A Vacation in Scotland: Exploring Edinburgh

As June turned to July Pam and I traveled to Scotland for a vacation. We had a great time exploring and experiencing Edinburgh and the Highlands. It was wonderful to spend time with Matt and Lauren. In addition to being excellent company they also gave us great tips and lined up many of the details for us when we were on our own. Thanks to their help we were able to make the most of our visit.

We arrived in Edinburgh on Friday morning (SBP⇒ SFO⇒ YYZ ⇒EDI). After the overnight flight we relied on caffeine and adrenaline, skipped a nap, and explored Edinburgh. During our time in Scotland we saw Edinburgh, Fort Augustus, Inverness, and Aberfeldy. I’m going to split the blog posts up into a few sections: Edinburgh, the Botanic Gardens, the Highlands, and the Drummond Castle gardens.

Here are some highlights from Edinburgh.

We stayed in a great flat near the Grassmarket. The Edinburgh Castle sat above the flat and Grassmarket, very conspicuous and very cool.

The Edinburgh Castle viewed from Grass Market.

The Edinburgh Castle viewed from Grassmarket.

On our first day we went to the National Museum of Scotland. The museum houses all sorts of interesting things. The rooftop garden has some great plants and good views of the city. The main room is also impressive.

Museum.

The National Museum of Scotland main room.

We toured the Edinburgh Castle. From the castle walls the views of the city were impressive. We saw St. Cuthbert’s Church, where we went to a Sunday service with Matt and Lauren. The church is very old and grand.

Saint Cuthbert's.

Saint Cuthbert’s Church, viewed from the Edinburgh Castle.

Edinburgh 10sf

Saint George’s Church, viewed from the Edinburgh Castle.

The Holyrood Palace was not open to visitors because the Queen and Duke of Edinburgh were in residence. We walked to the gate, but we were not able to go inside.

The Holyrood Palace was closed during our visit.

The Holyrood Palace was closed during our visit.

The old streets were fun to walk. The Royal Mile was great, and many lesser known streets were also well worth exploring. So much history.

Walking the streets.

Walking the streets.

On the Royal Mile we saw the David Hume statue with the lucky toe (notice the different color of the big toe, polished by many visitors grabbing it for luck). This is a humorous tradition, considering Hume despised talk of superstition and luck.

The lucky toe.

David Hume and his lucky toe.

While sitting on the top half of a doubledecker bus we got stuck in traffic. But it was a fortuitous traffic jam. Traffic stopped for a parade. And we had a front row (second level) seat.

A parade.

A parade.

Edinburgh 4sf

We hiked to Arthur’s Seat. The hike was a pleasant stroll. At the top we had spectacular 360° views of the coastline, towns, and the city. So much green.

A photo from Arthur's Seat.

A photo from Arthur’s Seat.

As we were hiking up the trail intermittent rain was falling. This resulted in dramatic mixes of clouds and sun.

The view from Arthur's Seat.

The view from Arthur’s Seat, Edinburgh on a sunny, cloudy, rainy, and clear day.

The view from Arthur's Seat.

The  Edinburgh Castle viewed from Arthur’s Seat.

Pam on Arthur's Seat.

Pam looks at Edinburgh from Arthur’s Seat.

On the hike back down we stopped at the ruins of St. Anthony’s Chapel. From there Calton Hill was impressive.

Ruins

Calton Hill viewed from the St. Anthony’s Chapel ruins.

In Edinburgh we saw a very cool clock made from plants.

A clock of plants.

A clock of plants.

Edinburgh is such a fun city to explore.

A picture with the castle.

A picture with the castle.

Another place we visited was Bruntsfield Links. it is one of (if not the) oldest public golf courses in Scotland (and maybbe the world?). I played 36 holes of golf–which was pure bliss.

Golfing!

Golfing at Bruntsfield Links.

Fore!

Fore!

Highlights from the course include sinking a 41 ft chip, getting complimented by an elderly Scottish golfer with a delightful accent (“Great green shot!”) when I hit a green in regulation, and just soaking up how fun it was to be on this old course.

Lining up a putt.

Lining up a putt.

During my time in Edinburgh I often referred to the Scott Monument as the Villain’s Lair (you can see it in my picture of Edinburgh Castle from Arthur’s Seat in the lower right part of the photo). It reminds me of a place where an evil genius would reside. I paid a few pounds to take the staircase to the top. It was probably the narrowest staircase I have ever navigated. The staircase opening shrinks on the ascent, so by the time you reach the top it is very small.

The view from the villain's lair.

The view from the villain’s lair.

These photos and words are just a glimpse of what we experienced in Edinburgh. I’ll follow up with more from the trip soon.

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The 2014-2015 Academic Year Come to a Close

I’ve conquered the piles of grading, attended commencement, and wrapped up the loose ends–the academic year is finished. While that is good news, now that the summer is here the research pressure ramps up. Right now I’m doing planning and purchasing to get things in order, and I’ll be setting up experiments soon.

A commencement selfie. #CalPoly

A photo posted by Benjamin (@barre7) on

Here are a few quick thoughts and notes:

  • I went on a weekend camping trip with friends (and grading) to Sequoia National Park a couple of weeks ago. Good times. . .

The river near Buckeye Flats. Camping in Sequoia National Park.

A photo posted by Benjamin (@barre7) on

Hiking in Sequoia National Park on Saturday.

A photo posted by Benjamin (@barre7) on

Left: The current (6/16/2015) Fan Graph Wins Above Replacement (WAR) for American League 2B All-Star Game candidates.  Right: The current (6/15/2015) leaderboard from the voting (players with no vote totals failed to make the top five for the position).

Exhibit A: (Left) The current (6/16/2015) Fan Graph Wins Above Replacement (WAR) for American League 2B All-Star Game candidates. (Right) The current (6/15/2015) leaderboard from the voting (players with no vote totals failed to make the top five for the position).

  • I’ve been vocal about my dislike for the current form of the MLB All-Star Game. I hate that it determines home field advantage for the World Series. I don’t like the way the voting works. Interleague play has removed the novelty of stars from the two leagues meeting, since it happens weekly now. All Star voting is a popularity contest, and many fans lack the baseball intelligence to cast a responsible vote. Check out the AL 2B current vote count as Exhibit A.
  •  My email inboxes, both personal and work, are in terrible shape. I usually keep them clean and sorted, but this year that fell apart. If anyone has emailed me this year and never received a reply I am sorry–your message might have been buried.

Enjoy the summer!

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The Pacific Coast Highway: Santa Cruz to San Luis Obispo

Last weekend Pam and I met some family members in Oakland for an Athletics game on Saturday night. After the game we went to Vallejo. On the return trip on Sunday we drove the Pacific Coast Highway from Santa Cruz to San Luis Obispo. It was a grey day. The drive was much different from my last trip down Highway 1.

The Pacific Coast Highway in Central California.

The Pacific Coast Highway in Central California.

Miles and miles of curvy roads and beautiful sights.

Miles and miles of curvy roads and beautiful sights.

A bridge on the Pacific Coast Highway.

A bridge on the Pacific Coast Highway.

Sunlight sneaking through the clouds and hitting the Pacific Ocean.

Sunlight sneaking through the clouds and hitting the Pacific Ocean.

We stopped in San Simeon to see elephant seals. They are such strange and fascinating creatures. The large males were not around, but the females and juveniles were plentiful.

Elephant seals sparring.

Elephant seals sparring.

ES4

An elephant seal scratches an itch.

An elephant seal scratches an itch.

Elephant seal negotiations.

Elephant seal negotiations.

Negotiations have broken down.

Negotiations have broken down.

After the seals I got a picture of Hearst Castle and the San Simeon Pier.

Far off Hearst Castle sits by overcast skies.

Far off Hearst Castle sits by overcast skies.

The San Simeon Pier gets a little sunlight.

The San Simeon Pier gets a little sunlight.

It’s a beautiful highway to have so close by. I’m sure we’ll be back to Big Sur for more exploring.

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2Cellos and The Piano Guys at the PAC

This year Pam and I have gone to shows by 2Cellos and The Piano Guys at the Performing Arts Center at Cal Poly. Both are acts that rose to fame via YouTube and now are signed to deals with Sony. Both prominently feature cellos, which is predictable with 2Cellos but might be a surprise when you see the name The Piano Guys.

We saw 2Cellos first, on March 21. The tickets had a warning printed on them that the show was a high volume event. I noticed that a substantial portion of the packed house appeared to be elderly and refined, dressed for a classical concert. The opening song was Benedictus, which is hauntingly beautiful and mellow. And in that moment it seemed like a classical concert.

But that only lasted for approximately seven minutes.

And suddenly Benedictus turned to Where the Streets Have No Name (at high volume). It was now a rock show. Here is a YouTube clip of that transition (but you miss the grandeur of the concert hall swelling with the sound.

And it just went on from there. My personal favorites were the AC/DC songs, with Back in Black and Thunderstruck at the top of the list. By this time many of the refined guests had found the exits, appalled at the classic rock.

The banter between Luka and Stjepan was entertaining, filled with double entendres and ironic rock star pandering. It was fun to watch these masterful musicians perform.  I thoroughly enjoyed the concert.

On May 13 we saw The Piano Guys. This was also a very fun show. It featured more interaction with the crowd, more processed backing tracks, and less classic rock, and lower overall volume. Jon and Steven showed a polished showmanship that was enjoyable. I didn’t see anyone walk out of this show. The set was considerably longer than the 2Cellos set.

The percussive elements of The Piano Guys were elaborate and fun.

Each show had its merits. I’m glad I went to both of them. I must say, however, that the classic rock made me smile a bit more than the pop songs and classical music. Cellos are wonderful instruments.

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An Engagement Anniversary on the Beach

IMG_2904Last year on Pismo Beach under the stars I asked Pam to marry me. As I recall I played it rather cool, all composed and stoic. I even have a picture to prove it. Okay, so I might have smiled just a little bit.

Pismo Beach has hosted all sorts of fun and good memories for us. We go to soak up the sun, play beach games, hit the water, or stroll along the coast. When family and friends visit us we always take them to Pismo Beach.

A few months after getting engaged we returned to Pismo Beach for engagement photos.

Engagement-5

I decided to walk our path along the beach and visit our engagement site tonight, on the one year anniversary. Though Pam and I are on different continents right now, it was good to remember that evening. I’m so happy we have each other. Life has been richer and fuller with her. I took some photos as I walked and reminisced.

pismobeach-2

pismobeach-1

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Intimacy

Together,
Silent harmony,
Separate but combined,
The lovers quietly embrace.

Darkness,
Impaired sight,
Heightens the effect
Of a gentle caress.

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