Thursday, September 30, 2010

Dundee Favourites

Sadly, and until Mike's student loan is credited and Desi begins receiving a pay check, we don't have much to show for our first month and a half in Dundee.  Happily though we have been able to explore a few local establishments and our heretofore Dundee favourites are below.

The Nether Inn was our first meal in Scotland and as such it holds a special place in our hearts.  We've just recently returned for our second visit and it reminded us how lucky we were to have found it so early on.  It's spacious, fun, and has great deals.  The Beer + Burger for £3.95 deal is one of our favourites within a favourite.

The Globe is near our flat and right next to the university campus.  We've only eaten here twice but the first time was on their opening (er, reopening) night and everything was 75% off and the second time was celebrating Desi's employment success.  This was our first haggis experience and the place where Desi learned to love mushrooms (she craves their fried mushrooms).  The pricing is simple and displayed on the wall with the ordering instructions (order at the bar), two features which eliminate the intimidation of possible cultural miscommunication and allow us to just sit back and enjoy ourselves.

Duke's Corner is right down the street from us and a great venue for live music.  We've been here three times already, all free events, and check their calendar often for upcoming shows.  Though the drinks aren't cheap and the service is slow we haven't found any other venue in town offering this type of scene.  Bizarrely, the Dundee scene seems to be club focused and even though Mike's an undergraduate now neither of us see ourselves entering that scene again.  No one wants to be the creepy 30 year old in a room full of kids, dancing and sweaty.  No one.

Tally's is a new find.  They offer pitchers, or jugs, of cocktails for £6 plus a free burger with a drink purchase of £2.50 or more.  This pub is big and cosy with lots of wood and benches and the free burger is very tasty.  We've been here a number of times over the past two weeks, when we first discovered it.  Additionally, the bartender's brogue is almost unintelligible so we get some language skills training whenever we order, which is definitely a bonus.

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Glasgow

On 2 Sept we travelled to Glasgow via bus to spend a day getting to know the other large city in Scotland.  We had heard some pretty hard stories about Glasgow - industrial and dirty, rough people, unintelligible accent - thus we were unprepared for the lovely city we found ourselves in upon disembarking the bus on Buchanan Street. 

It was a beautiful day in Glasgow, warm and sunny with clear skies, and we were greeted with grand buildings, both old and new.  We started the day with the intention of heading straight for the Mackintosh Willow Tea Room, near the Glasgow School of Art, but were distracted by the grand buildings along Renfield Street.  So, instead of heading west we headed south and this is how our day was spent, just wandering the vast city.  We stumbled upon the River Clyde, the Glasgow Necropolis (where we spent a good deal of time), Buchanan Street and Argyle Street palisades, the Clyde Arc, and Kelvingrove Park (another place where we spent a good deal of time) and we fell in love with everything we saw.
George Square
Clyde Arc
fountain in Kelvingrove Park
river through Kelvingrove Park
Buchanan Street
Upon initial review, Glasgow is a much more spread-out city than Edinburgh.  It also feels more modern, probably due to the mix of old and new buildings. If pressed we would both choose Edinburgh over Glasgow simply because Glasgow felt like any big city whereas Edinburgh, given the palace and the castle, is unique. However, Glasgow is a fine city and one we hope to explore further over the next few years.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Proper Office Job

On Thursday night I was in another unemployment panic so I sat at the computer and thought about all the places I'd passed on the high street and which of those I might want to work at.  Although I have a part-time job at Marks & Sparks (beginning tomorrow) I still need another job to both pay me more as well as occupy more of my time so I'm not taking Mikey away from his courses.  Anyway, I was thinking of these shops, finding their websites, and applying for any posted vacancies.  I did this for an hour or so before getting so frustrated with the lack of website sophistication, the British don't appear to rely on websites as much as I do, that I quit.  On Friday morning my meagre efforts had produced a result; I received a call.

This process was a bit ambiguous from the start.  For instance, there was no job description on the website, just an email address and instructions to forward your CV.  Then, when I received the call on Friday morning the caller said, 'I received your CV and would like to talk with you about it'.  Does that mean interview? We set up a 'conversation' for 3PM that afternoon; we were scheduled to meet at a local café.

I had expected to talk over coffee or tea so when I arrived a bit early at the café I ordered some tea. He walked in a few minutes late, asked if I was done with my tea, and then said, 'let's go'. We then proceeded to drive around Dundee in his Smart car talking about what he does, what the company does, and what I would be doing. He dropped me back at my flat and said, 'I'll see you Monday at 11AM'. Did I have the job? What was the pay? Is it temporary? I was so confused.

I went to the office this morning at 11AM, hoping for a job but expecting another 'conversation.'  In either case, I was very dubious about the prospects of a legitimate job coming from this experience.  But, to my surprise, I arrived at a proper office, with a proper desk, and a proper computer, with proper co-workers.  He put me to work right away doing data entry and that's what I did for 4.5 hours today.  Before I left I was given new hire paperwork to complete and told how much I would be paid.  I'm supposed to report back on Friday at 11AM.

I'm thrilled to have another job!  I'm not sure exactly how often I'll be working, or exactly what I'll be doing, but I was told my job description is 'marketing' so that's something.  I am still hoping for an evening job though, hopefully in a pub on the high street.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Edinburgh

On 24 Aug we ventured south to Edinburgh.  We had purchased our bus tickets a week in advance to take advantage of the Super Saver price, which was £18 for two return tickets.  The ride took about 2 hours because we went west to Perth before turning south but we had left at 8AM so we arrived in Edinburgh just in time for breakfast.

We found the Royal Mile, the path between the castle and the palace, almost immediately and just started walking.  We were hoping to head towards the castle first but we found ourselves at Holyrood Palace instead.  We took a short tour of the new parliament building, enjoying a photography exhibition installed on the main floor, before heading over to the gates of the palace.  After just a few minutes of pictures we turned back around and headed the other direction on the Mile.

Before too long we found ourselves at the Fringe Festival, a month long arts festival and one of the main reasons we wanted to head to Edinburgh before the end of August.  Not really knowing what to expect beyond just free entertainment we found that it wasn't very crowded and basically consisted of a whole lot of street performers, some simply performing for the crowds and others trying to entice you to their show at a proper venue later in the day.  It was all very interesting and exciting.  
Fringe Festival
We resolved that next year we would spend at least a few nights in Edinburgh during the Fringe Festival so we could attend some of the proper venue events.  One of the main events we want to attend is the Military Tattoo, which seems to be a bit like the opening ceremonies of the Olympics but occurs every night right outside the castle.  Tickets sell out months in advance and go on sale in December.  Not having TV or Internet at this time yet, our only exposure to this event was in print media so again we don't really know what to expect but can almost guarantee it will be a good time.

After walking through the Fringe we arrived at the castle, which is even more awesome in person than we had expected.  We were able to cross the moat and enter the castle walls for free but the tour of the castle interior cost money so we're saving that for another time.  The castle on top of a hill in the centre of the city makes Edinburgh one of the most beautiful cities we have ever seen.  It was amazing!
Edinburgh Castle
After the castle we went to explore the rest of the city.  We were drawn to a tall structure on the New Town side.  We were expecting a church but it turned out to be a memorial for Sir Walter Scott.  It was quite something.  
Sir Walter Scott memorial
After a bit more exploration we decided it was time to rest.  We wandered back towards the Fringe and found the Prince's Street stage, situated just under the castle.  What better venue could there be?  The stage was showcasing local talent and the first act we heard was Kat Healy, which we really enjoyed.  We also heard a middle school orchestra from the Highlands before leaving the comfort of our venue.
view of the castle from Prince's Street
We headed back towards the bus station, stopping to grab dinner before boarding our 8:45PM bus back home.  Overall, our introduction to Edinburgh was wonderful.  It would've been nice to have been able to call this beautiful city our home for the next four years but we've said that about every place we've seen in Scotland thus far.  There is no doubt, we love our new home.

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Arbroath to Auchmithie

Arbroath
Arbroath is a small coastal town a bit north of Dundee, home of the 'Arbroath smokie', smoked haddock famous in this area due to their protected nature; one can only be an Arbroath smokie if smoked within 8 km of Arbroath, the same type of name protection both whisky and champagne enjoy.  According to our Lonely Planet guide book, 'an excellent walk follows a path along the top of the cliffs for 3 miles to the quaint fishing village of Auchmithie'.  On 22 Aug, a lovely Sunday morning, we decided to check out this coastal cliff side walk.

We took the train north to Arbroath, which is a lovely 20 minute coastal ride and, upon arriving, we found that there was a festival taking up most of the pier which also contained many of the tourist attractions.  We didn't want to pay the £2 entrance fee because we knew we wouldn't be staying long so we just walked around town for a bit.  We purchased two smokies from one of the many adorable fish shops and ate them on the beach.  They were delicious but difficult to eat, with the wind and all the bones (the fish are served whole, sliced down the middle).  Next time, if there is wind we'll find a shop with indoor seating.
Arbroath smokie
After our picnic we started on our walk.  It was a lovely day, except for the temperature fluctuations and occasional wind.  Luckily, we each had hoodies to take on and off as needed and the wind didn't blow anyone off the cliff.  Whew!

The scenery was just gorgeous and after the first mile we had it virtually to ourselves.  Besides the landscape, we were also on the lookout for sea creatures.  All the signs were mentioning whales, dolphins, and seals so we expected to see something and, luckily, we did spot a seal swimming about.  This was definitely turning out to be an enjoyable way to spend a Sunday.

We arrived at Auchmithie just before 4PM.  The bus to Arbroath would be there at 5PM and the only establishment in town, the But'n'Ben Restaurant, was closed until 4PM.  We went to walk around the town for a bit but then quickly realized that the town was only one street and we could see the end of it from where we stood at the bus stop.  Nevertheless, we walked down the street and back again.
At 4PM we went to investigate the But'n'Ben.  Although they were technically only serving high tea, which we weren't interested in, the lovely bar wench offered us a couple cups of coffee to enjoy in their front sitting room while we waited for the bus.

Auchmithie
At 5PM we caught our bus back to Arbroath and then jumped on a train for the rest of the journey to Dundee.

Monday, September 13, 2010

St. Andrews

On 20 Aug we ventured a bit farther from home and headed south to St. Andrews.  This required purchasing a coach ticket rather than a bus ticket (long distance versus inner-city) and leaving from the bus station rather than a bus stop.  The ride wasn't too long though, only about 20-30 minutes, and it was lovely.

St. Andrews is amazing!  The town is adorable and the cathedral ruins are just breathtaking and quite astounding to see.  St. Andrews quickly became our most favourite place in Scotland.

St. Andrews, outside the bus station
ruins in the city centre at Madras College
The St. Andrews Cathedral ruins and neighbouring cemetery are immense.  The cathedral was destroyed as part of the Reformation, led by John Knox.  It's sad to think that people caused this destruction, especially after reading how beautiful this cathedral was and the amount of spiritual tourists it attracted.  Probably a lesson in there somewhere about religious zealots, but we digress.
St. Andrews Cathedral
St. Andrews Cathedral
St. Andrews Cathedral
The cathedral is near the North Sea and just outside its walls is a cute little harbour and lovely beach.
St. Andrews harbour
St. Andrews beach
The castle ruins are a bit north on the coast from the cathedral.  We walked past them but didn't venture into the gates because it was about to close.
St. Andrews castle
After walking about the town we popped into the Central Pub where Mike had a pint of Duechars and Desi had a half pint of Strongbow.  The Scots are mad for cider and every pub has at least one option on tap.  Strongbow appears to be the most popular brand.

After enjoying a bit of the local scene, we hopped on a coach back to Dundee and in a few minutes we were home.  It's amazing that we live so close to such a beautiful place.  We're looking forward to returning and to further explorations.

Friday, September 10, 2010

And So It Begins

The Monday after arriving in Dundee Desi visited a couple of the staffing agencies in town.  She learned that she would need a National Insurance number before they could help her but while she was waiting for one she provided them with her CV to review and hopefully they would have something available for her when she received her NI number in a few weeks.  Unfortunately, since receiving her NI number, neither staffing agency has been helpful at all in Desi's job search so she started applying for jobs on her own.  Yesterday she went on her first interview and got the job, a part-time position at Marks & Spencer.  Her first day is Tuesday 21 Sept.

Desi still hopes to get at least one more job.  Right now she's trying for a part-time job at the BT call centre down the street.  If that doesn't work out, hopefully she can find something else that will keep her entertained and help pay what financial responsibilities we still have in the States with maybe a little left over for fun and travel while in the UK.

Mike is finishing up Freshers Week and begins his studies on Monday.  He received his schedule today and he's pretty excited about how this semester will be structured.  He'll get a whole lot of studio time and only one day of lecture.  His first paper is due in early December though he'll probably have art projects due more often.  

We're looking at October for our first Ryanair mini break.  Once Desi confirms her new work schedule and Mike gets his syllabus we'll be able to actually purchase tickets, which is something we're really looking forward to.  It'll mean the plan is really working.

Thursday, September 09, 2010

Broughty Ferry

After a few days exploring Dundee we were anxious to check beyond the walkable boundaries.  We were ready for our first city bus experience.  We decided our first trip would be to Broughty Ferry, described in our Lonely Planet guidebook as "Dundee's attractive seaside suburb, known locally as 'The Ferry.'  It has a castle, a long, sandy beach, and a number of good places to eat and drink."  Thanks to the Journey Planner station set up near the High Street bus hub, we were able to coordinate our journey rather easily.  The ride was only about 15 minutes, not too far away to walk if we happened to get stranded but far enough to test our skills on the public transportation system.
Dundee city bus
We had lunch at Fisherman's Tavern and then walked along the river for a bit until reaching the castle.
Fisherman's Tavern
This would be our first castle experience in Scotland.  The interior spiral staircase was tight but each floor would open up into what would've been a nice living area but has since been turned into an art gallery and museum.
Broughty Castle
The beach was very nice.  The sand wasn't cold, though the water certainly was, and there was a good stretch of it to walk along.  We read that this is one of the more popular beaches during the summer, though clearly we had missed the busy season.
Broughty Ferry beach
After a few hours spent at The Ferry, we made it safely back to Dundee via city bus.

Monday, September 06, 2010

Dundee

Tay Mills
Tay Mills, a former jute mill, is our new home.  Our flat has the two windows to the left of the light post on the third floor, though we'd call it the fourth floor back in the States (the ground floor is counted as G or 0 here).  Additionally, it may look like the top floor but there is another floor of flats above us, with only skylights for windows.  We want to make friends with people on that floor so we can see what their flats look like.  A flat with only skylights is hard for us to imagine.

Our new town is very picturesque.  The architecture, cobblestone streets, and Firth of Tay are all very inspiring.
the rail bridge is on the left, crossing the Firth of Tay
  
looking west from The Law
We also have Dundee Law ("The Law") just up the road from us, which is quite good for a hearty hike and excellent views.

looking south from The Law
We're very happy in Dundee and look forward to further exploration of our new home.

Saturday, September 04, 2010

First Observations

The learned skill of looking both ways before crossing the street becomes the bad habit of looking both ways while crossing the street and, in our case, one begins walking while looking the wrong direction first (to the left). 

Pedestrians do not have right of way in Dundee

At bus stops, people queue to get on the bus and get agitated if you jump the line or approach the bus doors from more than one direction.  This results in a sidewalk long line consisting of people who do not necessarily want the bus you want but just want to be first in line for the next bus. 

Dundee has a lot of old people.

There are a lot of people shopping midday midweek in Dundee but streets are mostly abandoned after 6PM, when most shops close.  However, for some reason shops are open later on Thursdays than any other day of the week. This begs two questions: 1) why are so many people shopping midday midweek and 2) what’s so special about Thursdays?  Thursdays also appear to be a favorite day for drink specials (rather than happy hours, which don't appear to exist here) at pubs.

It is very easy to get a library card.

Dundee is reminiscent of Disneyland’s Main Street with its cobblestone streets and litter bins every few feet.

Living without phone or Internet is akin to living on a deserted island, especially when having just moved someplace new and longing for news from back home.

The greeting of choice is “hiya.”

There are a lot of fat people.

It is a lot harder to find fish and chips than one might think.

Fried Mars bars may be a myth because we have yet to see this supposedly ubiquitous dessert offered anywhere at all.

Not knowing how or when to tip after a meal is more disturbing than any other aspect of culture shock.  (After inquiring locally and online we’ve decided not to tip when ordering at the bar and 10-15% when table service is provided.  Although, because waiters are paid at least minimum wage here there does not appear to be a social pressure to tip anything at all.  So, we'll see how long this very American trait endures.)

Greetings From Scotland

We are finally online at our new home in Dundee, UK.  We've been struggling for these past three weeks without Internet access, with only our occasional trips to the library providing us with any news from our past lives, but as of 01 Sept we are now online.  JOY!!!

On 11 Aug we flew Air France direct from Seattle to Charles de Gaulle in Paris, landing on 12 Aug.  After a very short layover of only about an hour we flew onward to Edinburgh.  We breezed through Customs and Immigration, the former of which didn't seem to exist, and jumped on a bus to the train station.  Of course, jumping onto a bus when carrying eight very heavy and large bags is more desire than fact and we found this aspect of our trip to be very difficult indeed.  By the time we boarded the train to Dundee we were very sweaty and slightly irritated with the whole endeavor.  Perhaps next time we'll eliminate more of our worldly possessions so we only have six bags to maneuver?

Upon arriving in Dundee we took a cab to our new flat.  There was some initial confusion with our keys and Desi was stuck waiting outside with all the bags for about 15 minutes while Mike ran around campus with John the Janitor looking for Janice the Landlord.  Eventually, John the Janitor received the permissions he needed in order to let us into our flat without Janice the Landlord's help.  He was an excellent guide, providing us with a short tour of our new home, before letting us settle in.  Janice the Landlord eventually showed up (she had taken a long lunch with her daughter) to give us our keys and repeat everything John the Janitor had said since we were unsure of the accuracy of our comprehension the first time around (the brogue will take some getting used to).

These first few weeks in Scotland have been surreal.  Because Mike is not in school yet and Desi hasn't started working we're caught in this pseudo-vacation mode where we are filling our days up with sightseeing and exploration and not really interacting much beyond financial exchanges with the locals. Mike's Freshers Week begins tomorrow though and we will most likely start interacting with the locals a whole lot more from this point forward.  Our pseudo-vacation is coming to an end and life in Scotland will soon begin.  Wish us luck!
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