hell couldn't have gotten much worse! 

Scallops - the best I've had since Newfoundland in 2008!  These were at Faulkner Fisheries at L'Etacq on Jersey's west coast.  They came with salad, Jersey Royals (Jersey's famous new potatoes) and bread.  Oh my my my.  Highly recommended.  It is all very basic and you have to sit outside  so it is seasonal.  But well worth it!

Toad in a hole..sausages baked in batter.  (I actually made this dish way back in my 20's..only once mind but I did it - aren't you impressed?) with chips on the side.  YUM! At a little cafe in Alnwick, Northumberland.  Just what I needed on a dull drizzly day.

Victoria sponge cake at the cafe in Dunrobin Castle, Golspie, Scotland.  I usually avoid Victoria sponge as it always looks so dry but this looked moist.  And it was!

While we're on the subject of desserts...I indulged now and again and this was at a traditional restaurant in Sliema, Malta.  This place was packed but because I was a single they were able to fit me at a small table outside.  Aside from the Cannelloni and ice cream I can't say what the others were but they sure tasted good!

Momos at the Sunday Upmarket on Brick Lane.  I have been coming here for years.  The food that is available is out of this world but I always find my way to this booth.  It is run by a couple from Tibet.  I always get the combo of 8 different fillings...veggie, lamb, pork, beef...and more.  So good! (burp!)


Lobster salad in Gorey, Jersey - this was in the hotel right next to my airbnb.  Rather a bit of a splurge meal but very delish.

Turkish pide in London - kind of over done and not really like what I had in Turkey.  But it's probably as close as I am going to get without going back.

I like to try traditional things and this was "special sausage" in Ljubljana, Slovenia.   It was just okay - I had ordered turnip and they brought me sauerkraut.  Not a fan but was too tired to change it so picked away at it.  Went back to my airbnb and cooked up a couple of eggs I had bought.   Sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn't...

This cake redeemed Slovenian cooking though...known as Lake Bled cake.  Custard and sugar and cream...oh my my.

This was my breakfast one morning in Sliema, Malta - my airbnb host Alexander always had something unique for me to eat.  Delish!!!

(Posh) Sunday roast at a pub in West Brompton, London.  Sunday roasts are an iconic meal in pubs in the United Kingdom and I try to get to at least one during my visits.  My new Ozzie friend Loraine and I visited this pub after a guided tour of West Brompton Cemetery.  It was a bit on the expensive side but very good..and posh!!

Ftira in Malta.  Need I add I couldn't finish this.

Last but certainly not least...Jersey Ice Cream topped with a dollop of Jersey Cream in St Helier, Jersey.  

Tuesday, July 12, 2016

Let me tell you about my Turkish baths

I realize I haven't talked about the Turkish bath I had when I was in Turkey last year...nor the one I had in Jordan in 2009.  The latter left me so traumatized I didn't want to talk about it with anyone!!   For obvious reasons there are no photos......

Having a Turkish bath had been something on the "bucket list" for quite a while.  The opportunity presented itself when it was an option on my tour of Egypt and Jordan with the Imaginative Traveler in early 2009.   We were in Petra, Jordan and after a day of walking around that beautiful ancient city I was in need of some relaxation. (little did I know!)  A couple on my tour had gone to the baths the night before and said they enjoyed it.  No one else on the tour was remotely interested but I've never let the lack of a companion stop me doing what I want to do.  So I booked it.  This is where you put your beverage to the side for now as you probably don't want to mess up your computer screen or keyboard. 

Around 8 p.m. a car came to pick me up and off we went.  Okay it was dark and here I am going off with a strange man in a car in the Middle East.  Okay Laurie it will be okay, really it will.  And it was...that part anyway.  We got to the spa where I seemed to be the ONLY person. Seemed to be?   I WAS the only person there! I was given a towel, told to go to the locker room and take my clothes off and given directions to the steam room.   I did as I was told and entered the steam room...and there I sat...and sat...and sat..for what seemed like thirty minutes at least but was probably only about ten or fifteen.  How would I know...I had nothing but a towel on.  I honestly felt that I had been forgotten and my prune of a body would be discovered the next morning.  I was getting hotter and hotter and my panic did not help at all. Just when I was half way through mentally composing my obituary the door opened and a young lady escorted me out of my potential death chamber. 

We walked into a small area where there was a marble slab that stood even with my waist.  I knew with my bad knees there was no way I could shimmy up so I asked if she had a step stool or a chair I could use.  She made a half hearted look around the area and but said no there wasn't.  I said "I'm sorry but there is no way I can get up there" and made a few feeble attempts.  Shiny wet marble top and shiny wet body - just not a good combo. I was butt naked of course and okay so I'm modest...some might even call me a prude. This young gal somehow got me up there by shoving me by my behind and other parts I don't want to mention - and me trying to climb as well.  She was a tiny little thing and I don't know how she had the strength. I still cringe to this day when I think about it (and okay...have a bit of a giggle) ..still probably the most humiliating moment of my life and trust me I've had a few of those.  Finally I got up there... The marble top was so slippery I nearly went flying off the side.  Luckily there was a wall behind it or I likely would have gone right across! 

I was laying there there cringing with embarassment when the first blast of warm water hit me - she basically tossed a bucket of water on top of me then scrubbed.  In between I was deathly cold on the icy marble in the cold room and still feeling stings of humiliation from my "assisted landing".  Warm water thrown at me, scrub scrrub scrub quite harshly, shivering with went on and on.  I honestly felt like a sack of meat. Then a friend or co-worker came in and they started talking in Filipino and giggling.  All I could think of was that she was telling her friend how she had to shove me up there and commenting on my "big ass" etc. when they just could have been talking about what they had done the night before. I just didn't know.  It was a terribly uncomfortable experience and I just wanted it to be over with.  Finally after what seemed like an eternity it was and she said simply "done". I managed to haul myself off the wet marble ledge without cracking my head open, put on my towel and tottered back to the change room.  On a positive note I was very very clean.  I quickly put my clothes back on and the driver took me back to my hotel.  Of course being submissive and a polite Canadian when he asked me how it was I said "fine" between gritted teeth.

At breakfast the next morning I regaled everybody with my experience which they all thought was hilarious...the couple who had had the treatment the night before me confessed that it was embarassing and not that great.  Okay why did they tell me it was wonderful? If they had told me the truth about their experience I'd have saved my money and my humiliation.

Needless to say when I was in Turkey the adventurous part of me wanted to have a (real) Turkish bath but the other cautious wary and prudish part was very hesitant.  As it turned out Hilary a fellow adventurer on my tour had a bad experience with her previous Turkish bath which coincidentally took place in Petra as well.  From our descriptions I think they were different places however.  We decided that we both needed to give Turkish baths a second chance. 

The opportunity came in Cappadocia which was where our tour leader Kiymet's favourite hamamm was located. Kiymet, Elsie and Hilary were my companions this time.  I decided to opt for a massage after the bath as well.

After paying we were given a towel and headed off to the sauna...sitting primly in our towels (and me in my underpants as keeping them on was an option...although very few did)  and conversing it seemed light years away from my uneasy experience in Jordan.  We were then directed one by one into the hamamm's main area.  I gasped as I walked in as there were many more women than I expected. (men and women are segregated)  I was so surprised that I did not pay attention to where I was walking and my right foot slipped into a narrow channel used for funneling water out of the bath area.  I stumbled but I wasn't worried about injuring myself - I was more worried about  losing my towel which was clutched very tightly around my body!  There were what seemed like 25 plus women sitting waiting on marble benches along the walls.  I made my way to sit beside Hilary at the end of the "line".

In the centre of the room was a large round marble platform with about 10 to 12 ladies on.  Each woman had an attendant "working" on her. Let's just say there were boobs and bellies everywhere..Due to nerves on my part (and I suspect on Hilary's as well) we started making comments (quietly) and  giggling like two naughty school girls.  This earned us a shush from one or more of the attendants (who were quite formidable) a couple of times so that was us told.  I didn't dare look at Hilary or I'd have burst into more giggles.  I got more nervous as my "time" approached.  More so because I would have to remove my towel to get scrubbed down before taking my place on the platform.  We all slid along one place as one by one the women were scrubbed (one at a time) and then moved over to the other side of the room to await their turn for the cleansing of their life. 

All too soon it was my turn to be scrubbed can only say "you can go before me" so many times before you look like a fool.  Of course I totally made a complete ass of myself when the attendant was trying to pull the towel off to scrub me and I was clinging on to it for dear life.  She almost had to pull my fingers apart to get that towel off of me.  I sat there with my eyes closed thinking "oh god oh god everyone can see me naked and they are all probably laughing at me" while the attendant scrubbed dead skin off my body.  It was then time for me to walk over to the waiting area for the actual bath.  I clutched my now totally soaked towel to my front as I got up and Kiymet our tour guide came and took my arm.  So sweet but I felt like an old lady.  She had seen me stumble earlier and thought it was my knees that were giving me grief...nope, just not watching where I was going!  I sat clutching the wet towel to my front and then it was time for the next group of us to get on the platform for our bath.  

Luckily the platform was fairly low and I got on without any difficulty. It was similar to this one below...but with more bodies on (in the middle) and an attendant for each person. 

 I had observed earlier that the bath is synchronized so everyone is washed, turned off, soaped, etc. at the same time.  Huge pillows of soap infold you (bonus: no one can see your body) at one point and it really is quite relaxing.  You are scrubbed but it is gentle, warm  and I was able to close my eyes with relaxation rather than with humiliation and cold. I did feel a bit like a piece of meat was like an assembly line so you couldn't help feel that way.  Water was poured on me but it wasn't done like you were slopping out the pigs as it was in Jordan.  Almost every inch of you is washed and rinsed for perhaps fifteen minutes - more or less - and then you are free to go. 

I was sent to another room for a short massage which was good but I could tell I was not in the hands of a professional.  Still, it was a nice way to end the experience.  All too soon it was time to change back into my clothes (and dry underpants!) and meet the others.  Hilary and I both agreed this was MUCH better by far than our experiences in Petra.

Would I do it again?  If I am lucky enough to return to Turkey at some point in my life I definitely would!  And I would lose the underpants! 

A picnic in Peter Rabbit country

When I was visiting England two and a half years ago I stayed with friends Janette and Martyn who I got to know through my German friend Cl...