I’m resurrecting my blog to cover our four week holiday in the UK, which incorporates a conference, a fencing competition and some driving around the Scottish Highlands.

The flight over was not quite as horrible as usual. We managed to get upgraded to Premium Economy, which meant much wider seats, with much more legroom and more of a recline. It was also a set of two rather than three, so I wasn’t stuck between Michael and a stranger. As a result, I actually manged to get a couple of hours sleep. I also watched a few TV episodes of programs I had already seen, and five movies:

They were all quite watchable, though I can’t say I regret missing any of them at the cinema. I probably enjoyed Michael Clayton and Inkheart the most.

We arrived in Aberdeen at about midday, only to learn that my fencing bag was still at Heathrow. However, they promised that it would be on the next flight up, and I wasn’t too fussed since the fencing competition isn’t until the other end of the holiday.

On the taxi ride in from the airport, we quickly learned why it is called the Granite City – even the suburban houses were made of granite rather than brick, and looked really nice in the sun. (Though I have since discovered that this is not the case in all suburbs, it was certainly a lovely introduction to the city.)

After we had checked into the hotel, showered and changed, we went out to wander around for a bit. The sun had gone in, and it was starting to look a bit overcast, and it was at this point that I remembered I had packed my raincoat into my fencing bag. Not the best move.

But it wasn’t actually raining, so we went out anyway. We walked down the main street, went to the Maritime Museum and were then wandering back to the hotel when the heavens opened and we had to take shelter in the doorway of a restaurant. Fortunately it only lasted for about ten minutes (and we weren’t the only people taking shelter in that doorway!)

On Saturday, we went to Provost Skene’s House, a 17th century house that is almost entirely surrouned by tall buildings (and the signs pointing towards it weren’t as helpful as they might have been). It had a fairly amazing painted gallery, dating back to 1622 and restored as best they could (i.e. one or two places are completely blank, and the diagram just labels them as “scenes from the life of Jesus). As a complete contrast, the other memorable feature of the house was the enormous rocking horse in the nursery.

We then went to the bay area: we walked down the Esplanade and into a suburb called Footdee, which apparently used to be a fishing village. The little houses were very charming and completely non-touristy: it was just somewhere people were living. Though this did mean that our assumption there would be shops and somewhere we could by fish and chips were mistaken.

Finally , we went to the Art Gallery. It had quite a nice collection of 19th century painting, but I thought the most striking piece we saw was a sculpture on the ground floor. It was called Feedback Loop 2003, by Kenny Hunter: I have linked to an online photo of it, although this doesn’t really do it justice. Michael described it as Manga meets Chairman Mao, and this is pretty much what the notes in the gallery said. I can’t really say why I liked it (except that the online photo doesn’t really capture the power of it).

On Sunday we did a walking tour of Old Aberdeen, which included Kings College Chapel, the university’s Botanical Gardens, St Machar’s Cathedral (a fortified cathedral!), Seton Park and Aberdeen’s oldest bridge. A lovely area, and the guided tour was reasonably informative.

The conference started today, but I will hold off on blogging it until the end.

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