30 June 2012


Maud, Christine, Maud's Grandma and I spent a lovely day in Albi.

We visited the Toulouse-Lautrec Museum in Albi. The museum is housed in the former Berbie Palace, across from the cathedral. This was once the home of the bishops. Today the palace is a museum with over 1000 works of art, featuring works not only from Henri Toulouse-Lautrec but also from other well known French artists.
A bit of a funny story related to our museum visit. The man at the counter saw the four of us and asked if we wanted a family ticket for the two adults and two kids. He specifically asked Christine if I was her older daughter. Without missing a beat, she said I was (suddenly I was classified as a teenager over 14!). Then the man said that normally this ticket was for a family with Mom, Dad and two kids. She told him we had Grandma with us because the Dad was no longer there. As she went to pay, she realized she needed the PIN number for the credit card (Maud's Dad's card) so she told Maud to call her Dad (who just moments before no longer existed) and get the pin! Long story short, I got in on a child's rate and the museum was excellent!
After visiting the inside of the museum, we walked along the walls of the Berbie Palace, seeing it's impressive gardens and the Tarn river below.

(just a side note, the Tarn river flows westward, eventually merging with the Garbonne, and then the two flow together into the Atlantic)

Like most European towns, Albi had a central square, the square had a fountain that shot up water in a pattern, like music. The day was overcast and not very warm, but I could imagine that during hot summer days, this is probably a favorite place for small children to play.

In Albi, I saw similar red brick as I saw in Toulouse, but the house design was different. The windows were not as long as they had been in Toulouse. Also Albi sustained less damage in the war than Toulouse, so there were more older buildings. Some of the buildings were up to 800 years old.

We walked through an old monastery and saw the lovely garden within it's walls. The plants smelled so wonderful - herbs and flowers, a lovely mix.

The cathedral was approximately 800 years old. The outside and inside were quite ornate. Those of you who read my post about Glasgow may recall the explanation that blue paint was a sign of wealth as it was the hardest to make and thus the most expensive. Well a sign in the town of Albi provided a connection to that story. Albi (and this region of France) was where the blue flowers grew that were used to make the blue color of paint and dyes. These were sold at high costs (to cities such as Glasgow). Also to show its own prosperity, the inside of the cathedral in Albi is painted blue. It was just magnificent, I loved the color and presentation within the cathedral.

I really enjoyed Albi and it would be a place to which I would gladly return.

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Location:Albi, France

29 June 2012

Toulouse....My introduction to the south of France

It was a hot, sunny day in which I began my adventures in South France. I was shown Toulouse by two wonderful ladies, Maud (my exchange student from a year ago), and Christine (her Mom). They wanted to be sure that I saw everything Toulouse had to offer.
We started at the Tourist Info office, which is housed in the tower of the Capitole (city hall). This building was built in the 1600's, and it stands facing a huge square/courtyard, around which one observes buildings that exemplify the neo-classical facade of the 1800's. These buildings alternate red brick and stone.

Speaking of red brick, it's the generous use of red brick, that gives the town it's nickname: la ville rose, the red village.

We walked on to see the Taur Church (Taur -- think Taurus, the bull). This church recalls the martyrdom of St. Sernin, the town's first bishop. He was dragged through the streets by a bull.
Speaking of the streets, I noticed that the streets were narrow, buildings were tall and the windows were also tall and narrow. Christine also pointed out that many of the buildings had an uppermost level where the windows were either square surrounding the level, or it was simply screened like a balcony. The windows all had a purpose. The streets, as I said before, are narrow, thus the tall windows allowed for as much light as possible to come into the building, no matter the angle of the sun. The upper level was previously open-aired and was used for drying meats etc, so that the people of Toulouse would have provisions for the winter.

Our next stop was the Saint Sernin Basilica. The basilica is recognized as a UNESCO World Heritage site. It is one of the largest Romanesque churches in Europe, built from the 11th to 14th centuries.

We continued to make our way through town, through the winding streets. The buildings were lovely, I saw so many interesting styles of shutters on windows, door knockers and architectural styles. It should also be noted that I had to actively work hard to figure out how to avoid being run over by cars. Yes that's right, after 15 days in the United Kingdom I had so acclimated to their traffic directions, that the ones in France (identical to the US I might add), confused me.
Then we made our way down to the Garonne River and walked along it's banks. La Garonne is a huge river spanning much of the south of France. Eventually it merges with other waterways and empties into the Atlantic. The Garonne also flows directly behind Maud and Christine's house.

We wrapped up our time in Toulouse with lunch. I had an amazing salad with lettuce, tomato, asparagus, artichoke, onions and of course, wonderful French bread!

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Location:Toulouse, France

28 June 2012

Sleep tight?

While visiting Shakespeare's house, the origin of the phrase "good night, sleep tight" was recounted. Although I have heard this before, it may be of interest to others.
Before the days of metal springs, beds resembled hammocks with their criss-cross grid of ropes. This supported the mattress and those sleeping upon it. These ropes could be tightened or loosened based on the number and size of individuals sleeping on the bed. The goal was that one would tighten or loosen it just right so that the stays (ropes) would be taunt throughout the nights sleep ... Aka so that one could 'sleep tight', which would be most supportive and most comfortable.

Good Night, sleep tight!

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Location:Stratford Upon Avon, England

Shakespeare slept here

On Tuesday my friend Louise (aka Loopy) and I spent the middle part of the day in Stratford Upon Avon, birthplace of Williwm Shakespeare. It was a lovely day, despite the fact that it rained intermittently. The city is not just famous for the bard, but we focused our time that way.
We began with a walk through the town. Following a map that guided us from building to building, we learned a lot of history of the town.

For example, this is the oldest street (well by today's standards its more of an alleyway) in town. Note the uneven stones and narrow width of the street.

We saw buildings dating back to the. 1200's and before. Note the slope/lean of this half-timbered building.

Louise and I admired the buildings with the old wavy glass. It was also interesting to peer inside.

Thetwonphotos above are King Edward VI school. It is thought, but not confirmed, that Shakespeare attended school here. It is still a grammar school today. The school still uses the older buildings, but has also built new / newer ones as well.

The photos above are of the actual house that Shakespeare was born in. The house is not exactly as it was when he was a child here. Some of the changes that have taken place:
- When Shakespeare was an adult, more rooms were added on the house so that it could potentially be used as an inn. However, it never was, after his parents' deaths, he inherited the house and didn't want much to do with it.
- Windows during Shakespeare's time were expensive and small. If the house had windows, they most likely did not contain glass. People who could afford glass for their windows, would take it with them when they moved. To the best of the knowledge of the historical society that oversees the house, the larger windows, with glass, we're added during the Victorian era.
- When he lived in the house, there were houses attached to either side of it, as is customary of the times. All of these houses were a fire hazard (houses made of wood, with cement of mud and straw, walls covered with painted linen and plenty of flammable materials within. For that reason, when the house was being preserved, the houses on either side were torn down, to minimize the chance that his house would catch fire.
- It is not known exactly what the garden was like during the time he lived there, so the garden that one can visit today, is planted with plants and flowers mentioned in his works. It is a beautiful garden.

I learned some interesting facts about Shakespeare on my tour. He was not the first born, but he was the oldest of 7 children to survive. He was married at age 18 because he impregnated Anne Hathaway. His family was fairly well-to-do, and owned a lot of land - the land came from his Mother when she married his father.

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Location:Stratford Upon Avon, England

25 June 2012

The Jacoite

A few days ago I rode aboard the Jacobite. This is a converted steam train that runs what has been called "the prettiest train journey in the world". Now I say a converted steam train, because while yes, coal is shoveled and there is steam, it's also running a diesel engine for real power. The journey begins in Ft. William, stops in Glenfinnian briefly and then wraps up in Mallaig. It was an amazingly beautiful journey ...lochs, mountains, tunnels, bridges, flowers, sheep. In Mallaig, I hiked what is called the circular walk, a short 2 mile hike. At first, going against every Girl Scout bone in my body, I was alone. Then when I stopped to try and get some photos of myself a nice young Canadian came along and we finished up the hike together. The day before the weather had been awful - cold and rainy. About 1 hour after I returned to Ft. William it was rainy again, but it stayed dry and lovely for the day's journey.

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Location:Between Ft William and Mallaig, Scotland

A dead ringer

As the comment was made on Facebook about liking to know word origins, I thought I would share this one as well. I don't recall if it was said in my tour of Edinburgh or of Glasgow, but I didn't share it because it was one I already knew.....
But maybe you've not heard it before.
In the middle ages, a person was declared dead if they. Could not be aroused from what. Might appear to be sleep. It wasn't a sure bet though, and sometimes if corpses were dug up (for various Easton's) they would find scratch marks on the inside of a coffin, evidence that the person had come back to and found themselves buried alive - and eventually died from this.
So it came to be that when a person was buried, a cord would be put in the coffin, and above the ground the cord was attached to a bell. If a person found themselves buried alive (oops) they could pull the cord and ring the bell --- hence "a dead ringer"

Speaking of dead folks really being alive, do you know why the Irish hold wakes with the corpse? Originally it was to be sure he was really dead and didn't 'wake' up!

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Location:Somewhere in Scotland

23 June 2012

J K Rowling wrote here

I like Harry Potter well enough, but I'm not the world's biggest fan. In fact all of the HP connections to Edinburgh/Scotland didn't even cross my radar until I got here.
So I decided to visit a few of the fan hangouts.
I am writing this post while sitting in the Elephant House Cafe. It's a nice cafe, I've just eaten an apple, Brie and Mango Chutney wrap - very delicious .... I'd highly recommend it. Now I am enjoying an elephant shaped shortbread cookie and black currant tea (hot). Also quite nice - but I won't post this until later, when I am somewhere with wifi, as this cafe has none.

So back to JK.... Why did she write here? Well according to the story she was quite skint (poor) and it was cheaper to buy a cup of tea and sit here than to heat her flat (apartment). Now keep in mind Edinburgh is a cold place - its mid-June and 10'C/50'F today.

Now back to my other HP experience.... This has to do with the movie. There is a scene in one of the films where the Hogwarts Express crosses a huge viaduct. Yesterday I rode the Jacobite Steam Train from Ft. William to Mallaig and back. This train, which has a shop to sell you all sorts of HP tat, crosses that great viaduct. I saw at least one child on board dressed like she was headed to Hogwarts.

Now if you read my previous Edinburgh post, you will see I have mentioned another HP connection.
But quite frankly I am, for now, done with HP and am off to go see Dolly the Sheep. (remember her? The first cloned animal)

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Location:Elephant House Cafe, Edinburgh, Scotland.

Old Reeky

The nickname of Edinburgh is Old Reeky - the reasons for this name were explained in my previous tour of Edinburgh post.....
But I have two rather "Reeky" stories of Glasgow to share...


In Glasgow, just like in Edinburgh, in the pre-indoor plumbing days, buckets of waste were thrown out with the same "Gaurdeloo" cry. Like in Edinburgh, the rain would wash it down the hill. But unlike Edinburgh, there was no Loch it flowed into. Instead it piled up at the base of High Street, right at the Fish markets --- STINKY! Well it came to be, that the people responsible for cleaning this up stopped doing so (ancient strike?). The waste piled up, until a wall of 15 feet developed. Yes that's right, 15 feet of human feces. The city was going to be fined for this....so they cleverly auctioned it off to a local farmer who carted it away.

Speaking of throwing out waste -- it was allowed to take place twice a day: 7am and 10pm. Pubs also closed at 10pm. So the idea was that someone about to throw their waste cried out "Guardeloo" and someone in the way would call back: "Halt ye Hatch" (basically wait....I'm in the way) but then you had the drunkards piling out of the pubs. They heard the cry and instead of calling back, they looked up. As you can imagine, they got the waste poured on them. Eventually they would make it home, drunk with feces on their face. Hence the development of the phrase: "Getting Shitfaced"

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Location:Glasgow, Scotland

21 June 2012

Glasgow...a sense of Deja Vu

I took the free tour today in Glasgow. First off, having in my previous post said that they always wear red shirts, I must report that my tour guide wore a black rain jacket. Having had such a wonderful guide yesterday, the one today was a bit disappointing. He just wasn't as engaging, and let's face it, the fact that it was 50 degrees and raining might not have helped either! But I did want to share some interesting things I learned.
Glasgow has a square called George Square. Named after King George. But the Glaswegians don't like King George, so there is no statue of him there - instead there is a very prominent statue of Sir Walter Scott, who was born on George Square in Edinburgh.

So why do they dislike King George so much? Easy,they blame him for their loss of income in tobacco from the Colony of Virginia. Yes that's right, King George sent over the British Navy to fight those colonial rebels who wanted independence. And the monarchy lost.

On one side of the square there is a huge building (sorry I didn't catch the name) but there are three interesting things to mention about it...
1. It has more Italian marble than the Vatican.
2. The ancient symbol of peace, the Swastika, is on the doors (this building is pre-1939)
3. It has the Statue of Truth at the top, who many confuse with Liberty.

Speaking of truth, I learned that if one goes on trial in Scotland, three verdicts are possible:
A. Guilty
B. Not Guilty
C. Not Proven (aka they know you are guilty, but can't prove it!

And then back to Mortsafes, which I describe in my post about Edinburgh... Our tour guide told of yet one more option - a Mocksafe. This is an iron coffin that would be set a top a grave for 3 weeks - same reason.. Basically it was rented.

Oh and you may notice that some of the Mortsafe above is missing, modern day thieves are stealing the metal.
Speaking of grave robbing....a medical school person (student? Employee?) was tried for body snatching and found not proven - but no one would hire him, so he went to Washington DC and opened the first medical teaching college. 250 years later corpses, that could be traced to Scotland were found under the floorboards of the building in DC where his school was opened.

Moving on to churches and cathedrals - in Glasgow many such churches are no longer used as churches. The church: St. Andrews in the Square is a carbon copy of St. Martins in Trafalgar Square (London). But it became a bit dilapidated, so the city sold it to a charity for £1. The charity cleaned it up and found that underneath paint and dirt was gold plating. It is still used by the charity.

Speaking of gold, all the clocks in the city (on towers and such) have blue and gold faces. This shows wealth, because these were the most expensive paint colors.

Lastly I will leave you with the founding of Glasgow. It was founded by St. Mungo. He came upon this place and said the Gaelic word that means "pretty green", and this word evolved to the modern name: Glasgow.

I will post one more post about Glasgow - but it won't be pretty. Coming tomorrow.....
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Location:Glasgow, Scotland