Thursday, April 30, 2015

Glasgow spring

We're in the full bloom of spring here in Glasgow. Finally.

Flowers have been popping up for a month, and now the trees have grudgingly begun to sprout leaves. Over the past several weeks we've been spending more time outdoors — it's getting progressively warmer, drier, and sunnier. Since our beloved dog, Mattie, passed away last autumn I haven't been out quite as much as I have been in the past.

Life without a dog has made me more sedentary, and that's something I've gotta correct. So I've been doing some wandering lately, occasionally capturing a few springtime photos.

St. Andrew's suspension bridge in Glasgow
A lovely footbridge over the River Clyde. Built in 1856, St. Andrew's Suspension Bridge replaced a busy ferry boat used by factory workers.
As I noted last year, springtime here
is a slow burn, teasing, tempting, flashing a smile and demurely lowering her eyes. Spring has been tantalizing us, seducing us, for weeks. Until the last few days, she's mostly been raising her petticoat and exposing her ankles. Now, it seems, she's ready for her miniskirt.
In the garden of Pollock House
Amidst the gardens of Pollock House.
Jackson got his face painted at the vet school's annual "rodeo." It was supposed to be a dinosaur, but looks more like a crocodile.
A bit of fireman beefcake helping the wee ones spray the hoses at the rodeo. Water is Scotland's most abundant natural resource.
Trees blooming in front of the Templeton Carpet Factory
A few weeks ago I posted a picture of this building, the old Templeton Carpet Factory, and the trees were barren.
Drying poles on the Glasgow Green
Adjacent to the Templeton Carpet Factory are these drying poles on the Glasgow Green. Going back to medieval times, the Freemen of Glasgow hold the right to dry clothing on the Green. These drying poles were installed in Victorian times, and used regularly into the 1970s.
Mute swan on the Forth & Clyde canal
The mute swans along our stretch of the Forth & Clyde canal are back to their egg laying. Hopefully, however, they'll have more success than last year.
University of Glasgow's main campus
Flowers bloom in front of the University of Glasgow's main campus.
After the long Scottish winter of rain and dark, spring can never come soon enough. Of course, as I write this it's currently hailing outside. And earlier this week, we actually had a short burst of snow.

Some of you gentle readers have been enjoying spring for months now. We're inching along, bloom by bloom.

Saturday, April 25, 2015

Wondrous travel

Extraordinary travel produces childlike wonder

Not all travel inspires awe.

But if you've done a bit of travel and aren't having any genuine "wow" moments . . . you're doing it wrong.

Whether it's a majestic landscape, a Michelangelo sculpture, or a glorious cathedral, something should've made you exclaim, "Whoa!" Maybe it was climbing the Great Wall in China, watching a lion prowl in the Serengeti, or catching your first foggy glimpse of Machu Picchu. Maybe you saw the eerie glow of the aurora borealis, the moon rise behind the Taj Mahal, or the sun set off the Thai coast.

Whatever your moment — and hopefully lots of moments — causing that tingle down your spine, it's an experience which will last a lifetime.

If you haven't had some "wows," it's your fault.

Some of us have "wows" all the time. I can feel a wow while peering at the brushstrokes of a Rembrandt. A tingle from glimpsing the Duomo rising above the Florentine skyline. A pinch-me moment helping an old woman plant rice in a paddy. The kid in me feels a rush any time I approach a crumbled ruin or a prehistoric stone circle. Scenic hikes across dramatic landscapes can leave me euphoric.

You should feel the same. Not at my moments, necessarily. But at whatever lights your fire. If you're not finding those moments when you're traveling, it's your fault.

Nativity facade of the Sagrada Família in Barcelona, Spain
The Nativity Facade of Sagrada Família in Barcelona, Spain.
Let me repeat that: it's your fault.

Either the fault lies within you, or you're picking the wrong places to travel.

Perhaps you're not opening yourself to the moment. You're too cool. You're too preoccupied with getting to the next place on your itinerary. You saw it once on television and it looks a little smaller in real life than you anticipated. Are you paying enough attention? Study the details. Ask the guides. Step into the experience.

Maybe you don't know enough of the history. You've traveled all that way yet remain ignorant or oblivious of the wondrous place you're visiting. Travel means a whole lot more when you've done a bit of legwork to appreciate it. Stop being a dullard.

On the other hand, perhaps the fault isn't in your soul. Maybe you're just not going to the right places. Your husband drags you to museums but you want to sail the Mediterranean. It's cheaper to fly to Mexico but you long to go on safari in Africa. You lack the courage to venture into southeast Asia. You don't have the chutzpah to take a long rail journey by yourself. Your cojones need to grow before you take that trek in the Amazon.

Screw up your courage and take the journey you've dreamed about. You know the one: the journey you've wanted to go on since you were a kid. The town your grandad told you about. The gauzy picture in the magazine. The gorgeous ice cave in the movie. The maybe-someday-I'll-get-to-go-there journey. That one.

If you find yourself taking the same kind of trip over and over, or to the same region of the world, perhaps it has gone stale for you. Change up your game plan. Another fancy capital city? Try an island in the South Pacific. Another long weekend away? Bank some vacation time and immerse yourself in a culture for three weeks. Another family gathering during the holidays? Skip them this year and rent a Swiss mountain chalet.

Great Wall of China
Atop the Great Wall of China.
Now is the time. Make the memories, drag the kids, take plenty of photos.

A traveler lacking some "wows" is a fixable problem. It ain't rocket surgery. It simply requires the will to make yourself available.

Go find your "wows." Head for the summit of Mt. Kilimanjaro; behold the Hagia Sophia; scuba dive the Great Barrier Reef; plunge into those Egyptian tombs; geek out on the Harry Potter film locations; ride San Francisco's cable cars; glory in an evening with the Berlin Philharmonic; feel the squeeze at the Shibuya Crossing in Tokyo; brave the cold of Antarctica.

The world is full of extraordinary places and people.

Wherever it is, go find your sense of wonder.

Monday, April 20, 2015

Monday Exposure: Musée du Louvre by the numbers

Painting the interior of the Musée du Louvre

                9,300,000          visitors in 2014

                            70          percent of visitors who are foreign

                              1          rank in list of most-visited museums in the world

                1,678,790          Facebook likes (as of 20 April 2015)

                        1202          year the medieval Louvre fortress was completed under King Phillip II

                        1546          year King Francis I began removal of the fortress and renovations for palace

                        1793          year the Musée du Louvre opened to the public

Venus de Milo
Venus de Milo
                          537          paintings on display in 1793 (along with 194 other objects of art)

                     35,000+        works of art on display in 2015

                    380,000+       total number of works in collection

                        9,000         age, in years, of oldest object in museum

                        4.375         square feet of museum's most popular object, the Mona Lisa

Mona Lisa crowd at the Musée du Louvre
Just a few people want to see the Mona Lisa.
                    652,293         square feet of exhibition space

                 4,305,564         square feet of entire Louvre palace complex

                        2,410         windows in museum

                        3,000         locks in museum

                      10,000         stairs in museum

Room in the Musée du Louvre
One of the many halls/rooms in the Louvre.
             452,000,000         dollars (approximate) for museum's yearly budget

                             50         percent (approximate) of budget paid by French government

                               0         cost to visit museum for children under age 18

                        2,000         employees (approximate)

                        3,200         LED lights to illuminate exterior of museum

Louvre Museum at night. (Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.)

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Scotland's new drunk driving law is dampening its economic growth

Talisker 18 year old single malt whiskyScots aren't drinking enough. They're drinking so little, in fact, that they're harming their economy.

A new drunk driving law explained here — came into effect last December 5. Under this new law, Scotland lowered its blood alcohol content limit from 0.08 (like the rest of the U.K.) to 0.05. Men will likely meet the new BAC limit with a single pint of beer, and women with only half a pint. The new limit works effectively as a ban on driving with any alcohol in a driver's system, and can come into play even on the morning after drinking.

In lowering its BAC limit, Scotland has fallen into line with the vast majority of European nations. Scotland's penalties, however, are more severe and a bit less nuanced than many of those nations. There's no distinction made between a BAC of 0.05 and a BAC of 0.10, or 0.15, or 0.20. If you hit the 0.05 mark after a single pint, you're treated the same as someone falling down drunk.

Not surprisingly, the new limit has made people more reluctant to have a drink when they're out, whether at a pub, restaurant, sporting event, or otherwise. It certainly has reined me in from having a single pint or glass of wine on many of the occasions when we've gone out to dinner.

Undoubtedly, the new law has improved road safety. While Scottish police found a total of 434 drink-drivers (as they're called here) over Christmas and Hogmanay in 2013-14, they found just 351 during the same period this past holiday season, right after passage of the new law. That's a 19% drop from the previous year. Granted, only 20 of those 351 (i.e., 6%) actually ran afoul of the new lower BAC limit. Still, the new law had an impact.

The secondary effect of the new law, though, has been an economic sucker punch. Survey results in February of 400 alcohol-licensed establishments, including bars, restaurants, golf clubs, and hotels, found that sales decreased by 10% to as much as 60% in the first two months after the new limit's introduction.

A leading Scottish economist this week published a report stating that Scotland's economic growth has been dampened by the new drunk driving law. Relying on a purchasing managers index (PMI), the economist noted the hospitality sector had suffered a marked decrease in spending. Although employment rose, new business increased, and oil prices recovered 20% from their recent lows, those factors were held in check by the diminished spending caused by the new drunk driving law.

Without a doubt, the hospitality sector in Scotland has taken a strong hit. Scots are a people with an historically strong attachment to their alcohol, particularly whisky. A severe drop in consumption like this indicates a potentially pivotal shift, at least for public behavior.

But spending on food and drink at pubs and restaurants is, by definition, leisure spending. And economically speaking, it's unlikely that leisure spending will be suddenly converted to savings. Rather, if the Scots don't spend their money on alcohol, they're likely going to direct their spending toward some other leisure activity. The focus of their spending might shift, but the amount of economic consumption should remain roughly the same. The Scottish economy might undergo a short-term blip in spending, which may redistribute itself to other areas in the future.

I think.

All that said, I'm feeling the need to do my civic duty to help Scotland's economy. Raise a pint, throw back a dram. Might be time for a new food regimen:

                    "I'm on a whisky diet. I've lost three days already." Tommy Cooper (British comedian)

Indeed, I'll have to drink enough for two people. Kate's driving.

Thursday, April 9, 2015

Short photo recap of a long Easter weekend

Britain provides two public holidays for Easter weekend, one for Good Friday and one for Easter Monday. Schools often close for two full weeks around Easter. Besides providing family time, the four-day weekend signals the start of the tourist season, with prices for flights and hotels beginning to rise as summer approaches.

We didn't travel anywhere, but we did enjoy a lovely long weekend. Here's a quick photo recap:

Decorated Easter bonnets
It was new to us, but there's a tradition here of decorating Easter bonnets. Jackson's nursery he attends two mornings a week had a little Easter bonnet "parade" a couple days before the long weekend. That meant a craft assignment for mom and dad. Isn't the whole point of sending the kid to nursery that he does this stuff at the nursery, so mom and dad don't have to suffer through it?
Pollock House in Glasgow
Pollock House was built in the 1750s. It is one of many properties operated by the National Trust of Scotland which this weekend hosted an Easter egg hunt, all sponsored by Cadbury.
Easter Egg hunt at Pollock House
For the Easter egg hunt, the kids searched for pirates which were hiding letters.
Easter egg hunt at Pollock House
There were eight letters hidden around the country house. In this room, the letter was "hidden" on the left side of the fireplace.
Receiving the Cadbury Easter egg
Jackson receives his Cadbury egg after finding all eight letters and unscrambling them (well, mom and dad unscrambled them) to spell a word.
Birdhouse and feeder
We also celebrated Kate's 38th birthday this weekend. She received gifts like this combination birdhouse and feeder . . .
. . . and this Panasonic Lumix TZ70, a terrific compact camera that can be stored easily in a purse or pocket. We lost our previous compact camera about 18 months ago, so this is a great addition for our explorations.
Easter eggs and chocolate
We celebrated Easter, which in our agnostic household is not much more than hiding and finding eggs.
Winter Gardens on Glasgow Green
We also spent a full afternoon on an urban hike in central Glasgow. We passed, among many other things, the People's Palace and Winter Gardens on Glasgow Green.
Mural on Ingram Street
A mural on Ingram Street, depicting Scotland's four seasons.
Tolbooth Steeple in Glasgow
Completed in 1626, this Tolbooth Steeple is all that remains of Glasgow's medieval municipal building.
Goose beside the River Clyde
We walked for awhile along the River Clyde.
Templeton Carpet Factory
We swung by the former Templeton Carpet Factory, which at one point was the largest carpet factory in the world. Now it's occupied by other businesses, including a beer brewery.
Eating ice cream
Had to keep the wee one happy during our excursion.
Buchanan Street in Glasgow
We finished our urban hike with a stroll up Buchanan Street, the premier shopping drag in Scotland.
Five Guys in downtown Glasgow
At the end of our walk, we stumbled across Five Guys in downtown Glasgow, which was a pleasant surprise for us. Apparently, it opened just as we were headed back to the States for a visit.
Going crazy (eyes) for Five Guys
Jackson picked up on how excited Kate and I were to find a Five Guys, and decided he'd make some crazy eyes, too.
Duke University Blue Devils
We also spent time during the weekend watching the Final Four. We had some expat veterinary students over at our house until around 4:00 am on Sunday morning. I almost won our NCAA Tournament bracket pool; tied for first place, but lost the tiebreaker. [Grumble, grumble, grumble]
Duke Basketball national champions 2015
Since the championship game didn't start until nearly 2:30 am on Tuesday morning, we recorded the game and got up at 6:00 am to watch. My law school alma mater, Duke, won its fifth national championship! (Photo courtesy of News & Observer.)

Sunday, April 5, 2015

Jacobite steam train license suspended


UPDATE: The Jacobite Steam Train SUSPENSION HAS BEEN LIFTED. See here:

The Hogwarts Express currently suffers from an immobulus!

In an unprecedented move, the U.K. organization which oversees Great Britain's rail lines has suspended the license of a railway company. The organization, called Network Rail, oversees nearly all of the railway infrastructure on the island and concurrently shares responsibility for train safety on the tracks. In the first license suspension since the British railway system was privatized in 1993, Network Rail has temporarily banned West Coast Railways from operating on Britain's rail lines, effective April 3.

Jacobite Steam Train, operated by West Coast Railways
The Jacobite steam train ready to depart from Fort William.
West Coast Railways operates a number of steam train lines in Great Britain, including popular tourist lines in the Yorkshire Dales. Its main claim to fame, however, is the Jacobite steam train running through the western highlands of Scotland. This beloved train journey — often voted by Britons to be among the most scenic in the world — runs past highland mountains and deep valleys, sweeping by gorgeous lochs and over canals and bridges.

Most recently, the journey has been invigorated by its inclusion in the Harry Potter films as the Hogwarts Express. "Potterheads" have flocked to the steam train line since its stunning visuals running over the Glenfinnan Viaduct.

Jacobite steam train passing over the Glenfinnan Viaduct
The Hogwarts Express crosses the Glenfinnan Viaduct.
According to its suspension letter, "Network Rail has had concerns about [West Coast Railways] performance of its Safety Obligations for some time and recent events lead Network Rail to believe that the operations of WCR are a threat to the safe operation of the railway." Apparently, Network Rail had initiated a review in January of West Coast Railway's safety policies, but the company unilaterally suspended its remediation of any problems identified.

Then, on March 7, one of West Coast Railway's steam trains on its London to Bristol line ran a red light, endangering hundreds of passengers. A high speed train traveling at 100 mph had passed through that junction just a minute earlier. According to the Rail Accident Investigation Branch, there is evidence showing that the West Coast Railways train's driver and fireman took measures to negate the automatic braking system.

A collision of the two trains would have been catastrophic.

The total rail network ban will last until May 15. In the meantime, West Coast Railways must meet five conditions, including providing a plan to implement the January review of its procedures; introducing a system to ensure train drivers receive safety information; and implementing an "effective, risk-based driver monitoring regime." Furthermore, the company must show clear progress toward reaching two further conditions, concerning communication protocols and safety accountability for company management. For a full copy of the suspension letter, see here.

It is possible that West Coast Railways could lose its rail license entirely. Beyond a revocation of its license, company officials potentially could face criminal charges.

The Jacobite steam train is scheduled to begin its service on May 11, four days before the end of West Coast Railway's suspension. Presumably, if the company can meet Network Rail's conditions, its suspension will be lifted earlier. But considering the company's recalcitrant attitude, lifting the ban is not yet a given.

West Coast Railways has issued a statement to customers that its rail trips will be unaffected and operated by another (unsuspended) license operator until its ban is lifted. Whether customers retain confidence in the only rail company to have earned a complete ban on operations, remains to be seen.

UPDATE: As of April 22, West Coast Railways is undergoing a criminal investigation for the March 7 incident. Furthermore, National Rail has begun a process to review West Coast Railways' safety certificate — which, if lost, would mean it could not operate trains even if it regains its operating license on the tracks.


For more about the Jacobite steam train, see here:



For more about the Glenfinnan Viaduct, see here:

Friday, April 3, 2015

Farewell to Blogspot

It's been a long time coming. Long, long, long time. 'Twas well overdue, really.

{Ed.'s note: What's been keeping you?}

Inertia. Laziness. Indecision. Overthinking.

Finally, however, I've pulled the trigger and left the domain behind. (Or, as it appears here in the U.K., You may have noticed over the past few days that I went ahead and bought the domain name for Actually, I also bought the domain for, just to avoid any confusion if anyone ever sought that domain.


Old domain name
Ye olde blog domain name.
I've been tinkering around the edges of the blog for a few months now. Placed a new photo up top. Added a search bar. Put in some new styling for the comments. Shifted the Monday Exposure posts from an every week to just an occasional basis; I had originally intended those to be just a photo with a quick blurb, but they quickly became longer posts which were dictating my blogging energies.

In the relatively near future — not too fast, nothing on this blog happens quickly — I'll make some more changes. Probably introduce some tabs and organization. Likely some new and better styling. Perhaps some limited social media. These changes are all overdue, as well.

I'm inching my way there.

{Ed.'s note: Thank goodness.}

For now, I'll simply pat myself on the back for this simple but necessary step. Suggestions for the future are welcome. The blog is, bit by bit, growing up.
Ready to take over the world improve incrementally.