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.