Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Autumn colors in Scotland

Okay, okay, it's no longer autumn. I get it. It's the winter solstice, and I've dawdled too long on collecting all these photos for a post.

And now we're all in the mode for winter and the holidays. It's time for pictures of snow, colorful decorations, beautiful families gathered 'round a roaring hearth.

Too bad, dagnabbit. These are some pretty pictures, and that's what counts, right?

We had a fairly cold and wet summer in Scotland, followed by a relatively warm and sunny autumn. According to the never-wrong internets, these are good conditions for a colorful fall display. Where the autumn colors on America's east coast tend to get a dazzling fall display, the usual colors in Scotland seem drab by comparison.

Not this year.

Abbotsford in autumn
Abbotsford, the home of Sir Walter Scott.
Generally, in the Scottish lowlands the leaves don't start to change colors until late September. Many trees don't give a hint of turning until well into October. Here's a waterfall on the River Clyde, the Corra Linn (in Scots, "linn" means waterfall), and the nearby UNESCO World Heritage site of New Lanark, at the end of September:

Corra Linn on the River Clyde
The Corra Linn falls, at 84 feet, rank as Scotland's fourth highest.
New Lanark mills
New Lanark, a UNESCO World Heritage site, is just a short distance downstream from the Corra Linn waterfall.
I mentioned we enjoyed a healthy dollop of sunshine this fall. Here was a sunny day in Edinburgh in mid-October:

blue skies over Arthur's Seat
Not every autumn in Scotland gets much blue sky. But this year blue skies made some starring appearances, like this day over Arthur's Seat in Edinburgh.
autumn colors around Craigmillar Castle
A vibrant day around Craigmillar Castle in Edinburgh.
And of course our autumn showcased a smorgasbord of color:

colorful contrast at Abbotsford
I loved the contrast of Abbotsford's gray walls with the color-dripping flora surrounding it.
sunset in Glasgow
I shot this glorious sunset from our house in Glasgow.
waterfall in Glencoe
Without many trees, the ground cover in Glencoe takes on a starring role.
one of the Three Sisters of Glencoe
Kate organized the British Society of Veterinary Pathology's annual meeting, and snagged her former professor from NC State as the headliner. His visit was a great excuse to take one last jaunt into Glencoe — here at the Three Sisters and the highlands before we moved to Bristol.
As you can see, not every day was sunny with blue skies. Gray, cloudy, and ominous are more frequent autumn descriptors. One day in October, I tried to visit Inchmahome Priory, a ruin on an island in the middle of the Lake of Monteith. (Incidentally, here's a great trivia question for you: What is the only lake in Scotland? The Lake of Monteith. Everything else is called a loch.) It was so foggy that the boats wouldn't take me to the priory. I had to come back later in the week.

fog over the Lake of Monteith
Fog, like here at the Lake of Monteith, is a regular morning feature of Scottish autumn mornings.
Never fear, however. Blue skies made sure to blast through on other mornings:

Dunfermline Abbey in autumn
Dunfermline Abbey holds the tomb of Robert the Bruce. Note the "King Robert" carved into the central tower.
Melrose Abbey, one of the glorious Border Abbey ruins, is gorgeous at any time of year. But I think it's at its best in autumn. Take a gander at the fall colors around the abbey:

Melrose Abbey with autumn leaves
Melrose Abbey with scattered autumn leaves.
enjoying a beautiful fall afternoon
Kate and Jackson share a giggle on the abbey's grounds.
Melrose Abbey with fall colors
Fall colors surround Melrose Abbey.
One of Edinburgh's best places for autumn leaves is the Princes Street Gardens, which provides a buffer between Edinburgh's Old Town and New Town. I strolled through at the tail end of October, a bit after the fall peak but nonetheless still vivid:

autumn splendor in Princes Street Gardens in Edinburgh
Above the gardens looms the Royal Mile, with the tower of St. Giles' Cathedral piercing the skyline.
Edinburgh Castle from Princes Street Gardens in autumn
A section of Edinburgh Castle peeks through the fall foliage.
In early November, I made a last few excursions around Glasgow before we moved to Bristol. These final two photos I took with my old iPhone:

autumn trees along the River Kelvin in Glasgow
Colorful trees surround the River Kelvin in Glasgow. By this point of fall, we had used up all our blue sky.
Kelvingrove Museum in autumn
I love the rich color of the Kelvingrove Museum, especially in autumn.
And that was our third and final autumn in Scotland, definitely the most colorful of the three. While I'm looking forward to new places to explore here in southwestern England, I'm bittersweet about leaving beloved Scotland behind.

It'll be hard for next autumn to compete.

Thursday, December 17, 2015

And we have moved to . . .

Our expat journey continues!

We hadn't planned on moving. At least, not yet.

{Ed.'s note: That implies you actually have a plan.}

Okay, true enough, we don't have a plan. But when we first moved overseas, back in June 2013, we assumed we'd be in Scotland for at least three years. Kate's contract with the University of Glasgow was for three years, and at the end of those three years i.e., next June our toddler would have turned five and been ready to begin school. We figured June 2016 would be an excellent time to take stock of our lives and see how this expat adventure was working out.

Then Kate developed a crush.

Actually, she's had the crush for a long time. Years. Since before we ever moved overseas, she had developed a crush on a small veterinary diagnostic company. (I've been assured the crush is only for the company, and not for its owner.) She loves their fantastic work and clientele. She loves that although they are a small business, they nonetheless have (inter)national leaders in the field of anatomic pathology who produce good scholarship and give talks at major conventions. She loves that they're so well respected in the field that the Royal Veterinary College in London sends its pathology residents to spend as much as a year getting training at the company. She loves that the job advertisement indicated baking skills were not required, but definitely a bonus.

She really loves that they all stop work every day and have tea, and every Friday is "cake Friday." And that she'll get her own mug with her name on it, although not until she's been there long enough to earn it.

It's the little things.

Our new home in Bristol, England
Our new home, a nineteenth century Victorian row house. (Photo by leasing agency.)
{Ed.'s note: Okay, get on with it. Where is this new job?}

I thought you'd never ask. We have moved to    .  .  .
                                                                                                            Bristol, England!

Bristol on map of Britain
Bristol on map of Britain (link)
We left bonnie Scotland for the auld enemy, England. Some of you might think we've simply moved south within the same country (the United Kingdom). In the view of many Scots, though, we left one country and moved to another. I'm glum about leaving Glasgow and the lovely nation of Scotland. We truly loved our time there.

But a new city beckoned.

And what a city it is. According to frequent rankings and polls, Bristol grades as the U.K.'s best city to live in. It's funky. Artsy. Home of renowned street artist Banksy. Home of multiple Oscar-winning studio Aardman Animations, which created characters like Wallace and Gromit and Shaun the Sheep. Home of the illustrious Bristol Old Vic Theatre School, founded by Sir Laurence Olivier and whose alumni include Jeremy Irons, Gene Wilder, Olivia Colman, Patrick Stewart, Stephen Dillane, and the incomparable Daniel Day Lewis. Home of iconic engineering marvels, like the Clifton Suspension Bridge. Home of numerous festivals, including, because the area is so gorgeous, an international hot air balloon extravaganza.

Bristolians get roughly half the yearly rainfall as Glaswegians. And Bristol enjoys approximately 360 more hours of sunshine per year than Glasgow, which equates to a full month more of sunny days. When you're coming from damp Scotland, these aren't insignificant bonuses.

Bristol's best draw, to my mind, is its ideal placement to explore so much of England and Wales. We're on the threshold of: the Cotswolds; the wilds of southern Wales; the rolling countryside of Somerset, with its cider and Cheddar (as in, the actual birthplace town of Cheddar cheese); the moors of Devon; the beaches of Cornwall; and UNESCO world heritage sites like Bath and Avebury and Stonehenge.

With our 19th century Victorian row house, we've seriously upped our Britishness. The house comes complete with ten-foot ceilings, original stained glass, wide-plank floors, and, well, not one goddamn closet. Moreover, we now live within a stone's throw of three sporting complexes lawn bowling, grass court tennis, and a cricket pitch. It's as though we've moved into a British cliché.

Our kitchen, as lived in by our predecessors. (Photo by leasing agency.)
Our move to Bristol has forced a painful but necessary scantiness in blog posts here. For the past few months, we've been preoccupied with the move — finding a place to live, figuring out schooling for Jackson (kids in England start at age 4, unlike in Scotland where they start at age 5), packing boxes and arranging movers, and on and on. Plus, ever since we saw our move on the horizon, we spent every available day in Scotland traveling and sightseeing and absorbing as much as we could. I wanted to devote time to experiencing Scotland instead of writing about it.

{Ed.'s note: Now that you've left, will you no longer blog about Scotland?}

Heck, no! I have oodles and tons and reams and gobs of fascinating stuff in Scotland still to write about. Truly, years worth. Especially at my current snail's pace. Indeed, Scotland will still feature very prominently here. I loved it and have much more to share. England and Wales, however, will now become major players here, as well.

pregnant with the lil' scribbler
Kate at 5.5 months pregnant with the new lil' scribbler.
Our carpe negotium (i.e., seize the job) move to England has once again stretched our boundaries and expanded our expat lives. While our first move, to Glasgow, always had a possible deadline of three years, this second move, to Bristol, feels like a long-term stay. We're only three to four years from getting our U.K. citizenship, which is a huge goal we're eyeing. That'll give us a multitude of options and advantages for our futures, particularly for Jackson and the new baby on the way. A passport from the U.K. provides European Union citizenship (assuming the U.K. doesn't boneheadedly vote to leave in an upcoming referendum), as well as the many perks of being members of the Commonwealth.

After two and a half years, expat life is still relatively new to us. Living outside the U.S. for a few years seemed adventurous; we were ready to color outside the lines. Now that we're earnestly contemplating getting foreign citizenship? Well, we've gone from scribbling on the page to drafting an entirely new picture.

UPDATE: I've gotten a few inquiries about whether we'd give up our U.S. citizenship. Getting U.K. citizenship doesn't require giving up U.S. citizenship. We have no intention of relinquishing our U.S. passports.

Wednesday, November 4, 2015

You don't know Jack (#8)

Like all toddlers, Jackson provides the occasional nuggets of observation or wisdom or humor. These are generally unprompted, often silly or nonsensical, and usually come out of the blue with no context.

The kid seems to be feeling quite full of himself. Here are some recent ones:

Narcissus meets his reflection
 Fancy meeting you here, Narcissus.

•     "You know, Dad, it's much quieter around here without all of Mommy's talking."

•     "Next year, can we go on X Factor? I want to sing Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star. They would like that."

•     On eating: "I think I'm the slowest boy in the whole world." It sometimes feels like that, kid.

•     "Mommy, you and I need a long time before we reach Daddy's age. A long, long, long, long, long, long, long time."

•     "I'm much more excited about having a baby than you guys are!"

Waiting for mom and dad at Abbotsford
Why are mom and dad so slow?

•     To Kate: "I know much, much more than you. And I am more advanced than you. And my memory is far better than yours."

•     "I bet my great, great, great grandfather was the 'Star of the Week' at school."

•     "Mom, your bum is too big for this seat." Well, it does happen to be a toddler seat, you little bastard.

•     "I may still be little, but I have BIG plans."

•     "Hey, dad, do you like toots? Do you? Do you? Guess what . . . "

"Daddy, can I grow up to be a superhero?" Of course you can, dear.

Thursday, October 29, 2015

Spine-tingling tales from Scotland

The old Alloway church
Scotland delights in its tales of misery, mystery, and misfortune. Some tales are historical, like the 15th century "Black Dinner" which inspired Games of Thrones' famous "Red Wedding." Some are mythical, such as the elusive Loch Ness Monster or the dangerous kelpies. Others are fictional, like the Gruffalo.

And some are ghostly and macabre. Trickster faeries. Cutty Sark and the hellish legions. Damn near any Scottish castle worthy of its name has at least one ghost. You might spot the Pink Lady of Stirling, the harpist of Inverary, the handless ghost of Cawdor, a pacing William Wallace at Ardrossan, or perhaps Moaning Myrtle of Hogwarts.

Last year, I collected a few of my favorite stories. As Halloween approaches this year, here are some Scottish tales to get your spine tingling:

 Old Man of Storr and the faerie king 
    Old Man of Storr and the faerie king

 Tam o' Shanter and the Brig o' Doon  
         Tam o' Shanter and the Brig o' Doon

 The ghost piper of Edinburgh Castle 
    The ghost piper of Edinburgh Castle

 The devil plays cards at Glamis Castle 
         The devil plays cards at Glamis Castle

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Scotland's plastic bag charge, one year later

Yesterday marked Scotland's first anniversary of requiring retailers to charge customers five pence (5p) for plastic bags. And generally speaking, the news is outstanding.

Over the past year, the number of plastic bags handed out by retailers in has plummeted by approximately 80%. These statistics come from the main supermarket stores, such as Tesco, Waitrose, Morrisons, and so on, though many other retailers have also slashed their plastic bag use. At present, no good figures are available from retailers other than the grocery chains.

plastic bag / carrier bag / single-use bag
This 80% reduction indicates a tremendous drop, and it's a huge victory against pollution and carbon emissions. Eliminating roughly 650 million bags per year is amazing, quite frankly. (Actually, once you calculate the amount of plastic in reusable bags and so-called "bags for life," the reduction in plastic is actually closer to 500 million. Still, that's fantastic.) Scotland has followed the lead of Northern Ireland and Wales, which both showed a similar drop in plastic bag usage. England, for its part, began its own 5p charge earlier this month, and we can assume it'll have similar statistics.

While it's an accomplishment to be cheered, not everything is perfect. As I noted last year, the retailers saw an 80% drop within the first month of the new charge. After folks adjusted in the first month, however, no further percentage reduction has been achieved. Now, to be reasonable, we all might occasionally forget our reusable bags and need a plastic bag or two in a pinch. But that doesn't account for anywhere near the 150 million plastic bags given out by the grocery stores this past year.

In other words, there remains a portion of the population undeterred by the 5p charge and who see no reason to change. These are hardcore users of the bags, and changing their behavior will be the key to future reductions.

So, while the 80% reduction is terrific, there's room to improve.

With England at last on board, the U.K. finally has started to catch up with the rest of Europe.

reusable shopping bags from Waitrose
Reusable shopping bags from Waitrose, a major British grocery chain.

Saturday, October 10, 2015

New scribbler joining our team

Recently, posting has been kinda . . . sparse . . . here at Coloring Without Borders.

{Ed.'s note: That's a bit of an understatement, huh?}

Partly, that's due to our fanatical traveling. We haven't been out of the country, as was our original plan. But we have ventured all over Scotland these past couple of months, squeezing eking milking our late summer and early fall for every drop of Scottish wonder we haven't yet experienced. And, for good measure, we threw in a long jaunt to southern England.

Nearly every weekend has been a day trip, overnight trip, or three-day weekend. And that's not counting a horde of midweek trips while the kid is in nursery. Ye olde family car has seen several thousand miles of the U.K. in just the last couple of months. And with British petrol prices, oh my.

So much travel goodness to share in the months ahead!

But the travel, remarkably, has been the least of our preoccupations. Several other items on the agenda recently bellied up to the top. Not least, this one:

ultrasound of the new lil' scribbler
The new lil' scribbler.
He's scheduled to join us on 29 February 2016. A pretty rare start date, I think. Unfortunately, he gets some flexibility regarding his arrival, though not if it were up to me.

And yes, he is a he. Damn it.

Woe is me. All I wanted was to have girls.

Our news doesn't end with just the new bébé. More updates to come. Soon(ish).

Monday, August 31, 2015

Monday Exposure: Dancing House in Prague

Dancing House in Prague
Prague's modern architectural masterpiece: the Dancing House.
In a city renowned for its abundance of medieval, Baroque, and Art Nouveau architecture, the completion of the "Dancing House" in Prague caused quite a stir.

In the Dancing House, Ginger leans into FredThe previous building was bombed by the United States at the end of World War II, and its rubble finally cleared in 1960. Václav Havel, a famed dissident during the nation's communist era, had lived in the building adjacent to the destroyed site since his childhood. Havel's neighbor, architect Vlado Milunić, suggested using the empty corner site for a building in two parts, as though in dialogue with each other.

After Havel became the Czech Republic's first president in late 1989, the project got off the ground. Milunić eventually secured the services of renowned Canadian-American architect Frank Gehry, who designed the building in his inimitable style.

Gehry glibly nicknamed the building "Fred and Ginger," referencing dancers Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers. Milunić, on the other hand, saw the building as a reflection of his nation's discourse as it left behind the totalitarian Communist regime and explored its new parliamentary democracy. According to Milunić, Gehry later had misgivings about importing a Hollywood theme to the Prague building.

Nowadays, most people refer to it as the Dancing House.

The eight-legged female figure leans in toward the male. Her steel and glass dress sweeps out from her. The male figure is more solid yet still light on his feet, with 99 individually-shaped concrete panels undulating its windows down the block. A steel mop of hair swings in the breeze atop his head.

The Dancing House, unfortunately, is not a home. Nor is it open to visitors. It serves, rather, as office space. However, an upscale restaurant occupies the top floor, offering fantastic views over the Vltava River toward Prague Castle in the distance.

Completed in 1996, the Dancing House was not instantly beloved. But now, two decades on, most residents and visitors acknowledge it as a late-20th century masterpiece. It is the newest gem in a treasure-trove of gorgeous Prague architecture.

Dancing House at the end of the Art Nouveau block
The Dancing House overlooks the Vltava River in Prague.

Thursday, August 6, 2015

Busy travel season

Tomorrow we set off for our latest adventure: the far north of Scotland. After an overnight stop in Inverness, we'll head up the eastern coast to the tippy-top of Britain; spend eight nights in the Orkney Islands; take a driving tour across the northern coast of Scotland; head down the northwestern coast with a couple of nights in Ullapool; and then (sadly) return home to Glasgow.

This trip has me so excited, I'm nearing the realm of euphoria.

Magnet board sailing boat
We'll enjoy many boat rides among the islands of Orkney.
Trips like this keep me busy for weeks in advance. Planning, planning, planning. I'm a natural planner — or, at least, I was raised to be one — and that curse trait goes into overdrive when a trip is looming. Seriously, I spend hours upon hours upon hours researching where to go, what to do, events and festivals, housing, eating, photographing . . . and somebody slap me! or else I'll abandon all other activities.

{Ed.'s note: Like blogging, for example?}


Besides our twelve-day excursion tomorrow, we've also been gallivanting around elsewhere. For example, we just returned last Friday from five days in Prague.

And a week before Prague, we spent a weekend in the southwestern Scottish borders.

Three weeks before that, we toured northeastern England for five days, visiting places like Durham, Bamburgh, and the holy isle of Lindisfarne. Even hiked a glorious stretch of Hadrian's Wall.

A month before that we were in Ireland, part of our three-week visit from Nana and Grampa Bill.

Next month, we'll likely fly off somewhere. Possibly more eastern Europe. Maybe somewhere warm. Perhaps even northern Africa. Must start researching, must buy guidebook(s), begin internet sear -

{Ed.'s note:

slap gif

Thanks. I needed that.

Topping all the planning and traveling, we're in the midst of some professional and personal fermentation. All good stuff, but nonetheless time-consuming.

How's that for a teaser?

Hang tight, folks. I shall return soon soonish promptly eventually.

Saturday, July 25, 2015

Playing (on) the Old Course at St. Andrews

Putting on the Old Course in St. Andrews

Earlier this week, the Old Course at St. Andrews finished hosting the 144th British Open. Scotland, of course, is the birthplace of golf, which has been played at St. Andrews since the 1400s. As one of the two sports invented by Scotland, golf looms large in the nation's sporting psyche and draws many thousands of visitors each year to play its famed courses.

The most famous course, and by far the biggest draw, is the Old Course in St. Andrews. Sportscasters intone solemnly about the Old Course as the "home" of golf. Experts expound on intricacies of Scottish winds and dreich weather, of devilish sand bunkers, of the blind tee shot on the "road hole" at the 17th. Golfers make pilgrimages to the Old Course, scheduling trips a year in advance to secure a coveted slot to play.

Holding a flag on the Old Course
Crazy old man seizes the flag on the 17th hole.
Many folks don't realize, however, that it's easy to play a round on the course.

{Ed.'s note: Really? Easy to play a round?}

Okay, that's not quite true. It's easy to play around on the Old Course. We've been to St. Andrews three times, and each time have frolicked on the links.

Yep, the Old Course is actually a public park

On most Sundays, the Old Course is open to the public. Which means you can wander around freely. Take a picnic. Walk the dog. Sunbathe. Throw a frisbee.

Roaming the Old Course with dog and beach ball
Bring a ball and let your dog roam (under control).
The right of the public to enjoy the links goes back to a charter set out by an archbishop in the mid-1500s. It's a "right" with limits — for the other days of the week, obviously, the course is reserved for golf — but nonetheless you have a good chance of showing up on Sunday and finding the course open.

The Royal and Ancient Golf Club
The Royal and Ancient Golf Club at the first tee.
Locals and tourists alike stroll the course on Sundays. Some use it as an easy shortcut to get to the beach just beyond its edge. Others play fetch with their dogs. A handful take guided tours, either for an hour (my choice) or up to three hours. Many are content just to snap photos, smell the sea breeze, and head off for ice cream.

As a surprise to many, the Old Course, as well as several other companion courses in St. Andrews, is not controlled by the Royal and Ancient Golf Club (R&A), which sits at the first tee. Indeed, the R&A is only one of several golf clubs with access to the courses. Even local hotels can offer weekend packages and tee times.

Instead, the courses are managed by the St. Andrews Links, a public trust. Unlike a fiercely private club like Augusta with the Masters course, St. Andrews Links must provide access to any golfers with a sufficient handicap (24 for men; 36 for women). Some tee times are reserved months in advance, but nearly half are won by lottery 48 hours in advance. And it's possible to show up in the morning and squeeze into a duo or trio, who are supposed to "warmly welcome" a singleton or duo into their group.

Heather, hills, and Hell

For the times when it hosts the Open, the Old Course tends to get tamed and manicured for television consumption. But at other times, the gorse and heather are allowed to grow a bit. Scottish courses are generally less trimmed and proper than American courses. The rough is actually rough. With few landscaped trees, the wind can gust and swirl. And the frequent rain can leave spots boggy.

Gorse and heather on the Old Course
The Old Course can look a bit scruffy.
Moreover, the topography of the land determines the layout of the course. That's the reverse of most U.S. courses, which are designed and then landscaped into place. Scottish courses abound with awkward slopes, inconvenient patches of rough, and undulating greens.

As one tour guide told me, American courses are manscaped for ease and beauty, while Scottish courses are for men.

The most interesting feature on the Old Course, however, are the bunkers. All 112 of them. Each one named.

"The Spectacles." "The Sands of Nakajima." "The Coffins."


Hell bunker on the Old Course in St. Andrews
The bunker on the 14th hole called simply, "Hell."
The size, shape, and location of many of these bunkers were not predetermined. In fact, many have arisen naturally over the centuries. A good number were created by, of all things, sheep. Before the introduction of lawnmowers, sheep were often used to trim the course. Those same sheep often burrowed down into the sandy soil to escape the hard-blowing winds from the North Sea, a process which readily can be seen on the Isle of Iona's golf course.

Sheep creating bunkers on the Isle of Iona's golf course
Sheep range freely over Iona's golf course, creating their own bunkers as they burrow out of the wind.
Bunkers on the Old Course
Bunker cluster.
Some bunker walls on the Old Course reach as high as ten feet, though most seem to be roughly six or seven feet deep. The bunkers are notorious for golfers trying — and failing — to escape them by trying to hit over the high walls instead of backwards onto the fairway. One of golf's greatest golfers, Bobby Jones, hit into a bunker on the 11th, made four failed attempts to get his ball out, and simply walked off the course. The famed road hole bunker on the 17th is nicknamed "The Sands of Nakajima" after golfer Tsuneyuki Nakajima was tied for the lead in the third round in 1978, only to fall out of contention when it took him four shots to get out of the bunker.
Bunker on the Old Course
The bunker walls are built with stacked turf.

18 holes and not one more

Until quite recently, the R&A governed the game of golf worldwide, except for Mexico and the United States. (Nowadays, an offshoot of the R&A jointly issues the "Rules of Golf" in conjunction with the United States Golf Association.) Back in the 19th century, the R&A began standardizing and codifying the rules of golf.

One of the most significant reasons for why the Old Course reigns as the "home" of golf stems from its role in standardizing golf courses at 18 holes. In the early days, golf courses could be any number of holes, from five or six to 25 or more. In the 1700s, the Old Course itself was 22 holes, generally played by heading out for 11 holes and then turning around and playing the same holes backward toward the clubhouse. Incidentally, even today there are seven "double greens," which means fourteen of the holes share a green with another hole.

Eventually, the Old Course's first four holes and its last four holes were deemed too short. The members took these eight shorter holes and combined them into four.

18th tee marker on the Old Course
The tee marker for the Old Course's 18th hole.
And thus the Old Course settled on 18 holes.

With the Old Course's role as one of the rotating hosts for the British Open, and the R&A's role as the governor of golf rules, 18 holes became standardized across the world.

Go ahead, strike a pose on the Swilcan Bridge

Everyone does it, even the pros.

Built at least 700 years ago, the Swilcan Bridge originally helped shepherds guide their sheep (remember those bunkers?) over a creek. Today, it guides golfers and tourists over the channeled Swilcan Burn on the 18th hole.

Champions at the Open pose on the apex of the bridge, usually with the 18th green and R&A building in the background. Jack Nicklaus bid his farewell to golf atop the bridge. Tom Watson, on retiring after his final round, kissed it.

The pose on the bridge has become an iconic scene, one of the most famous in golf, and of all sports.

You can pose, too.

Conquer the Old Course . . . well, actually . . . er . . . its putting green

So you're not a real golfer, but you still want to play on the Old Course?

You're in luck. To the side sits the Himalayas, a miniature golf course set on the rippling hills of the real Old Course.

Putting on the Himalayas at the Old Course
Sadly, Nana didn't read the break to the right.
Operated by the St. Andrews Ladies Putting Club, the Himalayas gives you a taste of playing the real course. Truth be told, making putts on the Himalayas is harder than putting on the Old Course itself. No joke. Your putting line may break both left and right, along with ascending a hill and trickling down the far side. Pin positions change daily, and the crew seems to delight in ensuring no one will make a hole-in-one. Be ready for three putts. And four putts. And five.

Okay, maybe a six, too. Ahem.

Playing mini-golf on the Himalayas in St. Andrews
Grampa Bill didn't make this putt.
{Ed.'s note: C'mon, admit it. You needed more than six.}

Fine. I got a frickin' eight on a hole.

The shame.

Toddler with an unorthodox golf grip
Unsurprisingly, this unorthodox golf grip does not lead to good putting.
What'll it cost you to play a round of either nine or 18 holes? All of £2. Note that kids under the age of six are only allowed to play nine holes — which, if you've ever played golf with a toddler, you'll agree is plenty.

St. Andrews is one of Scotland's most charming small towns. It has a gorgeous beach; a fabulous set of cathedral and castle ruins; an ancient university spread through town; cliffside views; a small aquarium; and, of course, golf. For many, the Old Course is a draw all by itself. Whether you walk the entire course, merely pose for a photo-op on the Swilcan Bridge, or play a round on the Himalayas, a stop at the "home of golf" is a must-see if you're visiting St. Andrews.

Studying the lie for a putt on the Himalayas