Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Exploring Scotland - Around Dundee

Just over a year has passed since I moved to Scotland, and it's been a while since I've talked about my adventures in my new home. In fact, I planned to do a lot more of this kind of blogging when I first arrived, but got distracted with other things. Now that I've just finished three weeks of running around the country with my parents doing tourist things, I'll spend a few posts reflecting on what we did and saw here.

We'll start in Dundee, the city I live and attend university in. While it's the fourth largest city in Scotland, Dundee is pretty small for a city. It's architecture, compared to some of the other places here, is pretty but not amazing. But to someone from the US, it's still fantastic to look at. I've met a lot of Scots who are confused by our fascination with old buildings and castles - but you have to understand, Scottish readers: some of the buildings here are older than our ENTIRE COUNTRY. We don't get a feeling of that gravitas, that weight of history, in many places in the US.

Some of the Dundee buildings and scenery

The family poses with Desparate Dan!
Anyway, we had a lot of fun exploring Dundee. I tried to cover all the main attractions, as well as a few of my favourite local places. First, we visited the high street and the fun statues there, including Desperate Dan. Dundee is famous for Desperate Dan, a character in a comic called the Dandy, produced in Dundee. Comics are part of Dundee's journalism industry, one of the "three Js" that made up Dundee's industry in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

Food and Drink

Strawberry Daiquiris at Rancho Pancho
We visited a TON of restaurants while we were here. I took everyone to my favourites - Tonic, Nandos, Rancho Pancho, and more. Scotland isn't known for it's food (aside from the mysterious Haggis) but I know I've found lots of places that make my taste buds dance. Tonic is my all-time favourite, with a truly ridiculous number of burger choices, all of them amazing. My go-to choice is the Texan Hat, a burger with beef patty, Scottish bacon (which is WAY better than American bacon), cheese, hash brown, and barbecue sauce. SO TASTY!

The outdoor seating at Duke's Corner
was a big hit!
We also made sure to check out a lot of pubs, as my parents like to try different beers and wanted to taste as many Scottish varieties as they could while they were here. Duke's Corner, Tickety Boos, and more were investigated. I'm not a beer drinker myself, but I did enjoy trying different types of ciders - for my American audience, UK cider is by default alcoholic, and served cold. My favourite brand is Rekorderlig, a Swedish cider with many tasty fruit flavours. More commonly available, and still tasty, is Kopparberg.


My dad moves in to tip the Trombonist
 As I may have mentioned before, my father is a blues musician. consequently, I was delighted to show them the active street busking scene in Dundee. On a dry day you can see a busker every block or so on the high street. Most are guitarists, fiddlers, and harmonica players, but there are a few exceptions, including trombone players and accordion players. The mix of music on every corner makes the city feel alive.

Dad busks near the dragons statue
After seeing some of the buskers, my dad decided to try it out himself. He brought his steel body resonator guitar from the US, which, along with his slide playing style, attracted quite a lot of attention. The guitar is quit shiny, and also a lot louder than a normal guitar, since it was developed to amplify sound before electronic sound amplification was common. While Dad didn't make a fortune playing, he had a lot of fun, met a bunch of other street musicians, got info on local open mic nights, and made enough money to buy a few beers and to tip other street musicians we passed by,

Jam session at the end of a crazy and
wonderful night at Clarks
As I mentioned, one of the fruits of his street busking was knowledge of where the local open mic nights were. One such establishment was a little pub called Clarks. We went there on one of the last nights of my parents' stay, and I have to say it was probably the best time we had for the entire visit. Clarks has an amazing atmosphere - it really felt like a ton of musically minded people all getting together to appreciate each-other's craft. Dad was one of the first to play, and met with an extremely warm and welcoming reception. People loved the blues style (it was a folk music themed night so he fit right in), and the novelty of him being American and his very shiny guitar helped too. They invited him to stay until the end when many musicians got together and jammed on stage. During the jam, they did one of my Dad's songs, which is a call back style song that the audience participates in. Everyone in the bar was singing, clapping, stomping their feet, and my Dad had a whole band of musicians behind him. I could tell it really made the trip for him, and it was damn fun for me too! I got to see a lot of new talent that I want to hear more of, and I plan to head back to Clarks regularly from now on.

Seeing the Sites

The family poses in front of the Discovery
In addition to investigating the local music and food scenes, we did a lot of tourist stuff too. Dundee is known for the ship the Discovery, the first ship to do prolonged research in the Antarctic. It was great fun crawling around the old vessel, and my Dad is really into ships too so it was perfect for him. The ship is old, from the beginning of the 20th century, and was powered both by steam and sails. It was interesting to compare it to my experience on the OMSI submarine back in the states.

One of the biggest sites to see in Dundee is the Law. Law means "hill", so the people who say "Law Hill" are being redundant. Basically, it's the highest point in Dundee and looks out over the entire city. It's a beautiful site and was well worth the cab fare to get up there.

Panoramic of the Law - the view was breathtaking

We pose on top of the Law

We decided to walk down from the Law, and I'm really happy we did. We found this very long corridor of stairs squeezed between old fences, gardens, and buildings, and it was a truly lovely walk.

At the bottom of these stairs was Dudhope castle. Fairly small and pretty modern as far as Scottish castles go, Dudhope was still a lovely site from the outside. It's a private castle so it's not open for exploration, but we got a nice picture from the gate.

The trip down from the Law was as fun as the hill view

The last major tourist attraction we visited in Dundee was the McManus Museum at the centre of town. It's a lovely museum with a mix of art, industrial history, and natural history/wildlife. It was a lot of fun, and is a really nice looking building for photo ops!

Pose in front of the McManus Museum

To Be Continued...

That's it for my Dundee adventures, but I'll have several more blog posts detailing my exploration of Edinburgh, Inverness / Loch Ness, Aberdeen, and several small towns and castles along the east coast of Scotland. Look forward to it!

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