Monday, 11 November 2019

Scotland, the beautiful 🏴󠁧󠁢󠁳󠁣󠁴󠁿

Collection of scenes of Scotland 

I have never not enjoyed being in Scotland, and this most recent trip was no exception. The weather was wonderful and the sights were beautiful (see below!). In this tumultuous Brexit climate, an escape to the Highlands was in order. Scotland is a fascinating place for many reasons: it feels more wild and rugged and generally less crowded than its southern neighbour; it has an incredibly interesting history; and, lastly, is the home of my favourite biscuit: shortbread. While I've been to Scotland many times, I've only been to the Highlands once. It was lovely to go back again this summer and see it again. I've since read and seen all of the Outlander series, which made it even more fun! 

What was particularly interesting this visit was the stark contrast I felt between Scotland and England. For example, the quality of the roads in Scotland were markedly better practically the moment we crossed the border. Things seemed in better nick, generally. With the Brexit debates raging on and with the UK, at that time, set to leave Oct 31st, there was a certain atmosphere helped along by news on the radio, telly and newspaper headlines. It felt rather ominous, if I'm honest.

In order to ignore the cloud of debate, I put my head in the past, visiting historic places and the odd film location (e.g. Glenfinnan Viaduct which we see in Harry Potter [the Hogwarts Express scene]). It was wonderful to visit Culloden Moor, for example, and understand the sheer impossible odds the Scottish faced. I had a bit of an Outlander moment, too, when I found the remembrance stone for Clan Fraser.

The last time I was in Inverness I stayed at a small B&B where the owner made her own homemade shortbread for the guests. I enjoyed seeing 'the gateway to the Highlands' again this year (though I had to buy my own shortbread). It felt much bigger this time around - not quite the small town I remembered! It was great seeing Fort William again too. The trip between these two places is just stunning. Looked for Nessie again, but still no luck. ;-)

As it was summertime, there were loads of tourists everywhere, but it wasn't at all crowded like it can be in other places. It was
wonderfully relaxing to get away from it all, though there was not enough time as usual. I cannot wait to get back to Scotland for another visit with hopefully more time to take in all in.

Thursday, 7 February 2019

An absent globetrotter in Aarhus

Beach and Aarhus skyline
I realised today that my last post here on the Globetrotting Guitarist was two years ago! While I have been absent, much has been happening ... life changes, (another) new country and city to explore, and back into education as a student rather than a teacher. My last year in Groningen went by all too quickly, and after nearly five years there, it was the longest I had 'settled down' for quite some time. Naturally, the globetrotting gene kicked in after such a lengthy stay in one place, and it was time to be off again!

Uni building in autumn
Currently, I'm to be found in Denmark, milling amongst young twenty-somethings (the likes of which I used to teach), trying my hand at being a student again. So far, so good! The transition was fine overall, though it did take some getting used to. Also, my first round of exams were particularly nerve-wracking. Some aspects that I found different, if not challenging, is that everything is much more digital-based than last time I was a student (I'm practically the only one taking notes in a notebook), and there is an emphasis on group work here, which is actually quite nice when working in a collaborative way. I'm enjoying learning again.

The decision to move was a relatively easy one for multiple reasons (family, education, adventure), but I do miss the Netherlands. It was one of the few places I felt somewhat at home, despite the odd language barrier now and then, and the mad cyclists. Denmark, too, has many cyclists, but they tend to follow the rules and stick very strictly to the numerous bicycle paths. I've ventured out a few times on my Batavus, but my new city of Aarhus happens to be one of the few hilly areas...After the flats of Cambridge and the Netherlands, I was NOT prepared for hills at all. This will be my goal for the coming (hopefully warmer) months.

So, things I like about my new city: it is very close to the sea - though I have lived by the seaside before, such as when I lived in Australia, I have never lived quite so close. The beach is a 6 minute drive away (15 minutes or so on the bike, once I get going with cycling...), and it is clean and beautiful. Another favourite beach to visit is a little further out of the city, but even more beautiful as it is close to the woods and has a view of the city as well as nearby islands; here one can visit Den uendelige bro (the never-ending bridge) and Moesgaard Strand (beach).

Den uendelige bro
Moesgaard Strand
Though it is close to beautiful nature, I also like that it is a city.  Having grown up in a small town, a city is still such a novelty to me, even though I've actually been living in cities for nearly 10 years.

There are shops everywhere, some open until late, plenty of public transport, libraries like the brand new Dokk 1, music events, and lots of places to eat. Aarhus doesn't have loads of museums, but the ones it does offer are quite spectacular. A favourite that I will be sure to visit again once it is warmer is the living museum, Den Gamle By (The Old Town).

Den Gamle By
For my next post, I will provide a proper review of the city, including more of my favourite aspects, and of course, talk about the Danish concept of hygge.

Sunday, 5 February 2017

Three years and counting

On Wednesday I celebrated three years of living in the wonderful city of Groningen! It was somewhat of a shock to realise that three years had passed so quickly, seemingly without me noticing. The day-to-day routine moves on with only slight alterations due to holidays and travel, and suddenly it's three years later. I suppose living in a great city, doing a job I love, and travelling helps time move along.

It was fun to think back on when I first moved into the attic room, up those "stairs of death" and got myself situated into a new country and new place. It was nice to think about how much has changed and how much I've grown - not only personally, but in my career, too. I'm currently at a crossroads when many things are changing (in good ways), and that always tends to leave me rather reflective. It's an exciting time, if not a bit busy, and I'm glad to be here in this lovely city with spring just around the corner.

So, after three years, what do I have to offer about Groningen? Here are some of my recommendations (and favourite places):

The Noorderplantsoen is the place to be to enjoy a slice of nature in the city. There is also a little cafe in the middle where you can watch the world go by. I  try go to the park nearly as much as I go to work to create a nice balance!

Autumn in the park
Frozen pond in the park

The Vismarkt is certainly worth a visit on market, you can eat your way around it as well as buy flowers or vegetables! It is a different way of shopping for your weekly groceries. I don't get here nearly enough! The stalls are always exciting, and the people who look after them are very friendly.

Bulbs at the market

The Martinikerk and toren are both beautiful and iconic. They are nice to visit (or walk past) and if you go to the top of the tower on a clear day you can see quite far (being in a flat country and all...). I can see this tower from home, which is really lovely and makes me feel I truly am living in the city.
Inside the church
Martini Tower

Lastly, I would recommend trying to eat at cafes and trendy places (the city is overflowing with them). It is hard to give specific recommendations because I don't have a favourite and they all provide something new to try. The Dutch cuisine can be peculiar at times (especially the raw herring...) but Groningen has its array of gezellig (cosy) cafes and bars. If you like cake (which I do!) Toet is an excellent place to go for homemade baked goods and gluten free options.

I've moved around a lot and seen plenty of places in this world, but I think Groningen holds a special place in my heart. There is a vibe here that is relaxed and pleasant, yet it is enough of a city that you can go out at 1 a.m. to find something to eat. Groningen is often forgotten after the likes of Amsterdam and Utrecht or even Leiden as a student city, but I think it has a lot to offer. Life is good here in the north of the Netherlands!

A frosty Academy building in the heart of Groningen

Sunday, 22 May 2016

Springtime in Groningen

It is the nearly the end of May, yet I feel I'm still stuck somewhere in March. Time flies when you are having fun, so the saying goes, and aren't I just! In February I travelled over 5,000km; in March I travelled within the Netherlands, before escaping on a week long holiday up north; and in April, the fourth block of university began, which is our busiest, yet I still managed to nip away for a few weekends. It was rather a relief when May hit, as we had a few national holidays that meant long weekends (full of marking and travelling). Now, June promises to quiet down as exams take place and the long wind down to summer begins. 2016 has gotten off to a rather hectic start!

While the pile of essays to be graded teeters over my head, I took this weekend to relax and ignore anything to do with comma splices or non-academic word usage. The weather has finally become warmer once more, and so, in an endeavour to complete my to-do list, I went into town for chores and to soak up the atmosphere a bit. There is a kermis or carnival/fair going on at the moment, so the city is loud and busy. I cycled home through the city for a change the other evening after teaching and suddenly realised we have two massive new shops that have opened. How had I missed that?

Saturday was a mission, therefore, to inspect and suss out what I'd been missing in my lovely city. The Saturday market was in full steam, too, in addition to the kermis, and to say the city was buzzing would be an understatement. I found an oliebollen stand pretty quickly and was in seventh heaven; I explored the new shops, and browsed the market stalls while being deafened by the kermis.

After two years here in Groningen, I find that I have a deep fondness for it. There is something special here. Whenever I arrive at the train station, I feel at home again after my travels. Like the 'slogan' for the city says er gaat niets boven Groningen (literal translation: nothing goes higher than Groningen; meaning: nothing beats Groningen). It was lovely to reconnect not only with myself a bit, but also the city I call home. Besides, any day that includes munching on oliebollen is a good one!

To share the lovely spring with you, here are some photos from the last few weeks in Groningen:

Flowers in the park

Blue skies at last in town

Sun catching the fountain
King's Day celebrations
Sunset in the park
Sunday afternoon by the pond

Monday, 18 January 2016

Groningen: Snow and Sun

It has been far too long since I last posted about Groningen. There has been plenty happening to write about (concerts in Groningen's venues, playing music at local gigs, outings to nearby nature areas, a long holiday for Christmas in Denmark [Jul], and a recent pandemonium in this northern city I call home caused by a wee bit of ice and snow). However, as it often is when things are happening, there isn't nearly enough time to think, let alone write. In addition, being a teacher just eats away the hours. It is wonderful, rewarding, and hugely gratifying, I grant you - but very time-consuming all the same.

Pavement skating in the park

Snowfall in Groningen
It was back to work (school) again today, and not only was it an early start, but my bicycle lock was frozen shut by the lovely -6 degree Celsius temperature we were having. Walking it would be then... Actually, the first week of January saw me walking a lot in Groningen as well; after our first snow day when classes were cancelled, I found myself stranded the next day on a different campus with buses and trains suddenly stopped as a "code red" was called. I had to walk home on icy pavements. I was lucky I could walk home, in fact, as some of my students were thrown into panic about how to get home to neighbouring provinces (Drenthe and Friesland). People were skating on the iced over roads and pavements, and I even saw a video clip of students engaged in "beer crate curling". Only in the Netherlands!

Today was beautiful, however. I had to walk, but it meant that once I was finished with my first class, I could enjoy the sun and my beautiful city. The sunshine seemed to put everyone in a good mood! As I was taking a photo of the Westerhaven from the bridge, a young chap walked past and said in Dutch that "it will be a good photo!" which I thought was very nice. The ships and canal were certainly beautiful! Then, a bit further down the road as I stopped to take a photo again, another man grinned at me and said, "Mooi, hé?" which translates to "Nice, isn't it?" Goodness, what a change in outlook to the previous snow fall. The city was abuzz with a good feeling, even though it was Monday morning and below freezing. Can the sun shine more often, please?

Sunday, 23 August 2015

Dreaming of Vacation

The first week back to work and teaching is under my belt, and it is hard not to let my thoughts stray back to the summer vacation. It's 26C (79F) most days, the sun is shining in a gorgeous blue sky, and my mind keeps saying, "Yes, still feels like summer!"

Bateman's - Rudyard Kipling's former home
The vacation was much needed after a hectic semester, and being able to relax and put my mind to other things than comma rules, infinitives, or the continuous tense was, in a word, bliss. Not that the vacation was all sleeping in until 11 and long afternoons in the sun: there was moving into a new place, assembling Ikea furniture, and realising that I really do have more things that I had imagined. But once the move was made, it was off on the road!

Highclere Castle
 The first few weeks of the vacation were spent on the English south coast. I managed to fit in some research for a writing project in between sightseeing and getting my fill of pub lunches. There was camping involved, which, after nearly 15 years of avoiding, was a slight shock to the system. Getting in and out of a tent (and up and down off the ground, for that matter) seemed much simpler 15 years ago... The rain chased us out of that idea, and I was left with the thought, "Well, we did try at least." Seeing Bateman's, Rudyard Kipling's former home, and Greenway, Agatha Christie's former home, were probably the two highlights of the trip. I also really enjoyed seeing Highclere Castle, where Downton Abbey was filmed. Before I knew it, two weeks had passed, and it was goodbye pub grub and access to shortbread. I stocked up on the necessities like shortbread, tea, and Boots products before leaving. Can you believe that shortbread is nigh impossible to find in Groningen!?

Himmelbjerget, Denmark
The second half of the vacation was spent in Denmark. I retreat to Scandinavia most summers, though often to Sweden, so it was nice to see more of a country I'd only been to a few times. I stayed in Jutland (called the real Denmark by those there - "Copenhagen" is like a swear word and involves eye rolling when said...). Jutland is beautiful in many ways: rolling hills of wheat that move north to dark pine forests and long white sand beaches. Århus and Ålborg are wonderfully Scandinavian cities in which to lose oneself, with lots of cute cafes and trendy places to shop. I was astonished to learn that the entire population of Denmark is about a third of the Netherlands. In fact, I shouldn't be writing about how wonderful the country is; I should be saying it's awful so that it doesn't become overcrowded!

While the cities were interesting, as were the bunkers from WWII and their history, it was the nature that captured my attention. The beaches of the north specifically caught my eye. It felt remote and wild in some ways, which I liked. The pine forests and white sand reminded me fondly of Terschelling, and it felt like coming home. Skagen (pronounced "Skain") was particularly beautiful, and I very much enjoyed standing at the top tip of Denmark where the two seas meet. Its wild landscape was once a haven for artists, and seeing the most famous paintings of that time (1890s) collected in a gallery there was such a delight. The paintings reminded me of the Cornish painters of the Newlyn school ilk. Some of my favourites were by P.S. Krøyer.

Viking site: Lindholm Høje
Den Tilsandede Kirke
Unlike in England, the weather was gorgeous everyday, and the trip became a glorious mix of museums and culture, such as visiting Viking sites like Lindholm Høje, Aggersborg or Fyrkat, eating good food, and soaking up the sunshine in pristine nature. Skagen was certainly a highlight, as was seeing Den Tilsandede Kirke (the Sanded Church). The north of Denmark really is a place to lose oneself in beautiful landscapes and history.

It was a wonderful holiday away, and now, I must do my best to focus on work. However, the memories of the holiday will keep me going until the next time I can hit the road!

Tuesday, 7 July 2015

Melting, Moving, and Making steps

Phew! Is it hot in here or what? That's right, folks, you have indeed read the thermometer correctly: Groningen experienced 36 degrees Celsius recently (96F), which, without trying to sound like I'm complaining, is a bit much. I have been teaching summer school (three days to go, not that I'm counting or anything), and am so grateful that we have been put in the new wing with Air Con. It keeps the students awake, too, which is always a plus.

In addition to teaching, I am saying goodbye to the attic room (which in 36C is really not funny), as I have been fortunate enough to find a nice little place a bit further out from the city centre near to the park. It has been a slow and steady progression of boxes and sorting, moments of "when on earth did I get this?", and heaving stuff down two flights of the steepest stairs known to mankind (have I mentioned The Stairs of Death before?) only to haul them up another two flights of normal stairs. I somehow managed to get a small set of drawers up the stairs, and thought I might indeed melt onto my new hardwood floor from the heat. Needless to say, all other haulage has now been conducted after 7pm.

While I'm looking forward to the new place very much, I do feel slightly sad to be leaving this old attic room. It has character and a certain cosiness, and I have had a lot of nice memories here (if we forget about the mouse incident). I have written a lot here, both fiction and music, and when I look around the place it hits me that this was my first home in the Netherlands, and therefore will always be rather special.

I must say, however, that moving 1.3km (.8 of a mile) is by far the shortest distance I have ever moved in my life, and it is certainly massively easier than moving countries! I have moved countries multiple times, and would do so again, but being able to move just down the road is some kind of bliss. I have even stocked the new fridge with beer to help ease the process.

It is exciting to start on a new chapter in a new place. In the past, that has often involved me moving to another part of the world, across oceans, or finding myself in the midst of a new culture. Now, I merely have a new neighbourhood to explore, and Groningen's large park, the Noorderplantsoen, at my feet to stroll through on long summer evenings or enjoy a drink on a terrace by the fountain. A very exciting start to the summer holidays!

Moving day!