Saturday, November 27, 2010

Rugby and Visiting Friends

Well, I had been looking forward to it for at least two months, and it finally happened. My first rugby game ever.

I know nothing about rugby. Now, I know a little. Enough to conclude that it is a much simpler game than American football, the most complicated game in the world. But this was no ordinary game. It was a national game, Scotland vs. New Zealand All Blacks. New Zealand is the best team in the world, by far. They do the infamous 'haka' dance (if you've seen Invictus then you know, but basically an overflow of testosterone infused yelling and stomping). So that was really cool to actually see in person. There was lots of hype coming up to the game. Every time New Zealand comes, the city becomes really electric. Everyone is talking about the game.

I was lucky enough to have a good friend visit that weekend. Lautauro, whom I stayed with in Buenos Aires on several occasions for at least a few weeks. See my post from April. Anyways, Lautauro came in on Friday and left on Monday, with a friend he is working with from Uruguay.

Actually, I wanted to take a second to reflect on how great couchsurfing and also Rotaract is and how things come full circle like this. While travelling in South America, I used both of those and stayed with lots of new people. I developed lots of new friendships, some still very strong and others I can't say I haven't talked to since I left. I'm not sure why, but it is really interesting that it is possible to develop and maintain a friendship, and even strengthen it, having only met someone for one day, two days, 5 days, or 7 days etc. Of course, I suppose, it is really made more possible through the internet. I email or chat on a several times a week basis with several people, and on a semi-weekly basis with others that I met in my trip. For example, one guy I met in Bariloche in Argentina, I met for one day only, but we communicate, mostly through facebook, at least a few times a month. Someone else I met in Brasilia, I communicate with by email several times a week. And I know that in these two cases and a handful of others that we will meet again, it is just a question of when and where. So when Lautaro visited (and we chat on gmail every once in awhile), it was really great, like seeing an old great friend again. He called his visit here 'operation payback'. He was getting me back for staying at his place, haha. He'll visit me in Sweden next year and when he moves to Luxemborg in January, I'll probably go there (he lives in France now). I guess he will move to Los Angeles in 2012 for a phd. Maybe we can meet on 3 or more continents. But, in summary, I have decided that people define places, places do not define places.

Anyways, Saturday evening the three of us went with Eduardo and George to the game. George had been hyping it up for quite some time. He went all out and wore his kilt to the game to show his Scottish pride. He took us all to the golf club before the game, treated us to a round of beers, and we loaded up on haggis rolls. The game itself was fun and it was frigid outside (it was an outdoor night game, at about 35 degrees!). One thing that really surprised me was how tame the crowd was. I remember crazy soccer fans in Brazil, and just watching England Premier League games on TV here, soccer fans are a bit nuts. But as George liked to say, the expression in Scotland is 'in rugby the thugs are on the field and the gentlemen are in the stands'. All 55,000 fans were seated the majority of the game, which was tamer than even a baseball or basketball game. As expected, the rugby players really are massive guys. In the end, Scotland got crushed. Something like 49-3, although the past two weeks they beat South Africa and Samoa, which are really good, so, in conclusion, Zew Zealand rules rugby.

Fans with the Scotland Flag:

Murrayfield Stadium:

Big dudes:

The group:

George and I:

Friday night was another great evening. I was going to take Lautauro and company to a typical Scottish dance. We went alright, but this particular evening happened to be fiddle festival 2010. So when we got to the building, we decided first to check out the fiddle room, after all, it's not every day you see some fiddlers. There were about 8 or 9 sitting around a table just having a good time. So we sat down near them and the room was pretty devoid of other fiddlers and even an audience. Slowly, more fiddlers came in one by one with their fiddles (and guitars and flutes and accordions, but mostly fiddles). Pretty soon, there had to be 35 or 45 fiddlers, all just going at it. They didn't stop when people arrived. The newbies just unpacked their fiddles, sat down, and zoned out. The music was really impressive so we stayed a long time until we were surrounded by fiddlers. Luckily enough, an older guy set his fiddle down on our table, so I asked him if I could try it. Reaffirming my thought that Scottish people are so dang friendly, he said no problems, and we talked for a bit. Another fiddler came over and tried to instruct me on how to play. I rocked out and started out with my own rendition of Beethoven's Concerto No. 127.54. A natural. After a good hour or more at fiddlemania, we proceeded upstairs to the ballroom for the Ceilidh. As always, it was a blast. Lautauro also really enjoyed it, and was as suprise as I was the first time how fast paced, nonchalant, and free everyone is in the dance. Who cares if you screw up, you dance with lots and lots of people, you sweat, and everyone enjoys themselves.

A few fiddlers:

Fiddlers piling in:

Getting my first ever fiddle lesson (bear in mind I was playing this while all the other fiddlers were jamming. Good thing they drowned me out).

Close to the fiddle action:

The Ceilidh:

As a point for the weekend I decided that we should eat all Super Scottish foods. Friday night started with them eating deep fried sausages and chips (fries). It was at a fish and chip shop so quality was low and meal kind of stunk. Saturday and Sunday morning, I made a full Scottish breakfast for all. We made my first trip to the butcher for fresh lorne sausage, bacon, eggs, and the corner shop for brown sauce, rolls, a tomato, and an IRN-BRU. It was the funnest trip to the butcher ever. The butchers were all really funny & chatty guys in their late 60s (reminding me of Grandpa Frank a little!). With my American accent, the picked me out after two words were uttered, and started just chatting about what I was doing here (whilst poking a bit of fun at me for my accent).

Sunday I studied while they walked around Edinburgh. In typical couchsurfing fashion, like good friends crashing on your couch should, they came back with dinner ingredients. They cooked a nice pasta dinner for all, the only meal of the trip without meat (and quite a relief it was). Monday we had lunch, going to a baked potato shop. I went with the baked potato stuffed with haggis. As a joke gift, they bought me the largest bag of potato chips they have seen their entire lives as well as some mints, at the one pound store. Lot's of Bovril was also drank over the weekend, and now I'm not sure why I wasn't drinking it very often before, it's not that bad, especially in cold weather, quite warming.

Certainly overall one of the most fun weekends in Scotland thus far.

Full Scottish breakfast, all in one roll:

Lautauro with his new favorite condiment, brown sauce: (Note, per request, I mailed some to him in France in exchange for his Argentinian Masse jersey he doesn't wear cause all of Argentina hates him after they lost the world cup).

Massive bag of chips (more plastic than should ever be used. Mixed flavors, Prawn Cocktail, S & Vinegar, Salted, and Cheese and Onion):

Sunday, November 21, 2010


I just found this photo of me from one of the Ceilidh dances a few months ago. From a particular dance where there are 2 guys and 2 girls and the guys end up picking up and spinning the girls. You can just see my shoes as I'm opposite the guy with the kilt as we spin the girls resting on our shoulders. Seriously not easy...Nice picture though!

Friday, November 19, 2010

Essential Food Discoveries

Here is the latest and greatest in food adventures and tastings:

Vegetarian haggis (filled with oatmeal, carrots, potatoes, turnips, leeks, etc, and similar normal haggis spices, really quite delicious, especially with mashed potatoes, a must to complement the texture of the haggis. I've decided I like haggis quite a bit now, as evidenced by eating it 4 times in 8 days:) ):

The vegetarian haggis, pre-cooked, looks disturbing:

Pork & Apple Sausage roll (the apple makes it taste deeeelicous):

Steak Puff Pastry (which I burned by using the fan in the oven):

Haggis Roll with required brown sauce (yum):

Full Scottish Breakfast made for friends when they visited(Roll with fried egg, lorne sausage (square sausage), bacon (good bacon, not crappy sliced bacon), tomato slice, butter, and brown sauce...Too much meat for anyone in one sitting but quite tasty):

Lautauro purchased me as a gift the largest bag of potato chips he's seen his entire life (at the grocery store here). Filled with 30 individually wrapped bags. Too much plastic. However, cheese and onion chips are a great flavor:

Baked potato with haggis (topped with sour cream). Suprisingly quite delicious:

HP brown sauce has made a new friend:

My first few blogs have started with foods that stink. Now, either I am getting used to the food (which I am), or, I saved all the good tasting foods for last. I even enjoy Bovril (beef broth), from time to time now.

Now, I just want to know, where are all the vegetables?!?!?


Been slacking again on the posts, school is to hectic. Here's a quickie.

Was walking back from class today and realized that I have only about 3 weeks left in Edinburgh. Just starting to really enjoy the place. It was a nice, crisp, blue sky morning, and I could see typical black rain clouds in a distance, with a beautiful view of downtown Edinburgh and Arthur's Seat from the hill near school. Nice, crisp, refreshing morning.

Here are two great songs from Scotland by Dougie Maclean. I was lucky enough to randomly see him at the highland games I went to. The first song I have heard many times here, it is like an anthem, people know the words by heart:

Exams start December 7th and end on the 10th. I'll head out shortly thereafter, to travel to York, Leeds, Hull, maybe elsewhere, and hopefully 5 or so days in London to visit friends before my plane out on the 22nd. Seems so soon!

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Newcastle (Upon Tyne)

After working my ass off the last month, I really decided that I needed to find the time to take a full day off and trip somewhere.

The program has been incredibly intense, and basically I guess I haven't had much time at all to explore Edinburgh or Scotland. I studied 3 Friday nights in a row! It requires that much work/studying. Which is also one of the reasons I haven't been updating my blog. I've been working my ass off and haven't had as much stuff to write about because I just haven't had time to do anything worthy of writing about (except food, which I have more coming, when I get time...)So anyways, I had to force myself to take a day off, clear my head, and go somewhere to take my mind off all the work I need to do.

I decided to go to Newcastle. It was only a 1.5 hour train ride south, over the border with England. I made the journey solo, basically because I've been spending all my time with classmates in and out of class, so I just wanted to be able to walk around at my own pace, see what things I wanted to see, and share the experience with just myself and my Ipod (how selfish!). It was very refreshing.

I got up bright and early as it was just going to be a day trip, and took a 9am direct train. I looked up a few things the night before, but otherwise, I didn't know what I was going to see.

Luckily, the weather held up. It was maybe 35-45 degrees, but at least sunny for most of the day. The city has about 10 bridges in a really fairly small area. Some are old, and some are new, but all of them are very interesting architecturally. They are all different styles and so I walked over all the ones I could. It helps also that one of my classes, the lecture each week the teacher talks about bridges and buildings, so I had myself thinking about how the loads were being distributed in these bridges (dang I guess I am actually learning something!).

There were about 3 pretty old cathedral's I went in, as well as of course Newcastle, which is the castle that gave the city it's name. It was first built in the 1000s, out of wood. Then in the 1200s, it was rebuilt in stone. There are lots of influences in the style of the arches and the decorations from the Normans, who were there for a short period of time. But of course the castle is stragetically placed at a high point in the city, so you can see everything from the roof (kind of like the castle in Edinburgh).

There was a nice Sunday market going on down by the river, so for lunch, I had a pork roast sandwich with stuffing (apple flavored), grilled onions, and brown sauce. Damn, it was goooooooooooooooooooooood. I topped it off with a nice brownie from a stall selling home baked goods, and that completed the lunch food coma.

The city also had a few really nice areas with pedestrian only walkways. Lots of shopping, of course. I stopped in a pub looking for a Newcastle, but it turned out to be a microbrewery, so I enjoyed one of their beers and watched the Newcastle Arsenal soccer game that just happened to be going on

The milennium arch (it's a pedestrian only walkway) (actually, it looks really cool because =it only supports human weight, therefore they can make crazy looking designs...if cars went over it, it might be was probably made by an architect not an engineer because all they wanted to do was make something that looked cool... end stuff I've learned in my 'Philosophy of Structures' class, haha)

A cool performing arts/cultural center:

Some of the bridges over the Tyne River:

So good it's called 'Tasty Fried Chicken'


Norman style decorations on an arch at at castle Newcastle:

View of the city from the castle roof (St Nicholas Cathedral in front)

Best Pork sandwich I think I've ever had. I even went back to compliment the lady from the stall that cooked it:

Pedestrian Street:

My train:

That's about it! Scotland vs. New Zealand rugby game on Saturday. Been looking forward to this for over a month!!