Well it’s been almost five weeks and we’re all settling in nicely. The house we rented is really starting to feel like home and it has more space than what we thought we could afford. It’s a lovely 3bdrm, 2 storey semi-detached in a suburb of Stirling called St. Ninians.
This is the view from our bedroom window.
The pole at the back is part of the Bannockburn Memorial. It marks the Battle of Bannockburn between Robert the Bruce and the English (we won that one).
The house has everything we need but there are a few appliances that are not as much of a priority.
Both the kids schools are only a couple of blocks away and we have great bus service. The town of Stirling is about a 20’ walk and it has a major train station. We’ve decided to try the year without a car and so far it’s working well. We’ve rented a car almost every weekend to do touristy things outside of the major centers.
Below are a few pictures of places we’ve been:
Top of the Wallace Monument
Street performer at the Edinburgh Fringe
The Falkirk Wheel
Anstruther (east coast of Fife)
All the Gilliland’s at my grand-mothers 95th birthday
A walk up the east side of Loch Lomond to find the elusive Rob Roy’s Cave.
Obviously not that hard to find
The kids started school last week and are doing very well. All things considered we're very proud of how well they're doing with all the changes.
Krista has already met with her supervisor and is at this moment enjoying the wonders of registration. She’ll start school next week and her supervisor already expects weekly meetings and basically to get started on chapter 1 of her dissertation. It looks like she’ll be going to Sri Lanka toward the end of our stay to do her field research.
My program gets started September 11 with various meeting throughout the week. These include things like a “postgraduate tea party”. I will meet with my supervisor at the end of that week and hopefully start to refine my ideas for a dissertation.
August is “Festival” month in Edinburgh, which has a mind-numbing number of events. They include the Fringe (the biggest), a Film Festival, Book Festival, Music Festival and many other things. We haven’t had a chance to see much as it’s bit overwhelming and usually we read about something a couple days after it happened. I did get chance to see a production of Richard Strauss’ Capriccio on Tuesday and last night a heard a great concert by the San Francisco Symphony conducted by Michael Tilson-Thomas. They did Mahler 7.
Next week we’re all going to London to see Prince (tickets say we must wear some purple!). We’ll be there for 4 days so we’re planning on seeing a show as well. So far it’s a debate between Little Shop of Horrors, Wicked, We will Rock You and Phantom.
Now that we have the kids school holiday schedule we’re starting to think about bigger trips. So far it’s the Orkney’s in October, Paris in November and Christmas for two week in Italy. Nothing is booked yet so we’ll see what happens as Krista and my schedule becomes clearer.
Well that’s about it for now. I hope everyone’s doing well back home and we miss you all a lot.
Well it’s been about a month since my first newsletter and things here are still going very well (though we do get the odd bout of home sickness). The house is still working well for us and things are becoming more and more familiar everyday.
This time of the year we're getting some rather large spiders called “wolf” spiders, which can be quite shocking when you meet one in the bathroom.
The kids are settling very well at school.
Gareth is house captain of his class, it’s so Harry Potter, but his house is McGregor (Rob Roy), not Gryffindor. He got an award a couple of weeks ago for class participation and is currently learning highland dance. He just went to another birthday party. This one had a DJ and a chocolate fountain.
Kathleen is busy as well and just finished a power point presentation on Edmonton. She’s also in the knitting club and helps with the special needs class at lunchtime. Right now she’s thinking about going to the S1/2 Halloween Dance.
Both of them have school lunch programs, which they really enjoy, and it sounds like they eat better than we do.
We’ve continued to explore the area through hikes. The last we did was called the “Whangie” walk. The rock formation that the kids are walking through is called the “Whangie”.
It was a bit wet that day but still a lovely walk.
In September we went to London. This was the first of our bigger trips and we planned it around the kid’s school calendar, which has breaks almost every month. It was a great time, but London is expensive (and we didn’t even have to pay for accommodations). It seemed like every time we did something it was $100.
We traveled by train from Stirling and stayed with Jennifer Carter, Krista’s cousin Rosanne’s mother-in-law.
She has a beautiful house outside London and we commuted every day to London.
One of the main reasons we went to London at this time was to see Prince. He was in the middle of 21 soldout shows at a place called the O2. It's this huge multi-function facility. The concert was amazing. He is an incredible musician and his band was burnin'. Not that big, 5 piece rhythm section, 3 horns, 2 background singers and Prince.
That was our first night in London and then the rest of the time we went in during the day to see the sites.
…the Parliament Buildings
…the London Eye
We also went to the west end and saw a wonderful production of “Little Shop of Horrors”. It was closing night and the place was packed with family and friends. As a result, the cast really went for it.
Afterwards we visited the lights at Piccadilly Circus.
On our last day we happened on St James Park where there were some very friendly pelicans…
…it was nice just to walk around.
The mains streets were closed so we were able to walk around Buckingham Palace.
Just two weeks ago we took an incredible trip to the Orkney Islands. For those that don’t know where they are, you drive to the top of Scotland and then travel another hour north by ferry.
It’s just one of the most beautiful places in the world. For Krista and I we found it especially moving as it seemed to focus or feelings about how fortunate we are to have this year in Scotland.
We stayed on the main island in a self-catering cottage right on the water (it’s actually hard to be away from the water).
This was our view…
Orkney has some of the most important archeological sites in the world, so as you can imagine, Krista was in seventh heaven.
This is Maes Howe, a Neolithic stone burial chamber which we couldn’t take pictures in. The door Krista and Kathleen are standing at is quite small but once a year (beginning of the winter soltice) the sun shines straight through to the back wall of the tomb and lights it up (obviously not a accident).
We were able to take pictures in “The Tomb of the Eagle” a smaller example of the same type of tomb.
It has a fun trolley system for getting inside.
We also went to Skara Brae, which is Orkney’s most famous site. This a Neolithic village that lay hidden until a storm in the 1850’s blew the sand away revealing this ancient village. It is older than Stonehenge, the Great Wall of China, and the Pyramids.
As you can see from this last picture there was also a beach by the site. So we had to check that out.
Then we walked over to some stunning cliffs.
Some seals also visited us. There are 3 in this picture but there were seven in total checking us out.
There are also many standing-stones in Orkney. We visited "The Stones of Stenness”…
and the “Ring of Brogdar” (make sure to rule your r’s for maximum Lord of the Rings effect)
This inspired the kids to build their own stone circle. Looks a bit like a scene from “Spinal Tap”.
Finally we checked out another important site in Orkney, Scotland’s most northerly Distillery.
One last funny sign that we just couldn’t miss taking a picture of.
And if that wasn’t enough, when we returned from Orkney, some of my friends from high school came to visit for 4 days. So we hit the road again...
…and drove up Loch Lomond…
..to Loch Ness where we took a boat trip (no monster sightings though).
…and visited Urquart Castle (which sits on Loch Ness)…
As you can see from the previous picture and this one we consumed much of the grape and the grain, and taught the kids how to play poker (aren’t we great role models).
Oh, and did I mention that Krista and I are still going to school? It may not look like it but we are both quite busy with our studies.
Krista is well into her thesis and has a good start on chapter I, as well as a rough outline for the whole project. Soon she will be starting her lab work, which includes looking at soil samples collected last summer in Sri Lanka. She still hopes to visit Sri Lanka in the spring or early summer of 2008.
I’ve been attending composition seminars as well as meetings with my supervisor. He has been very generous and allowed me to complete my outstanding commissions as part of my portfolio. So I’ve been working hard on "Dreaming of the Masters II" as well as a final revision of my 1-act opera "Hannaraptor". Both get premiered in 2008 and I will be back in Alberta for both of them.
Whew! That was a lot for 1 month. I’m sure we can’t keep up this pace as our bank account is taking quite a beating (especially after paying tuition) but we did just book a 5 day trip to Germany for November. After that we’ll go one trip at a time.
On behalf of Krista, the Kids and I, we hope you are all doing well and miss you a lot.
Take care until chapter III
Happy New Year everyone!
I hope you all had a relaxing holiday. We had a very quite time here in Scotland which was nice but we really missed our family, friends and even snow. Now that January is here we really feel like we’ve turned the corner on our adventure and it won’t be long till we have to start thinking about coming home.
Things are still going well here for all of us. The kids are fitting in well at school and both are making friends.
Krista and I were very busy up until Christmas with school work,
Krista handed in her first chapter and both her supervisors were very impressed. Her principal supervisor said “if this indicates the quality of your work you will sail through your thesis”. She’s now on to chapter II and will probably go to Sri Lanka in late July, early August.
I finished the final revisions on “Hannaraptor” the 1-act opera I wrote with Val Brandt and completed the condensed score for “Dreaming of the Masters II”. “Dreaming” is premiered February 22//23/28 by the ESO with Bill Eddins as soloist and conductor. I will be back in Edmonton from Feb. 18-28 for the premiere so please come and say hi.
In November I got a chance to work with the Scottish Chamber Orchestra and jazz bassist John Patittuci.
Since chapter II we have done one big trip and a couple of small things.
In November we decided to take our first trip to Europe. We chose Germany because one of my close friends is working there and we planned on getting together. It turned out that he was in France so we were on our own.
We flew Ryanair from Prestwick to just outside of Dusseldorf and rented a car for the week.
Our first stop was the Neander Valley where the first Neanderthal was discovered in the 1850’s.
From there we drove to Bacharach. It’s one of many pretty towns along the Rhine. As you can see, the town looks like something out of a fairly tale.
We spent one night there and then drove to Mainz to visit the Guttenberg Museum. This museum not only has three Guttenberg Bibles but an incredible array of early printed texts.
I had wanted to take a boat trip on the Rhine but they were all closed for the winter so we did the next best thing and ate lunch next to the Rhine.
After Mainz we drove to Rothenberg for the night. This is another fairy tale like town whose old section is one of the last examples of a walled city.
Rothenberg is famous for Schneeballs (a deadly concoction of deep fried dough).
It also has a large amount of Christmas stores.
After Rothenberg we drove to Berlin for the last leg of our journey. We saw some of the classic sights:
We looked into seeing the Berlin Philharmonic but ironically they were playing at Carnegie Hall. But we did walk by their hall.
We also went to the Berlin Zoo which is excellent.
Then after a week of driving on the Autobahn we headed home.
Since then we’ve been staying closer to home. We visited both Edinburgh and Glasgow to see their Christmas lights.
For New Years Eve (Hogmanay in Scotland) we went to Stirling Castle to hear The Proclaimers.
They put on a great show and the fireworks were excellent.
Since then we even got snow.
But it’s gone already and as I write this letter it’s raining quite hard.
Just last weekend, before the kids went back to school, we went to St Andrews for 3 days. It’s a beautiful old town with ruins of a castle;
The last day was lovely and sunny so we walked along the beach next to the famous golf course.
…and of course the kids and I had to dip our feet.
So those are the hits and highlights from the last couple of months. We hope everyone is well, we're already looking forward to coming home and I hope to see many of you when I’m back in February.
Take care until chapter IV
Well it’s been quite a while since I sent any pictures and as it’s now May, this could very well be the last chapter of the “Gilliland Family’s Excellent Adventure”.
Since the New Year we’ve been keeping low profile. Krista and I have been working hard at school and I’ve also been on the road quite a bit. Of course I saw many of you when I was back in Edmonton in February for the premiere of “Dreaming of the Masters II”. Bill Eddins did a fantastic job and the orchestra played well as always. If you missed the performance you can hear it online at:
Dreaming of the Masters II
In March we started sightseeing again as the weather warmed up. Admittedly we’ve had nothing like the winter in Alberta but it was quite gray and wet from November through March.
Here are some pictures from a day trip we rook to Cumbrae. Cumbrae is a small island off the west coast of Scotland. You get there by a short (10min.) ferry ride from Largs.
It was one of the first nice days of spring...
…so we all rented bikes a rode around the island…
…and then back to Largs for ice cream treats.
Our Big Trip
In April the kids had two weeks off for spring break so we went on our biggest holiday so far. We traveled around Italy for the first week and then spent the second week in Vienna.
We flew into Milan on Easyjet, one of the discount airlines that fly out of Scotland. The flights only cost $600 for the four of us (and that was a bit high because of the school holiday). The first night we stayed at a hotel near the airport and then the next day got into our Panda (that’s a make of car) and drove from Milan to Sorrento.
It was about an 8hr drive that took us through many regions of Italy including Tuscany. The scenery was stunning. About half way there we stopped for lunch in a lakeside town off the beaten path.
We went to a deli to get some lunch and nobody there spoke a word of English and our Italian is weak at best, so we pointed at things hoping they would taste a good. As you can see we did ok.
We finally got to Sorrento where I experienced my first crazy Italian driving (more to come later). We loved Sorrento. Our B&B used this crane method to get our luggage up the four flights of stairs. It was hard to keep the kids out of there.
The room had a little balcony with a couple of chairs and a table. It was chilly at night but Krista and I braved the cold for a glass of wine.
Here are the views from the balcony during the day.
There were so many nice cafes. This one on the main square was our favorite.
There wasn’t a beach close by but there was a very nice dock area.
…and of course we always have to dip our feet in the water.
On our second day in Sorrento we visited Pompeii (which is very close by). This is the ancient city preserved when Mount Vesuvius exploded and covered it in ash. It’s a huge site that would days to see.
This is one of the many streets (with side walks on the left and right) where you can see the ruts from cart traffic.
This bathhouse is almost exactly as it would have been 2000 years ago.
When they first started excavating Pompeii they discovered many bodies trapped in the ash. They noticed that the ash had formed around the bodies leaving an exact imprint even after they decayed. Someone devised a method of pouring plaster into these imprints recreating how their bodies looked in those final minutes. These were quite eerie..
...there was even a dog.
Pompeii also had its own coliseum.
This is where the kids decided they had walked enough.
From Sorrento we headed to Rome. This was a much shorter drive. We drove into Rome and parked the car for three days. Now that sounds easy but it was without a doubt the craziest driving I’ve ever encountered. There seem to be no rules when driving in Rome. There may be two lanes marked but there are usually at least three or four rows of cars. Add to that motorcycles weaving through any space left and you get complete mayhem.
We had a cute little self-catering apartment 1 block from the Trevi Fountain.
Our first stop was the Vatican. There was quite a big line up but it moved fast.
From there we went to the Vatican Museum. We all felt quite overwhelmed by the quantity of art. It takes along time to work your way to the Sistine Chapel, and at certain points I thought it wasn’t worth all the crowds, but I was wrong. The Sistine Chapel is quite spectacular.
That being said, we were also depressed by the incredible wealth inside the Vatican compared with the poverty outside. So the next day we decided, “today we fall in love with Rome”, and headed out for breakfast and got soaked 39 euros ($60) for some coffee and pastries.
Ok, “now we’re going to fall in love with Rome”, andf we went to the coliseum. It is quite impressive.
We also enjoyed the Pantheon...
...and the Spanish Steps…
…where the kids had their portraits drawn.
After three days in Rome we headed to Venice, which we all did fall in love with.
We took the pre-requisite gondola ride…
…Kathleen and I feed the pigeons…
…then Gareth gave it a shot.
After a week we left Italy and spent a week in Vienna. One of the main reasons we went there was because Krista was speaking at the European Geosciences Union General Assembly (which went very well). We rented an apartment in Vienna which was good planning because we slowed down considerably when everyone started getting colds. The apartment was very nice but nearly every room had a signed poster of Boney-M (remember Ra, Ra, Rasputin). We all started making up wilder and wilder stories as to why that might be. Turns out the owner (who we met) was a professional photographer and goes on the road with Boney-M when they tour.
We had such a relaxing time in Vienna it was just the right change of pace from the hectic one in Italy. We visited a couple of music museums including the Schoenberg Institute.
This was a wonderful place where they’ve recreated his study from California. All his things were there including many of his inventions
They also have all his self-portraits…
…and even examples of his teaching material, including an exam that you could take with you(watch out next years theory class).
I went to the State Opera House and saw Rosenkavalier. Great production, especially the orchestra.
We also visited a couple of Kaffee Houses. This one was a favorite of Beethoven and Mozart.
Krista and I also visited the central cemetery many famous composers are buried;
…and many, many others.
Our apartment was close to Schoenbrunn Palace ...
... which has huge grounds that include a zoo…
(yes those are bats, about 3 feet long hanging freely in this tropical enclosure)
…and hedge mazes that the kids loved…
Rather than drive to a hotel by the Milan airport we decided to squeeze in one more destination and stayed our final night at Varenna on Lake Como.
Lake Como has been used a lot in movies, Casino Royale and Ocean’s Twelve.
The next day we drove to Milan and flew back to Scotland. The trip was more than we could have imagined and Krista and I are already planning on returning to Italy (Sorrento, Lake Como) for our 20th anniversary.
The weather has turned nice the last month or so and we’ve even got sun-burned a few times.
We resumed our walking trips by taking a path up the Ochil Hills. These hills lie just minutes from our place but it feels like you’re miles away.
We hiked up the path and had a picnic…
…and then headed down again.
I returned to Calgary at the beginning of May to see performances of Hannaraptor. This is the 1-act for young audiences commissioned by Calgary Opera that I wrote with librettist Val Brandt.
It toured schools all over Calgary and Southern Alberta…
…and then had five public performances at Vertigo Theatre in Calgary. In all over 8,000 people saw the show, many of them children seeing their first opera.
Opera America has chosen Hannaraptor to be showcased at its conference this June in Denver, Colorado and I’ve been invited attend.
Other great news, Krista won a SSHRC for the next three years of her PhD. For those of you who are familiar with this award you’ll know how hard they are to get, so I’m very proud of her.
One last trip before I wrap up. Last week Krista’s mom Mary came to visit for a week..
We spent the first 4 days close to home. The kids took her to the Bannockburn Heritage Centre…
…Krista and I took her to the old Stirling Bridge.
Then we went on a three-day whirlwind tour we called “Coast to Coast with a Highland Adventure”.
We started on the west coast in Oban.
Took a boat trip to a seal colony (just a trio this day)…
…and of course dipped our feet.
The second day we drove to GlenCoe…
…went on a hike…
…and then stayed the night in Perth.
The last day we started at Scone (pronounced Scoon) Palace, which is close to Perth…
…which had some beautiful peacocks…
…and Hielan Coos (Highland Cows).
From there we drove to Crail on the east coast of Scotland.
It’s a lovely little seaside village (I know, another one) with many artisan shops.
The kids had fun burying Gareth in the sand…
…and of course we dipped our feet.
As I’m putting this letter together I can’t believe we actually did all of that in the last 4 months. Now we’re barely two months away from coming home and we can’t wait. Krista will be going to Dublin in June to give a talk at the World Archeological Congress. The kids and I will be flying back July 24 and then Krista will be off to Sri Lanka. She’ll be back in Edmonton sometime in August.
As I’m sure you can tell from this, and the previous chapters, we’ve had a year far beyond our expectations. It has been a true gift that none of us will forget.
Thanks for indulging me over the year with these newsletters and we’ll see you all in August.