A Travellerspoint blog

Scotland: Outside Edinburgh

Rosslyn Chapel

Anyone who read or saw The Da Vinci Code by Dan Brown remembers Rosslyn Chapel. Brown's fictionalized account of the quest for the Holy Grail comes to a dramatic end at Rosslyn--the Rose Line. In fact, William St. Clair's family began building the Chapel in the mid 1400s and its intricate mason carvings of Christian symbols, Jewish stars, pagan faces, animals, an uncracked symbolic code, plants, vegetables, roses, and more have intrigued people ever since. No wonder mystical stories about the Chapel abound. The carvings suggest, as Brown noted, that the masons left a shrine to all faiths as well as to nature. So much here is inexplicable. For example, there are carvings of corn and of elephants, neither of which had ever been seen in Scotland in the 1400s. How did they know what they looked like? But the most fascinating fact is that there is a subterranean chamber underneath the Chapel. This is where, supposedly, the Holy Grail is, or was. It would be impossible to excavate the chamber without the Chapel crumbling. I love a good mystery.

Less than ten miles outside of Edinburgh, William St. Clair set the Chapel high on a hill near his home. If you take the public bus #37 from Princes Street in Edinburgh, you can easily get there without a car. There are mystical stories about how the Chapel was used as an astrological observatory as well as a direct line to aliens. How can you resist a place that has aliens, the Holy Grail, and a relationship to the secretive Knights Templar? Even if you are a skeptic, there is still a murder that is well-documented. A master mason left an apprentice in charge of one of the columns while he went off to a workshop to improve his craft. The apprentice had a vision and carved an intricate, spiraling masterpiece. When the master returned, he was infuriated and killed the apprentice. Their heads are memorialized in carvings in the Chapel, as is the head of the grieving mother of the dead apprentice. The Apprentice's Pillar is amazing.

None of the masons names are known, but their work is stunning. It is possible to spend hours inside this small Chapel and you will never see all of the hundreds of carvings. Unfortunately, no indoor photography is permitted. It is only due to Dan Brown's book and the subsequent movie, that the Chapel is going to survive. Since the book was published in 2003, the publicity has brought hundreds of thousands of tourists and the money has been used for continual conservation of this tiny treasure that still belongs to the Sinclair family. Find more at www.rosslynchapel.com

Posted by teethetrav 07:39 Archived in Scotland Tagged scotland edinburgh rosslyn_chapel masons knights_templar dan_brown the_da_vinci_code william_st._clair Comments (1)


Lochs, Castles, Mean Fairies, & Rain

In 2017, readers of The Rough Guides voted Scotland number one most beautiful country. It is. With its 38,000 lochs (otherwise known as lakes), its lowlands, highlands, islands, beaches--both sandy and rocky--, its green hills and barren mountains, Scotland is stunning. And that is just the scenery. There is so much else to do and see. There are beautiful cities, castles, great restaurants, and the funny, friendly people. There are also countless stories about mythical creatures, especially fairies. Not cute ones who want to be your wee friends. Scottish fairies are mean and exist to trick humans.

And, oh yes. There is rain. In some places, you know how they say if you don't like the weather, wait five minutes. In Scotland, if you wait five minutes, you'll just get another sort of rain. Or fog. Or both. I counted seven distinct kinds of rain, most of which I had never seen before. There's misty rain which doesn't actually fall to the ground, it just surrounds you in a delicate veil. There's a rain which falls in droplets that are spaced apart, float around you, and somehow defy gravity. There is soaking, freezing rain, and there's wind-driven rain that flies mostly sideways and hurts when it touches your skin. There's more, but you get the idea. Rain is sometimes briefly interrupted by sun, a temporary condition that lasts a few minutes and is widely celebrated with a wee dram of whiskey. Contrary to rumor, sunshine does exist in Scotland. I saw it twice, once in Edinburgh and once in the seaside town of Portree.

After doing some research, I chose to go in May which is supposed to have fairly good weather. In the winter months, Scotland is quite cold and has little daylight whereas May has very long days. The sun is up at around 5 a.m. and doesn't set until around 9:30 p.m. Another benefit is that in May the midges haven't appeared yet to torment you. The midges, also known as no-see-ums, are the price you pay for warm weather and no rain in Scotland, apparently. May is usually a good month, but this year, winter did not want to let go. It was rainy, windy, and cold. I thought I came prepared for bad weather, but I was not ready for the rugged weather up in the highlands or even for the wind and cold in Edinburgh.

I began my journey in Edinburgh. I had been there before so I did not do some of the things that you would want to do on your first visit, such as visit the Castle and some of the historic places along the Royal Mile. Before I set off on a five day journey to the Highlands and out to the Isle of Skye, I stayed in the old part of the city. A few good places to eat there are the White Hart Inn, the oldest known tavern. The food was good pub food. And there is the ever-popular Kick Ass Cafe. Another good place to eat is Prezzo's on the North Bridge, a reliably good chain with great flat bread pizza. It is reasonably priced and tempts you to come back by offering you a free bottle of prosecco. Who could say no to that? Edinburgh is a photogenic old city and a wee wander here and there is a great way to begin a visit to Scotland. Although the weather was chilly, the sun was out and everything was just beginning to bloom!

Posted by teethetrav 11:07 Archived in Scotland Tagged rain scotland edinburgh lochs highlands lowlands fairies scottish_isles Comments (0)

Southerners, Food, & Alcohol

Southern Crazy

"Here in the south, we don't hide crazy. We dress it up and put it on the porch." That was a slogan on a dishcloth in a shop in The Hammock Shop Villages. That, in part, is why I love the south.

I've already written about my jealousy of southern writers, so I'll move on to my obsession with the food.Two other reasons I love the south, besides the lovely writing, are the food and the southern love of a good drink. First, the food. I believe that the only true American foods are hamburgers, fries, pizza, and southern cooking. Feel free to disagree. It's my opinion, but I'll warn you ahead of time: I'm not open to changing my mind. That said, all southern cooking has its roots in Africa, so we stole it, adapted it, and made it American. The best southern cooks and recipes come from what grows in the southern soil and lives in the waters along the eastern southern seaboard. Farm to table and sea to table are not new concepts here.

I had some awesome food in my recent visit to South Carolina's Pawleys Island. The charming and welcoming South Carolina Writers Association hosted its Dream Conference there in October and I ate and drank my way through the warm days. Clam chowder, oyster sliders, shrimp and grits from the amazing Rusty Table, balsamic glazed pork from Websters, and hush puppies from The Deck were perfectly cooked with fresh ingredients and just enough heat. I could go on, but I'm making myself hungry just thinking about the (delicious and fattening) southern foods. So much so, I've decided to do a southern-themed Christmas dinner. Cornbread, sweet potatoes, mac & cheese, creamed corn are on the menu, so far. I'm testing a shrimp & grits recipe. Let me know if you have a good one!


As for alcohol...I've consumed my share of wine, but have never had the stamina for anything much stronger, so I wouldn't make a good southerner. I have the utmost admiration for anyone who can handle their liquor. It seems that bourbon is a way of life in the south. A luncheon partner at the writers conference bemoaned the fact that the bar was closed and he had forgotten his flask of bourbon. Then again, maybe it's not a southern thing. Maybe it's a writers thing. I have enough trouble writing sober and keeping my crazy to myself, so I'll probably just stick to wine.

Posted by teethetrav 07:21 Archived in USA Tagged south_carolina novel pawleys_island south_carolina_writers_conferen myrtle_beach litchfield_beach southern_writers south_carolina_writers_associat the_rustic_table websters Comments (0)

Pawleys Island South Carolina

Southern Writers & Inspiration

Going almost anywhere excites me. Going back to places I know and love has a special feeling. But there's something about going somewhere entirely new that opens up possibilities and gives me a sense of giddiness. As anxious as travel can make me, I love the entire experience. I love being in an airport and wondering where everyone else is going and why they are traveling. I love remembering the last trip I took. This trip, I sat in the airport recalling last January's trip to the Cayman Islands for my daughter's wedding. Our airport trauma was lugging her beaded gown through the airport, through security, onto the plane where the flight attendant got angry at my son who had carried the dress like it was a Faberge egg the entire way, only to watch her try to fold and stuff the gown into a compartment. He. Was. Not. Happy. And she called security. Yikes. But it all ended well and, after that, the trip and the wedding were perfect.

So far, this trip is fairly uneventful. I did get pulled aside at security because I had a suspicious item in my carry-on. Turned out, it was my breakfast muffin. Every the TSA guy shook his head and laughed. Other than being seated behind someone who had a "companion kitten" on his lap (seriously? that's a thing?) this was a quick flight to Myrtle Beach where I picked up my cool rental Jeep that I got for points and headed to Pawleys Island to the South Carolina Writers Conference I'm attending at the Litchfield Beach Resort. Low country. It sounds like a place writers go to write, doesn't it? I've long envied southern writers and their ability to tell stories set in swampy, marshy places with names like Pawleys Island, Edisto, and Murrells Inlet. Let's not get me started on southerners and their ability with words. Pat Conroy, Carson McCuller, Eudora Welty, Lee Smith...There must be some magic, some kind of alchemy which occurs due to the combination of Spanish moss, soupy humidity, and an unabashed love of alcohol.

I am here hoping some of the luck of the southern writers will rub off on me as I try to find a publisher for my latest book, a family saga inspired by historic events. It's called GOODBYE, LOVER and it's about an introverted bartender who discovers three tiny skeletons in a trunk in her grandmother's attic which upends everything she thought she knew about her family.

Wish me luck!


Posted by teethetrav 13:11 Archived in USA Tagged south_carolina novel pawleys_island south_carolina_writers_conferen myrtle_beach litchfield_beach southern_writers Comments (0)

Christmas Markets 2016

NYC & Berlin

Some of my earliest memories took place in New York City, especially at Christmas time. I was born and lived in the Bronx, and my father’s business was on 35th Street in mid-town Manhattan, the part of the city that I’ve known and loved all my life. It wasn’t until I was older that I discovered Soho, the Village, Central Park, Museum Mile, the High Line, and all of the other places I grew to love. For me, 30 West 35th Street was the center of New York. It was the perfect location nestled between 5th and 6th Avenues, next to the back entrance of Orbach’s department store. Orbach’s is long gone, (it’s now a Banana Republic) along with B. Altman’s, Gimbels, and FAO Schwarz, the toy store with the foot piano featured in the movie BIG. 30West.jpg
Every year at Christmas my family would visit all the windows. Very few are left: Macy’s, Lord and Taylor, Saks Fifth Avenue and a couple of others remain and are worth seeing, especially now with all the available technology. Now, the windows are interactive and dazzling. Back then, we would visit the windows, shop, leave our packages at my father’s store and go to eat. Our favorite restaurant, also long gone, was Mamma Leone’s where we would eat until we could not eat anymore. And then we would have warm zeppole, dripping with powdered sugar. To this day, no one has ever made it better, in my opinion. ChryslerBldg.jpg
Just a few blocks away from 30 West 35th, I met Patience and Fortitude, the stone lions who still guard the greatest public library in the world. Near the library is Bryant Park, which was not someplace to go back then. It harbored homeless people and drugs and just wasn’t safe. Now, it’s a destination. Every year the park hosts one of the city’s holiday markets as well as an ice-skating rink and a tree. It’s become part of my new traditions, in addition to visiting the amazing Rockefeller Center tree.
Last week, I went to Bryant Park to the Christmas market. Inspired by the European markets, the vendors there have a wide array of hand made and home made products and you never know what you're going to find. If you go, you are not only supporting small businesses and artisans, you can find unique products like the truffle honey I found.

A few days ago, one of the Christmas markets in Berlin was attacked and shoppers were killed. There was talk of closing all the German markets for the rest of the season. They decided to reopen and yesterday wary shoppers returned. As someone who lives close enough to NYC that I saw the cinders and ash from the Twin Towers when they fell, and as someone who was in Paris during both the Charlie Hebdo and the Bataclan attacks, I’ve thought about fear and terror quite a bit. Fear is real. All over the world there have been irrational, horrific, sometimes random attacks in unexpected places like Nice, a beautiful beach town. Whether I go to New York, to Paris, or to a movie theater, I have decided that if I stop traveling, if I give in to fear, they—whoever they are—-have won. If markets close, if I cower in my home, if I choose fear, then I lose out on so much. And that is not acceptable.

Posted by teethetrav 08:17 Archived in USA Tagged paris berlin nyc macy's christmas_markets bryant_park charlie_hebdo orbach's fao_schwarz bataclan mamma_leone patience_fortitude b.altman's lord&taylor Comments (0)

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