Saturday, June 20, 2015

Food, farm animals and fairs, and everything inbetween

 of food and drink

I've never heard of the U.S. government designating any year as being one of something special. Like, they year of the orange, where all eyes focus on the importance of that fruit, or the year of the lakes where we promote water sport, or maybe the year of vacations where we all slow down and take one!

But Scotland is different and the government has designated 2015 as the year of food and drink. I think it's because last year was the year of the Commonwealth Games -- a big sporting hoopla that was held in Glasgow -- and people felt let down afterwards. As in -- the games are gone, what's there to look forward to?

A really good reason for proclaiming it the year of food and drink is that Scotland has a solid reputation for mediocre food and this must just hurt all those who have worked hard to bring up the culinary standards of this country. There are many who would like you to know that food is getting to be good here!

And so when I step off the train at Glasgow Central and walk for half an hour through really sad looking neighborhoods toward my hotel (which, true, is in a less sad looking neighborhood toward the West End), I keep thinking -- the year of food and drink, the year of food and drink... If all else fails, I'll shut the door to my room and read a book all day and then eat my way through the new cuisine of this rather controversial city.

But why am I here and why getting off a train?

Oh, I had intended, after Three Glens, to next drive to Glasgow. I felt I owed it something. I'd breezed through here holding my breath too many times. Shouldn't I pause now and look around? It helped that I found a lovely little b&b (with heated floors! the older I get, the more delightful it is to step on a floor that doesn't freeze your toes). So maybe there's a pretty side to this town? And of course, if not pretty, it surely will be interesting.

And how is it that I come by train?  That part is entirely Neil's fault.

Sensing my interest in all things related to sheep and farming (Polish peasant roots die hard), he had asked - did you know that this is the weekend of the Royal Highland Show?  Fantastic! I switch my car return to Edinburgh and fit in a day at the show. A bit crazy: drive up toward Glasgow then veer toward Edinburgh, return the car there, then, after the show, hop on the train to Glasgow. It is a question of economics and you don't have to sit through my calculation to accept the fact that this was the cheapest way.

So let's go back to the morning, a final morning at the Three Glens. As I sit down to my perfectly prepared breakfast...


... I think -- God, I'm going to miss this place!



Back on the roads, for a while still narrow, still curvy...


.... but soon, feeding into the cross country highway that links Glasgow to Edinburgh.

The Royal Highland Show

The Show ("RHS") is nearly 200 years old. It's the granddaddy of them all, in a country where agricultural fairs are important. At the RHS you can rub shoulders with upwards of 4500 head of livestock, right there on the fair grounds.  Directions on how to get there are signposted all over the roads of Scotland, which is kind of silly, because the RHS fairgrounds are just a ten minute walk from the Edinburgh Airport. You can see over your shoulder an Easy Jet taking off for Barcelona as you nuzzle the nose of a sheep or a cow.


If you show your animal and it wins a ribbon, that is money in your pocket.


(In seeing the ponies below, I had wondered -- why is there a dog along with them? And then I looked closer...)


But even if you don't show off your stock, if you are a farmer of any standing, you make an annual appearance at the RHS. (Neil and Mary come every year.)

The fairgrounds have a special space reserved for foreign visitors. I had arrived with my little suitcase and backpack and hearing my accent (not Scottish), an RHS staff person immediately directed me there. A lovely thing it was, because I could park my bags for free and ask questions of a very friendly staff who did not have many foreign guests to talk to.

I bought a program and guide and then proceeded to ignore it. It was much more fun just walking this way and that, drawn to the sound of sheep, then cows, then bagpipes.

Naturally, the sheep take up most space. This is the country of sheep. In fact, at latest count, there are more sheep in Scotland (some 6.6 million) than there are people (5.3 million). And not just white sheep or black sheep.


There are sheep of brilliant hues as well!


Last minute trimming, last minute picking out bits of hay from their fleece -- I saw it all.



And I just happen to be there when the Clydesdale horses (named after the region from which they hail -- just north east of Dumfries and Galloway!) were getting ready for their parade...




...and when the pipers were practicing behind some tent...




... and when Princess Anne walked the few steps from the RHS headquarters to a waiting car (born as third in the line of succession to the throne, after Queen Elizabeth and Prince Charles, she is out of luck now, after the birth of a bunch of kids, as she now is twelfth and must forever take comfort in being a little famous but not enough to really draw a crowd: people gathered to look at her and give her little waves and she always waved back, and you had to feel sorry for her that her days are full of these insignificant encounters with crowds, always waving.)


And I saw the fleece that won the gold and I witnessed the shearing competition (the number of women participants continues to grow)...


...and the blacksmiths' competition...




... and, too, the parade of cows, which was really quite funny because it looked much like the parade of nations during the Olympics, only it was cows...





... and they didn't always want to be lead around the arena.



It was a blur of animals, people, people, animals...





I sampled free stuff too: ice cream, cheese, tea (I know, I know -- what does not belong...) and whisky. I could have sampled butters and jams and so much more, but somehow I wanted to let the taste of honey brickle and rhubarb ice cream linger on the palate, along with that first shot of whisky since I arrived in Scotland.





Ed asked me if I took a good look at the machinery and I said -- no, just the animals and he said -- figures.

of food and drink, redux

And then my camera battery ran down (I had forgotten to recharge it the night before) and my shoes shlepped through too many stalls and animal pens and so I left the fairgrounds and took the bus to downtown Edinburgh, where I hopped on one of the many, many trains that every few minutes zip between the two big cities of Scotland.

My hotel in Glasgow is discreet. They call it Fifteen Glasgow because it is in a building by that number. One of these:


It's absolutely stunning inside and it's all very quiet, subdued. Lovely young women (at least one of them Polish, I can tell!) come in and out, bringing up your bag or your breakfast tray and you never once see another soul.

The room is spacious and beautiful and the bed is grand. Yes, if all else fails, I'll sit back and think farm thoughts and stay inside.


Except you know that's just not going to happen.

But for this first night, I do little more than go up several blocks to the restaurant hub of this up and coming neighborhood. It's lively and indeed full of tasty options. It's hopping too and I am lucky to grab counter space at the Crabshack, where I eat several small plates of seafood, including perfectly prepared crabcakes.


Yes, the food here will be good, I can feel that pulse of a lively eating scene.

...Even if so far, it's all lean on the vegetables. The Crabshack offers none. A few lettuce leaves and fries, if you want. After dinner, I stop off at the local Tesco (the second largest retailer in the world, following -- you guessed it! -- Walmart) and pick up a pack of tomatoes to munch back at the hotel rooms.

Tomorrow, I explore Glasgow.