Romans and Riesling – Our Trip to Trier

In my last blog post I mentioned that hubby and I had recently visited the German city of Trier. This was a surprise trip for me, and had been sneakily organised over Facebook by hubby and our friend Iris, who lives in Trier with her hubby Christof. (See, another example of the good side of social media!)

Trier is a Roman city, the oldest city in Germany, and an architectural extravaganza. Cue lots of photographs. Last lot until after our summer holiday, I promise!

We explored quite a bit over our three days there, starting with the very imposing Porta Nigra (Black Gate), the best-preserved of Roman city gates in the world.

The Porta Nigra

The Porta Nigra

The Basilika started out as Emperor Constantine’s throne room, and is now a church, with a magnificent organ. There was no way to fit the whole exterior in the picture!

Trier Museum has so many Roman finds they can’t display them all, and if someone discovers something new in the city, the archaeologists take a photograph and say: very good, now put it back where you found it! 😀 I think if I’d found those coins I’d have sneaked a few away…

There are many Medieval buildings and remains in Trier, too. Note where the ‘door’ is on the House of the Three Magi. Yes, it’s meant to be up there. This house was built before the medieval city wall was finished, and so the door was accessed by a ladder which could be pulled up in case of attack. Clever, huh?

There was a lovely open air market selling all kinds of things, all gathered around the Market Cross. Poor Christof was chained to the Pillory by angry townsfolk! 😉 Luckily he didn’t have any rotten fruit and veg thrown at him.

The Cathedral displays architecture and artwork from 1650 years of history. Hubby and I spent a whole morning in there.

Trier Cathedral

Trier Cathedral


So, we’ve seen the Romans – where does the Riesling come in? Well, Iris and Christof know the owners of the local winemaker Zilliken. We spent a very enjoyable afternoon wine tasting at their lovely premises, with the expert knowledge of Patrick Zilliken to guide us. We sadly couldn’t bring any back as we only had cabin baggage, but rest assured we shall be ordering some!

Wine tasting! L-R: Patrick (the owner), hubby, me, Iris

Wine tasting! L-R: Patrick (the owner), hubby, me, Iris

I’ll finish with a pic of Iris and me. We had just finished eating schnitzel, after the wine tasting. Hence why I’m a bit pink. 😉 Hubby is taking the pic, and drinking the local beer.

I can heartily recommend a visit to Trier, especially if you love history (and beer, and wine)!

Our wonderful host Iris, and me

Our wonderful host Iris, and me

My Random Camera

I was recently asked to supply some photographs for a magazine. I was very flattered and started trawling through my collection for suitable pics (there was a theme). I was flabbergasted to discover I have over 4000 photos on my phone alone! For the more professional photographers among you, I’m sure that’s a mere drop in the ocean, but I was astounded. I was also surprised by the wide variety of things I take pics of. Basically, if I like it, I snap it.

I always use pics on my blog posts, and where possible I like to use my own. So you’ve seen images from my holidays, gigs I’ve been to, my cats (duh), spooky locations around my home…you name it. Here are a few random ones that haven’t fitted with any particular theme so far, but I found them when trawling and thought ‘I like these, let’s share them.’

I’ve also been practising using a programme that puts a watermark on photos. Thanks to my good friend Coral McCallum for reminding me of the name of the programme again. 😉 (Fotor, if anyone wants to know.) And check out Coral’s blog too, for some great photos from her part of Scotland. As I don’t make my living from my pics, I haven’t put my name across the image so it can’t be used. I just thought I should start putting my name on them somewhere, as they’re going out into the big wide internet world. I respectfully ask that if you use a photograph of mine, please don’t crop my name out of it. 🙂

The pics are all from Scotland, taken on random walks around the places featured.

Bank Street, Stirling. Too lovely a building not to photograph.

Bank Street, Stirling. Too lovely a building not to photograph.

Stirling chimneys, taken from Stirling Castle esplanade.

Stirling chimneys, taken from Stirling Castle esplanade.

These two photos were taken during the summer, when I was waiting for a tyre to be changed on my car. I walked up the steep hill to Stirling Castle, and then promptly ruined my calorie-burning efforts by having an enormous ice-cream!

I’m amazed I actually took the above photos, as the aforementioned Coral will testify to the fact that I was suffering horribly with a cold that day.

Edinburgh Moon

Edinburgh Moon

Scott Monument, Edinburgh

Scott Monument, Edinburgh

Taken in December when hubby and I were visiting Edinburgh for the Christmas Market in Princes Street Gardens. The eerie light is actually coming from the Funfair.

Playing around with black and white for these last two. Airth is my home village, with lots of lovely walks and old markers, such as the Headless Cross. This is said to have been the Mercat Cross of High Airth, an older version of the village which was built on a slightly different site.

Hope you enjoyed this photographic wander with me! I’m sure we’ll be going on some more in future…

Istanbul (Not Constantinople)

What can I say about Istanbul? As the song goes, it is indeed a Turkish delight on a moonlit night. The word I would more likely use to describe it, however, is…mental. In the best possible way.

View from the Topkapi Palace, Istanbul

View from the Topkapi Palace, Istanbul

Here are some facts about Istanbul, with help from turkeytravelcentre.com:

1. Istanbul is the only city in the world that straddles two continents: Asia and Europe.

2. While being the ancient capital of many empires, from Rome to the Ottoman era, Istanbul is not the modern capital of Turkey – Ankara is.

3. Istanbul, which used to be known as Constantinople thanks to the Roman Emperor Constantine the Great, is built on seven hills to match the seven hills of Rome.

4. Under the Ottoman Empire, the city was renowned for having more than 1,400 public toilets.

5. Istanbul is Turkey’s largest city with more than 13 million people. (Our tour guide thought the ‘unofficial’ figure was probably closer to 18 million.)

6. Tulips, the symbol of Holland, originated in Istanbul and were sent from Istanbul to the Netherlands.

7. The Grand Bazaar is the biggest old covered bazaar in the world, with over 3000 shops.

8. Agatha Christie wrote her famous novel “Murder on the Orient Express” at Pera Palas Hotel in Istanbul.

9. Istanbul is surrounded by sea, with the Bosphorus cutting right through it. And yet, snow is common in the city, with the annual average being 18 inches.

11. Istanbul was once renowned as the most crowded city in the world – in 1502!

Regarding that last fact: I would say Istanbul is the second most crowded city I’ve ever visited. That honour still goes to Cairo.

Hubby and I visited Istanbul on a very long, but very worthwhile, day trip as part of our recent holiday to Turkey. Here comes a photo blog of our adventures.

We flew from our resort to Istanbul, and landed on the Asian side of the Bosphorus. The Old Town is on the European side, so first we had to get there. Here are a couple of views from the coach. Oh my goodness, the traffic!

Our first visit was to the Sultanahmet Mosque, also known as the Blue Mosque, due to the unusual blue tiles found inside. Built between 1609-16, it was considered sacrilegious at the time, as its 6 minarets were seen to be trying to rival Mecca.

You don’t see it from the photos, but the inside of the mosque was so crowded you could barely move. That was the case with many places in this crazy city, including our next stop, right across Sultanahmet Square: Topkapi Palace. This grand complex of buildings was the home of the Ottoman Sultans and the women of the Harem for 400 years.
(I’ve tried with various photos to show how busy everywhere was, but pictures don’t really convey the madness!)

Crossing Sultanahmet Square towards the Haghia Sophia. Sadly we didn't have time to go inside this magnificent building. (That's our tour guide's arm waving the '20' paddle about, trying to keep us together!)

Crossing Sultanahmet Square towards the Haghia Sophia. Sadly we didn’t have time to go inside this magnificent building. (That’s our tour guide’s arm waving the ’20’ paddle about, trying to keep us together!)

Here are some views from inside Topkapi Palace:

Oh yes, and we met the Palace Cat:

The Sultan's Cat disdains to look at the camera

The Sultan’s Cat disdains to look at the camera

After some lunch – and ice cream – at a café in Sultanahmet Square (where we met another cat), it was off to the river for a cruise on the Bosphorus. This gave us a great opportunity to take some pictures of both the Asian and European sides of Istanbul. There are some amazing buildings – and lots of bridges.

Café Cat is a little shy

Café Cat is a little shy

The Old Town skyline towards the end of a busy day

The Old Town skyline towards the end of a busy day

Our final stop before a restoring seafood dinner was the Grand Bazaar. Originally the spice market, now you can buy anything: spices and tea are still on sale, but also ceramics, clothes, shoes, pet supplies…you name it. So many people crammed under covered walkways, haggling, buying or just staring. It was awesome. We bought ceramics: 2 pot stands, 4 coasters and a bowl. Handmade and handpainted. The cost? A grand total of £7.

One of the many entrances to the Grand Bazaar

One of the many entrances to the Grand Bazaar

After dinner we caught the flight back to our resort, exhausted but happy. If you ever get a chance to visit this amazing city, do it. But be prepared for crowds. Oh, and the most annoying thing? Selfie sticks! I swear I’ve never seen so many. I won’t say what I’d have liked to do with them all… 😉

 

(All photos by Gordon and Karen Soutar)

9/11, and my visit to the World Trade Center Memorial

This post was originally published on 11th September 2013, after I had visited New York, and the Memorial, for the first time.
For those who’ve joined me since then, here it is again, in remembrance of those who died.

*****

Today arrived, and a post that I’d been thinking about for a while more or less demanded to be written.

On my recent visit to New York, hubby and I went to the World Trade Center Memorial. I have a confession to make here. It wasn’t on my ‘to-do’ list. I don’t mean that I DIDN’T want to visit; it was just that hubby was far more keen than I was. So off we went.

I’m glad we did. It was one of the most moving places I’ve ever been to. It was also a strange experience. Let me try to explain why.

The Memorial is right in the midst of what is still a construction site. Cranes rise all around, the surrounding streets are dusty, there are hoardings everyhere. It’s a veritable maze to get to the entrance. Mad New York traffic passes by on all sides. But…once you are in there, it seems silent. Visitors are speaking quietly. The waterfalls that have been created in the footprints of the old towers roar a little, but not enough to drown out NYC, surely? And yet – it is wonderfully peaceful. No outside noise seems to get in.

In the footprint of each tower sits a waterfall and reflecting pool. The pools are each nearly an acre in size, and the waterfalls that cascade into them are the largest manmade ones in North America. We walked right round both pools, where the names of everyone who died in the 2001 and 1993 attacks are carved into bronze panels. Memorial Plaza itself is covered with beautiful swamp white oak trees. And rising majestically beside all this: the new towers. One World Trade Center, once it’s 408-foot-tall spire is complete, will be the tallest building in the Western Hemisphere.

(If you want to know more about the Memorial, click here).

I said moving, yet strange. I couldn’t imagine, as I stood there, what it must have been like that day, or afterwards. I didn’t know anyone who died in the attacks, or in London in 2005, or Boston this year. This is not a comment piece on the state of the world, the rights and wrongs of the West’s relationship with the Middle East, or anything like that. I just wanted to describe my visit, and how it made me feel.

I would be lying if I said I didn’t feel a lump in my throat, for the huge loss of life. I also felt proud to belong to a people who could pull together in the aftermath: to rescue people, rebuild lives, and build something new – in every sense. Why is it that humankind can do such terrible things, and yet have the courage and compassion people showed that day, and every day? I guess if someone had the answer to that, these things would no longer happen.

As I craned my neck to gaze up at the new towers, they seemed like a defiant phoenix rising from the ashes. You achieved nothing, they seemed to say. Except for stupid, senseless loss of life. We are still here. We remember our dead. We build something more beautiful where destruction was.

The 9/11 Memorial is one of the most inspiring places I’ve been to.

This post is dedicated to all those who have lost their lives in terror attacks around the world.

Karen

Of Ravens

I love ravens.

I know, I know, I seem to love a lot of scary pointy things. Cats, dragons (yes they are real, shut up), birds of prey, and now ravens. Sue me. Cute and cuddly gets boring after a while. 😉

I first saw ravens at the Tower of London, when I was 14. I love the legend that the kingdom will fall if they ever leave. Of course, England cheats and keeps their wings clipped. There are signs everywhere advising tourists not to feed them. Some people try it. I think being pecked is a just reward for being stupid, myself.

Pic courtesy of hrp.org.uk/TowerOfLondon

Pic courtesy of hrp.org.uk/TowerOfLondon

Since then I’ve seen them in various locations in Scotland, where they are often a bit harder to find. One such place is Threave Castle. Its lonely island location and bloody history fit well with the croaking of the ravens who nest there. Of course, the bloody history part is true of most Scottish castles – several of which house ravens.

Pic courtesy of flickr.com

Pic courtesy of flickr.com

Ravens feature strongly in Scottish myth and legend. The Brahan Seer of the Highlands was purported to have found his ‘divining stone’, which he held up to his eye to see the future, in a raven’s nest. This seer met a horrible end, burned to death in a barrel of tar for telling the Countess of Seaforth things that she did not wish to hear. He prophecied that a raven and a dove would circle above the place where he was executed. If the raven landed, he was bound for hell, but if the dove landed, he would go to heaven. According to watchers, the dove landed and the raven flew away. Ravens also feature in many of his other prophecies.

Who doesn’t love Edgar Allan Poe? If you’re a fan of the creepy and macabre, that is. His poem ‘The Raven‘ has long been a favourite of mine. (Not to mention that a line from it is used in one of my favourite movies ‘The Crow’. Yes, okay, mixing up crows and ravens – I don’t care, the movie’s great.)
Anyhoo…I wrote a little micro fiction for Friday Phrases a few weeks ago. Friday Phrases, for those who don’t know, is a micro fiction party on Twitter every Friday (strangely enough). It’s great fun and good practice in being concise. There is a theme each week, although you don’t have to follow it. That week’s theme was ‘Never mind’. This is what I wrote:

‘Nevermind.’

‘It’s “Nevermore”, you stupid raven.’

Thanks, Edgar Allan Poe, I thought, as my eyes were summarily pecked out.

Sorry, Edgar! My tweeps seemed to like it though. 😉 I’ll finish with a great pic I found. Hope Mr Poe would approve.

Pic courtesy of Twisted Synapses

Pic courtesy of Twisted Synapses

Loving Liverpool

Last week we took our first little holiday of the year, to the city of Liverpool. Neither hubby nor I had ever been before, but we’ll definitely be back. What a great place!

After arriving late on Sunday evening and only having time for a meal and then bed, we rose bright and early on Monday morning, ready to start exploring. The day was dull but dry, so we braved the open-top bus for a city tour. I find this is a great way to get your bearings in a place you’ve never visited. After doing one full round of the tour, we ended up at Pier Head, where the Ferry ‘cross the Mersey leaves from. Well – what to do next? 😉 After a fortifying coffee and cake, we boarded the ferry, being very twee and singing the song as we went.


Both the bus tour and the ferry had commentary about the history of Liverpool and what we were seeing, so our heads were soon stuffed with facts. Did you know there has been a Ferry ‘cross the Mersey for over 800 years? Or that Liverpool gets its name from the lava seaweed that used to gather in a pool near the shore?

Liverpool skyline

Liverpool skyline

After this rather chilly day of sightseeing we decided to warm up and go for dinner. Unfortunately, by this time the weather had taken a turn for the worse, with rain and high winds buffeting the west coast, so we got a little bit soggy on the way to and from the restaurant. As this continued into the next day, we decided indoor activities were in order and off we went to The Beatles Story.

The Beatles were one of the main reasons hubby and I both wanted to visit Liverpool. I’ve been a fan ever since I could operate my mum’s record player (younger readers: look this up) and listen to her singles and albums. The Beatles Story takes you on a journey from the birth of all the band members to the present day. It’s a very comprehensive account of their story with great photographs and other memorabilia. It also has a shop (of course) in which we managed to spend far too much money.

The next day dawned much better weather-wise, so we wandered down to the Albert Dock, home of The Maritime Museum. This free museum is chock-full of exhibits on all types of maritime history, so there’s something for everyone. We learned about the Lusitania, the Titanic (naturally), the Merchant Navy, smuggling and customs, slavery, and there was a fantastic exhibit about gay life on board ship, called Hello, Sailor! Our heads were stuffed with facts once again.

To get our brains nice and empty, we rounded off our Liverpool visit with an afternoon in The Cavern Club – for real this time, not the replica in The Beatles Story. Although it is only 75% on the site of the original Cavern, it has a great atmosphere and still has live music all day long.

So after a great three days we left Liverpool, full of facts, food and booze – and there was lots we didn’t see. I heartily recommend this place for a city break. See you again, scousers!

 

(All photos by Karen and Gordon Soutar)

Is that really..? Yes, it is. The Pineapple.

Talking to a fellow blogger about weird buildings reminded me of this craziness, just outside my village. Folks, I give you…The Pineapple!

Photo by Karen Soutar

Photo by Karen Soutar

I love follies. And this must be the folly of follies. It looks strange enough now – goodness knows what people thought when it was first appeared. Then again, it was built by a member of the aristocracy, and everyone knows they’re mad, always have been. 😉
The Pineapple is a summerhouse, built for the 4th Earl of Dunmore. In 1777, Lord Dunmore returned from serving as Governor of Virginia, where sailors would put a pineapple on the gatepost to announce that they were home. Lord Dunmore, who liked a joke, announced his return more prominently.

Photo courtesy of gentles.info

Photo courtesy of gentles.info

Here’s the official National Trust for Scotland page.

And…you can stay there! The Landmark Trust book it out for holidays. How cool is that?

The Pineapple overlooks a large walled garden, which is open to the general public. It’s a lovely place for a walk, and to take photographs, or draw or paint. I often go for a stroll there. The old curling pond on the estate is home to the rare Great Crested Newt. I’ve never been lucky enough to see one, but I’ll keep looking!

Photo courtesy of animalspot.net

Photo courtesy of animalspot.net

If you ever find yourself on the A905 between Airth and Dunmore, look out for the signs for The Pineapple. It’s not visible from the road, but wind your way down the track through field and wood and you’ll be rewarded with some secret Scottish strangeness!